On the Ice

03 Jan 2019: Boomerang at Austin and a ski to Kominko-Slade

Austin is the second-furthest site from WAIS camp, with Thurston Island being the furthest. This is one reason why we had Austin as high on our priority list; it’s also not transmitting, so that’s a big reason, too. On the morning of 2 January, the forecast appeared to be good enough at Austin for us to do our work, so we headed that way. Due to the long flight, we needed to refuel on the way there and back at a fuel cache called Turn 1. It’s in the middle of nowhere, but sort of in the middle of many different sites in West Antarctica which makes it a useful location. It pretty much splits the distance between WAIS and Austin.

Both Otters were flying that day, with ours going to Austin and the other going to a POLENET site. We met up at the fuel cache on our way out!

Turn 1 fuel cache. The barrels of fuel are between the planes.

As we approached Austin, there was a thick, unbroken layer of cloud around 1000 feet above ground. The plane slowly descended below the cloud, and we were greeted to a wide expanse of flat light. It was nearly impossible to discern any surface definition. We ended up circling around Austin for half an hour. The pilots were hoping to find some semblance of surface definition so they could safely land.

Flat light conditions are very disorienting. As we were circling, it looked like we were flying between two very large, gray disks. One disk was the cloud layer above us, the other the ground below. At the horizon all around us was a thin layer of blue, where the cloud ended and we could see the sky.

For the first 15 minutes of our circling, I couldn’t tell whether there was a layer of fog or not at the surface. I also had no idea what our altitude was (turns out we were flying at around 500 feet), so when the plane would bank, it seemed like we were going to crash! Once, when the plane banked, it did it so smoothly that I couldn’t feel it. When I looked out my window and “down” I saw a line of blue. I thought that we were really close to the ground and the blue was a crevasse. I was incredibly confused. Then I realized what I was seeing was the blue sky at the horizon. It’s amazing what scenario your brain conjures up when you can’t get any bearings on what you’re seeing.

Only twice, and very briefly each time, was I able to see some sastrugi on the ground (turns out there wasn’t a layer of fog). The pilots never got a good enough view of the surface, so we had to boomerang back to WAIS. It was a huge bummer because we had made it all the way out to Austin, only to fly back. Alas, so goes Antarctic field work.

The next day, we weren’t on the Otter schedule. Weather was pretty good at WAIS, so we decided to take advantage of it and visit our site right near camp, Kominko-Slade. This site wasn’t on our planned list of visits, and as such it would be a very quick and easy visit to get some pictures and swap the data card. Since we both like to ski, I thought it would be cool to ski to the site. We were able to fit all the equipment we needed in a couple backpacks, and I wore my harness just in case I would need to be on the tower for a while. As far as I know, we are the first team to visit an AWS via skis!

Me on the skis at Kominko-Slade.

Elina after skiing to Kominko-Slade.

Cheers! -Dave

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1 Jan 2019: Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from WAIS! All of camp (except the chef, Anna) had both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day off. We rang in the new year in style out here. Anna prepared a big feast for us, so we set up the galley for a family-style meal.

The long table!

Ham and crab legs!

The assorted side dishes, including potatoes, roasted veggies, salmon, cheese, and crackers.

The bread and dessert table! So many good desserts, including babka on the near end of the table. Babka is a super tasty Russian dessert (the chef has Russian heritage). I think the dark swirls in the bread are composed of cinnamon and chocolate.

After the feast, we all had time in the evening to relax and watch a movie or just hang around. We of course had a solid party we dubbed WAIS-stock (in response to McMurdo’s New Year’s concert/party Icestock) with music brought to you by one of the Otter pilots Jordan, also known as DJ Pedro. Needless to say, it was a blast.

New Year’s Day was easy-going, and I spent a portion of it biking on a fat-tire bike that was brought to camp.

The fat-tire bike.

One can bike pretty much anywhere around camp on this, though the heavy equipment (bulldozers, etc) make the snow in camp pretty bumpy. It’s nice to bike on the skiway, though, as that is a nicely groomed area.

Speaking of recreational activities, there are also skis available, so on a nice day when people don’t have much work to do, it’s often that someone will go skiing around camp or on the skiway. It’s nice to be able to get out of the tent(s) every once and a while!

Me on skis on the skiway (Elina took the picture).

Happy New Year! -Dave

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30 Dec 2018: Camp life and Byrd camp visit

The population of WAIS has been at around 30 people. This consists of the typical camp staff (manager, field coordinator, cargo coordinator, mechanic, heavy equipment operators, medic, weather observers, chef, etc), science groups (AWS, POLENET, PASSCAL, UNAVCO, and various Thwaites projects), and two Twin Otter crews (two pilots and an engineer each).

The Science Module (center), housing all science projects at WAIS.

The two Twin Otters at camp. I took this picture from the snowmobile staging area. There are 4 snowmobiles available for general camp use.

A typical work day for us involves waking up at around 6 am and meeting in the galley tent (where we eat) to get the weather report from the Otter pilots.

The galley from the outside.

The galley, with decorations from Christmas still adorning the tent walls.

The pilots typically talk with forecasters in McMurdo around this time to see how the weather looks both for WAIS and for the locations where we want to fly. We will have some coffee and a bite to eat as we discuss options for the day. If we aren’t a go (bummer), the morning then has a pretty relaxed vibe for us. We can sit and eat, chat, and eventually have the morning camp meeting where James, camp manager, leads a discussion of the day’s schedule of activities, flights, and the upcoming weather forecast. If we are a go (yay), then we make a flight lunch, pack some snacks, get all of our cargo ready, and load up the plane.

Today me, Elina, and some POLENET folks flew on an Otter to Byrd camp to help get Peter and Caleb back to WAIS, as they had finished their work at Byrd. Their plan then was to take a Herc flight from WAIS back to McMurdo. Since the Otter flight was already going to Byrd, we took the opportunity to service Byrd AWS near the camp. It was a very simple visit, as we just needed to swap the data card and dig up the power system to the surface.

There are only 3 people at Byrd camp this year, so the setup is much smaller than WAIS.

Byrd camp… It’s quaint.

Byrd AWS on arrival. The Byrd camp weather observer, Jess (standing) snowmobiled Elina (crouching) and I to our site. Byrd camp can be seen on the horizon, to the right of Jess’ head (it’s very faint). The Otter at POLENET’s site, on the horizon and left of our AWS.

We only had to dig down a couple of feet to reach the batteries, which was a pleasant surprise. After swapping the data card and slapping one of our stickers on the enclosure, we were done.

Byrd after some TLC.

The three of us then drove back to the POLENET site to check on their progress (they were almost done) then went to camp to have lunch! The Byrd camp staff offered to host us, which was very generous. They were also probably excited to see other humans…. The camp chef made very tasty burritos.

The Byrd kitchen, with Jonathan fixing up lunch for us.

After a good meal and conversation, we loaded up the Otter and headed back to WAIS.

A bird’s eye view of Byrd. Fuel bladders are on the left, cargo line and tent city in the middle, and the kitchen module and mechanics module on the right.

Cheers! -Dave

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Dave and Elina are back from WAIS!

Elina and I have returned to McMurdo from WAIS! Spoiler alert: it was a huge success! I wrote some blog posts out there about our experiences, so I’ll post them one at a time here, starting with our arrival to camp.

29 Dec 2018: Dave and Elina are at WAIS

It almost seemed like we were going to spend New Year’s in McMurdo. The town had both New Year’s Eve and Day off, meaning no flying on those days. The weather outlook appeared poor for flying on Sunday, 30 Dec. By Friday, 28 Dec, Elina and I were going to be on the next Herc (LC-130) out to WAIS and if we didn’t “bag drag” or get our cargo, luggage, and weights into the system by the end of the day, then we would fly on Sunday at the earliest, suggesting we wouldn’t make it to WAIS. But by around 3:30 in the afternoon on Friday, we finally got word that we were going to bag drag that Friday night for a 10 am departure on Saturday, 29 Dec. It all seemed so sudden, and one of the most miraculous things in USAP history happened: we made it out to WAIS on our first try! We left McMurdo an hour later than planned, but other than that, everything went smoothly as we got to WAIS early in the afternoon on Sunday. To boot, Elina and I got to spend the majority of our flight in the cockpit of the Herc, including during takeoff!

Sitting in the cockpit of the Herc.

Proof positive.


There were four passengers on the Herc: me, Elina, and two people with Communications, Peter and Caleb, who were trying to get to Byrd field camp, a little over 100 miles from WAIS, to set up communications equipment. The comms folks had been attempting to get to Byrd on their own Herc flight, but delays prevented them from doing so. Their plan was to take this Herc to WAIS and fly to Byrd on one of the Twin Otters at WAIS.

Before we knew it, we had arrived at WAIS. It was a nice day, mostly cloudy but not too bad. We couldn’t complain.

Me and the Herc.

Elina and the Herc.

We said hello to the camp manager, James, located our sleep kits (very important for optimal sleeping!), and went to the “Science Module” where we would work. The mod, as we call it, was already occupied by POLENET/PASSCAL/UNAVCO (6 people) and would be stuffed with a couple more science groups in about a week. Things were going to be tight!

The mod, with Elina back in our designated corner.

Once we got things settled, we got situated with our sleeping tents. Both of us opted to use Arctic Oven tents, rather than the mountain tents that were issued to us. The Arctic Ovens are bigger, and I think, a little more comfortable. Elina took one that was already set up but unoccupied, and I set up one with the help of Elina and the camp Physician’s Assistant (PA), Scott.

My arctic oven tent.

Due to the larger population this year, the camp location is different than last. Last year camp was kept on the winter-over storage berms (elevated mounds of snow), but this year it’s set up in the standard “summertime” location upwind of the berms. One benefit of this is that camp is mostly flat, rather than on a hill.

Bird’s eye view of most of WAIS camp, taken from the Otter. The main camp buildings are in the middle line, with the other Otter at the bottom. Cargo lines are on the left, and tent city is on the right. The winter-over berms are not pictured but to the left of everything shown here.

Our plans here at WAIS are to visit 9 AWS sites by Twin Otter. There are fuel restrictions for our Twin Otter use due to the beginning of the Thwaites science project extravaganza, which is a 4-year effort between the United States Antarctic Program and the British Antarctic Survey to study the Thwaites glacier region, on the West Antarctic coast, with numerous projects. As such, we are only allotted 6 Otter flights. We’re planning on doubling up on some site visits for a flight or two to maximize our chances of visiting all AWS.

Map of West Antarctica with our AWS sites. WAIS camp is at the Kominko-Slade (WAIS) marker. We hope to visit all AWS circled in magenta. The red polygon denotes the approximate extent of Thwaites Glacier, including the ice shelf on the far left end of the polygon.

Cheers! -Dave

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Gill AWS, South Pole escapades, and our schedule

As promised, this post will be about our trip to Gill AWS, Lee and Mike’s trip to South Pole, and an update on the AWS team’s schedule (spoiler alert: Mike is on an LC-130 and redeploying as I write this!).

On 22 December, while Lee and Mike were at South Pole, Elina and I took a Twin Otter to Gill. We had been on the fixed wing schedule to visit Margaret first to raise the station, which is on the opposite side of the Ross Ice Shelf, and then make a quick stop at Gill to upload a new program. Margaret is notorious for having poor weather, as it is often covered in low clouds. The cloud cover on this day over the shelf didn’t look encouraging for any site visits, but we were put on weather hold for a couple hours. The thought was that maybe the clouds would clear up enough for a visit.

Turns out, they did! But only for Gill. We got contacted by fixed wing asking if we just wanted to go to Gill. We said yes, and since we had plenty of ground time, we had plenty of time to dig down and recover the power system, which was buried about 8 feet below the surface.

We topped off the Otter with fuel at Willie Field AKA “Ross Island International Airport”.

Gill upon arrival.

We took pictures and got heights of the instruments then uploaded the new program. After that, we started digging and didn’t stop until we got the batteries! There were a couple instances when we were in the hole and it didn’t seem like we were ever going to reach them. But of course, we did. It was satisfying to bring them back to the surface.

Beautiful battery boxes!

All done at Gill.

While Elina and I were at Gill, Lee and Mike were at Henry near the South Pole! And a day prior, 21 Dec, Lee and Mike serviced Nico from Pole. These AWS hadn’t been visited since January 2015 when we did a station raise and upgraded their electronics from the older-style AWS2B to CR1000s. Mike wrote some good blog posts about those site visits, as well as their experience at South Pole Station, that you can check out here: https://www.polartrec.com/expeditions/antarctic-automatic-weather-stations-2018/journals . Their main objectives at both sites were to replace the enclosures, power systems, and upper temperature aspirated shields. Lee said the fan on the aspirated shield at Nico was still running, which is amazing! Here are some pictures from their site visits, too:

Nico upon arrival.

Nico after. They did a lot of digging!

Henry upon arrival.

Henry after servicing.

Switching gears a bit, Elina and I will be heading out to West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) field camp soon (maybe even tomorrow, 28 Dec). Plans seem to be up in the air at the moment, as we’ve been asked if we wanted to leave a couple days earlier than our originally planned departure date, 29 Dec, but delays have pushed things back. If we do fly to WAIS tomorrow, there won’t be any internet connection for us, and as such I won’t be able to post any updates until we return to McMurdo. I’ll still write blog posts out there describing our work and experiences and post them when we return, which will probably be around January 20th. Our goal is to visit 9 AWS sites, but we only have 6 Twin Otter flights allotted to us due to fuel limitations. Hopefully we will be able to double up on site visits for a couple of the flights.

In McMurdo, Lee and Forbes will be working on preparations for installing the 4 PCWS in the McMurdo area and doing what AWS service work they can. Currently, we are not on the Twin Otter schedule in McMurdo, and since we’re waiting on getting some modems activated for our site visits by helicopter, we’re in stand-by mode. Hopefully things can pick up soon and they can get site visits completed.

Cheers! -Dave

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Merry Christmas from McMurdo!

Happy Holidays, all! The whole AWS team was together in McMurdo to celebrate the Christmas holiday! It’s been a while since I’ve updated this, and for that I apologize. There has been many developments, especially in the past 5 days. Lee and Mike made it to South Pole Station after a week of delays, and they were even able to complete the 2 site visits to Henry and Nico and make it back to McMurdo in time for Christmas! I’ll try to post a couple blog posts detailing the events the have recently transpired.

The five of us as we wait in line for the Christmas feast.

Every year, McMurdo has a holiday feast (for both Thanksgiving and Christmas) where they feature some specialty dishes, including prime rib, lobster, crab, and a great assortment of desserts. It’s always a great time, and as we were eating we were treated to some snow! A white Christmas in McMurdo!

The feast! We enjoyed it with members from IRIS/PASSCAL and UNAVCO, projects with whom we work alongside here on the ice.

Christmas snow!

They even had the yule log, and of course, a Christmas tree.

Some quick group and schedule updates: Mike is due to redeploy on Thursday, December 27. Elina and I will probably start trying to head to WAIS at the end of this week. As I mentioned previously, Lee and Mike finished the field work at Nico and Henry, but the new PCWS was unfortunately not ready in time for install at South Pole. Out of McMurdo, Elina and Dave took a Twin Otter flight to Gill (Margaret has been consistently canceled due to weather, no surprise there haha).

That’s all I have for now. Cheers! -Dave

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Helicopter trip to Ferrell!

Yesterday, 12 December, Elina, Forbes, and I took a helo trip to Ferrell to raise the lower instrumentation and dig up the power system. We had two boondogglers come along with us: Megan and Cat. They work in town in McMurdo and don’t get many opportunities to get out in the field. We’re always happy to spread the joy of visiting our sites to others! Also, this is Forbes’ first site visit!

The weather throughout the visit was great; sunny skies the whole time, and a light wind turning calm. We had a little over 4 hours of ground time (which was plenty), as the helicopter dropped us off and went to fly other missions. We determined that we did not need to add a new tower section, so that made the work that much simpler.

Ferrell upon arrival. Ross Island is in the background.

After taking pictures and measuring instrument heights, we got to work digging and removing the lower temperature, instrument boom, and enclosure from the tower. The power system was buried about 5 feet below the surface. Forbes was probably the star digger of the day, as he spent the most time in the pit and did a great job lifting the power system up to the surface. The power system consists of two 100 Am-hour batteries, each of which weighing about 70 lbs. We removed one of the batteries from the box before Forbes lifted the power system out.

Ferrell after the raise, and Forbes on the right.

It was a leisurely field visit, as we could go at a relatively slow pace to do the work as we were not pressured by time or weather. Since there wasn’t much physical work to do, Elina decided to dig a hole simply to stay warm. Megan decided to dig on as well, and since the two holes were close in proximity, they dug out a tunnel to connect the two! Some very rigorous science took place at Ferrell AWS yesterday….

Elina in her hole!

Megan in her (impressively square) hole!

The hole setup.

The spike of the ice axe, indicating first contact between the holes. They eventually made the tunnel large enough for us to crawl through!

That’s all for now. We’re currently on the Otter schedule to fly to Margaret and Gill, but we’ve been weather-canceled thus far. Hopefully tomorrow will bring sunnier skies. Cheers!  -Dave

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Flights to Laurie II and Sabrina, and weather canceled for Ferrell

At the end of last week, we had our first AWS site visits of the season. We kicked things off with a helicopter flight to Laurie II on 6 December, with myself, Elina, Mike, and Lee making the journey. Forbes stayed at the lab as there is still some work to be done on the hardware and software for the new PCWS.

Laurie II sits near the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, just east of Ross Island. The flight to the site is a nice one as we hug Ross Island and get a good view of it and eventually the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf and the open waters of the Ross Sea!

The northern edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, as viewed from the helo. Elina’s head is on the left.

The surface conditions were absolutely ideal, borderline hot (haha), at the site. Temperatures hovered around 30F with calm to no wind and sunny skies. No coats were necessary that day, especially after doing some digging to recover the power system.

Laurie II upon arrival, with the crew and Mt. Terror in the background.

Digging out the power system.

Lee and I installing the new tower section. (Photo courtesy of Mike Penn)

Elina pointing out where the South Pole is (not pictured). (Thanks for the pic, Mike.)

Done with the raise!

Our first site visit was a success, and we looked to continue that the next day with a Twin Otter flight to Sabrina to raise the station. This visit to Sabrina was a long time coming… We spent essentially all of last field season trying to get there but couldn’t, mostly due to poor weather.

The field team for our visit consisted of me, Elina, Mike, and morale-tripper Dan Garcia, who works in town as a heavy equipment operator. This is Dan’s first time to the ice, and he was very happy to get out in the field with us and willing to help in any way he could. And help he did! It turned out that we needed all four of us to work well to get our work done in time….

It’s a long flight to Sabrina, approximately 500 miles (800 km) from McMurdo. As such, the Twin Otter needs to stop at a fuel cache along the way to refuel. This of course adds time, and the pilots only have a certain amount of time in a day during which they can work, called their duty day. It starts in the morning when they check weather and lasts for 14 hours, I think.

It took 2 hours 17 minutes to fly from McMurdo to the S+200 fuel cache, then another 1 hour 22 minutes from the fuel cache to landing at Sabrina. There was a strong head wind on the way there, but we made great time flying with the wind on the way back. Flight time from Sabrina to McMurdo was 2 hours 41 minutes.

Given this, when we landed at Sabrina, the Otter captain Lindsey said we only have 2 to 2.5 hours of ground time to get our work done. We typically like to allow for 4 hours for a station raise, so this time crunch meant we needed to work efficiently. At the outset, I knew there wasn’t going to be enough time to dig down and recover the power system, so we installed a new one. Perhaps we can revisit this site soon simply to recover the old power system. I thought the field team did great work. We successfully completed the raise in 2 hours 50 minutes. Not too bad!

At the S+200 fuel cache, refueling the Otter.

Sabrina upon arrival.

Elina, Mike, and Dan working hard while I take pictures of them.

All done!

As I was writing this, we got canceled due to weather to take a helo to Ferrell to raise the station. We had been put on weather hold today, but fog in the vicinity has prevented us from going to Ferrell. Additionally, Lee and Mike were hoping to go to South Pole today, but they’re on a 24-hour weather delay due to poor weather both in McMurdo and I think at Pole as well. Here’s to tomorrow!  -Dave

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Crevasse training (and servicing Laurie II and Sabrina)

In the time since my last post, we’ve gone to 2 AWS and began preparations for Lee and Mike heading to South Pole and Elina and I going to WAIS! More on that soon…

First, a brief but intense storm came through the McMurdo area on 4 December, bringing strong winds and snow. It got down to Condition 1 at Phoenix Airfield and the Road to Phoenix! I heard that the visibility was 0 at times. It did not get past condition 3 in McMurdo (unfortunately) but the wind was still very strong, creating wisps of wind-driven snow drifts.

Storm with high winds and snow in McMurdo. The buildings in the distance are some of the dorms.

The storm left as quickly as it came, and the next day the weather was much improved, much to the pleasure of me and Elina. We had our crevasse training that day that entailed going out to a man-made crevasse to practice our rope techniques, self-arresting, anchoring, and climbing out of the crevasse, among other things.

The training began in the classroom as we first went over the basics of how crevasses are formed, where to expect crevasses, and how to walk around or over them. Crevasses form in glaciers when the glaciers undergo stress and strain. Glaciers are large chunks of ice that flow on land, like a frozen river, and when there is a mountain in their way, they flow around that mountain, causing the glacier to bend and eventually “break” or create large cracks, or crevasses. Such breaks can occur when the glacier flows over a slope of land, causing crevassing at the peak of the slope. Crevasses in Antarctica are particularly difficult to navigate through because they usually change rapidly, have a lot of unknown snow bridges, and are in very remote locations where few people have been. “Snow bridges” are when snow accumulates in the crack and can hide the crevasse. Sometimes, the snow bridges are deep and sturdy enough for people (and even heavy equipment) to cross. Other times, they are deceptively weak.

Crevasses in the Transantarctic Mountains as viewed from a Twin Otter ride I took last year. Snow bridges can be seen where there appear to be horizontal stripes in the snow. I don’t think I would want to walk in this crevasse field!

When walking near a suspected crevasse field, the team should rope up together, walking in a line, with no fewer than 3 people roped together. Each person has an ice axe in hand and wears a harness to which they can connect the rope, using either a figure-8 knot or a butterfly knot. These knots are useful because they can be tied in the middle of the rope, as opposed to needing one end of the rope. The person in front (who will be the mountaineer AKA expert, in our case) has either an ice axe or a pole to probe the snow surface. If they suspect a crevasse, they will test the snow bridge and determine whether it is safe for us to cross. If so, then it is very important for everyone to walk in the same path. This is because the mountaineer deemed said path as safe to walk on; if we were to deviate even a few feet, the snow bridge may be weaker and we could fall in.

If someone does fall in, there are 7 steps to follow: 1) Arrest the fall. 2) Build a snow anchor. 3) Transfer load. 4) Escape system. 5) Communicate with fallen team member. 6) Prepare the edge of the crevasse. 7) Build a hauling system. The biggest responsibilities for Elina and I, when we’re at Evans Knoll, will be to do steps 1 through 4. The mountaineer should be able to do all 7 steps and get the person out of the crevasse (we can help with the hauling, of course). Nonetheless, we went through all steps for this training to get firsthand experience of what to do.

1) Arresting the fall means, if a team member falls in a crevasse, the rest of the team should pin themselves to the snow as quickly as possible to stop the victim from falling further. We were taught how to properly hold our ice axes and dig into the snow, both with the ice axe and our feet. Once our feet are safely holding us steady, we can 2) build a snow anchor that allow the team members to 3) transfer their load onto the snow anchor so they can 4) escape the system. At this point, the team members can approach the crevasse, while safely hooked to the anchor, to 5) talk with the victim to learn whether they’re hurt and/or able to pull themselves out of the crevasse. Since the rope will dig into the edge of the crevasse, increasing friction and making it more difficult to pull the victim out, we can 6) prepare the edge of the crevasse by inserting an ice axe or something similar beneath the rope at the bend, so the rope slides primarily on the axe instead of digging into the snow. Once the 7) hauling system is in place, all team members can haul the victim out of the crevasse.

If the victim is not hurt and able to pull themselves out of the crevasse, they can do so by using 2 small looped ropes and tie 2 separate Prusik knots. Both of the looped ropes are connected to the main rope, with one connected to the victim’s harness and the other to one of their feet. Prusik knots are created by essentially looping the looped rope over the main rope a few times. When one pulls on the knot, it bends the main rope and increases friction, causing the knot to hold. To loosen the knot, one relieves pressure on it and straightens out the main rope. One can then slide the knot along the main rope with their hand. Given this, the victim will be able to climb up the main rope by first advancing the Prusik knot connected to their harness as far up the rope as they can while pushing on the second Prusik knot connected to their foot. Then they advance the second Prusik knot as far up the rope and ideally to the first Prusik knot, while the first Prusik knot holds because it is supporting the victim’s body weight and bending the rope. They repeat this process and eventually reach the top of the crevasse, at which point they and the field team members can pull them out.

For the second half of our crevasse training, the three of us went to a man-made crevasse just off the snow road to the airfields and on the McMurdo Ice Shelf.

Elina, the pisten bully we rode in, and some of the gear we brought to the crevasse site. The piece on the lower right is our dummy and very brave crevasse victim for the day, Ruth Lee.

The crevasse…. Not much to look at from this angle. The flags mark its location.

Upon arrival, we all put on our harnesses and roped up, with me and Elina on the ends of the rope so we could practice arresting in the snow. When it was my turn, Jim and Elina walked and pulled on the rope in one direction, simulating someone falling into a crevasse. I then switch my grip on my ice axe from “walking mode” to “arresting mode”, fell on my belly and dug the ice axe into the snow. I kicked my feet into the snow, trying to get deep enough with my feet and the ice axe to stop from sliding on the surface. Then I could start digging the trench for my snow anchor.

After Elina and I practiced this several times, Jim showed us how to properly dig a trench, set up an anchor, and re-attach to the anchor without worry of anything slipping.

The snow anchor and rope, which leads to the crevasse on the right.

Elina and I then roped up, with Ruth Lee on one end. Ruth Lee then decided to investigate the crevasse to see just how deep and wide it was when BAM! She fell in! Elina and I arrested the fall in seconds, stopping Ruth’s fall about 10 feet from the surface. But it wasn’t as difficult as we had anticipated. One thing we didn’t realize was how much friction the rope caused at the edge of the crevasse. We thought Ruth would yank us hard when she fell, but that wasn’t the case. This friction works both ways, of course, so although it helped prevent a great fall into the crevasse, it also means it’s difficult to pull Ruth up to safety. This is where preparing the edge of the crevasse is important. We did so and were able to rescue Ruth. Today she can be found sipping hot tea in the Crary Library, reminiscing on her harrowing experience.

The last thing we did that day was practice climbing out of the crevasse ourselves, utilizing the techniques I outlines above. I think this was the most fun and satisfying part of the training.

Elina (foreground) and Jim, with the two anchored ropes with which Elina and I would practice our escape from the crevasse (and a pretty hefty crevasse it is, right??).

Elina was excited to save herself.

Climbing out of the crevasse!

A full view of the man-made crevasse, with Castle Rock making the picture all artsy in the upper right corner.

Elina and I feel ready to conquer Evans Knoll now! We were very appreciative of the opportunity to practice these skills before heading out into the field there.

And as it turns out, I spent way more time on the crevasse training for this post than I thought I would. It is a very interesting subject, and writing this helped me remember some of the details. And now you all know them! Consider yourselves trained… sort of.

I’ll talk about Laurie II and Sabrina in my next post. Cheers!  -Dave

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Getting the AWS team up to speed

The team is (pretty much) all trained up and ready for flying! Over this past week, we have attended training classes to teach us about fire safety, how to sort our trash, how to drive a truck, how to walk around McMurdo safely, and how to survive out in the field. One training that Elina and I will be doing tomorrow is crevasse training. We will utilize this training primarily at Evans Knoll in West Antarctica, if we do indeed go there. I’ll send updates about that in another post.

Elina sitting in our lab.

The view from our lab across McMurdo Sound! That’s Mt Discovery in the distance.

Learning how to make fire in the Field Safety and Training course.

Lee and I have also met with the fixed wing (Twin Otter) and helicopter flight coordinators to discuss our flight plans in McMurdo, and at WAIS and South Pole. We all have also gotten our cargo organized, both that we shipped south from Madison and that we’ve left here in McMurdo over winter. All of these preparations led to us being on the flight schedule for the first time today! We were on the Otter schedule to fly to Margaret and Gill, but we were canceled due to weather (which is why I can spend the time to write this). A storm is coming into the area, with high winds and blowing (and some accumulating) snow expected around midday in McMurdo.

Here’s to good weather tomorrow! Cheers.  -Dave

P.S. Tug of war! The US and New Zealand faced off, with US women losing 2-1, US men winning 2-1, and US coed winning the only match!

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