24 November, 2003
Eclipse and Isolation!
Location: Don Juan Pond, Lake Vanda, Dry Valleys
First thing this morning, a helicopter carrying Peter and Phil stopped by Lake Bonney to pick up Roman and I and take us all over to the Wright Valley. The helo immediately headed up valley providing an awesome view of Taylor Glacier and the surrounding mountains. It was only moments before the speck that had been our camp site was completely gone from view.
We flew up and over the jagged peaks that poked through the ice which surrounded the mountains and squeezed them tight. Further into the great expanse we went. I could have flown around in that helicopter for days! Every direction offered absolutely spectacular views. All I could do was smile!
The pilots warned us that we would be making a rapid descent to Don Juan Pond and to keep clearing our ears. I guess it was rapid! We buzzed along just above the cascading ice; down into the center of the valley. It looked as though we had landed on Mars - sporadic boulders laying around in what appeared to be a very silty area. Don Juan Pond is the saltiest body of water on the planet; it is over twelve times saltier than sea water. It is also a very shallow pond; less than one foot deep in most, if not all, parts. Even though it is so shallow, the pond never freezes - even in the dead of winter! The salt levels keep it from freezing.
We were here to measure the water level in the pond. We set up the surveying equipment, measured the water level, and headed back to the helicopter. Away we went! Back up and over a few hillsides, then down again to Lake Vanda. The helicopter landed right on the lake. We quickly got out, downloaded data from a monitoring station measuring lake temperatures, and got back into the helicopter.
The helicopter whooshed along just above the ice and took us to the far side of the lake. We got out and the pilots tossed all our bags and two survival bags onto the ice and took off without us! They were going down valley to refuel while we worked, but the weather was changing. Just in case they could not make it back to get us, they left us with the survival bags!
To make things even weider, the solar eclipse had started. There we were, just the four of us, in the middle of nowhere, not certain if our ride would come back, and the sky getting darker! I do not think I have ever felt so isolated; but it was such an awesome experience... to be in a remote valley of Antarctica during an eclipse - how cool is that?!
We measured water level for Lake Vanda, then entertained ourselves by sliding on the ice as we waited for the helicopter to return. It took a bit longer than expected, and we were starting to wonder if we would be spending the "night" here, but then we heard the tell tale thumping of the rotor blades! The helicopter did come and get us; in a way, I was a bit diasappointed!
We flew back to Lake Bonney, picked up all our supplies and headed back to McMurdo Station. Shower time! All is well; still having the time of my life!
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