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January 5, 2003

Heading down?

Well, we are scheduled to head down tomorrow. For better or for worse. I know, I know, all my recent entries have a "Get me out of here" overtone, but I'm over my cabin fever. I'm pretty content up here. Maybe it's just knowing that I'm going down, but more likely it has to do with having decent weather and getting things done, and getting to have some fun besides. The last couple days have been pretty good. We've retrieved the last of the GPS instruments up here, fixed the cameras at the rim to satisfaction so the world can see (online) what's going on with the lava lake, fixed multiple GPS receivers which lost their minds, fixed other equipment that spontaneously decided to fail (including one very stinky seismometer), put in guy wires, rocked cable, and fixed cables. We've also explored a very, very cool ice cave, played in snow, put our hands on warm ground, collected pounds and pounds of crystals, and driven fast on skidoos. Sometimes, it's been sunny. Sometimes, it's been warm. Most importantly, most of the time, it's been calm. The wind makes all the difference.

I'd love to elaborate on some of the happenings from the last few days. The cave, in particular, deserves some describing. I'm afraid events and thoughts and feelings will start piling up once we get to McMurdo and I am exposed to a completely different environment with completely different stimuli. (Is that a word?) I've been ready to leave. But am I ready to leave? When life is good here, it's really good.

I've been ready for change. I think what's happening is that the situation here is so good that I can't wish it away. I can't willingly say, "I want to leave," because that would mean saying, "I don't want any more scenic skidoo rides, any more cave exploration, any more views out at McMurdo Sound; I don't want to see any more snow snakes slithering mystically across the ground, live amongst the lava flows, walk past bombs the size of our hut (flatened), collect any more crystals, look down into the crater." At the same time, there are other things. There is change, for one. And change is good. There are also showers, more people, more privacy, more room to move.

To everything turn, turn, turn. Of course, we may be stuck here for another week, if the helos can't get up. In which case, I'll probably have all sorts of time to tell you about the ice cave, and to describe the patterns of the wind blown snow, and to upload the pictures I've taken the last few days.

Yesterday, we said, All we need is one day of decent weather and we can get everything done. Well, we got decent weather. Bill and Nelia were already zooming off on their skidoos as I was just on my way to the hut from my tent. Must be a clear view into the crater, I reckoned. I was right. Their mission: Finish up the camera work at the rim. Align, zoom, focus. Meanwhile, the McMurdo search and rescue team arrived to have some hot drinks and a little brekkie on their trip back from the rim. They skidooed all the way up from McMurdo, to familiarize themselves with the route in case they ever had to perform a rescue up here when the helos couldn't make it in. They started out about 6 PM, arriving here at 2 AM on their way to the crater rim and then again at 8:30 AM on their way back. I was asleep for their first time through, and sleepy for their second time through, but I refrained from taking my morning nap until after they left. They were hours without sleep, hours on skidoos, and hours up at altitude, unacclimatized. Despite it all, they were in pretty good spirtits.

My nap was great.

After lunch, Bill, Nelia, Rich and I headed to E1, the site on the rim of the side crater, to finish up the microphone work there. A cable leads miles and miles (okay, more like a few hundred feet) up along the side crater rim from the monitoring site. At the end of the cable, a microphone records sounds of eruptions. Our goal was to finish splicing together the cables and rock the whole thing to protect it from the wind. The weather was calm and nice at first, and a bit breezy and chilly by the time we were done rocking. We spent a good while collecting crystals on our way down. E1 done.

[Rich in combat field attire.]

[The site at E1, on the side crater rim.]

[Nelia and Rich walk the side crater rim towards the microphone site.]

[Rich works on splicing cables.]

[Nelia explores.]

[GPS and the skank that plagued us.]

[Erebus crystals.]

Not quite. When we got back to the hut and checked the data streaming from the microphone, we found a slight problem. It was not working. They had checked the system while we were still up at the site, but before they had taped up the cable splices. The wires, it turns out, are quite delicate (=weak) and Bill and Rich both suspected they could have easily broken during the taping process. So, after Rich E.'s birthday dinner (happy birthday, Rich!!) and desert and present opening, Rich got to enjoy another trip to E1. Out of kindness, I accompanied him. I make it sound like I'm some kind of martyr. It has more to do with being useless. Troubleshooting the system was really a one person task, and I was just along for the ride. So it was sort of out of kindness, and sort of for fun.

[Nelia's birthday mobile for Rich, sporting scary monster woman.]

[I gave Rich a card. The person on the left is me. Bubble reads: Oh, no! Snow snakes! Person on the right is Rich. Bubble reads: Maybe we can get them to carry our cables.]

[Pirate Bendy, gift from RK. Sporting removeable peg leg and detachable parrot.]

Our goal: Check the splices in the cabling (power and data) to see if something had gone awry. Splice 1: Messed up. Broken ground wire. We fixed it. We talked to Bill. 'Great,' he said. 'But it's still not working.' Pause. What to do? Bill thought the problem was with the microphone. 'You have to walk up to the top anyway to GPS it, right?' he says. Rich is unhappy. 'Well,' Rich says, 'if I had remembered to bring the GPS, we would have to go up there.'

Up to the next splice. Splice 2: Messed up. Broken red wire. Hooray--maybe we found the problem. I mean, the other problem. I mean, hopefully the last problem. We fixed it. (=Rich fixed it.) We tried radioing the hut. No response. We tried again. No response. We tried again about every minute. 'Hey!' we said, not on the radio. 'It's cold out here! Where are you guys?' Turns out there was a misunderstanding, and Bill and Nelia thought there was someone in the hut (where the radio is) to listen for us. They were busy packing up the science gear in the orange hut. Finally, Nelia heard us. She just happened to be walking by, carting a load out to the helo pad. (Helo pad = flat patch of snow by the hut.) Our saviour. 'Could you please check to see if the data looks good?' I asked (I love talking on the radio). 'Okay.' The expected silence. Then the longer-than-expected-silence. 'Okay, guys,' we said, not on the radio. 'What are you doing?' The silence was broken. By a penguin scientist. 'Oh, no!' Rich and I wailed. 'Now we'll be here forever!' Indeed, the conversation about penguins went on sometime around forever. 'Ainly, come on!' I yelled into the radio, but not with the mic keyed. 'My hands are getting cold!!' Rich and I laughed. And laughed. What else can you do? Besides, it was funny. The whole situation. Even if we were getting cold.

As soon as the penguin conversation ended (and believe you me, I wasted no time), I got back on the radio and called the hut. The data look perfect, Nelia said. Whew. Alright, then, we're back on to Splice 1. Still had to finish the tape job.

Splice 1 taped. We radioed the hut. The hut (aka Nelia) responed immediately. Looks great, she said. Good. I was starting to shiver, and the place was pretty completely skanked up. Nelia had promised hot drinks awaiting us in the hut.

But when we got back, Rich announced he wanted to go right back up and get the GPS reading off the microphone. What? Another trip? Now? Alright, I said, I'm game.

We were paranoid. Is there anything else that needs to be done at E1? Is there any way we could possibly mess up this simple mission? Nelia checked the batteries on the GPS (a hand-held), and I made a point of putting it in my pack. 'It's in my pack,' I said to Rich, at least twice, and even showed it to him. We refueled the skidoos. When we got to E1, we fussed a bit over who would carry the GPS, and where. I cleared out a pocket in my jacket so it could have a place all its own, made sure it fit in completely, and made sure the flap on the pocket was velcro-ed down. 'I'll ask you periodically if it's still in there to make sure it hasn't fallen out,' Rich said. I knew this wouldn't be necessary. I knew I would knock it every once in a while to make sure myself.

The walk up wasn't bad. Skanky, but not bad. We hiked and rested, and hiked and rested, and made it to the microphone in decent time. Rich figured we could make it back to the hut by midnight. (We set out at about 10:30.) We got our GPS reading on the microphone. To be on the safe side, we stored two readings, and I wrote down one of them in my Green Brain (green memo book). The whole process took all of about two minutes. 'Now, if we really wanted to be safe,' said Rich, 'we'd split the stuff up so that one of us was carrying the Green Brain and the other was carrying the GPS, so that if one of us fell in the crater we'd still have the data.' 'Thanks, Rich, you just jinxed us.' I knew I was going to be the one to go. 'Although,' he continued, 'I guess if you fell in, so long as you didn't explode or anything, I could still go down and retrieve the GPS.' So nice to work with someone who cares.

As it turned out, neither of us fell down into the side crater. Instead, we had a rather enjoyable walk. The skank and sun were playing games that only we could see; now the skank obscures the entire ridge behind us, now it moves on to let the ridge show through; now it moves on enough to let the sun light up just the upper reaches of the ridge, now it obscures the ridge again. Now it thins just enough in front of the sun to cast an eerie light on us, now it moves both in front of the sun and into the side crater to create a circular rainbow not in front of the sun but opposite it, in the side crater--a ring rainbow that frames us, so that our shadows are inside, and so that we can move our arms and legs so that they radiate out from the rainbow like rays themselves. Now the skank moves away from the sun and side crater completely, so that our shadows are cast on the opposite side of the side crater, a projected duo, here I am walking and there I am walking, so far away.

When we made it past all the cables and boxes and windgens and solar panels on the way back down, Rich said, relieved, 'Now we can't mess up anything.' Happy birthday, Rich. A trip to E1. Oh, another one. Oh, and another one. Luckily, when we arrived back, the microphone was still working.

Here I am. 1:46 AM. Awake and happy as can be. WAIT! Don't I have somewhere to be tomorrow? Don't I have to wake up in a few hours? Didn't I do a lot of running around today (ignoring my long morning nap)? Don't I love sleep??

I do love sleep.

Our flight is scheduled out for about 11:15 AM. Enough time to pack up personal stuff in the morning. The wind has picked up considerably in the last two hours. Perhaps I failed to mention the lenticulars (clouds that mean wind) Rich and I observed on our way back. He called one the mother ship. Such beautiful beasts. So maybe we'll leave tomorrow, and maybe we won't. Either way. There's always the skidoo rides, and the snow snakes, and the food, and playing cards, and the dweebing, and, of course, the trips to E1.

Posted by beth at January 5, 2003 8:48 PM


Can't wait for the pictures! Have a good flight, whenever.

Posted by: larry C. at January 6, 2003 4:30 AM

what a wonderful "on-erebus-finale" that entry will be if you make it out at the anticipated time! however, i am very much saddened by the thought that your iceblog is coming to an end! i'm hoping there is someday a book of this adventure to look forward to! at least i should have the "movie" versions to see in the "near" future!

Posted by: wilma, mother of beth at January 6, 2003 2:11 PM

I love sleep, too!
Hope you get good views from the helicopter.

Posted by: rob at January 11, 2003 6:22 AM