First week at Horseshoe Glacier camp – 1st December 2012

The mind is full of a multitude of bewildering experiences as we come to terms with camping in the cold and starting the science programme.  I, David, thought I was an old hand at all this but this is much colder and more remote than I have experienced and we have much more sophisticated kit to operate.  Today the temperature was -15 degrees and there is a notoriously strong wind blowing off the ice sheet.Indeed these are the winds that expose the blue ice areas that we are studying. Consider the simple matter of water.  We excavate snow blocks and melt them on the primus for water.This must then be put in flasks otherwise any water in the tents freezes overnight in the tent or during the day in a rucsac.  Getting in and out of the tunnel entrance of a pyramid tent is always notorious but if you have four or five layers on and resemble a Michelin man, it becomes even more amusing.  Finding things is something else.  Our tons of equipment are in lines marked by stakes so we can find them in the snow drifts which build up continuously.It has taken time to set up the generators, recharge batteries and establish communications with the outside world.

The camp has been efficiently planned by Malcolm and Scott.  We have three pyramid tents for sleeping, another as a loo, and a Weatherhaven as a meeting and cooking tent for the evenings.  This is great for discussing progress and socialising. There are radio aerials, a small tent for the generator, a line of four skidoos and sledges, a line of fuel drums, and one of food boxes.  On the open landscape of the glacier it looks like a small city and you can see it for miles around.

A typical day starts with tea and a bowl of Alpen in a sleeping bag.As the tent warms up, we assemble a lunch, fill a thermos with hot water, plan and collect up instruments, clean teeth etc all in an attempt to navigate the tunnel entrance once only!It never works!Next take the covers off the skidoos, start them, attach sledges with science gear, and we commute 15 minutes to the edge of the Patriot Hills.  The science programme is going very well and Malcolm and Scott are invaluable in helping with the tasks.  John and Stuart have drilled and inserted no less than 88 metal poles.These form a grid and will be measured to within mm by a fancy GPS system.Each one has been drilled two metres into the ice. The comparison next year will show how much ice has eroded away in a year and detail of the flow of the glacier and the moraine on its edge.Andy and I have been focusing on the hill slope above trying to understand the origin of former elevated blue-ice moraines in detail and then selecting those we wish to date by cosmogenic isotope analysis.  This is a fancy way of measuring how long a rock has been exposed to cosmic rays or been buried by ice, and thus is a good way of working out the history of the glacier.  In practice everything takes much longer than you expect.Today for example there were fierce gusts of wind on the mountain front and we could not put anything down, a glove, notebook, sample bag, instrument without weighting it down with a rock immediately. But we are on sample number 24 and pleased with progress.The views from the mountain slopes are quite magnificent.  Across the sweep on the glacier far below are the outliers of the Ellsworth Mountains and today they were topped with stacks of spectacular lenticular clouds.

It is a privilege to be working in such a place.


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