On the Ice

20 Jan: Final WAIS blog post: Camp life, storm, and departure by Twin Otter

It turned out that our attempt to go to Thurston Island on 16 January was our last flying day to an AWS from WAIS for the season. The weather at Thurston didn’t cooperate for the remainder of our stay. The original plan was to have us stay at WAIS until the week of Monday, 22 January. After 16 January, we saw that the forecast for Thurston wasn’t going to clear up for the next few days. On top of that, on Wednesday we heard that a storm was going to hit WAIS for a few days, starting on that Friday. Winds were going to start howling, with a lot of blowing snow and low visibility. Definitely not flying weather. Since we knew we wouldn’t be flying from WAIS over the weekend, knew that we had work to do with Matt and Andy in McMurdo, and had the luxury of “relocating” to McMurdo with the CKB Twin Otter, on Thursday morning, 18 January, we decided that we would leave WAIS.

We packed up all of our gear, both personal and work equipment. We cleaned out our tents and had the help of the POLENETters to take down our tents. We packed some food for the flights and departed a little after 9 am. Our route would be from WAIS to Shackleton Glacier Camp (SHG) to refuel, then to McMurdo. SHG is field camp this field season set up in the Transantarctic Mountains, near the southern end of the Ross Ice Shelf.

A map of our flight path from WAIS, to Shackleton Glacier Camp (SHG), then to McMurdo.

I say that this was luxurious to leave WAIS by Twin Otter because it pretty much allowed us to leave whenever we wanted. Typically, we would have to wait for a Herc to come from McMurdo to pick us up. Since Hercs are usually in high demand for other missions on the continent, they break often, and they are less flexible than the Otters in terms of flying in poor weather, it is more difficult to leave WAIS on a Herc than an Otter.

One stipulation about about taking the Otter is that it takes longer to get to McMurdo. The plane is slower, and it needs to stop to refuel. Flight time for a Herc is about 3.5 hours, but for an Otter it was 8 hours, including the pit stop. However, since we flew into the Transantarctics, we got some awesome views, which I’ll show in a bit. The long flight also gave us time to reflect on our stay at WAIS…

Overall, both Marian and I agree that we had a great time at WAIS and wish we could have stayed there longer. The camp staff was awesome. Everyone got along really well, and there was always something to do on the nights. We would typically have a movie night/watch a show in the galley. The chef made delicious food for every meal (we were definitely spoiled in this regard). Playing cribbage was a regular occurrence. Everyone helped out whenever they could, whether it be helping with washing dishes, shoveling snow for the snow melters, or helping camp staff with tasks.

One example was helping Zach organize food we got on a Herc. We spent an afternoon out at the “freezer cave” where the food was stored. We took the food out of the triwalls they were sent in, made an inventory, then helped carry the food down to the cave.

The door to the freezer cave, with the chef Zach in the middle, Marian on the left, and Peter (POLENET) on the right.

The freezer cave.

Cool ice formations on the ceiling.

About midway through our stay at the camp, the engineers from both of the Otter crews took a day to make a ski route around camp. There are cross country skis available for use, but no one had ever made a route at WAIS until this year! It was great to get out on a Sunday to get some exercise. It had also been about a year since I skied last… It’s more of a workout than I remember.

The ski trail went right by Kominko-Slade!

Me and the trail, with tent city to my left and Winterville behind me.

So, back to our flight to SHG and McMurdo. After about 3 hours in the air, we started to fly over the mountains. The views were spectacular.

When we landed, we spent about an hour at the camp. It’s a gorgeous camp, surrounded by mountains and glaciers. The weather, according to the people there, all year was pretty much like when we were there: sunny, temperatures around 20 F, and low winds. Very pleasant.

The Otter crew refueled the plane, and we all had some pizza at their camp galley. The chefs knew we were coming, so they made some extra for us (tasty!). We said hi to them (one of which was the WAIS chef when I was there a couple years ago) and some other SHG camp staff (some of which I also met at WAIS a couple years ago [it’s a small continent]).

Our Otter on the left, and the SHG Otter on the right.

Looking in the opposite direction as the Otters. In the distance is part of Shackleton Glacier and one of its “steps,” and you may notice the ice falls as the glacier falls down the steep rocky slope.

We (reluctantly) departed the camp, McMurdo bound. The sights were just as cool leaving the camp as they were coming in.

A better view of the ice falls, from the plane.

Glaciers meeting

We got back to McMurdo around 5 pm that evening. It was a long day of flying, but we were happy to be back in town to try to get as much work done as we could in our last couple weeks on the ice. And with that, this concludes the WAIS blog posts.


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