Jurassic and back

After the best part of a week laid up at Dyer, the 18th of January finally dawned beautiful and still, with barely a cloud in the sky. Suddenly the now-familiar drone of a twin otters turboprops could be faintly heard in the utter silence of the snow, and a bright red speck appeared in the northern sky. All our clatch was soon stuffed into the little hold, and after a quick refuelling stop at Fossil Bluff we flew south to our final field site near Jurassic nunataks. Unfortunately, a bank of fog was creeping up from the coast, and by the time we arrived visibility was only a couple of hundred metres at ground level. We did do a couple of passes over the site, but with nothing showing on the radar the pilot (Doug this time) wasnt too keen to land in case he pranged the plane on the AWS. So we flew on to Sky Blue again, only 50 miles east as it happens, to wait for an improvement.

48 hours later it had picked up enough to make another attempt, and we were soon camped out on yet another snowy plain. It became clear why we had seen nothing on the radar - the wind vane on top of the AWS was a mere six inches above the snow surface. It was going to be another 5m hole to dig, although at least we could be thankful there was something showing - it wasnt as bad as Gomez. Another month or so of accumulation and we would have been in need of the radar again.

Our digging technique was well established now, and we made rapid progress downwards. By the end of that day I reckoned we were virtually at the instrument boxes at the bottom of the AWS mast, and indeed, a few minutes after starting on the following day we struck the first of the boxes. It took pretty much the rest of that day to enlarge the bottom of the hole enough to clear out all the boxes, download the loggers, find the GPS survey pole (which again was completely buried, a couple of metres away from the AWS mast), fasten the antenna onto it and get an accurate position fix, and tidy everything up onto the surface.

The satellite GPS poles a kilometer away were once again completely buried under the snow, and we had no chance of finding them. So we reckoned we were done, and on the radio sched in the evening we let Rothera know that we were ready to be picked up on the following day should a plane happen to be available. It wasn't to be though. Our weather wasnt too bad in the morning, but it was a bit dismal at Sky Blu, where they were planning to refuel. A couple of hours later some bright spark realised they didn't need to use Sky Blue at all - the plane should have enough fuel if it just stopped at Fossil Bluff on the way down, and routed straight back through there. Gary was dispatched at once, and got down as far as the Bluff - but by then our weather had deteriorated, the fog had rolled in and the wind picked up, so he turned round and went home again.

It blew another blizzard the next two days. I finished Tilman, and had to resort to reading one of my other books for a second time. On the 26th it was finally looking a bit better, but there was still a bit of cloud around near ground level, and the boys in the planes don't like that. They hummed and hawed most of the day, and then decided not to bother.

The following day was in fact greyer and windier, but for some reason they liked it better, and Nico was with us first thing in the morning - he had stopped at Sky Blue the previous day, so it wasn't far to come. We bunged all our clobber in the back, and winged into the air for the half hour flight back to Sky Blue again, where I sat around in the 'departure lounge' for a couple of hours while Nico put another field party in.

It was just Nico and I taking the plane back to Rothera that evening, so I was up the front in the co-pilots seat. "Ever flown before?" he asked as soon as we were up in the air, and handed me the controls. He snoozed the rest of the way north. It's dead easy really, much more like sailing than driving - the only difference is that the tiller works for up and down as well as for left and right. I did condescend to let him take the controls for our landing and take-off at Fossil Bluff motorway services. It's not the easiest take-off in the world, for the skiway is rutted with the frozen tracks of the last planes to take off, and has in any case a very marked camber - which probably wouldn't be a problem on concrete, but on icy snow the plane skids about all over the place quite alarmingly. From the Bluff back to Rothera we were above cloud most of the way, or sometimes in it (surprisingly disorientating when you are driving the thing), but in the odd gaps the low sun of evening lit up stunning mountain ranges.

Click on the pictures on the right to see the full image.