E-ticket Ride

One job for the Stream Team is to measure lake levels at the end of the season.  That information allows for calculation of an estimate of the amount of water in the lakes, and how much that volume changes from year to year and over the long term.   In our “routine” operations we work around Lake Fryxell, Lake Hoare, Lake Bonney, Lake Vanda and Lake Miers, but lake levels are required for four more lakes: Lake Joyce and Lake House, in the upper Taylor Valley, Don Juan Pond, in the Wright Valley, and Lake Vida in the Victoria Valley.  These are four places where I had never been before.

We took lake levels at Lake Fryxell, Lake Hoare and Lake Bonney when we closed gauges in their vicinity.   Lake Miers is the odd man out, being about 45 kilometers south of the Taylor Valley, so we saved that for our last day in the field, so we could do it on the way to McMurdo.  The remaining five lakes can be visited in one counterclockwise loop.  We did this on Thursday, January 29.

We begin the loop by taking off from Lake Hoare and flying west, beyond Lake Bonney and up over the Lower Taylor Glacier to reach Lake Joyce, in the Pearse Valley, an offshoot of the Taylor Valley.

Flying up the Taylor Glacier.  The Pearse Valley enters on the left.  Looking at Taylor Dome on the skyline, part of the inland ice plateau.

Flying up the Taylor Glacier. The Pearse Valley enters on the right. Lake Joyce is just at the edge of the ice at the bottom of the Pearse Valley.  Looking at Taylor Dome on the skyline, part of the inland ice plateau.

08 Hotel at Lake Joyce.  Taylor Glacier behind the Lake and the Kukri Hills behind the glacier.

08 Hotel at Lake Joyce. Taylor Glacier behind the Lake and the Kukri Hills behind the glacier.

From Lake Joyce it is a short hop further up the Pearse Valley to Lake House.  We were flying in 08 Hotel, a Bell 212, which has no photo windows, so all the airborne photos are through plexiglass.

These are really beautiful spots, but the fun really begins when we leave Lake House and fly a loop west and north onto the Wright Upper Glacier.   Here was the highlight of the trip for me, the opportunity to see the Airdevronsix Icefall, where the Wright Upper Glacier flows more than 400 meters over cliffs.  (For those of you in Boulder, this is like ice hundreds of feet thick pouring over the top of Flagstaff Mountain above Chautauqua.  For those of you in New York, 400 meters higher than the top floor of the Empire State Building.)  The icefall is named for Air Development Squadron Six, VX-6, which in 1969 became Antarctic Development Squadron 6, designated U.S. Navy Squadron VXE-6.  VX-6 and VXE-6 provided support for Antarctic operations, known as Operation Deep Freeze, from 1955 through 1999.

Down the Wright Valley from Airdevronsix is the Labyrinth, which leads the way to Don Juan Pond.

From Don Juan Pond, it’s a short hop to Lake Vanda.

Lake Vida is north through Bull Pass, in the Wright Valley.

Lake Vida was our last stop before flying back through the Olympus Range at Bull Pass and then over the Asgard Range on our way to Lake Hoare.

As we flew across the Wright Valley, just east of Lake Vanda, at high altitude, we got a couple of last looks at the Airdevronsix Icefall.

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