31 October, 1997

31 October 97

CONDITION III for all locations.

REGIONAL WEATHER SUMMARY...Increased glacial outflow off the plateau will provide sunny skies and cold temperatures to the McMurdo area today and Saturday.

TODAY and TONIGHT...Sunny.

Visibility: Unrestricted.

Wind (knots): Easterly 6-12.

Temperature steady near -19C/-02F. Lowest Wind-chill -37C/-35F.


Visibility: Unrestricted.

Wind (knots): Southeasterly 10.

Temperature steady near -20C/-04F. Lowest Wind-chill -37C/-35F.


Temperature steady near -22C.


Next sunrise in February, 1998

YESTERDAY'S EXTREMES -30 October, 1997

Maximum Temperature: -11C/+12F

Minimum Temperature: -17C/-01 F

Peak Wind: 20 Knots

Lowest wind chill: -40C/-40F

It was decided that Dr. Marsh and myself would take a Spryte out to Turk's Head to meet the drilling crew and flag the trail leading from the main flagged ice road to the dive site. Flagging is extremely important whenever one is out on the ice. Storms are sometimes unpredictable and can arise suddenly. When visibility is low it can be impossible to navigate or to even find your tent. Flags provide a safety factor which literally can make the difference between life and death. Holes are drilled into the ice and inserted with flags every 75 - 100 feet. This is close enough so that a flag should fall within the area of a circle whose radius is the length of the rope. They are placed on all traveled ice routes, around camps, dive holes , or anywhere necessary. Black flags mark dangerous and locations which are off- limits.

We drove out to the place where our trail to the dive site intersects with the main ice route and began flagging. The heavy equipment crew followed with the drilling rig and bulldozer. Another group led by Norbert Wu, the famous nature photographer, was to meet us in a second Spryte. When they joined us, myself and a two members of the Wu group continued flagging while Dr. Marsh and Norbert Wu supervised the drilling operation, hut installation, and prepared to make a dive.

After flagging about a mile of the nearly four mile trail the track came off the Spryte. It turns out that this was the same Spryte which had lost the very same track the previous day . It was now the third day in a row that the vehicle had lost that track. Unlike yesterday it did not happen in McMurdo but a good 10 miles or more out on the ice. The dive hut itself was still a very long way off. The crippled Spryte looked pretty helpless in the middle of the Antarctic wilderness with no one around. We radioed for help and did most of the remaining flagging on foot. Later this trail was measured at just under 4 miles. That's a lot of flagging!

Dr. Marsh, Norbert Wu, and Dale Stokes, a postdoctoral marine biologist at Stanford University, made a dive while myself and a volunteer from McMurdo performed the dive tending tasks. This involved helping the divers in and out of their dry suits, gear, and the water. We handed them their photographic equipment, prepared hot drinks , and loaded/unloaded equipment.

There were quite a number of Weddell Seals at this location which had surfaced through the pressure cracks and given birth to pups. Two Adelie penguins were lying about on the ice among them. This was the first time I had seen penguins in Antarctica and it was quite a thrill. I had previously seen penguins while visiting the Galapagos Islands a few years ago and those memories resurfaced. These animals seem to tap something in the human psyche which transcends age and experience.

Meanwhile, a crew had been dispatched from McMurdo to repair the trackless Spryte. They put the track back on, switched vehicles with us, and left theirs for our return. This was done to minimize the chance of us being stranded on the ice They assured us that the one they were leaving was in great shape. Its fuel had been filtered twice to prevent it from dying as the one the previous day did.

At the end of the day we loaded up the Sprytes and headed back to McMurdo. The Wu group went on ahead and Dr. Marsh and myself remained behind so that Dr. Marsh could take some GPS coordinates. Everything was going smoothly and we were enjoying the trip back after a long and productive day . I was driving the Spryte when suddenly it sputtered and died. For the second day in a row two Sprytes had broken down with me in them! Nothing we did would restart the Spryte. We radioed back to McMurdo and were told nothing could be done for several hours so we resigned ourselves to being cold and miserable until help arrived. Luckily, the WU group heard our call and offered to come back and pick us up. It didn't take long for us to accept their invitation in spite of the fact that we knew they were almost back to McMurdo by this time.

Things to ponder:

The Boy Scout motto is "Be Prepared." Discuss some of the things you should be aware of and plan for whenever travel is planned in hazardous and/or sparsely populated areas. Make a list of safety gear and procedures which would be considered proactive and minimize the risk of disaster or tragedy.

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