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8 January, 2003

ANSMET web log update for January 8, 2003 - written by Scott Messenger

Today marked the beginning of the end of this year's expedition. We welcomed one of our rare Twin Otter airplane support flights, with the main goal of "retroing" as much stuff as we could back to the Beardmore Glacier, where the LC-130 Hercules will pick us up next week for our return to McMurdo. We were motivated to get as much to Beardmore by Twin Otter as possible to minimize the amount of stuff we have to take with us on our very long traverse - especially given our experience on the Hill of Doom during our previous traverse. We ended up with several empty fuel barrels, three Nansen sleds, some of our personal gear and a big pile of broken SkiDoo bogie wheels, etc. I was fortunate enough to accompany Jamie on the flight out there to help unload the gear. Jamie took a nice picture of me in the plane on our way back to camp this afternoon - I may look angry but I'm just a little worn out!

We had good weather for the flight -the Katabatic winds have stopped by now, and visibility was excellent. We flew at an altitude of about 500 feet above the surface so that Jamie could get a good look at the route we will be taking on our traverse. On the way out we flew over Lewis Cliffs, which borders the Beardmore glacier to the west. There is an enormous blue ice field at the base of the cliffs (nice view!) where many meteorites have been recovered in previous seasons. The Twin Otter left Jamie and I at Beardmore to sort through our first load of retro to go back to camp for the rest. We were left standing there in an incredibly vast, remote and eerily silent expanse of ice. The ice is very flat there and the horizon is much more distant than back at camp. This reminded me of just how remote our field camp is. Jamie estimates that there isn't another camp within 200 miles of us. That means each we have 160,000 square miles to ourselves! This has become a running joke in camp (Carl remarking that "this is the best teriaki within 160,000 square miles!" etc.) There was essentially no wind and it felt much warmer than back at camp - we had to take off our jackets to keep comfortable. Before long the Twin Otter was back with the last of our retro materials - the flight takes about 15 minutes and our traverse will take all of a very long day. The return flight was more comfortable (not being cramped by all of those boxes and sleds) and equally stunning. We took a more westerly return route, flying over a vast moraine that turns out to be about two by fifteen miles in size. On the final approach we passed an area at the tip of the Law glacier that we found a few meteorites on. The very edge of this glacier (which we avoided) is a chaotic expanse of huge crevasses, testament to the immense forces at work. This is also the reason we have to take the "scenic route" back to Beardmore.

The other essential function of the Twin Otter flight is to bring us our mail. The fresh cheese sent to Jamie and the chocolate chip cookies from Linda's mother (both generously shared with the group) were great morale boosters and a reminder that there really is a big wide world out there. Amazingly, we can hand the flight crew a stamped letter and have it delivered to anywhere in the US for 37 cents!! Most of our mail didn't make it onto this flight, and more importantly more spare bogie wheels for the bumpy ride back to Beardmore. So we expect one last support flight on Friday.

I think we have had an excellent season - 460 meteorites so far with two more days left to search, very nice weather overall - which means relatively few tedious tent days. But we are all ready to get back to our families, showers, fresh food, and all the other conveniences of modern life. But none of us regrets investing 2 months of our lives in this experience of a lifetime. Thanks Ralph!!

Photo of a bedraggled Scott Messenger taken by Jamie Pierce on the Twin Otter return flight.

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