16 January, 2003
Back in MacTown
Hectic is an understatement when describing the last few days. I apologize for not getting journals in, but we have been operating under battery power and have not been able to post. It has also been quite an adventure.
After arriving at Beardmore Camp, we spent an entire day packing up, getting ready to leave. This meant strapping down all our cargo to pallettes, including most of the ski-doos. Everything, including the garbage, goes into large tri-walled cardboard boxes. and must be secure for loading on the LC-130's. We also planed off a "tarmac" by having the ski-doo's drag pallettes behind to harden the snow so that loading the plane would be easier. This turned into a fun ride where we took turns riding the pallette like a bucking bronco.
The planes can't shut off their engines in the cold, and it can be a confusing time getting them loaded. So every effort we could make ahead of time would make the transition go easier. We knew they were coming on Tuesday, we just didn't know when.
We got word Tuesday morning that they would pick us up after dropping off fuel at the pole. Two planes would be required to take us out, so we were assigned to groups of four as to who would be going on the first flight and who would be on the second. It was such a great day at Beardmore that we went on a short excursion to a small mountain nearby. Jamie pulled us on one of the larger sleds and we hiked to the top. The view was incredible, but even more incredible were the "ventifacts" wind sculpted rocks that looked like a mini-Stonehenge. They were carved into pinnacles and platforms and formed a stark contrast to the surrounding topography.
When we got back, we received good news that the first plane was on its way to Pole, and would be on the way to get the first group soonafter. The second plane had been delayed, and eventually, we got word that it wasn't going to Pole, but rather would come directly to Beardmore to get us. That would mean that both planes would be on the ground at our camp at the same time. The second plane realized this isn't the safest scenario, and was postponed another hour. That meant the first plane would arrive at 11:30PM and the other about 1:30AM.
When we heard the first plane was on its way, we broke down the tents of the people going, and got everything staged. Right before the plane arrived, we got the news that the second flight had been scrubbed due to a forecast of fog at McMurdo. Even though it was beautiful in Beardmore, there is no way to tell what it's doing in McMurdo.
It's really something to have a Twin Otter land in camp, but it was on another level to see a large, 4-turboprop cargoplane pull up right next to our tents. The loading went without a hitch, but the takeoff was a little sketchy. They taxied up and down the snow several times until they could get up enough speed to take off. They probably taxied for a couple of miles before they fired the JATO (Jet Assisted Take Off) rockets on the side of the plane which boosted them into the air. I was happy for the members of the team on their way to McMurdo, but for the first time in the whole trip, I really felt remote and stranded.
It's not always just a matter of getting another flight in. Often bad weather can set in and it could be another week before we are pulled out. Scott pointed out that now we are the only four people in 160,000 square miles, and he subsequently called "dibs" on the part we were camped.
Carl, Scott, Jamie and I had coffee together the next morning and we heard a Polebound flight would pick us up on its return to McMurdo in the early afternoon. It was a warm day by Antarctic standards, 18F. Scott and I were outside most of the morning because it was so comfortable. With confidence the flight would arrive, I broke down the Poop Tent. I've chosen to avoid the topic until now, but, in case you were wondering, we had a tent with a bucket and toilet seat inside. To let anyone know that the tent was occupied, you raised one of our meteorite flags outside the tent. This inspired Scott to modify a poem:
Red flag at morning, poopers take warning; No flag at night, poopers delight.
The plane arrived about 2:30PM and we got everything loaded. Scott and I were invited to sit in the cockpit for takeoff, and were thrilled. The LC-130's come back from Pole with just enough fuel to get to McMurdo so they can carry so much to the South Pole. This plane made several attempts at take off, but couldn't build up enough speed to get off the snow.
The snow was much softer than the night before because it was about 20 degrees warmer. On each run, Scott and I made bets of bowls of ice cream that the plane would lift off. After about an hour, the navigator looked at me and said, "We're offloading."
The back of the plane opened up, and they pushed out four snowmoblies, four tents, and a pallette of our camp boxes in a combat offload manuever. This lightened the load on the plane and we built up a little more speed. They fired the JATO tubes and we lifted off at about 80 knots. We found out later that they would have stalled at 78 kts. and that they only had enough fuel for this last attempt. If we hadn't gotten off the ground, we would be setting up tents for ourselves and the flight crew, waiting for a plane to come in and re-fuel this one.
The flight crew was great! They let Scott and I listen in on headphones as they discussed all the ways of getting to McMurdo on so little fuel. They flew at a higher altitude than normal, and that actually shortened the trip. They even discussed coming in on three of the four engines. This was probably the best flight of my life!
Another plane is scheduled to pick up our cargo tonight, which may mean another day of cleaning and sorting. That is what we did all day today was clean and sort our garbage and camping gear. It took us most of the day, into the afternoon.
Tonight was "Bag Drag" where have ourselves and luggage weighed for tomorrow's flight to Christchurch. We were told that we didn't have to check in our luggage tonight, but that was wrong, and we repacked frantically so that we would have a change of clothes for tomorrow. Who knows what I forgot?
We're scheduled to leave at 12:30PM for New Zealand, but a storm has moved in that might delay things. If I have a chance, I'll do another posting tomorrow. Otherwise, members of the Rekki team might pick up some journals. In case I don't get a chance to write, I just want to say how overwhelmed I am at the enthusiasm and support I've felt for the website. Thank you so much for reading it and following our progress. It's been a joy for me getting to write it and getting so many contributions from the ANSMET team. Thanks again.
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