A ‘boondoggle’ is the local term used to describe a trip to or around the continent that may be more for recreation than research. Many Senators and Congressman have been known to have an Antarctic Boondoggle.
Today the beakers were loading up the Twin Otter with GPS and seismometer stations to take out to the area where the drill camp was to have been setup this year. While the engines were spooling up our camp manager came trotting over to where I was sorting trash and said, ‘your going on a boondoggle, go get your gear right now.’
And that’s how I ended up on a 50 mile Twin Otter flight from the flat plateau [elevation 3,000’] where Main Camp is located down to the floating ice tongue at sea level where science was expected to drill through the ice into the ocean below.
As we dropped down from the plateau a thin wisp of fog/ low clouds came up to greet us. The first evidence of change within the ice sheet was the onset of HUGE [train eating] crevasses lined up in perfect series.
As we got closer to the landing site, our pilots slid lower to the ground.
Once the gradient of the ice sheet lessened, it became much more jumbled with the changing forces.
Blocks of ice, the size of freight cars stood on-end, sat precariously on ever changing ice. The overwhelming beauty was balanced by the abject fear I felt just by the thought of trying to cross the area on foot.
Soon we were circling over the planned landing site. This was my first ‘open field’ landing where a plane lands on unimproved ground without the support of runway markers, wind flags or [most importantly] benefit of knowing what the ground is like. The only other landing was three years ago when it was so rough that the pilot said he would never land in the area again because of concern about damaging the aircraft. Today conditions looked good enough for an attempt.
The pilots were looking to use one of the series of large, flat, smooth valleys of ice that were interrupted in regular intervals by towering pressure ridges of ice.
It turns out that there was nothing to fear. Our pilot is the Chief Pilot for Kenn Borak this year and his skill shone through on a smooth, perfect landing onto the firm snow.
One of the other camp staff and I helped the team put in various monitoring stations in the two hours we were on the ground. Every once in a while I was able to take a quick break, stop and take it all in.
It was absolutely quiet and still, not even a breath of wind to stir the landscape. I soaked in the serenity of it all; perhaps the most peaceful moment of my life.
In all directions the white surface gently undulated out to the horizon with a few distant peaks breaking the otherwise perfect circle where land meets sky.
Then the moment was lost; the project began to wrap up. Our pilots began to spool up the engines while each beaker made final adjustments to the instrument sets. We loaded the packaging, tools and remaining supplies back into the plane and took one last look around.
What followed was the most butt-puckering take off that I’ve yet endured; followed by yet another gorgeous flight home.
I’d like to thank all the tax payers out there for the best adventure of my life. Thanks.