On Tuesday 28 January Lee, myself, and two riggers (Andrew and Emily) did something that I thought only happened in fairy tales. We took a Twin Otter out to Alexander Tall Tower! AWS. Now, an Otter had already been out there to pick up Ben the Kiwi. No way, I thought, was there a chance that the weather would cooperate enough to get us out there a second time in the same season. Sure enough…..
Our goal was to have the riggers raise the lowest three levels of instrumentation, while Lee and I would raise the power system by digging it out and reinstalling it back on the surface. You may be thinking, “Why do the instruments need raising? It’s a tall tower (100 feet at initial install, now about 90 feet) so the instruments must be high enough from the surface.” You would be partly correct. There are 6 levels of instrumentation. Referring to the picture above, each of the horizontal bars is a level of instrumentation. The top three are pretty high above the surface, but the bottom three are bunched near the surface and are at a higher risk of getting buried. The riggers did a great job raising these, saving them from the wispy grasp of blowing snow for at least another year.
Lee and I had our work cut out for us. The power station was installed three years ago, and hadn’t been raised since. There is about 1.5 feet of snow accumulation each year at Tall Tower!, so the bottom of the station was 4.5 feet deep plus the amount it was buried upon installation, which could have been a few feet. We needed to dig 8 feet down!
The things we needed to dig out:
The solar panel framework
Three guy wires with deadmen anchors
Cable connecting the power system to the tower
Our first plan of attack was to dig out the battery box(es). We weren’t sure whether there were one or two. The top few feet of snow was fairly powdery and easy to shovel. After that layer, the snow became more compacted. The tricky part was around 5 or 6 feet down, when we ran into a layer of ice.
Shortly after we started digging, I decided to go for one of the deadmen while Lee continued to reach the battery box(es). The deeper I dug, the more the “digging” became stabbing to break up the hard snow and ice, the pieces of which I would shovel out. It became exhausting. The guy wire never seemed to end, and when it seemed as though I would never reach the deadman, I struck metal. The relief was short-lived, as there was even more ice built up around the deadman, and its length (about 2 feet) was greater than I anticipated. It’s difficult to describe how good it felt to finally break it loose.
I had gotten two of the guy wires and deadmen out, and Lee was still digging for the battery box(es) and the third guy wire, when we had a conference with everyone to determine whether it was reasonable for us to try to dig out the whole power system. We decided it wasn’t; there was far to much digging to do. Given John and Melissa’s success snowmobiling to the site, it helped make our decision to hold off with the power system raise until next season. We can set up a 3-day camp then and complete the rest of the digging. Before we left, I wanted to make sure we got all of the deadmen out.
Lee pulled out the last deadman from the pit, and the way in which he did it couldn’t have been better. I had chiseled it out from the ice and snow, and it just needed a good hard yank or two to get out. Lee was holding the guy wire and was standing at the top of the pit, yanking away. I was watching as I saw it coming looser and looser. On the last yank, Lee had tugged so hard that he lost his balance and fell backward…..into the first pit I had dug. The riggers were watching and instantly burst out laughing, as at one moment they saw Lee and the next he was out of sight. Fortunately, he wasn’t hurt. We had filled up the hole about halfway with some chunks of snow that we had dug out from other holes. It was a funny way to say so long to Tall Tower!, until next year.