Many Plan B’s & C’s in the Blustering Wind

We had gusts of 50 knots and blowing snow…we really should have stayed in camp, but we’d planned for a long day on the upper slopes of Marble Hills, and so we’d left early and before getting an up-to-date weather forecast. Had we stuck around for our daily “sched” with Rothera base (this is essentially a check-in to let them know we are safe and well, and to get news and weather info, etc.), Phil and I would have learned that the winds were due to pick up throughout the day. We were halfway up the Marble Hills before they finally did. The wind was blowing a steady 30 knots and lifting snow well over head height; these are conditions you can find on the Cairngorm Plateau on a blustery winter’s day, and they are relatively common here. With temperatures below -10° C and added wind chill, it’s enough effort just to walk in these conditions. At our high point on the massif, the winds were gusting strong enough to blow you off your feet if you were not expecting them! In these conditions only the bare minimum gets done. My notebook contained a few barely legible notes and I don’t think we ate food until the early evening. The battle for most of the day was simply trying not to let fingers freeze or to lose the contents of our bags every time I needed a rock sample, which was often.

The rest of the group experienced similar conditions over at the Independence Hills where they had hoped to do some laser scanning before the winds picked up. Strong katabatic winds meant they had no chance to complete the scanning and they had no option but to retreat to camp and call it a day. It’s days like these that remind you how our life in Antarctica is totally dependent on weather! It defines the type of work we do each day, where we work and when we work. The visibility, contrast, cloud level, temperature and wind speed all have an effect on travel conditions and, in particular, geophysical equipment. As a result, it becomes a juggling act to plan each day’s work. I’m not sure how many Plan B’s or Plan C’s we’ve resorted to this season, when we woke to find the weather conditions unsuitable for our first option. The good news is that we are making excellent progress despite this juggling act, and we are still on target to complete the science program (at least our key priorities!), in time for our uplift early next week. It’s hard to believe we are already counting down the days to the end of our second field season!

At this stage of the trip we are beginning to consider things like how much fuel we keep in the skidoos; apparently they are required to have less than a ¼ tank when they are put on the plane, although I’m not entirely sure why. Apparently the fuel is less safe in the skidoo than in a jerry can, and if they have too much we’ll have to siphon it out! So we are only fueling the skidoos once we are definite on the day’s travel plan. Food is another consideration. We theoretically have enough food to last until our uplift flight next week and therefore we are trying not to open a new sealed box of food unless absolutely necessary. This means we are now counting chocolate bars, eating slightly odd concoctions of rice and pasta, and generally trying to eek out what remains. On the plus side, we still have a couple of bottles of wine and a bottle of whiskey to get through, and our plan is to enjoy these this weekend to celebrate the end of the field season, and more important, Shasta’s birthday! I’m hoping for homemade ice cream for dessert!!

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