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9 January, 2003

Avoiding The Fall Into Oblivion

Today we set off again to bore into Lake Fryxell at about 8:30. It was another cloudy day, although the wind was calmer than yesterday. I set off with Sean and Aaron and the rest of the team left shortly after us. Five minutes onto the ice I realized I had left my sunglasses in the tent. If I left my camera or something, I would have kept going, but sunglasses are very important, so I had to go back for them. By the time I walked back to the camp and back onto the ice, everyone was well out to the drill sites. Walking out is truly designed to increase anxiety. For everyone it is the worst part of our day. The ice can break through in so many places. You may only fall up to your knees or waist before hitting solid ice below, but you can get drenched in the meantime and the water is very, very cold. The fear of falling into oblivion is constantly in the front of your mind. But worst of all is that you could easily twist an ankle or break a leg falling through the ice. By the time I reached my group I had partially fallen through four times, I was sweating like crazy, and quite drained. It can be difficult to find solid ice in some places and since staying clear of thin ice is so deeply engrained in us as kids, this trek was going against all my instincts, even if I only fell in up to my waist. I had learned a few days ago that taking the unexpected dip could stop your heart and chill you to the core. As one member of our team, Jake put it... In life you count on certain things, one being that the ground is stable when you step and another being that the sun will set at the end of the day. Neither of these things is true in Antarctica. Sorry about that paragraph Mom. Probably not the sort of thing you want to be reading about.

By the time I reached Aaron and Sean I was in need of a diversion. It had taken a half hour to reach them, every minute of which was filled with stress. So I paused, pulled out my camera, and reminded myself of how lucky I was to be here and that the beauty was worth the heart-pounding walk to the middle of the lake. Besides, it would be eight hours before our return hike out. Surely I would have plenty of time to psych myself up for the walk out, as we all have to do, and then we would leave as a group. We are now in the habit of walking together and if someone is hung up, we wait. If you were alone when you fell in, you could end up hiding behind an ice tower and could be difficult to spot. So we keep to a minimum of two people now and keep a close eye on one another. I also carry a whistle in case help is required and we each have first aid kits in our packs.

Tonight I am able to post a journal entry because the F6 camp invited us to dinner... all nine of us. Lasagna, barbecue pork, potatoes, brownies, and great company. Can't beat that! Louise and I are typing our journals while everyone dances around us. What's wrong with us???? We're chair dancing though.

Right now, I am exhausted and sore. The temperature has dropped, the wind has picked up to at least 20 knots, and it was snowing a while ago. We still have to hike back, but at least on the return trek the wind will be to our backs. I am looking forward to crawling into my sleeping bag for a good rest tonight.

One interesting note... before I left I read in several places that it hasn't snowed in the Dry Valleys for millions of years. Not true. It has snowed twice in the few days I've been here. Not a lot... but it has snowed. When I talked to Louise about it, she said she too had read the same thing several times. We told Brenda and Chris about it and they said that is just not true. It hasn't rained (as I would imagine), but they have been here many times and it often snows.

A shot of the surface of Lake Fryxell. Lots of sharp edges and many thin ice areas to fall through.

Navigating through the ice covering Lake Fryxell.

Another shot of the ice. This is a close up of an overhang which when viewed from above looks like a safe mound of ice as you are walking along. But a view from the other side shows that it is melted out from underneath.

I'm taking a break on Lake Fryxell.

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