Wednesday October 29, 2003
Karl, Mike and I arrived at the landing pad at about noon after having been held up since the early morning by bad weather. Unfortunately, Erich was not able to come on this flight because there wasn't room for all of us. When we arrived, we weighed ourselves and our bags so that the pilot would know how much weight would be on board when we were flying. It turned out Karl was the lightest; he weighed in at about 180 pounds. Mike and I were just a bit more. We were then fitted with our helmets, including internal radio so that we could hear each other during the flight (the engine is loud!), and sent out to the helicopter. When we got there, the ground assistant stowed our bags and gave us a talk about safety in and around helicopters, and then we got in and were off.
The nicest thing about flying in a helicopter is that we were never very far from the ground, so we could see everything around us and below us. Because the weather had cleared off, we had a wonderful view. Our flight started out across sea ice, and then we flew over three valleys with mountain peaks, snow and ice everywhere around us. We went to six glaciers during our flight, and we got out of the helicopter at each one. All of our landing sites were very flat (maybe 1 or 2 degrees of tilt), which is what we want for our ice cores. The first four were very cold (temperature around 0 degrees Fahrenheit and 10 mph winds made it chilly to walk around), and the snow was very hard. I noticed that we left almost no footprints, and in places we could sink an ice axe less than 3 inches into the surface. The last two glaciers were lower down (around 3000 feet instead of 6000 feet) and were a little bit warmer and less windy. This was a nice break after the colder air up higher. The snow was also softer here. Each of the glaciers was different from the last one, and all were beautiful, but I must say I liked the last two the best. (Maybe I was just glad not to be quite so cold!)
Finally, our helicopter took us from the last glacier to the edge of the sea ice near the Dry Valleys, where there is a refueling station. The helicopters cannot make it safely back to McMurdo unless they get fuel before the return flight. But this is the loneliest gas station I have ever seen! The whole station has a couple of shacks, some fuel barrels and a fuel pump. I saw only one person, though I think there must be more than that. I was also surprised that they fueled the helicopter in about the same time that it takes to fill a car.
t be more than that. I was also surprised that they fueled the helicopter in about the same time that it takes to fill a car.