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26 November, 2002

Shakedown: Day 1

This day got off to an early start. I did a live web cast with my students back home that started at 5:30AM, here. It was a real treat for me to get to hear my students voices and I really enjoyed it when I heard them get on just to say "hi" or to tell me news, like my window was broken in the classroom. My substitute thinks it's the work of a disgruntled geology student with whom I left too many notes.

The rest of us needed to be ready by 7:30AM to start loading gear into a truck to bring to the ice edge. This isn't glorified car camping. This means bringing tents, sleds, food boxes, climbing equipment and a host of personal items about a half mile to the sea ice and the ski-doos.

Once at the edge we learned the art of loading a sled so that it doesn't tip easily. These sleds are large and designed to be pulled by a strong little ski-doo, but it really gives one appreciation for the work the early Antarctic explorers did towing sleds much like these with dogs or by themselves.

John Schutt gave us many pointers on traveling by caravan and we made our way slowly toward our destination. About an hour into the traverse, we stopped at "Castle Rock," A large black rock sticking right out of the snow. Being from "Castle Rock, CO" I wanted to compare and contrast this with the one back home. While the Castle Rock I know from home is a conglomerate sandstone about 35 million years old, this one is probably only a few thousand of years old and is made of a rock called Hyaloclastite. This igneous rock forms quickly when magma comes in contact with ice. It's not too hard to picture this event in this environment.

Speaking of volcanism, as our ski-doos rounded the corner outside of Scott Base, the New Zealand base adjacent to McMurdo, I caught a view of Mt. Erebus, the southernmost active volcano in the world. A plume of steam was rising from the top producing a long thin cloud against a crystal clear blue sky. This day was cool, but comfortable, and by afternoon, down right warm, with all of us wearing our gear.

We set up camp on the flanks of the volcano, on the Erebus glacier tongue that extends from the volcano to McMurdo Sound and the Ross Ice Shelf. From this elevation, one can see for hundreds of miles. The Ross Ice Shelf is the size of Texas, and full of trapped icebergs and pressure ridges. But from here it looks as flat as a calm sea.

After camp was set up, we went to a crevasse area and learned the basics of roping up and crevasse rescue. Jamie Pierce and John Schutt are really gifted teachers. They went at a pace that was helpful, and gave us practical experience. But mostly they made it fun with their personalities and stories. We learned everything from how to set up an anchor in the snow, to how to set up a pulley system to raise a victim from a crevasse.

I think my favorite part of the day was when we roped up and walked through a field of crevasses and serracs, large chunks of falling glacial ice. At one point, Jaime disappeared into the crevasse on purpose, forcing his team to orchestrate a rescue. I couldn't stop laughing because he looked so funny going over the edge.

It was getting pretty late, but it was such a nice evening (and the sun never sets), so we gave the ski-doos a real shakedown at a place John calls the wall of death. One plunges their snow machine down an embankment and right up a steep wall that underlies a cornice. Then races up the other side, hoping to "catch a little air."

It was time for team photos with the volcano, and finally, supper, around 10:00PM. We all varied how we slept, but I could not have slept better. This experience really gives me confidence for the expedition.

All roped up for crevasse training.

Mt. Erebus from Castle Rock.

Mt. Erebus from our caravan of Ski-doos.

Mr. C doing his best Darth Vader impression.

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