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14 December, 2003

Road to Minna Bluffs

The day started very early as we still had a lot to do before leave. We had to unload the cage, drag our cargo down to the ice, and tie them on to the sleds. Unfortunately, it was not the best weather for riding on a snowmobile. The sun spent most of the day hidden behind clouds, making it very cold and the winds were quite strong. We made a point to keep an eye on each other's noses and cheeks, when we stopped to stretch our legs or stop for a bite to eat. What were we looking for/worried about?

The trip to MB is about 80 km and takes roughly four to five hours by snowmobile. Riding a ski-doo is fun for the first hour or two, but then is very tiring. The movement is a cross between riding a mechanical bull, driving a motorcycle, or maneuvering a wave runner on rough seas. The sastrugi, ridges of the sea ice carved out by the wind make for a rough surface and one gets bounced backwards and forwards, up and down, and side to side. In addition, your thumb and wrist hurt from continually having to hold the throttle. It took me a bit to realize that you have to relax and move with each bounce, even if you feel like you are going to tip. I spent much of the trip hunkered down tensing nearly every muscle, resulted in a horribly stiff back and neck.

As the afternoon progressed the weather continued to get worse. The clouds thickened; blocking what little sun we had which made it nearly impossible to see the definition of the road below us. I found this very uncomfortable, as it was not easy to see upcoming bumps.

The wind had picked up, resulted in blowing snow. As we bounced around completely isolated from the rest of the world, I thought to myself, this is the "real Antarctica", or at least the one everyone envisions when they think of this place.

As we approached our planned camping site we encounter huge pressure ridges caused by the glacier moving around the landmass. Some of the ridges (which look like frozen waves) were nearly fifteen feet tall. Climbing the ridges while dragging sleds was an impossible task. Ski-doos started leaving cracks in the ice and sleds began to tip. After tying to make our way to land, we finally decided that it was not worth crossing the ridges and instead turned around to camp on the snow.

While I must admit I was a little nervous throughout the whole ordeal the whole experience was so surreal. The view through my goggles was almost dream like. White clouds covering both the sun and the mountains met the icy blue pressure ridges creating almost a magical land. I kept waiting for fairies and unicorns to appear from the clouds. It was truly beautiful and a view I hope never to forget.

After finding a suitable place to camp, we very quickly had to apply many of the skills we learned at happy camper school. The first task was setting up shelter. The strong winds and blowing snow made setting up the tents much harder than they had been during our training class; and the importance of the dead man anchor became more relevant. Once our tents had been pitched, our gear was brought in, snow was melted for water, and chef Regina began fixing supper. It was close to 8:30 and we were all exhausted after such an extremely long day. Tired and sore, Barb and I soon retired to our Scott tent and fell asleep as the wind continually flapped the walls of our tent.

1. A map of the Minna Bluff area. McMurdo station is located to the north. (Just off the map and more towards the right side of the page). We traveled between White island and Black Island and camped on the ice shelf about 7km from the Minna Bluff mainland. Were we camping on fresh water or salt water? The big mound just to the West of Minna Bluff is Mt. Discovery.

2. Packing the sleds

3. The road to Minna Bluff. Notice the poles on the right. These mark the roadE

4. Scott and Laurie model the needed attire when snowmobiling. Why must we wear so much protection on our face?

5. A change in the weather.

6. Traveling up over the pressure ridges

7. Another sled has just tipped and other members of the team are walking back to assist them.

8. Deciding to turn back.

9. A view of our camp. The colorful tent is the cook tent. The mountaineering tent is for sleeping and the Scott tent is the latrine. Not seen in this picture is a second mountaineering tent and a Scott tent, which will also be used for sleeping.

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