9 January, 1997
>Jan. 9, 11:04 AM > >Zac's drinking water froze in our tent last night. That means it's cold in >the tent. Yesterday I worked on my journal under my jacket because the >yellow light inside the tent makes the screen on the lap top difficult to >see >. Today I do it because my hands are very cold. > >I woke up at about 4:45 this morning to use the bathroom and found that it >was snowing. After getting back to bed I read for a couple of hours and >listened to music. I dosed off and woke at 8:15, time for breakfast. > >We've been without helicopter support for two days because of the very bad >weather. The weather also limits what we are able to do here. We can't >get to the best collecting sites because they are steep and dangerous when >slippery. It is ironic that we cannot work because of snow since the >Valleys are among the very driest places on earth. > >Bad storms at McMurdo and Marble Point prevented helicopters from reaching >us to take us to other collecting spots yesterday. Therefore, Bruce, Jon, >and Mike did some sampling in what is known as the basement sill. I worked >on the solar battery charger , the journal, and organizing. I also took my >first nap since sometime back in Delaware. > >Todays weather is far worse. We will meet again at lunchtime and see if >the clouds have lifted enough so that we can climb to the Basement Sill. >This is the place where we can actually map out the formation of an >igneous rock layer deep inside the earth. Yesterday, Bruce even found >evidence of the vent (the place where all the melted rock came from). > >Yesterday I said that I did not have enough battery power to describe the >Dry Valleys. I might be able to give a brief description now. Bill Green, >author of Water, Ice, and Stone said, "It was the most austere and >beautiful land I had ever seen...this improbable Eden of ice and stone." >Louis Halle in The Sea and the Ice says, "...there are no other scenes on >this earthly planet as unearthly as those of the Dry Valleys... In this >realm of eternal winter they look like summer." .I don't know Louis was >here when is snowed, but it sure looks like winter to me. > >But on a sunny day it does look and feel like summer, even if the >temperature is below 0 C. . It is a Shangri La hidden deep within the >Transantarctiic Mountains, almost completely unknown outside of the Taylor >Valley until the 1950's. They are so new to humankind's knowledge that we >feel like pioneers here. We feel privileged to be among the few to venture >into the little known land and to sometimes walk where none have walked >before. After years of "wilderness" hiking, this is the first true >wilderness I have seen. >When I look into the nearby Wright Valley and along Bull Pass I feel I have >stepped back to a primordial earth. The land is almost completely >lifeless except for us and the microscopic life that lives here and there, >and the microbes we brought with us (which will increase until we are able >to bathe in a couple of weeks). Although there is sand and sediment around >us there is no soil. It requires life to produce soil. All around, when >the sky is clear, we can see white mountain tops on dark slopes. It is an >Ansel Adams picture in four dimensions. The fourth dimension being >time---the scenery looks and feels like the earth two billion years before >a hint of the humanity to come. > >I'm glad it is cold and I'm glad it snowed today. Otherwise, I may have >never seen the dark hills shift to gray. I may have never seen the clouds >drifting across the valleys sometimes covering and then revealing the >features about me. > >We live well here. We have more chocolate than even the most ravenous >chocoholic can stomach. When not eating chocolate we eat bagels and peanut >butter and lots and lots of dried foods. Other field parties in Antarctica >wince when they hear what we assembled to eat. We passed over the frozen >steaks and shrimp for the dried pastas, the frozen pies for the graham >crackers. and the perked coffee for the instant freeze dried. We enjoy >these meals because there is very little preparation. This means that we >can spend more time in work and conversation and less time in preparation. > >The three Scott tents we live in are a luxury in the field. They are of >the same design as the tents Scott used on his last expedition. Tall >enough to stand in and wide enough for two small cots and a little room in >the middle. A vent in the top lets out the warmth produced by our bodies, >but it also removes the humid air and prevents water from collecting on the >sides. Bruce sleeps in the cooking tent, the rest of us share the other >two tents. > >When not discussing our work we talk about many other things. For example, >during breakfast today we heard a BBC report on breast feeding on our short >wave radio. This led to a discussion on the pros and cons of breast >feeding (not a good topic for five men in an isolated field camp). Later >we told stories about Edward Abbey, discussed park conservation, and argued >about Lee at Gettysburg. In each of these discussions someone will >interject a humorous comment. In all of our discussions the humor is the >most important point of all. Bruce laughs easier than anyone which makes >the rest of us laugh all the harder. It is the laughter that will help to >keep us on friendly terms during out time in the field. > >Jon is a practical joker. Before leaving McMurdo he made a stenciled sign >which read Isolation Ward and mounted it on our tent---Zac has had the flu >and now a cold; I had an eye infection. Two days ago when we were >surveying the area Mike was conscientiously collecting rocks. Each time he >found one he asked Jon to put it in his pack. And each time Jon placed the >specimen in Mikes pack he would toss in a rock or two with it. > > > >1/10 10:06 Having battery power problems again. Solar panel not working >well since we have been overcast for three days. Snow again today. >Temperature -8 - 0 C last couple of hours. Not bad. Lap top does not >always behave in cold. > >Yesterday I saw Antarctic life for the first time. Marsh, Zac and I hiked >up to two ponds with cyanobacteria in them. Very remarkable stuff. >Fossils of this bacteria have been found in rocks over 3 billion years old >long before there was enough free oxygen to breathe. Since these guys >produce oxygen as a waste product, you have them to thank, in part, for the >air you breathe. Cyanobacteria looks like a lot of fall leaves that fell >into a pond. When you pick it up along the shore you can see greens, >yellows, browns and reds. It's very exciting see and touch something so >ancient in structure and one of the few things to survive the interior of >Antarctica. > >Jon and Mike had walked up to these ponds the day before and named them >Lake Jon and Lake Mike. Mike is especially good at naming things around >here. Whenever he picks up a rock to examine he pauses thoughtfully before >putting it down and says, "I think I will call this rock, hmm, Mike." Of >course we are not the first in this area, Bruce, George Denton and others >have worked here before. However, so few have been here that we make new >discoveries about the rock in this region almost everyday. > >We are only 5 days in the field but already things are getting pretty >dirty. There is no prospect of a bath for at least 13 more days because >water is so scarce. When cleaning our plates and spoons some of us lick >them clean while others use a paper towel. Bruce and Mike actually drank >the sludge left over after cooking spaghetti. I tried it with coffee but >could only take a few sips. Most of us don't even use water for our teeth. > We take a small dab and of toothpaste on the end of our toothbrush, then >brush, then swallow. > >Sand has been collecting for five days in the tent. I'll probably sweep it >out when I get some time later today---not an easy job since the floor >covering is a mess as well. > >My one concession to extravagance is lip gloss. I put it on whether I need >it or not simply because I like the flavor. > >Much of our clothing remains on for 24 hours. The last couple of nights >have been pretty cold in the tent so we sleep with at least one layer of >long johns on. Each of us has a limited number of clothes so we might wear >the same pair of socks for three or four days straight, same with >underwear, and the same pants everyday. Most of us wear the Peruvian style >hats even when sleeping (I use to hate this style, but find it wonderful >headgear for the field). Of course, our hair is parcticularly >awful---greasy as bacon. But no one cares. We dress for no one but >ourselves. > >Since we'll get no helicopter support again today we will hike to an area >we found three days ago that has some very interesting possibilities. It >looks like an area where a magma flow deep inside the earth came to a halt. > It will be interesting to see what we can tell from the crystals there.Return to Bill Philips' Page
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