Wheels on Ice!
The Emperor Penguin Team successfully departed Christchurch on Monday October 21st and arrived at Scott Base, Ross Island, Antarctica . Our flight on the C-17 was an easy 5 hours and the views from the fixed window were marvelous. As we approached Antarctica the plane started to get colder forcing all of the passengers to put on our extreme weather gear. Landing on ice was smoother than I had anticipated especially considering the great weight of the plane and contents including a full size helicopter, packed cargo and passengers. The C-17 landed and the passengers excitedly grabbed their things and started to exit the plane. Since the plane did not have many windows in the seating area our steps through the plane door were our first view of Antarctica.
For those of us who had never been to Antarctica before the views were quite literally breathtaking as the dry cold air filled our lungs. For others who have been here before, I can imagine this never gets old. In the distance we could see Mt. Erebus and Mt Discovery. We had a short walk on the ice to the large transport vehicle called a Kress. We boarded the Kress and after a safety briefing all the passengers buckled in and we were a short 30-minute drive to Scott Base. Once at Scott Base we received a tour of the well-maintained facilities and met with the staff to plan our busy week of preparations including our Antarctic Field Training (AFT) that involved an overnight stay on the ice.
AFT Overnight Oct. 22nd
As part of our field training we learned to use our primus stoves, set up tents, and safety procedures for working in cold and unpredictable environments. Following our training we then prepared our gear for our overnight stay on the ice shelf. We loaded all our gear on sleds and pulled them by hand for a half hour. We learned to drill ice cores and assess the stability of ice which involved first digging a hole in the snow about a meter and a half deep. Once we reached the ice-surface we used a Kovac-drill to burrow through the ice. We determined that the ice was stable enough to set up camp as it fell within the 70cm+ regulated thickness. Following the assessment, we proceeded to set up three Scott Tents and two mountaineering tents rated to withstand the worst weather conditions (Grade 1). Emperor penguin team member Markus created a much-appreciated wind break and cooking area for the crew. With wind chill the temperature dropped as low as -36 degrees Celsius. We set up our tents, enjoyed a nice dehydrated meal, filled our water bottles with hot water, and headed to our beds. Exhaustion made sleeping very easy after this long day.
Recon Flight Success Oct 23rd
Gitte and Markus flew out to Cape Crozier today via helicopter to plan out our field camp location and locate the penguin colony. Good news the emperor penguin colony was located and estimated numbers are around 1,500 individuals. They were also able to locate a secure spot perfect for our camp. We are scheduled to fly out and set up camp on Monday October 28th.
Expedition Gear Preparation
For the last four days we have been busy gathering, weighing, putting together 5 helicopter loads full of essential gear we require while at remote camping at Cape Crozier for 3-4 weeks. Gear includes food for 5 weeks, 9 tents, generator, cutlery, sleeping gear and everything that we may require for daily use. It has been very busy and exciting packing all of our gear as we carefully plan what we will need for the next four weeks.
We also have been field testing our data-logging tags in the cold conditions and everything is looking good and ready for Monday.