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December 30, 2002

End of the Year Field Work

Productivity has gone down somewhat since the epic Abbott day, due to marginal weather. We seem to be plagued by it this season. Nelia figured the ratio of workable (day on which we were out more than about three hours) to non-workable days has been about 2-to-1, which she deems typical. However, she also says there are usually more really nice days: Calm, sunny, warm days.

Sunday, the 29th was nice in the morning. There are no helos on Sundays, so we knew we were working locally. The whole group of us, sans Sarah, skidooed out to an area of ice towers commonly referred to as Harry's and surveyed as Nelia and I had several days before. My task was note taking. After a good bit, we called off the survey due to wind. It wasn't intensly windy, but even the breeze was making it difficult to measure windspeed out of the towers and CO2. Plus, my hands were cold, and the rest of me was starting to be. I was slowing down. It was a good time to head back for lunch. After lunch, Nelia and I retrieved the campaign GPS equipment from E1, the side up on the rim of the side crater. The place had skanked up, and we anticipated wind and cold, and consoled ourselves with the idea that the task would be short. As it turned out, the weather at E1, although skanky, was quite pleasant. The GPS receiver was happy. We broke the site down quickly. We were happy. We went home.

But it was still early. Nelia, Bill, and Rich E. headed off to start installing a power station around the other side of the volcano; R.K. and I headed off to install a campaign GPS instrument at HELZ, a site which we'd already surveyed. It's good to repeat measurements sometimes, to get an idea of repeatability. Plus, I think I accidentally created a new mark on the top of the monument last time I surveyed it, but screwing our mount on a little off-center. So, I may have been off the real mark by about 1 mm. The folks I worked with in the Philippines used to say, "What's a few millimeters among friends?" Since we're looking for motions as small as a few mm/yr in this case, a mm setup error is--while often hard to avoid--not very good.

Since Monday, we've had the same helo plan for the morning and been denied the same helo plan every day. The general routine has been wake up, come in, get ready, talk to helo ops, get put on helo hold due to weather in either McMurdo or up here, and wait until noon. Realize at noon that we're better off calling off the helo plans and working locally. Head out after lunch. On Monday, Nelia, Bill, and I spent the whole afternoon continuing the ice tower survey over by Harry's Dream.

[Nelia measures CO2 from an ice cave. An ice cave that probably extends at least to her feet.]

Nelia found a particulaly nice 'picnic spot' on a ridge of lava flow flanked by ice towers. "We should take a picture of Beth up on that tower, because it's so pretty," she said of a nicely-formed fumarole. I start to climb up. Hmmm, doesn't look too stable, I say. Go on up there, says Bill. Looks a little thin, I say. And this is as far as I got.

[But at least I'm happy. What a goof ball.]

Bill says to Nelia, Climb up to the top. Nelia comes to check it out. She pokes at the ice and snow with her axe. Hmmmm. She get a little farther than I did. Climb all the way up, says Bill. You climb up, says Nelia. Bill says, Okay.

And he did.

[Bill says: "I'm gonna jump!" "No, Bill, don't do it!"]

So Nelia climbs up. No problem. Then, climbing down, she says, Okay, Beth, now your turn. Says Bill, Don't let Nelia pressure you into it.

[This time, to the top.]

We continue on with our survey. Bill and Nelia go in for a little synchronized cave entrance scoping.


[And probe.]

We finish off the day with Harry's Dream. Bill climbs up to a ledge where he can access a few periferal entrances. Steam emits from the top opening.

Posted by beth at 2:41 PM

December 28, 2002

Sunshine, lollipops and sweet dreams, mountaintops

Some days, you just can’t help but stop and grin and think, “Man, this is awesome.”

Perfect weather. Helos were flying. An A-Star piloted by Barry came to pick Rich E. and I up and whip us off to Abbott Peak for a GPS permanent site installation.

I shouldn’t say the weather was perfect, because it wasn’t perfect everywhere. Skank was threatening to move in, and threatening to deny Rich and I from returning to the hut. But, the weather was perfect at Abbott.

[Approaching Abbott Peak.]

[Rich braces himself as the helo takes off after it drops us off.]

[Warm day, but Rich's breath still steamy.]

The perfect weather made me realize that even though I like being out, I generally like coming back in. The weather usually nips away at me enough to try my patience, or at least try my enjoyment. The weather at Abbott did nothing of the sort. It was like the big jovial green-clad giant who represents Christmas present in "Scrooge," the version of the Christmas Carol my mother likes to watch. Stay a while! it shouted. Enjoy the gorgeous view! Don’t you see the world stretching before you? Take off your coat and relax!

Take off our coats we did. And, I took off the layer under that, AND I took off both my outer mitts and my gloves, and worked for a good part of the time with bare hands. It was tropical. It was delicious. I had no desire to leave the site; my only desire, besides just enjoying myself, was to get the GPS site in and relax on the rock. Maybe sunbathe a bit, or have a picnic lunch.

[I look doubtful, but really I'm happy.]

[There was this really, really great rock that was super fun for climbing--and, although I have my gloves on in this photo, I clambered around on it with bare hands and it wasn't even cold. This may be my favorite hold in the world right now. Totally bomber, frictiony, niiiiiiiiiiiice.]

[Rich works to strengthen the communication tower.]

[GPS antenna freshly in place, with Mt. Bird in the background.]

As it turned out, we didn’t have time to lounge; we finished just before the helo came back for us. But, it was still splendid. We worked pleasantly at a comfortable pace, and got the work done. Three hours after our arrival, a 212 came for us, with Scotty piloting and Steve on as helotech, and took us from our paradise towards our second destination: BOMZ. BOMZ can be unruly, and was windy and somewhat miserable last time we were there, and didn’t even want us to come near this time. It was completely skanked it. Scotty attempted to drop us close to the hut, which was also skanked in, but the skank was too strong. So, he dropped us at Truncated Cones, the site on the edge of the world, where somebody would be able to come rescue us by skidoo from the hut. Out Rich, out Beth, out gear, out survival bag. On communications guys who had been setting up an antenna at Cones and needed a ride back anyway. Helo small in front of volcano. Rich and I watching from a safe distance, and helo away. Goodbye, helo, enjoy vacation.

And then, Rich and I were in paradise again. The skank had won over only on select parts of the volcano, and others thought they were in the Bahamas. Sunny, warm, and beautiful. Only no tourists. Or palm trees. Rich and I played around in paradise for about half and hour before Bill and Nelia arrived to pick us up. In the meantime, I made a snow angel, we took a bunch of pictures, Rich rolled rocks down the snowy flank of the caldera (whump whump whump whump whump crack whump), we sat on a rock and watched airborn ice crystals sparkle in the sun (“spaaaahkly’) (remember the crow in “The Secret of Nihm”?), and I slid on my butt down the hill back towards the volcano. Wind pants are good for that.

[Rich establishes radio contact with Bill and Nelia.]

[View towards Cones GPS and seismic site.]

[View up towards Cones repeater site.]

[On the other side of the Cones repeater site, Rich (carefully) rolls rocks.]

[A zoom-in view out towards the Trans-Antarctics.]

[Rich waits for our ride, as I get ready to slide down the hill.]

We were home in time for a late lunch, and in the late afternoon Nelia and I headed up to the rim to install the campaign GPS equipment on our brand new monument. Again, the trip was beautiful.

[Right on the rim.]

[Heading back.]

[View of land slump with the Upper Hut riding on top (rectangular speck), with the caldera rim and the sea ice beyond. Nelia thinks the slump is loose rock and ice which moves by freeze-thaw processes within the pile.]

When we returned, I headed right back out the door to enjoy a little more of the kind day. I walked out on the rocks behind the hut until I found a nice, small whaleback from which I could view the Trans-Antarctic mountains. Sleepiness was setting in, keeping me from fathoming the mountains at all, but life was good.

Posted by beth at 10:23 PM

December 27, 2002

Ailments: Not for the Weak of Heart

Our helo plans for Dec 27 fell through due to morning skank, so it turned into mostly an inside day for me. Since nothing interesting really happened, I’ll outline my ailments for you.

Ailments. It’s impossible to not acquire them while doing field work, right? So I’ve decided to give a run-down of mine to date.

I mentioned a while back that I landed on the edge of a piece of plywood, catching it in my ribs. It’s feeling better now, although a day or two ago I felt like it was getting worse, probably from (characteristically) holding in my sneezes, starting the skidoos (pull-start, like a lawn mower), and struggling to push open the door to the orange hut which often sticks. These are the times when it most hurts. It also hurts when I sit up or lie down, but not as much as it used to. Nelia thinks I may have done something mildly nastier than bruising, like slightly separating the ribs, and I think she may be right.

I kicked my leg back for balance while skidooing, and kicked my calf right into the pointy tip of my ice axe. Big welt. I’ve since adopted a different ice axe transport strategy.

I have an unidentified bump on my left earlobe. Well, I’ve identified it, but I don’t know what’s causing it.

Several nights ago, I unintentionally poured hot water onto the back of my left hand. Luckily, as Rich K. pointed out, water boils up here at much lower temperatures than it does at sea level. The burn was minor, and hurt only briefly, and showed only as a thin red line on my skin the following day. Much stranger was another mark that appeared the same day. It appears I burned the wrist of my right hand, but I’ve no idea how. The burn showed up as a perfect bullseye: A solid white circle surrounded by a red circle, with a smaller, irregularly-shaped red blotch beside it. This is the first time I’ve blistered from a burn. The blister filled to the point of being obnoxious; it was probably about a centimeter high, and I’m not exaggerating. The poor bandaid didn’t know what was going on. Below is a picture of the blister after draining.

The worst occurred two nights ago and, more than anything, made me mad. No, wait, it really hurt, too. It happens that the orange hut had fallen into a state of disarray, and I fell prey. Immediately before heading to bed (tent), I needed to get to an antenna bag that was over *there*. The paths to over *there* were blocked by big batteries on one side and empty cardboard boxes on the other. I chose the boxes. I lacked finesse. I tripped going forward, tried to catch myself backwards, tripped going backwards, fell going backwards, spiraled towards the ground and –WHAM!-- …….. landed on a big cable spool. …….On my crotch. It hurt. Really, really bad. Luckily, there was no one else in the hut, and I could yell my profanities and safely leave my footprint in one of the boxes that had so viciously tripped me up. Go figure that the worst of ‘em is going to be in the hut, not in the field.

And, I have minor frost nip on the bridge of my nose, between the lower reaches of my goggles and the upper reaches of my balaclava.

Posted by beth at 10:21 PM

December 26, 2002

The Rest of the Day After

As if cruising around the ice towers wasn’t enough, Nelia and I headed to the crater rim in the afternoon. Skank had started to move it, and it actually started to snow, but the trip turned out to be quite nice.

Our sole mission was to install a new monument on the crater rim, close to the camera site. I had picked out the site earlier, on a different expedition to the rim, and finding a reasonably flat, stable outcrop of bedrock proved to be a challenge. All the rock seemed to be either bombs, lava boulders, overhanging, or too steep. The overhanging rock seemed reasonably stable, but the idea of perching on the overhanging with a drill vibrating the rock beneath me conjured up ideas of falling with the overhanging rock into the crater that didn’t seem entirely unreasonable. So, I kept looking, and I found.

The adventure was pretty exciting. This was the first official monument installation which I was in charge of (with some possible exceptions—what’s important is that it felt like it was), which was kind of fun. We brought up the epoxy, babied in an insulated bag (“cooler” sounds too weird in this context) with handwarmers and a hot water bottle, a battery-powered drill, a level, and the stainless steel post for the monument with a little orange skirt with its name lovingly etched in with the sautering gun. To get to the rim, we park our skidoos as high as possible (sometimes borderline epic, given the often icy state of the slope) and then hike up from there. And, it’s pretty much all up. It’s not a terrible walk, but it’s not a breeze, either. Nelia was kind enough to carry the batteries we needed for the survey. I love Nelia.

Monument installation went pretty smoothly. We took turns drilling, trying to get a nice, vertical hole in which to fix the monument, and deftly got the drill bit stuck. Getting it out was much harder, and took much longer. But, luckily, we got it out. And, we were able to put the monument in. It wasn’t even too far off vertical.

[Photos taken on a sunnier day.]

The landscape on the way down was surreal. Skanky in a pretty, mysterious way. (Some of you may describe yourselves similarly…) On the drive back, the scene looked brand new: I felt like I was looking out onto a mountain range I’d never seen before I think it was the lighting—half the volcano before me in shadow, and a blue or violet hue in everything in view.

Nelia finds the lost camera. There was a camera installed on the camera rim last year, which stopped working in April. Bill thought maybe it has automatically changed chanels. Nelia and Rich E. visited the site early in the season and reported their findings. "We know what's wrong with the camera," they said. "It's gone." The camera was probably blown away in a wind storm. Nelia put it in Bill's cubby in the hut upon our return, as a surprise.

Nelia walks towards the skidoos (not pictured). To the left, rocked cables stretch as a beaded necklace towards Nausea Knob, at the base of the slope.

After a brief interlude back at the hut, Nelia and I set out again, this time for the Upper Hut (previous center of field work, until nearby bomb strikes in 1984; pictured above). Mission: Retrieve GPS intstrument which had been collecting data for several days. Nelia stopped her skidoo on the top of the hill approaching the hut. Problem? No. She pointed behind me. I turned. The low skank had cleared to reveal the sea ice, which stuck me as having been out of view a long time with the recent weather, and the sun was glinting off the irregular surface. On the way back, I lead, and I approached the hill slowly to savor the widening and deepening view.

Dinner was the best ever. (Every dinner seems like the best ever.) We had just gotten freshies in, and as a result ate delicious finger food. We had bell pepper, bagels and lox, and –tomatoes—and –BASIL--. AND, the galley sent up an entire box of good cheese. So, with our basil and tomatoes and crackers, we had brie. What a day.

Posted by beth at 11:52 PM

Back Out: Ice Towers

The day after Christmas dawned warm. The day after Christmas dawned really warm. I was ready to have my picture taken outside in a t-shirt. I would have been just for show, but still, that thought doesn't occur to me normally. Bill and Rich Esser headed off in the helo to work on a site on the other side of the volcano, Rich K. headed off in a helo to McMurdo to do some work down there, and Nelia and I headed into the backyard to survey ice towers.

The ice tower task is fun, on a nice day. The work consists of poking around different ice towers, recording some information about each. The ice towers are formed where heat comes up through the ground, causing moisture in the air to precipitate. Many of the towers have caves underneath. The caves have rock floors and ice ceilings. Caves, Nelia thinks, are formed when warm rock melts the snow floor above it. If this doesn't make sense, let me know. The ice towers are commonly in lines, or likely along fissures--cracks in the ground. The cracks can be quite small--not like the huge breaks in the Earth I imagined as a kid when I thought I could get swallowed up during an earthquake. I'm counting on your imagination being similar, otherwise you have no idea what I'm talking about. Anyway, the basic idea is: Volcano. Hot components. Hot components like magma chambers within the volcano and cooling lava flows at the surface. The heat from magma bodies can leak out through the overlying rock, as can gases which are expelled from the magma as it rises and cools. The ice towers on Erebus form around fumaroles, which are vents of heat and gas on a volcano. We measure CO2 output at the fumaroles/ice towers to see if the gas forming the ice tower is magmatic, and to see if the CO2 output varies from year to year. This can help us make guesses about what is happening within the volcano.

Plus, it's fun. My explanation of why the ice towers are there and why we're studying them is botcher, because 1) it's outside my realm of 'expertise,' and 2) it's late, and I'm writing off the top of my head. Then again, I always do when blogging. If you have more questions about the ice towers, let me know. If I can't explain, I can ask someone who can, and then I can use their words.

But you can see as well as I can that the ice towers and ice caves are pretty neat. Here's a photo shoot of Dr. Nelia Dunbar with ice.

The ice towers in our backyard.

Nelia knocks away fragile snow near the entry to get a better angle for making measurements. We probe the way up to each ice tower to see if it's safe; the snow near ice towers is liable to be thin, and can fail under the weight of the likes of us.

In both photos, Nelia measures wind speed coming out of entrances. We also measured CO2, estimated the size of the entrance, and took a GPS reading of the approximate location of the tower, using handheld GPS.

Concentric bands of blue ice near a tower give some clues about tower formation. Nelia thinks the ice represents an old tower, that has since migrated to the current location.

Now for the gratuitous part: Nelia and I enter at the base of another tower, which guards the entrance to a decent-sized cave.

Nelia says the cave is usually bare rock, with a dripping ice ceiling. Now, after the recent wind and snow storm, the front rooms and passageways are drifted with snow.

Thin cave walls letting light through.

Snow lace on the walls.

Nelia jots some notes in her field book.

Ice jail bars, about 4 inches high.

Ice penguins, probably about one foot high.

Close-up of an ice wall. Crystals are probably about 1 cm across.

Time to exit.

Pretty amazing to come up and realize what you've just been clamboring around under.

And that was only the first half of the day. Tune in next time, when I tell you about something else.

Posted by beth at 10:08 PM

December 25, 2002

Christmas on Erebus

It’s Christmas!

We awoke to beautiful, perfect, sunny, windless weather.

Or, maybe we awoke to wind.

The wind has been holding steady at about 20 knots all day, with the temperature currently at –18 C. We don’t think it’s necessarily a storm, but it’s definitely crappy weather, so we’re probably not going to work today. Instead, we’ve had to eat and hang out and open presents.

Are we lacking here in the hut?

Well, we did work Christmas Eve, and it was cold and windy, but we did relax all evening. We ate lobster tails and rice and frozen veggies (we unfroze them before eating them). Let me say that again: lobster tails. We had lobster tails for dinner Christmas Eve on a volcano in Antarctica. And, they were good. After dinner, we dweebed and played cards and did Santa things and drank champagne and Baileys, and opened one present (did you ever get your parents to agree to that?): Ken and Rick and the others, now back in the States with their loved ones, had given each of us an Antarctica thermometer, with both C and F (very helpful with the conversions) and a profile of the continent, including the topography of Erebus. There’s a mirror on the back. The gift will come in very handy for monitoring tent temperature and for checking for goobers before entering the hut.

[Site of skidoo mishap. I rolled it from somewhere above where I'm shooting from to where it is now, sans rider. I jumped off immediately, on the downhill side (counterintuitive, but the way it often works), and then, once I had my footing and realized it was still on the move, hurried laterally out of its way. The skidoo slid on its side and then rolled over when it caught on a bomb. Nelia and I had to righten it. It weighs enough to want to get out of its way, but not so much that two people can't easily turn it over. The rock arc upslope of the skidoos is the outline of a 1984 bomb. Spewed from the crater, about 1/2 km away, inflating, and then landing and collapsing into the shape of a pancake.]

[Nausea Knob.]

[Rime ice at Nausea. The direction of the wind around the rock is recorded in the orientation of the rime.]

[Rime ice on the wind generator.]

[Rime ice on the guy wire, with my mitten for scale.]

This morning, we woke to wind and then congregated in the hut. I was actually driven out of my warm sleeping bag into the cold air of my tent by the very pressing need to pee. (Pee bottle, but no funnel.) So I was in the hut a little earlier than I would have been. Sarah and Rich E. were already in (“I’ve been up since 6:30 waiting to open presents!” Rich said), and Nelia and Bill were soon to follow. Last night, we’d cleared off one of the tables and fixed it up with a red table cloth and a Christmas tree provided by my mother. (Asked RK, “Is that thing real?”) (He was kidding.) The table was already stacked with presents, almost hiding the tree. Bill and Nelia hung stockings with care by the sink. The stockings are really rock bags decorated by Bill and Nelia with permanent markers. They were hung by the sink rather than the stove to avoid melting the contents. It works.

[Table o' presents. Where's the tree?]

[There it is. Barely.]

[The stockings (rock bags) were hung by the chimney (sink) with care...]

[Nelia fully appreciates the images Bill has drawn on the back of her bag to depict aspects of home, including their three-legged dog, Shep.]

[A close-up of my stocking. Santa's got a GPS. Note rocks on cable at the GPS site on the ground (BOMZ, the windy one). Artist: Nelia Dunbar.]

Rich E. and Bill and I hooked up my modest walkman to the hut speakers so we could listen to two tapes worth of Christmas carols sent by my mother. The speakers were originally used to listen to sounds from the volcano from a microphone at the crater rim; the amplifier was taken from the downed helicopter in our backyard. While we got the carols going, Sarah bundled up and headed out with a cup of coffee to RK’s tent to wake him up. She probably even looked kind of like Santa in her red bunny suit.

Once everyone was in, we opened our stockings. They were loaded with food (I, for instance, got chocolate sardines and turron) and gadgets and by the time we were done Sarah and I felt like we’d had Christmas already. It was a challenge to not spoil our appetites for brunch, but there was a really good reason to hold out: Rich E. and Sarah were making eggs benedict, with Rich’s homemade hollandaise sauce. Possibly, we agreed, the best eggs benedict we’d had, ever. Aren’t we supposed to be suffering up here, or something?

[Sarah plays with her new puzzle.]

[Bill dweebs.]

[Rich Esser cooks.]

Then, came the mass present-opening episode. Did I mention that we could barely see the Christmas tree through the presents? It’s a good thing we can’t work today, because it all took a while.

Of note were Bill's wrapping jobs.

[Rich E. unwraps a flag used for marking trails. As Bill noted, the wrapping came with its own ties (black ties at the edge of the flag).]

[Cable ties make great ribbons.]

[Foam secured with cable ties and packing tape is also quite attractive.]

And then the presents....

[Rich K. plays Santa Claus. Beth, have you been good this year?]

[I have! Or, at least, Nelia gave me a pair of mittens. She's been knitting like crazy since we got here, and her efforts have paid off--happy people with warm hands. I love my mittens.

[Sarah loves hers, too.]

[Bill examines the pores on his hand with his new glasses.]

[Bill's happy even with his glasses off, so long as he's listening to the dogs barking Jingle Bells.]

[Rich E. gets a fuzzy new hat.]

[AND Rich got Monster Women. Score. Nelia suggests he NOT take the one that looks like a centiped to his tent with him. She's creepy.]

[My stash, including calendar, t-shirt, food goodies, Squeak Laptop Buddha (compliments of Rich K.), mini maglite, etc.]

Earlier in the day, I began constructing a small army of crystal people to make up for my lack of gifts to give. My family can attest to the fact that I'm terrible at giving gifts. So, the Erebus crystals sprouted some arms and legs. I think I have not yet talked about Erebus crystals. I'll leave that for another day.

The crystals met with 5-minute epoxy and came to life.

And then, the drama began.

Santa was swinging innocently on the extremely sturdy, heafty, burly, strong internet antenna (no wonder our internet went down) that found its end in the wind storm and was brought into our hut as a Christmas decoration

when he was pursued by the scary centipede woman,

who caught him

and dragged him back to her lair!

Poor Santa.

He's been tied to the tree!!

Surrounded by the Monster Women abusing the poor, defensless crystal people.

Maybe we have too much time on our hands.

There’s not much else to do, besides eat pate and, my current favorite, salmon and cream cheese on crackers, and maybe some chocolate. The afternoon was spent playing cards, dweebing, and eating, and the evening brought dinner (turkey, stuffing, potatoes, yams, dressing) and then a homemade game of pictionary. We all contributed words and Rich K. made a board and made fun of us for the same things that he ended up doing. Still, he and Bill won.

Now the big decision is: Movie or more pictionary? And if a movie, which one?

Hope your Christmas has been as tough!!!

I'll leave you with one thought.
Are there polar bears in Antarctica?

No, only penguins.

Wait! It's a polar bear! According to my mother (in a note attached to the penguin--er, I mean polar bear's neck), there are now both in Antarctica.

Okay, one more: Are there little surfer girls in outer space?

Posted by beth at 4:05 PM

December 23, 2002

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays

In case, my friends, I don't have the chance to get back on the internet within the next couple days, or in case you don't, I'll take this opportunity to say a very warm Happy Holidays from a very cold place. Cold, but beautiful. There are a ton of individuals which I would individually like to wish a very, very happy holiday season, but which I will not have the time to contact. Please know that I am thinking of you, and that I send my love. Thank you for keeping up with me, and for sending your thoughts my way.

I hope this time of year finds you all with loved ones and good spirits. (I think we still have a bottle of whiskey around someplace...)

We at Lower Erebus Hut are happy and hopeful, and ready to celebrate the Christmas holiday with lots of good food and --well, the rest, as always, is weather-dependent.

Much love,


Posted by beth at 10:43 PM

Out of the Storm

Okay, somebody had it in for us. We asked for a couple days of bad weather. Who wished on us the 5-day storm?

Wednesday night, storm threatening to come in. Thursday morning, storm undoubtedly in.

This is a picture of the view from the window towards the orange hut. Orange hut is about fifty feet away.

At this time, the wind was gusting at about 40 knots and the temperature was -30 C (Note: Bill and Nelia say the warmest they've seen this place is -12 C, which I think is about 15 F). That morning, we recorded gusts up to 52 knots. This storm was a little fiercer than the last, with snow besides. It's hard to tell what was precipication and what was remobilized, but either way, we couldn't see. No field work Thursday. Internet had gone down. Only one thing left to do: Relax. Watch movies, read, write, play cards, knit, tinker. Rich E. slept in the orange hut. Rich's tent fly had been minorly sliced by the winds from a particularly disruptive helo arrival the day before, allowing snow to drift into his tent. Sarah, Rick K., and I slept in the main hut. No tent problems. Hut warm, not windy. Tent cold, noisy.

Friday, the same. Will it clear? Doesn't look like it. Another two-movie day, a lot of snacking, and individual activities. I read an interesting book called "Killing Pablo" about drug wars in Colombia. I ate it up. My cousin asked whether I feel like reading about the tropics or about Antarctic adventures. I started with a hankering for Shackelton-type adventures, but have moved on to anything interesting. The Colombian drug cartel is very interesting. It's also nice, sometimes, to listen to upbeat, hot-place music. I did, however, overdose on Ricky Martin. See Q'n'A entry. Too out of place, and too... Well, as much as I love him, it's Ricky.

I had time to think about these things. Almost five days of time. We thought the storm was breaking yesterday--word from McMurdo was that as one storm was ending, another was moving in, but then they changed their tune--and went out and cleaned the snow out of the skidoos and drove them around and waited to see if we could run off to do some work. Good thing we waited. About an hour later, Bill was back outside putting the skidoo covers back on. False alarm. The wind was still with us.

But, it was slowing. Today, we felt, we'd wake to good weather and be able to work.

Skank. And wind. We spent most the day inside, and then around 4 o'clock we saw our opportunity. The wind seemed to have subsided. We'd go to Truncated Cones.

I'd never been to Cones, but I'd heard it was beautiful. Rumor has it, it's the place to be at midnight. I still haven't been there at midnight, but I have been there.

At first, there was nothing. It was amazing. I truly felt like I was driving a skidoo in Antarctica. I heard rumors of great views, but shortly after leaving camp I couldn't see anything around me but skank, the world melting into whiteness with a vague division between white floor and white walls. I could see skidoos ahead of me, and the dark forms of their riders. At some point, the world went flat and the skidoo tracks in front of me disappeared. I relied on the sight of Rich Karstens ahead of me to guide my way. Surreal, I thought. This is cool.

Bill turned off our tradjectory sharply, it seemed to me, into the skank. We pulled up at a craggy rock ridge, with a majestic snow-covered mast bright white against the milky white sky. The mast supported three or four Yagi antennas and about a ton of rime ice. The ice extended about a foot from one of the antennas, completely amazing me. The guy wires looked ready to bust under the extra weight--rime ice forms on everything, regardless of how thin and mobile. I wish I had a picture, but I don't.

When I returned to the skidoos, rime ice had already started to form on the handles, the throttle, the kill switch. It was forming on my backpack, after just 15 minutes. It was forming on Rich Karsten's eyelashes.

Rich E. and I got to lay cable. It's our specialty. We lay cable at the repeater site, home of the White Tower, and then skidoo-ed over to the nearby geophysical monitoring site. A miracle occured. I'm a believer. In what yet, I don't know, but I believe it. The skank cleared in a matter of seconds. My creative writing teacher in college warned against the use of the word 'suddenly' (nothing happens 'suddenly'--come on), but this seemed to occur suddenly. Regarless, it happened fast. The clouds cleared. There was a horizon, with blue above and white below; there were ice towers; there was crazy, chunky-looking snow clutching the rocks; not so far away, there was our White Tower of radio antennas; and, there was a volcano.

Rich E. encouraged me to go to the edge and see how far down I could see. The veterans love this spot because it is right on the caldera rim. Brief explanation: Erebus (as you can recognize in distant profile) is characterized by steep slopes at its base, and then an abrupt break in slope above which the flanks angle more gently to the crater rim. The abrupt break in slope is the caldera rim, likely formed by a collosal eruption a long time ago which caused collapse of the top of the volcano. After this collapse, the void in the center of the volcano filled in with lava flows and pyroclastics (chunks thrown from the rocks, like the bombs). This upper, reconstructed part forms the gentler slopes up to the top.

Truncated Cones is on the caldera rim, where the slope changes abrubtly from gentle to steep. But what would I be able to see below me? It was a sea of clouds.

There's something to be said for a sea of clouds. The world dropped away (SHOOP), plunging my attention to a second, fairy-tail world below. In the fairy-tale world, cloud banks swirled and collided before me. The blanket of clouds extended like the Neverending Story's nothing to the horizon before me, and beyond. Shoop.

[Fairy-tale. What creatures lie beneath?]

The ride home was a whole new adventure. The views, before shrouded by skank, were spectacular. My attention, however, was directed mostly towards the bumpy terrain directly in front of me, and, before too long, to the painful and then disturbingly numb nature of my throttle thumb. I didn't realize just how cold my hand had gotten until getting back, heading immediately into the orange hut, and howling along with Nelia over the pain which meant blood was circulating back into our hands. It was cold outside.

The story ends happily. Inside, it was warm, and though it was painful, both Nelia's and my hands recovered completely, and we were greeted by the tantalizing smell of cooking potatoes and then by the site of a cheese and olive platter, tuna dip, potato chips (food of the gutters in the regular world, food of gods after a day of cold in the field), and, soon, halibut and potato pancakes and broccoli. Life is good.

And then, after dinner, Bill and Rich K. fixed the internet. And, the hut looked immediately like this:

And here, I'm still on the darn thing. Thanks for sticking with me.

Posted by beth at 10:40 PM

Q and A

Some have asked questions that I just wasn't finding the time to answer. Storms are good for remedying that.

Q’n’A (with some of my own thrown in).

Men with Beards
As Leopoldo pointed out, a lot of the men down here have beards. As he also pointed out, beards become iced in the field. Mustaches, too. While most of the moisture may come from breathing, one can not deny the contribution of the snotcicle.

I asked about this ice phenomenon. Is it not uncomfortable? I asked. Warm, was the response. A beard is warm, a beard covered in ice is warmer.

MV asked about safety. Out caravanting around the volcano by helo and skidoo, do we have some safety system? What about weather changes?

I wondered about weather changes myself. What happens if we’re on the other side of the volcano, and a horrendous storm moves in?

So far, the weather changes have been gradual enough to respond in a timely manner. For instance, the nasty weather which is upon us now took several hours last night to materialize.

We always carry radios with us in the field. They come in quite handy for non-emergencies, and so far have only been used for such. When working by helicopter, either the helo shuts down and stays with us (“closed support”) or drops us off with the appropriate number of survival bags. Survival bags are large dry bags containing food rations, a stove, fuel, sleeping bags, a tent (I think), and a trashy novel. I may be missing something. It would have sucked to break into the survival bag on BOMZ yesterday. Skank was moving in at the hut as we set off for BOMZ, and we were slightly worried that we wouldn’t have been able to get back—not because of bad conditions at BOMZ, but because of bad conditions at the Hut. The most likely scenario, had that been the case, is that the helo would have taken us somewhere else—likely McMurdo. Which wouldn’t be the end of the world. Hot shower……

How do you keep warm?
No one asked me this, but I’ve decided to share anyway.
Layers. Yesterday, I had on two inner layers and two medium layers and then my windjacket. It was almost cold enough for me to switch to big red, though (the puffy red jacket—very warm). Hand warmers. We have boxes of those hand warmer packets that you just open and expose to air and then stuff in your gloves. I find these very, very helpful. I generally wear some windstopper gloves which I purchased myself in the States under an issued mitten shell, so that I can pull off the shell when I have to do detail work like pushing buttons or screwing or unscrewing things. I put the handwarmers inside my gloves, and pull my fingers in when they get particularly cold—like when I get skidoo thumb. Handwarmers good. Like I’ve mentioned previously, the skidoos have heated handles, and that helps, too.

My toes also tend to get cold. I commonly reach a point while out in the field where I become somewhat useless. It’s my cold point. My fingers are cold, my toes are cold, I’m a little hungry, I’ve finished a task and am no longer engaged, and I’m ready to go. I move more slowly, and motivation goes down the toilet. I tried wearing toe warmers yesterday to prevent, or at least postpone this. I didn’t feel the warmth of the toe warmers, but I didn’t have cold toes, either. Still, I was ready to be done sledging. Luckily, we’re never out in the field that long. Out for a few hours, back in to heat up and get some food and beverage.

At night, we take a hottie to bed. Yeah, no, I wish—not that kind of hottie. (Bridget said, before I left, “You’re sleeping in a tent? How are you going to stay warm? You’re going to have to hook up with someone.”). Our hotties are hot water bottles: put very hot water in a Nalgene, stick the Nalgene inside an insulating cover, and you’re good to go. If it’s not so cold, leave the bottle in the insulation. If it’s particularly chilly, like it was last night, take it out. Wear a hat to bed. I also have taken to wearing one of those eye masks that they give you in airplanes (I saved mine from the flight to Aukland), which helps me get to sleep in the 24 hours of daylight (is it still daylight, if it’s during the night? Is it even the night, if the sun is still shining?). I never thought I’d actually use one of those goofy things, but it’s just like a lights out. Time to go to sleep. It’s a good way to trick my brain.
[Glorious picture of me in sleep mode was accidentally recorded as a movie, and is not currently available.]

Plus, I’m sure it looks awesome. Which brings me to my next topic.
Beth, how do you still look so attractive while doing field work in Antarctica?
Some would say it’s not showering, some would say it’s the sexy goggles, some would say it’s the puffy coat or chic blue boots or the greasy hair or acne. I think it’s the snot bubbles.

Unsolicited commentary:
Ricky Martin

What is it about Ricky, anyway?

I love him. Or, I thought I did.
I found this tape for $5 Kiwi (about $2.50 US) in the store at Scott Base, and was immediately thrilled. Good thing I brought my walkman. The tape’s got all the best—“Livin’ la Vida Loca,” “She Bangs,” “Shake Your Bon Bon” (‘I wanna be your lover, You’re only latin lover’), “Cup of Life,” AND a version of “Maria.” Not only that, but it comes with all the words.

I was very excited about listening to this tape. I loved that Ricky, propped up on my spare wind pants, was just about the last thing I saw every night. It cracked me up. Ricky in Antarctica. The night finally came when I found some AA batteries and could get some sound out of the old walkman. I got all fired up when I heard the beginning of “Maria,” and was ready to start busting a move in my tent. It’s kind of hard to bust a move in a mummy bag, though, and it was too cold to get out. Then, as it turned out, the song was in English, and lost some of its charm. Also, as it turned out, all the songs inbetween the hits sounded like cheesy 80’s love tunes which were fine when I was listening to the radio in 5th grade and thought that was what love sounded like, but no so charming now that I’m old and wise. Or cynical.

I’m sorry, Ricky.

After listening to 1 rounds of the tape, I decided I couldn’t listen to Ricky again for a while.

On a positive note, that was over a week ago, and I might be able to start listening to Ricky again soon. Until then, I’ll have to stick to Joan Baez, the Pixies, and the Beastie Boys. It’s all the same, anyway.

Posted by beth at 10:48 AM

December 18, 2002

Check-in Dec 18, 2002

More cables, more cold, and the onset of wind.

December 18, 2002

Another day of Hut livin’. No helo scheduled until 2 PM, so we split in the morning to take care of various tasks: Nelia and Bill to the crater rim, where Nelia tied cables together and Bill worked on the camera permanently pointed towards the lava lake; RE (Rich Esser) and I spent another morning splicing and laying cable, which ended considerably short of our goal, and then connected batteries together for powering the monitoring site at Nausea Knob. Sarah and RK (Rich Karstens) held life together at the hut.

A word on laying cables. It’s not the worst task (piling rocks still takes it), and actually isn’t too bad when the cables are behaving and/or when working with another person. It’s not a task that any of us get excited about, though; most cable-laying tasks seem to require laying cable for long distances, on steep slopes. We’ve been currently working on laying cable from the crater rim to Nausea Knob, a task requiring about 2,000 ft worth of cable. Seems crazy. How can the cables even survive at the volcano’s surface, in this climate? Time will tell. Some cables have faired poorly in the past, either yielding to the elements (cold and wind) or to the volcano itself (Rich and I observed some burned-looking cable, apparently severed by a bomb). The newly-laid cables will be tied together—five cables total: two data cables for the infrared sensors, which will read crater lake temperatures (from the rim! Wow!), two power cables (one positive, one negative), and one mistake—and covered with rocks. Mmm, rocks….

I finished quite cold at Nausea, and ready to go to lunch. There was, as usual, a hot lunch waiting for us. No time for a nap today, afterwards, though. The helo came to pick up Bill to drop a sling load of batteries at MACZ, and then came to pick up Nelia, RE, RK, and I to go to BOMZ. BOMZ is reputedly windy, but when Phil and I went to do campaign GPS, it was lovely. Not the most exciting spot on the planet, but not bad. Today, it was windy. It sucked. Nelia put up solar panels, RE and RK disconnected and connected batteries, and I worked to install a single-frequency GPS system utilizing the existing campaign monument. Unfortunately, not much got installed. Problem number 1 was the monument: the monument was ill-suited to my antenna. Monuments on this mountain generally consist of a stainless still post (small—maybe 10 inches) with a mark on top epoxied into a hole drilled into bedrock. Unfortunately, there were two posts—the first was a mistake, probably drilled at too much of and angle, and the second was the established monument that I assume I was supposed to use. Unfortunately, the antenna is shaped such that it collided with the first monument, and with rock surrounding the monuments as well (the dual-frequency antennas ride higher). I decided to take a sledge hammer to the site. And partake in a little monument extraction. If this was a bad decision, I plead cold. Needless to say, the first post is now bent and in the Hut, to be added to our ‘museum,’ and the second has a not-so-natural, hammered away surrounding. Hopefully, the monument is still stable. Problem number 2 was that the cables on the GPS receiver are too short to reach both the GPS antenna and the radio antenna. So, the GPS and associated cables are still in their box, isolated from the world, weighted down with rocks to discourage destruction by the wind.

We were all ready to leave BOMZ. We sent the helo off with a sling load, and prayed for its return. Well, I hunkered down on my knees to protect myself from the wind, and RE thought it looked like I was praying. And I did want the helo to come back. (“Please let the helo come back for us,” I said. “Really, I’m a good kid.”) We all agreed it would not be at all in the least even a little bit pleasant to spend the night at BOMZ.

Back at the hut, the wind is picking up. From calm in the morning (less than 5 knots), we’re up to 15-20 knots. Snow’s moving outside. Nelia called McMurdo for weather, and when I looked at her inquisitively gave me the thumbs down. Sounds like a big storm’s moving in. Literally (whoosh). We’ve agreed that a day or two cooped up in storm wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Sarah’s been sick all along, RK’s just getting over a cold, and RE’s going down into one. The rest of us are tired. Good for us, bad for the McMurdo folks who are trying to get north for the holidays, and have already been delayed. Up here, we’ve agreed that two days of storm would be fine. Beyond that, we’d probably get antsy. Wish us (maybe bad and then) good weather.

Posted by beth at 7:52 PM

December 17, 2002

Check-in Dec 17, 2002

The day went something like: Wake up, eat breakfast (fried egg, potatoes, bacon, English muffin, all real), go to the crater rim with Rich Esser to lay and splice cable. We were both very tired, and walked slowly. At one glorious moment, I lie on my back in the sun while waiting for Rich, and life was good. Not too cold, not windy. Slight breeze, thus sometimes chilly. When we ran out of cable, we hopped back on skidoos and cruised back to the hut for a late lunch. After lunch, I napped. Nelia came in and viewed my head on my hands, saying, “Beth, you look distraught.” I looked up sleepily. She suggested I take a nap before the helos came. I moved to the bench and lied down, and then I remember waking up to the sound of the helo and Nelia said, “Man, I swear you were asleep within 30 seconds of laying down.” “Yeah,” Rich added, “and snoring.”

Helo time took up the afternoon, from 4-6 PM. Three sling loads (net attached to bottom of helo) and one internal load (inside helo) to Ray’s Shoulder, one internal load to E1, one sling load to Nausea. This kept us pretty busy. I got to hook on one of the sling loads, which I described a few entries back, but this time it was to a 212, the bus not the racecar, and life under its belly was significantly windier. The pilot also hovered pretty low, making me wonder what I would do if he grounded out. No worries. There’s plenty of room under there.

In the loads, for those curious, were mostly batteries, battery boxes, solar panels and mounts, etc. Heavy things that we don’t want to skidoo to the sites. Oh, and I also executed my first real radio conversation, communicating with Rich Esser at E1. He said I did very well. (The first time, I had some mic keying issues. This time, I figured out the mic ahead of time.)

After helo-ing, we ate dinner (shrimp with angel hair pasta, and fresh salad) and watched “The Heist” on DVD, with blankets over the windows. I call no more last-shot theft movies. Yuck. Unless they’re incredibly clever.

The plume is straight up today, meaning there is no wind. It’s rising from the volcano, and then hanging out, not quite sure where to go so piling up on itself to the west in front of the sun. The sun, to rebel, turns bronze in the sulfur of the plume.

[Too late to catch the bronze, but still nice.]

Posted by beth at 5:24 PM

December 16, 2002

Crater Day!

Work, and a little play.

Very tired. Very, very tired.
The weather up on Erebus was beautiful, but clouds blanketed everything beneath us, with just a bit of the Trans-Antarctics punching through as an island in the distance. By miracle, a helo was able to reach us to bring our Sarah back and to take away our Phil.

We were supposed to do some helo work, but the helo headed straight back to McMurdo, thanks to the weather, so we changed our plans.

Nelia, Rich, and I got to lay cable. The joys of cable laying. It could be nasty, but it wasn't--and it took us to the crater rim. By skidoo, and on foot. At the rim, we stopped and sat or, in Rich's case, lied on our bellies, looking down into the crater. Just looking, just appreciating. I think it's what we're supposed to do. Why do field work, if not to enjoy? Nelia worked on her own roll of cable, and Rich and I shared a less managable one, and I found myself laughing, and it was good. Nelia said it would be a good day for a Figure of 8.

The Figure of 8 is a rim-walk, cruising around both the main crater and a side crater and traversing 'The Septum,' a thin ridge inbetween. There was almost no wind, and very little plume, and the view into the crater was great.

I was tired. We came back for a late lunch, I went down immediately afterwards for a nap, and then awoke somewhat hoping we wouldn't go. I was tired.

But, when Bill was ready and the call to come was up, I of course had to hop on the wagon. Or the skidoo, as it were--with a fear of sleepwalking, and a fear of the Septum.

It turned out to be fine. It turned out to be splendid. My shaky blue boots were, at times, shaky, but Nelia cut me some bomber steps through the steep, snowy parts of the Septum, and the rest was cake. And, like she said, the Septum is incredible. After the semi-sketchy snowy part, the ridge is soft mud--very hydrothermally altered, and warm.

I need say nothing else other than around we went, with awesome views into the crater, and were treated to mostly clear views of the lava lake. And, I saw the glowing red for the first time. And, the volcano treated us to a display of red-hot bubbles. Small bubbles, but more frequent bubbles than Nelia's seen. She theorizes that Erebus is particularly quiet right now (few eruptions) because its system is so open, and not storing up gas, as evidenced by the frequent, small-scale bubbling.

We ended up not doing the full Figure-of-8 (we eliminated the side-crater), but no mind. An active volcano in our backyard.

[Getting started: Bill on the rim.]

[The Septum.]

[Steam riding up the crater wall.]

[Bill and Nelia enjoy the rim.]

[Steaming wall.]

[Lava lake! Zoomed in. Semi-obscured, but about as good as it gets; the red spot in the middle is a bubble. Hot lava.]

[Verner's, a smaller vent also containing a lava lake, and associated gas vents.]

[Steaming wall.]

[Time to head back; Bill and Nelia make their way across the rim.]

[View of the side crater, which we ditched for dinner. It's okay--Rich and I went most of the way up laying cable, anyway.]

Posted by beth at 11:23 PM

December 15, 2002

Check-in Dec 15, 2002

[Parking at MACZ. Note approach--a bit steep.]

December 15, taken mostly from my journal:
Sunday is for sleeping in. It’s also for making up for bad Saturdays.

Starting late, sometime around 3, Phil and I headed to check on MACZ, then to pick up EAST, and, after a return trip to the hut to drop off equipment and have a cup of tea, HELZ. Back the first time around 5:15; the second time probably after 6:30. Beautiful day, as usual, and though my thumb was again painfully and frustratingly cold on the way to MACZ, the majority of the outing was fine and found me in a good mood. Very thin stripes of cloud, sometimes just one, across blue sky—somewhat surreal. Is the world still beautiful without my goggles on? Brighter, but still beautiful

Antarctica smells like ginger and lemon. No, maybe that’s just the smell of Sarah’s ointment which I’ve put around my nostrils.

[Harry's Dream (ice tower, left) and EAST (GPS antenna, right).]

Posted by beth at 8:57 PM

December 14, 2002

Check-in Dec 14: Grumpy

[Phil lugs rocks.]

Field work. Sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s not, as I’ve said before.

The morning was beautiful, but a bit windy, and the helos were on hold because of clouds over McMurdo. This meant that Phil, Rich E., Bill, and I were waiting to go on the helo to BOMZ, and Rick, Mario, R.K., and Sarah were waiting for their ride down to McMurdo; the former two on their way out, the latter two to visit. Eventually, Phil, Rich Esser, and I gave up and skidooed to MACZ to install the single-frequency GPS system. This is the same place we went before, when I said skidoos were the coolest thing in the world and I was elated. This time, I noticed different things. The path was bumpy, Phil was driving fast, and my thumb was frozen. This is a phenomenon called ‘skidoo thumb’. The handles are heated, but the right thumb is needed for the throttle, which is not heated. It hurt. I was grumpy already. It was painfully cold. I solved the problem by accidentally stalling my skidoo, and then pulling my thumb into the finger compartment of my mitten while Rich came to my rescue, pointing out that I had accidentally hit the kill switch. Must have been subliminal.

[Technology meets the Antarctic.]

At the site, I did a few interesting things, and then was assigned to piling rocks around the GPS box. This takes no thought. Because of this, and because I was cold, I became grumpy. Grumpier, I mean, since I was already grumpy. It was somewhat windy at the site, and because of this, and because I was cold, I had my hood up. Because of this, and because we were all working on different tasks, there was essentially no communication. I decided I didn’t like this game. I decided a lot of other things, too, which may or may not be considered revelations. As I stated that evening:

Usually, when I learn something when I’m frustrated, I don’t really know whether I’m learning or just concluding, with the conclusions influenced by my frustration.

Sometimes, when I’m frustrated, I don’t want to talk. Sometimes, I just want to sit somewhere and look out, like sitting on wavy lava rocks looking out towards the Trans Antarctic mountains with the evening sun gleaming off the ice. And then, I just think. And relax. And am glad. Eventually, I move along to wherever it is that I am supposed to be. Or expected to be. And then sometimes, I am still quiet.

Often, I get frustrated when I’m tired. Often, I get frustrated when I’m hungry, as well, or dehydrated. I am quite tired at present. My chin is tilted up slightly to compensate for my drooping eyelids.

Everybody’s got to pile rocks at some point, but none of us has to like it. Especially when it’s cold. Rick, somehow, was still chipper that day, which baffled me. What? Aren’t you cold and grumpy? But Rich is from Wisconsin, and is a good skidoo driver and never gets cold. He works with his gloves off.

After returning back to the Hut, very happily, I was tasked to go check on the local GPS. Grumpily. But, it gave me the chance to sit, as described above, and contemplate the Trans-Antarctic mountains and mellow out. There’s something good about being outside and just being, so long as you can stay warm.

Mellowing out allowed me to enjoy an evening in the hut with the new-and-improved atmosphere: finally, we were down to a small family. Rick and Mario and Rich and Sarah had been able to get out after all, and we were down to five. I learned to play 500. Phil, Nelia, Rich, and I played while Bill dweebed. Dweebed is code for playing with computers or equipments. I’m dweebing right now.

Posted by beth at 8:46 PM


I've mentioned volcanic bombs several times. A bomb, as pictured here, is a slug of hot lava spewed from the volcano which cools in the air. Some bombs are obviously streamlined, from cooling in flight. At Erebus, the bombs expand while they cool, sometimes forming a hollow center. The inner rock is highly vesicular (bubbly) to the point of looking spider-webby, with progressively more solid rock towards the outside. Also, amazingly, though the rock looks solid, and contains big crystals like the lava flows, it is very easily stabbed with the tip of an ice axe--it's more the softness of pumice, for those of you familiar with pumice.

Unfortunately, there's no scale on this shot. The bomb is probably about two feet tall. Some of them are up to six feet long, and flatened like a pancake.

Posted by beth at 11:03 AM

December 13, 2002

Check-in Dec 13, 2002

Friday the 13th. Said Rich E. and Nelia, “I’m glad I’m not flying today…”

Field work in this weather is never predictable. By this weather, I mean Antarctica. This morning was relatively windy, but clear and sunny. Helos were scheduled to come in in the afternoon and ship the geochemists (Ken, Pierre, Silvain) out and move as much cargo around the volcano as there was time for. Priority: Get cargo into site RAY, on the crater rim. Problem: Plume was blowing that direction, and we were uncertain the helo would be able to land. Contingency plan: Pick up loads of junk we had broken down at Baby Nausea. This meant that, when the helicopter came—and it came early—Nelia and Bill and Mario jumped on skidoos and headed to RAY in case the helo would be able to get in, and Rich E. and I jumped on skidoos and headed to Baby Nausea in case the helo would not. We began lugging cargo nets up to the site just in case. If the helo were able to get into RAY, we would have to run (and skidoo) down to the Hut so the cargo nets could be used for more cargo for RAY. A little crazy. Most of the way to the site, we got the radio call that the helo was not able to get into RAY. We hurried to pack up the first of two cargo nets. This was a new skill for me. The first time, Rich demonstrated how to hook the cargo net to the helicopter. The next time, I got to do it. Stand with the cargo net loop up in the air while the helo approaches, allow it to hover over you, hook loop to hook on base of helicopter, tug to make sure it’s tight, exit front and downslope of helicopter and seek cover (in this case behind volcanic bomb, to be described sometime later). It can apparently be pretty intimidating. Luckily (I guess—except I kind of wanted the rush) the ambient wind was such that the helo did not create a crazy intense wind for us standing at the base, so the whole event was relatively calm. Afterwards, Rich said, ‘Too bad you didn’t have your camera—I could have taken a video of you.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘I have it right here.’ Sorry, parents. (They even just asked me to have some people take some more pictures of me to prove I’m still here.)

While we were packing up at Baby Nausea, Phil was attempting to helo in to MACZ, a seismic site which we would like to augment with a single-frequency GPS system. Phil got denied by wind. ‘The pilot said he was pulling up as hard as he could, and we were still going down. I read 1500 ft per minute.’

When we got back, I was rearin’ to go, but it turned out it was already 5 PM. Since the weather was still a little chilly, we decided to do some clean-up in the shed and then relax in the Hut.

Bill is currently skiing. Rich Esser, the human ski lift and just about the nicest person in the world, is shuttling Bill up the hill on a skidoo for multiple runs. Clark in Seattle commented that I should have brought some tele skis down (assuming I didn’t—which was right), sharing the view with the fellow at Neptune in Boulder who sold me my sunglasses: “I mean, Carpe Diem!” said guy in Boulder. “Skiing on a volcano in Antarctica!” And Clark said, “What could be better?” Well, I’ll tell you what could be better. It’s simple. Good snow. Said Bill of the last time he went skiing, “It was solid.” Still, he went again, and still, I can’t say I’m not envious.

Sarah has been making chocolate chip cookies almost every day. They turn out a little funky because of the altitude, but they’re still good. This morning, we had toasted bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon for breakfast. It’s a hard life. I talked to Shad, one of the UNAVCO guys down here, on the phone today, and he asked if I was cold. He had just gotten back from a project called Onset D. Not so much, I said, because we have a cushy hut and we don’t go out when it’s horrendous. For example, we were here for only a day or so and then stuck inside for three days of 40 knot winds. He didn’t sound impressed at all. “We work in that,” he said. “We live in tents.” Bummer.

In the tent, we are sharing stories of how the Japnese film crew made us self-consious, and other non-related general mishaps. Bill says, “Maybe the Japanese are making a comedy.”

Posted by beth at 10:36 AM

December 12, 2002

December 12 Check-in

Field check-in, another Thursday.

The morning was slow, while we waited to see whether the helicopters would be able to get in to pick us up. Rick Aster and Mario were able to get out to check on old seismic site ICE, but weren’t able to get back. Skank had moved in, and visibility was limited. Instead of the anticipated (used very loosely) field work, most the gang skidoo-ed down to ‘rescue’ Rick and Mario at Fang, which was the closest place the helo pilot was comfortable landing. In the afternoon, since our installation trip was cancelled, Bill, Nelia, Rich E., and I went to break down a power station called Baby Nausea, just uphill from Nausea Knob. I disconnected cables connecting batteries. It’s a tricky job, because you need some dexterity, and those without thin gloves have to work without any gloves at all. I have thin gloves. I think working with metal without gloves is cold. I think working on anything here without gloves is cold. But, I think I have somewhat poor circulation. I need to eat more bananas, or something.

On the way back to the skidoos, we had to go back down an icy slope, carrying tools and power-site-parts. We looked hilarious. Bill had a metal box strapped to his pack. Rich had a wooden box strapped to his pack, and carried a 12-ft metal mast. Nelia was cold, and was wearing a big, puffy jacket. Puffier than our puffy red jackets. I couldn’t see myself, but I’m sure I looked funny, too, just because it’s inevitable. I had the lightest load. All I had to carry was my pack (containing spare clothes), my ice axe, and the wooden base of the mast (which once hosted the wind generator). Still, I’m the one who managed to fall on the ice. No worries—I caught myself on the wooden base. In the ribs. (Ouch.) It only hurts a little bit, sometimes, when I breathe or laugh or blow my nose. For the way down, Bill strapped the mast to the front of the skidoo, cross-ways, narrowly missing bombs on the trail.

The most exciting part of the evening was the unveiling of the smoked salmon. We have a huge amount of smoked salmon. I think dinner was beef. Needless to say, I filled up on appetizers. Some people apparently weren’t very full, and decided to drink a lot. I decided to go to bed early.

Posted by beth at 10:30 AM

December 11, 2002

Field Trip: Ice Cave

Tonight, after dinner, Bill, Nelia, Ken, Silvain, and I went on an excursion to one of the local attractions: Helo caves.

Ice caves form over geothermal vents, creating a void between rock and an overlying crust of snow. The colors inside are incredible, the textures varied, and the atmosphere serene. Click the link for some more photos.

[Nelia brings the ladder for cave entry. In the background is the abandoned helo for which the caves are names.]

[Ken Sims widens the entry to Helo Cave.]

[Nelia enters the cave: "Wow!"]

[Cave colors.]

[Nelia admires the cave roof.]

[Cave colors.]

[Cave contours, with view of next room. This photo will look lame if it turns up dark on your computer.]

[The roof.]

[Snow lace.]

[Silvain and ice wall. Note the different textures of the cave walls.]

Nelia says, "And the next cave we go in will be this big!"]

Posted by beth at 11:04 PM

Field work check-in

[Newly-installed wind generator at Nausea Knob.]

We've had a couple of good field days. The same old, but even with the same old, there's something interesting.

Yesterday (Tuesday), I skidoo-ed sola out to check memory at one of the local GPS sites. Stopped the survey, deleted some old files, restarted the survey. About five minutes of data lost. No big deal.

Shortly after, I joined most the crew out at site E1, to help install one of the permanent monitoring sites. E1 happens to be on the side-crater rim. That means it's high. That means there was a great view. Tasks included collecting rocks (Erebus crystals), installing a new GPS monument, covering cable with rocks, and laying cable for a microphone intended for the central crater rim along the ridge constituting the side-crater rim. 'What needs to be done?' Rich E. asks Bill. 'Why don't you and Beth take care of the microphone?' 'Yippee!' I say. 'Where does it go?' Rich points. 'Up there.' I look. 'All the way up there?' 'Yep.' I lost my yippee. Had I misunderstood, maybe? 'It's not as far as it looks,' says Bill. 'Is it trecherous?' asks Rich. 'Should we bring ice axes?' 'Eh, you probably won't need them, but you may as well bring them.'

I was I glad I did. No, no need to self-arrest* or anything--but the potential certainly seemed there, walking a narrow ridge of either snow or loose rock in cluncky mucklucks (issued boots). Steep drop down to the bottom of the side-crater to the left, steep drop down the flank of the volcano to the right. Some people love ridge-walking, some people hate it. Poor Rich E. had to do most of the cable-carrying, so he might not have loved it yesterday. Admittedly, I would have loved in more in a little more stable shoes. But man, you can't beat the views. No camera--sorry.

[*Self-arrest = save yourself from a slide on ice using an ice axe.]

We got back from E1 at almost exactly 6 PM. It may be the best thing ever (or seems like it at the time) to come in from a day of field work to a warm hut full of dinner-smell and jovial people and tables lined with appetizers. Ah, Sarah. The geochemists were in, the Japanese and associates were in, and now we were in, and it was time to relax, eat, and drink.

For a while, anyway. After dinner, Phil was ready to go out. He, Sarah, and I hopped on skidoos and bopped over to the two GPS sites we had put in two days before, mainly because I was afraid we'd run out of memory at one of the receivers. Well, maily to go on a little excursion. We found no memory problems--but it's hard to find a memory problem when the receiver has no power. Apparently, the solar panels had not been charging the battery. Expect one problem, find another. Such is field work. We decided to not deal with it until morning. It seemed the solar panels had started charging the battery, now that we had jiggled a few connections, and maybe the site would come back on its own.

We got back around 10:30. 24 hours of daylight has its benefits, with field work. Unless you like to stop working at 5 PM.

Today, Wednesday, I went with Rich Esser out to the two GPS sites to beef up the power with more batteries. The first major accomplishment was finding the sites. If you know me, you know my sense of direction is stellar. Sometimes, I consider it a miracle that I ever arrive anywhere. After finding the sites, we found that both were fine. EAST had indeed charged, and was running happily on full power. Still, we added batteries anyway, and headed back to the Hut.

Shortly after returning, we joined Bill, Nelia, and Mario up at site NAUS. You may recognize Nausea Knob as one of the campaign GPS sites; it is also one of the major geophysical monitoring sites, so we worked all day to put up a wind generator and do a few other things. By the end of the work episode, I had cold toes and fingers and was walking aimlessly around in my big puffy red jacket like a little kid. I was happy to head back to the hut. Except that I rode on the back of Phil's skidoo (Phil and Rick came up as well, so we had quite a party up there), which was a little scary.

The day was snowy in the morning, then cleared with some neat clouds, not all of which turned out on film.

You may remember that the Japanese TV crew was in, and may have noticed that I haven't said anything about it. There's not much to say. They weren't here very long, and they were busy the whole time they were here. They mostly followed Ken's group, the geochemists, taking gas samples at the crater rim. They loved the French guys, Pierre and Silvain. They didn't love the rest of us. That's okay. We got work done.

Tonight, we celebrated Silvain's birthday with cake and champaign and presents. Lot's of birthdays up here. And, after all that, to the caves.

Posted by beth at 5:56 PM


My friend Sue really wants to know how women pee in Antarctica. Men just have some minimal unzipping to do, but us women—well, there’s potential for a good bit more exposure. And it’s cold outside.

So, Sue, this entry’s for you.

Peeing in McMurdo is simple. Public restrooms like in any academic or business building, or dorms. Same drill as anywhere in the States.

What do you do in the field, though?

There are two questions: The question of facilities and the question of exposure.

Facilities: At Fang, we had a nice lou (pictured below), with a Styrofoam toilet seat sheltered by three walls of snow blocks to block the wind. The toilet seat was balanced on a four-sided wood box, which led to a hole in the snow. Sounds like this is not the most environmentally friendly plan; usually, they crap into a bucket in the hole, which gets helicoptered out and then shipped off the continent. Near the crapper was a pee hole.

[The john at Fang, as seen from camp. Fang Ridge in the background.]

[The john at Fang, up close and almost personal.]

[The view from the shitter.]

The Hut can hardly be considered the field. But, it’s still away from running water, and we have to ship out all our waste. We have a deluxe potty room in the back of the shed (= warm), equipped three important items: 1) men’s urinal which leads straight to the pee barrel outside; 2) poop hole; 3) ‘women’s urinal’. There is a wooden bench which hosts the latter two: holes in the bench are ringed by Styrofoam toilet seats, with a lidded poop bucket under one and a metal ‘funnel’ leading to a Nalgene under the other. There is another Nalgene, labeled “PEE,” that has a nice bouquet of fake flowers it in. There is also a few books, one of which has a scantily-clad woman with flaming torches conviently positioned to cover certain details of her chest. I think the book is called “Strange Predicament” and is, of course, about Nazis. (???) Us ladies empty the pee-filled Nalgene into the men’s urinal after use. It’s a great system, because we get to see how much we pee. The first time I peed, I filled the Nalgene. I don’t know what’s normal, but I felt pretty good about it. My record so far is just barely over a liter, in one go. Very satisfying. Except that I have to stop right at the end of my pee to quickly empty the bottle, trying not to drip, and then it’s a little hard to start again.

While doing actual field work, we are able to pee anywhere. In other locations in Antarctica, folks are a little more limited. In the Dry Valleys, for example, everyone has to pee into pee bottles. The women I’ve talked to that have to do this use a female funnel—I can’t remember the exact name for it. It’s a contraption consisting of two plastic parts: One cup/funnel-like part which is held against the body to catch the pee, and one tube which attaches to the base to extend the funnel. I was advised to practice in the shower should I want to use this method.

[The pee bottle, as captured in my tent, where it (and the funnel) has come in handy a night or two. Cold? Maybe. Lazy? Definately.]

Exposure: Nelia clued me in to her pee strategy. Our wind pants (bibs) have front and side zippers. Unzip one side (which can be done under a coat), pull the back around the other side, and there you go: you’re exposed but still mostly dressed. If outside in the field, pee into the wind so the pee goes behind you, where you’ve already pulled clothing out of the away. The funnel method would take even less undressing.

As of yet, I haven’t had to pee in the field. But I’m not afraid. I swear. It actually doesn't feel as cold as you might think, most the time. (Brrrrrr…..)

Posted by beth at 5:28 PM

December 9, 2002

Coolest thing ever

Okay, I know I said helicopters were the coolest thing ever, but maybe it’s skidoos. They’re noisy, they pollute, they’re stinky, they’re obnoxious, and they’re fun. I wouldn’t ride them for the sake of riding them, but I like the places they can get me.

Yesterday was incredible.

First of all, the weather was warm. Only about –10 F, no wind. And, I was finally involved in the work most everyone else has been doing all along: permanent site installations. Not that that was the incredible part of my day, but it was good. We worked to install a site right here by the Hut, and it took us the better part of the day. Anamometer (measures wind speed), temperature and humidity guage, GPS, seismometer. I used some huge crimpers to crimp a clamp onto a guy wire. If you don’t know what this is, it doesn’t matter. It’s engineering, not science J. The point is, I felt bad-ass. Which is sort of funny, because I had a lot of trouble with the crimpers. I had trouble holding them up over my head, let along squeezing a piece of metal with them.

[Phil, Nelia, and Rich E. work on the anemometer (sp??) w/ Erebus puffing away in the background.]

The other highlight was the trench digging. There was tons to do: Put up a post for the anamometer, temperature and humidity sensors, and radio antenna; install GPS monument and put antenna on monument; make pad for the seismometer (this had already been done), secure seismometer and GPS receiver in boxes; and run cables between anything that needs to communicate with anything else, or that needs power. After laying the cable, it had to be buried in a trench across snow or covered in rocks across rock. It gets a little windy around here, as you’ve seen, and everything needs to be secured. The actual trench digging was accomplished with an ice axe, and wasn’t actually all that fun. It was a bit tiring. But then I had to sit in the snow and dig the lose snow out of the trench and put the GPS antenna cable in. It was a blast. I felt like a kid playing in the snow. I guess I was. But I was getting paid.

[Nelia lugs rocks for the cables.]

[Nelia says, "I fell there!"]

After site installation, which began around 10:30 and ended sometime around 3 PM (I think), Phil suggested we move the GPS instruments from the local sites to a few less local sites. Get on skidoo, go take down site, bring in receiver, download data, head back into the field.

The first site was EAST. It’s on the east side of the volcano. Phil solicited tag-a-longs. Anybody want to come on an adventure? Oh, EAST, one of the veterans said to another. That’s a good spot. If you haven’t been, you should go. Hmm, I thought. Must be nice.

We have a fleet of six skidoos to use for our fieldwork around Erebus. Phil, Rich, and I took three of them to skirt around the volcano. We headed…. east. Departure time: around 5. Phil was in the mood to explore a bit.

[Phil likes a field trip,]

I think the drive was scenic, but I was concentrating on the skidoo tracks, and on the figure of Phil before me. We put in EAST, then cruised on looking for a seismic site called MACZ. We found it. Running, but with corroded guy wires and pieces of radio antenna lying on the ground. Why does it still run? My theory: To make up for all the sites that are beautifully constructed and should run, but don’t. At MACZ, and along the way, we were treated to great views of the mountains, and of the landmarks visible from McMurdo—but from a different vantage point. Scott Base, McMurdo, White Island, Black Island, the Erebus ice tounge—all seen from above. And the evening was lovely.

[View towards McMurdo. Funky, barely distinguishable, frilly-looking tongue of ice stretching 'NE' on 'E' (right) half of the photo is the Erebus ice tongue.]

[Phil and Rich love the solar panel.]

[Mmmm, corrosion....]

The most magical moment was to come. The veterans have been talking of finding a skidoo route which will get them close to a future instrumentation site along the rim, called RAYS. This meant driving farther east, and then driving up. Up, up, up the backside of the volcano, up towards the sun and eventually into the shadow cast by the plume, the plume the color of amber through my glasses, and just enough breeze to skate snow snakes down the slopes towards us, white against white and us still moving upwards. This is the best winter activity ever, I thought. (See photo at top.)

[Harry's dream.]

On the way back, we stopped at a snow tower called Harry’s Dream. There’s a reason it’s called Harry’s Dream. Some of these snow towers can be quite fallic.

We were back just in time to be a little late for a lovely dinner of olive-feta-tomato chicken. We’re not living badly here. There’s the major shower sacrifice, but no food sacrifices. In fact, as I type this there are greek olives surrounded by two types of cheeses and three types of crackers, a bowl of potato chips, a bowl of peanuts, and a bowl of cookies on the table. Not to mention the freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies on the counter.

But I digress. After dinner, Phil was ready to go out again. I was exhausted. I tried to eat a lot of sugar. That, and having eaten dinner, helped. Out to get another site, in to download, out to a nearby station called HELZ. Station up, home at 10:30 PM. Another, Phil? No, not another, he says. I’m tired.

Good. I’m tired, too.

What a great day.


Today had been relaxed—station in, dowload, station out to a place called Nausea Knob, named for the sulfuric smell. A beautiful place, with, as usual, a beautiful view, but cold. Too much wind this morning. I’ve been in the rest of the day, organizing and, once again, spending too much time at the computer while most everyone else is out in the field for another long field day.

(View of site NAUS, on Nausea Knob.)

Tomorrow, the Japanese film crew arrives, with a mountaineer from McMurdo. Sixteen people in the Hut. Could be exciting. Maybe I’ll get cramps again, and hang out in the shed…

Posted by beth at 6:08 PM

December 7, 2002

Solo GPS-ing

Now that the GPS instruments were in, it was time to download the data and take them back out.

To download the data from the GPS receiver, I just hook up the receiver to my laptop and use a simple point-and-click program to retrieve the files. One file per day. The files, should you want to know, contain, in simple terms, distance measurements from the satellites to the antenna. This data is already pre-processed: The receiver receives signals from that satellite and, based on the information received, calculates the distance between the satellite and antenna. By using the distance from the receiver to each satellite, we can come up with the position of the measurement point. We do so using complex software that uses a bunch of equations to solve the problem. When I mention “data processing,” I am referring to running this software. The software not only uses the distance estimates to determine the position of the antenna, but must eliminate or at least reduce sources of error in the data as well. Sources of error include clock offsets in the receivers and/or satellites, signal delays through the Earth’s ionosphere (a layer of charged particles way up there) and troposphere (a layer close to Earth, containing varying amounts of moisture—this is where are weather is), and bouncing of the signal off the ground and nearby structures (“multipath”). Am I forgetting any? If you want more details, let me know. Otherwise, there’s the skinny on GPS. Not simple. Complex. And, for certain applications, effective.

I had the afternoon to work by myself. Phil showed me the locations of four benchmarks very close to camp, and I skidoo-ed out the equipment to each. One site is close to a helicopter that wrecked circa 1979(?) (no fatalities, just the nearby remnants of the tent that kept the occupants sheltered), and all are on lava flow. In fact, we’re living on a lava flow. Smooth, grey whalebacks and bumpy, crusty-looking ridges, and series of thin, smooth ridges. Living on a lava flow. That’s cool. And a recent one, too. Okay, not really. ~11,000 yrs old, according to Rich. It’s recent compared to some things, anyway.

[GPS antenna with our tent village and hut and shed in the background.]

The site installations had me out all afternoon, partly because I was working alone and partly because the cold was making me a bit lethargic. I thought cheerfully that I’d be done in a couple hours, no problem. Couple, few, maybe five. Needless to say, I came in a bit chilly. It was a good evening to rebel.


I had the whole night free but rebelled from the internet. It’s a blast, but I’d spent too much time on the computer. It’s a bit of a trick to be able to take the time to share experiences, and leave time and self open to experience those experiences. So, I decided to experience games in the Hut. I sacrificed myself to the group and played Clue. And then Hearts. For FOUR HOURS!! Several folks warned me away. I hate Hearts, they said. It’s cutthroat. Everybody ends up hating everybody.

I didn’t end hating anybody. I don’t think anybody ended up hating me. Maybe that’s just because I lost. They said I was catching onto the game quickly, but I think it had more to do with my addressing people with certain nasty names than with my actual playing.

It’s good to get to bed early, to get sleep, but it’s also good to hang out with people. It’s that balance thing again. Turns out, I was fine staying up that late, because it didn’t ruin my next day. My next day was excellent. At times, incredible.

Posted by beth at 5:20 PM

December 6, 2002

Post-Storm: Back into the Field!

Thursday morning dawned beautifully. Wait, there's no dawn here. When I awoke on Thursday, the weather was beautiful. Yay, hurray! It will be great to go back into the field and pick up the campaign GPS sites.

Then, about an hour after waking time, the sky skanked up. No helos. Another day in the Hut for me. Most others went out in the field by skidoo. I called my folks (we can call out from the Hut. Can you believe it?), worked on putting some photos on the web. That's about it. It was nice to have a quiet day in the hut, though--the lull before the second storm. In the evening, the rest of our group arrived from Fang, and the hut community swelled from 8 to 12. More people, more laptops, more gear. Needless to say, it's nearly impossible to move around the hut in the busy hours without stepping over a leg or a cord or a guitar or whatever. Luckily, mild cramps in the evening rendered me antisocial, and I spent the evening taping handles on the 70-lb batteries in the shed, listening to music and sometimes just sitting.

Today, I awake with a cold. If it's not one thing, it's another. But, the weather was perfect. Perfectly clear, perfectly calm.

Back into the field with you!

Phil and I enjoyed another lovely morning of zipping around to the three campaign GPS sites we visited last Wednesday, this time to pick up the instruments that we left recording. We had intended to pick up the instruments on Monday, but the weather had its own schedule in mind. We were interested to see how the equipment faired in the storm. Would the power or antenna cables be broken? Did the instruments lose power due to snow on the solar panels? Did the solar panels blow away?

[Trimble add. GPS antenna.]

As it turned out, each site was intact, and each, save one, recorded fine. Even the one that had trouble recorded for four full days before experiencing power problems, yielding enough data that we don't have to return to the site.

[View from helo.]

[Crevasses, from helo.]

Although returning to the sites wouldn't be a bad thing. The flight today was gorgeous, and included several deviations from direct routes: one to see a panel of the Kiwi DC-10 full of dignitaries which crashed into Erebus in 1979, and one to tour the volcano's steaming crater.

[Lava lake, from helo.]

[Ice towers.]

After returning, Bill saved me from battery duty by inviting me along on a trip to the crater rim to try to get the livecam working. Of course! Well, it didn't go quite like that. Really, I was feeling exhausted and sick, so it went more like: Mmmmm sleepy… but how can I turn down the opportunity?

So I went. We skidooed up as far as we could, and I only rolled the skidoo once, and the views were incredible--both out at the surrounding terrain, and in at the crater. Two amazing views in the same day--one from the air, one from right there at the rim.

[Bill and Rich work on the camera at the rim. Right on the rim. Mt. Discovery in background.]

[Junction of central crater and lower crater.]

[Looking away from the crater: Mt. Bird.]

I wish it were that simple. Simply, 'I saw amazing views and was amazed.' What really happened was that I didn't see much of anything. Or, I saw, but didn't look. Sometimes, this happens. In my case, I am lucky--there will be a next time.

[View of crater, with steaming lava lake. Note crater rim in foreground, and my shadow. That's quite a drop.]

Posted by beth at 11:34 PM

December 4, 2002

Days 3-5(?): The Storm

(Bucking skidoo cover.)

Sunday night, the vetrans noticed some beautiful lenticulars forming. We're in for a blow, they said. Well, they said, sometimes this means wind, and sometimes nothing happens. We worked to wind-proof camp, covering the skidoos and sticking ice axes and shovels and such into the ground vertically so we wouldn't lose them in snow drift. The wind picked up a bit before bedtime, but not by a lot. It really hit us Monday morning.

It's a good thing the girlscout got out on Sunday, because no one was flying in these parts on Monday. The wind picked up in the morning: I could hear it picking up in my last hour or so of tent-time, and when I trecked from my tent to the hut sometime around 8 AM, the wind was holding steady at about 30 knots with gusts up to 40 knots. Walking to the hut was a bit of a challenge; it hurt to breath, and I sometimes lost sight of the hut, and I had to look into the wind to see it besides. [Note that the hut is only about 100 ft or so from my tent.]

(Nelia and Sarah play cards.)

Monday was intense. We read, we napped, I drew with colored pencils (thanks, Wendy, for the sketchbook), some people played cards, we watched Kelly's NOVA film on Shackleton, ate, Sarah cooked, we watched Kelly's Shackelton IMAX after dinner. Whew. Tough breaking into this field work. Sometimes, we had to brave the cold to go to the shed to pee. The wind actually calmed around 7, and some blue sky showed through to lighten things up a bit. The wind was picking up again by the evening, but the sky was still clear. The patterns of the snow blowing over the snow were incredible. I went to bed elated. If I can, I'll post some movie clips.

Tuesday, we again awoke to wind. Not as intense as the day before, but still holding its own around 10-25 knots. Kelly was scheduled to depart Monday, and was afraid she'd never get out. We spent the morning doing the same lolling around of the day before--there's not much else you can do. It was a bit traumatic, and also exciting, when the weather cleared enough for the helos to come in. We hurried to prepare some batteries and other cargo, and at just about 4 PM catered to flight after flight after flight--literally, one helo taking off as another was coming in for a landing. Cargo out, Kelly out, cargo in, cargo out. Sling loads, which were fun to watch. One of the helos took the other four Erebus-ers, who had been delayed in McMurdo, to Fang.

By the evening, the weather started to poop out again, although it was still mostly clear. We hoped for good Wednesday weather.

My storm sentiments can be summarized with the following journal entries:
This storm is frustrating me. This climate is frustrating. I feel sometimes claustrophobic, not being able to go outside at will. Or, not wanting to.
It's absolutely beautiful outside.
There are too many things for me to comprehend. The Antarctic, for one. The volcano, for another. How am I ever to realize that I'm here?
My moods fluctuate. I am dehydrated, I am tired, I am uncomfortable, my stomache hurts. Then, I am elated: I see the world outside, and am in awe. The power, the patience, the process. It all just drives on.
I go to sleep happy. Maybe it is the walk to my tent, the view out over the lava flow or up at Erebus; tonight, the lenticulars formed gracefully yet visciously all around. The wind laps at my tent, persistently but somehow not aggressively. Just stating its constant presence.

I think I jinxed it with my Dec 3rd check-in entry, saying I'd be able to get caught up on blogging if the weather held.

Fwap fwap fwap. That was something like the sound I woke up to, of my tent fly whipping mercilessly against the tent. I was sure it had come unpegged. And if one came unpegged, the others were more likely to follow. I heard the styrofoam sound of anything against this dry snow, thinking it was the tent pegs squeaking out.

As it turned out, my tent was fine. And, the wind was incredible. Thank goodness for warm clothes, which allowed me to stand out in the storm and appreciate it for a bit before entering the world of the warm hut. Sarah said the strongest gust she'd seen yet that morning hit 52 knots. The wind was persistantly nasty throughout the day, and has just recently calmed [10:45 PM]. The sky is starting to clear. Still, there are beautiful lenticulars around us. More storm coming?

Or, into the field tomorrow?? Sarah and Nelia, just now, say they think tomorrow will be nice. Mario says he's been going to Siberia every night. Nelia says, pretty soon he'll be going to the Bahamas every night. We'll see.

And again, the night is gorgeous. I'm sold. I'm enamored. There is rime ice everywhere, on everything: rime ice on the wind generator, on the guys wires, on the ice axes, on the snow even. Clinging to the rocks like clams. All oriented the same direction, regardless of the orientation of the object. A fairlyland of rime ice, and clear skies besides, all the way out to the ocean and beyond, so that we have a spectacular view of the Trans-Antarctic mountains to the west. I never want to lose this sense of awe. The landscape is surreal.

I can't wait to go back out into the field (hopefully) tomorrow.

Posted by beth at 9:40 PM

December 3, 2002

Check-in Dec 3, 2002

(Picture from Dec 02, ~9 AM, and slightly nastier than at present.)

I'm back! Back online, that is. Our ethernet connection was down until just this afternoon, and now it's 10:30 already and I've so much to get caught up on and just not so much time. In summary, this is what's happened: Fang, the acclimitization camp, Thursday-Saturday; arrival here and taking it easy Saturday-Sunday; wind storm Monday-present. Whew. I've been working on getting you the goods, but pictures take a long time to upload and they're the best part. So, it's time for me to go to bed and hope to have time to work on this tomorrow. If the weather holds, it shouldn't be a problem.

A note on that McMurdo weather box on the main page. Heh. Positive degrees F. Whatever. Up here on Erebus, we've been at about -20 F or less for two days. Wind guts up to 40 knots, consistently around 10-25 knots. At least we're up here in the hut. There are four people who just started their stint at Fang, able to get in by helo today in a lull in the storm early evening.... They may just be wishing the weather hadn't broken this afternoon after all.

At present: 30 knots, -30 C.

My home, on a nice day (or, in this case, a nice part of a nasty day):

View image

Posted by beth at 9:33 PM

December 1, 2002

Day 2: Thanksgiving

Day 2: Felt better but still a little off; Thanksgiving.

Day 2, Sunday. The girlscout was helo-ed out in the morning, the weather was marginal but good enough to work so folks did so until 3, and then we started our Thanksgiving celebration. In McMurdo, they celebrate Thanksgiving on Saturday, so everyone can have a two-day weekend (they work a 6-day week). Sarah thought it best for us to wait until Sunday, which would be less hectic than cooking up the big meal on our arrival day.

Here's what I had to say about Thanksgiving. It's a bit dry. I've been a little out of it.

Check-in, Lower Erebus Hut, Day 2: December 1, 2002

Day 2 at altitude. At present, -24 degrees F outside. Inside the hut, toasty warm.

I went to sleep feeling pretty much fine last night, and not even cold, and awoke about the same. In fact, I awoke to a warm tent. I could have read, written, listened to music; none of the objects required for these activities were frozen, including myself.

Still, I felt a little off. I actually had an appetite at breakfast again, which was a good sign, although the folks across the table from me commented that I looked a little blue. This is usually not a good sign. I felt hot and a bit tired, like I had a fever, but was still surprised at their observation. They encouraged me to breathe supplemental oxygen. The tank was right beside me, but my food was just about ready. I was torn. Bill begged. They had heard of another person's cyanosis clearing up almost immediately upon breathing the extra O2, and wanted to see if it worked. I was their test subject. I gave in and put on the oxygen mask. I looked longingly at my fruit salad and hot apple cider. ‘It’s working!’ they exclaimed. ‘You’re already turning pink.’ Pink? Is that a good thing? Guess so. ‘Okay,’ they said, ‘you can take it off now.’ Test over. Food ready. I didn’t really feel any different, but I certainly didn’t feel worse. And, maybe I was a little easier to look at.

My dad always likes to know about the food. Breakfast: eggs made to order (= cook them yourself), bacon, English muffins, fruit salad, hot drinks. Life in the hut is not so hard.

After breakfast, Rich E. gave Mario and I a lesson on the skidoos. As anyone who knows me might know, I’m a little leery of driving motorized vehicles. Although I have recently decided (learned) that I like to drive. Cars. But, needless to say, I was a little nervous about the skidoos. Especially since I wasn’t feeling 100% this morning. I did it anyway. Rich taught us the basics and the three of us went for a spin. And, we all survived. And, it was fun.

Much more fun than shlepping batteries, which is what I did in the afternoon. Most folks went to the crater, which I was quite content to not partake in given my lack of energy. I'll get up there another time, and probably several. The idea was for me to help Sarah, the camp manager, with Thanksgiving dinner. But she didn't need help, so Phil had me shlep batteries. 70-pound batteries. Needless to say, I wasn't excited about it. I'm supposed to be acclimatizing! Why the heck am I shlepping 70-lb batteries? I feel lousy besides! I hate these stupid batteries! ...Yep, that's how I get when I'm dehydrated and tired. My attitude took a little bit of a dive.

Then, there was Thanksgiving.


(Photo compliments of Rich Esser.)

The gang came back from the crater at 3 for dinner. It was a typical Thanksgiving dinner, with our little Erebus family. The nine of us shared turkey, dressing, pees, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, fruit compote, wine, the works. All cooked fresh today by Sarah. Yep, we’ve got an oven and a stove, and a wonderful cook. After dinner, we pulled out a laptop and watched a Wallace and Grommet episode on DVD as a warm-up, and then, over freshly baked apple pie, watched “A Knight’s Tale” as the main feature. It's definitely on my top-ten list of the ten most recent movies I've seen. We got a good laugh out of it, anyway. Afterwards, coming out of movie-land, I was stunned to realize we were living on the side of an active volcano in Antarctica. Watching normal movies in unusual settings always catches me somewhat offguard.

We were going to field trip to some ice towers (to be described in another episode, since I haven't been down any yet) after dinner, but everyone was too exhausted. Now, four are playing cards, two puzzling, one eating an apple and looking at a shelf (???), and one getting ready for bed. Oh, and one writing on a laptop. So, all in all, it's been a pretty normal Thanksgiving.

I am thankful for... a good life unfolding before me.

Posted by beth at 3:36 PM