5 June, 1992
WIND: 4.9 Knots
Friday, 5 June 1992
Last report, we were just being briefed about how we would enter and function in Ice Camp Weddell I. John ran the meeting, promising to be out by 0930. Then Nick Bagrianstev, a Russian scientist and interpreter, (he lives on the Palmer with us and is a great guy), walked in with Arnold Gordon, chief scientist for ICWI, and Valary Lukin, head of the camp and all operations of ICWI. Nick said that the good news during the night was that the mechanics of the Akademik Federov have milled a new gear for Christine (the 10 ton Russian tractor that usually broke down every afternoon) which had been broker down for five days. The great news was that since the only other workhorses in the ice camp were three snow machines (Skidoos), a Russian Mill-8 helicopter (the meanest, nastiest, biggest helo I have ever seen) and two US Bell copters (much smaller but more maneuverable), we, the people, complemented the workhorse list (sound familiar?).
John said that Ted Backer needed volunteers (4); I didn't know what Ted did, but my hand went up first, along with three other volunteers'. We were told to gear-up (it was -31) and meet in the fantail at 10000. Nick said other volunteers would be needed to shovel and every remaining hand in the place went up - Young and Old Scholars alike, along with others of the expedition. Getting dressed, as I think I mentioned before, is no easy task; you want to return with everything you left with. We met on the fantail; loaded lumber, bolts, nuts, a strapping machine into the cargo net; and the four of us were put over the side of the ship. During the night, the Palmer's crew had off-loaded four of the seven container boxes that we had brought for returning equipment and wastes of all kind (trash, lumber, garbage, human).
It's now 1030, pitch black; well, the horizon is a bright bluish purple; we still have an hour or so (more or less) before sun up. The Palmer's cranes are getting fired up to off-load and eventually load. The Federov is parked about 1 km ahead to our starboard side and off to our right. At about a distance of 2 km is ICWI. The lights from the huts are glowing and we can hear, see the three snow machines going around the camp, In fact, one rapidly approaches the Palmer. Yes, a ride! Oops! Wrong choice of words. We loaded five 55 gallon empty fuel drums (these we were to off-load fuel into, from any barrels at ICWI that might leak). I am MOST impressed as to the concern of every person here, be it scientist, logistic support, ship crew, and yes, even us civilians, for the condition of the environment here. Two quotes that were heard frequently (along with numerous expletives that I will delete), sorry, Mr. Nixon, are "take only photographs and leave only footprints" and "there is nothing worth more than life and limb, so you will be careful."
On the sledge that the skidoo towed, we placed the lumber, strapper and ourselves; we were then off. Boy, do I mean OFF! The driver, who I thought was totally nuts, had no time for novices to learn the rudiments of traveling at about 200 m to drop off the barrels! Then onward to the helicopter area to drop off nuts and bolts; then finally to the north end of town to Beacon Hill (honestly!). This is where the UHF and RSVP were located. The driver, by the way, was a German studying at LDGO, named Helmut, turned out to be a real good friend and extremely hard worker. The camp was a collection of rectangular wooden prefabricated Russian huts, bright red Quonset huts like tents, known as Windports, that the Americans used. These huts served as homes and/or labs for the researchers; several of them (five, I believe) had hydroholes in them. A hydrohole is an opening in the ice about 1 meter in diameter all the way through the ice (most ice was about 2.3 meters thick, but there was one where an additional .33 meter of ice had grown at the bottom of the hole. When a light was shined into the hole, the ice was blue and the water was blue green, the ring of new ice at the bottom looked like a halo.) Oh, I forgot to mention, just below the ice there was about 10,000 feet of water. (One should definitely NOT walk in one's sleep!!) At either end of the ice camp were generators and in the center of the camp was the galley, mess and rec hall-oh, all in one building. It was a pneumatics tent that had pressure sensors in the wall that would kick on whenever the pressure in the walls fell below a certain crucial level. Evidently, this tent served as the social center for the camp. Those of you big on hygiene would have cringed to see a garbage bucket, a trash can, a can for recycleables, a pan of soapy water, a pan of rinse water, a second pan of rinse water and finally, your utensil - "you eat, you clean up". about 20 meters from the mess, was the outhouse. I do mean OUT. I've used these "facilities" before; that's bad enough; but the change of "getting frozen to the seat" made for some interesting maneuvering! I was told that when the camp heard that we were arriving, they decided not to bag the houses" contents, but wait for the final clean-up (the waste was coming home with us). This posed, one of the camp's women residents mentioned to me, the danger of one being "impaled."
My task this AM was to put steel bands around the packing crates of equipment and samples. Sounds easy enough; but when the temp is -32 and you're dressed like King Tut's mummy, things don't go quite the way you want them to. For example, there is a clamp about 1/2" x 1" that you put over the strapping to attach it with. Well, with a pair of liners with Gortex gloves over them, the clamp is difficult to pick up. So, what you do is get stupid and take off the gloves so that you can work better (normal attitude to take in normal conditions, right?). WRONG, these are not normal conditions; metal on damp fingers at -32 freezes. Ouch! Oh, here's another little case of stupidity. The Antarctic is the driest place in the world (this includes all deserts); so we must bring water bottles with us into the field at all times. This I did; but rather than keep the bottle in my already bulky coat, I placed it on one of the cases I was strapping. About an hour later, I decided to have a drink. WRONG AGAIN. Mother Nature decided that at -32 my water should become ice (1 liter of totally frozen water). Fortunately, the guy I was working with saw my predicament and took me into his Windport where he always kept three liters of "liquid" water. Refreshed, I walked back to the Palmer for lunch; not an easy task in all that clothing, cold and snow.
After lunch, we, the Young and Old Scholars and others who were new to OCWI, were given a tour of the camp. In touring, we were introduced to the people working there - Russian and American. At the meteorology hut, we met a young Russian named Boris. He was a most pleasant 35 year old man, most fluid in English and extremely excited about the presence of the teachers and their students. From here we moved to the hut of one of the Russian ice divers, Dr. Egor Melinkoff (age 53). The previous night we had seen some of Egor's videos he had shot during his dives; the most fantastic footage I have ever seen. Egor loves to talk (speaks English fluently also) and when he learned he was with a group of teachers and "their children" (as he referred to the students), he proceeded to present a lecture right then and there. Much more on Egor later. After the tour, we returned to work; which now consisted of starting to dig out the huts and Windports, some buried six feet in snow. But it was what was at the bottom of the snow that would make the digging become hellish. Ice, ice and more ice! Not ice that the huts had been placed upon, but rather ice that had melted from the heat of the hut; meaning the huts literally sank into the ice and then refroze to a depth of 18" in some instances. All the ice had to be removed for it was policy that if we brought it, we bring it back. That meant the ice had to be chopped away and the frozen bottoms had to be removed. As my wife would know, this is one of the worst jobs I have ever had. The only factors that makes a job like this bearable are the people you are working with; the fact that we wanted to leave only footprints and the tranquility and beauty of Antarctica. It all gets better when you can look up from your work at any time during the day and see either three hours of the most beautiful sunset or sunrise you've ever seen.
Left the camp at 1730, ate and entered data into the computer; our science still goes on when we are not working on recovery. Recovery efforts were slower during the night, but nowhere near stopped. To bed at 0230.
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