Latitude: 84.23 degrees South
Longitude: 96.46 degrees East
Wind speed: 8 Knots
Wind direction: not given
Elevation: 11,030 feet
Kilometers traveled: 637
Last night we arrived at LGT2, our second fuel airdrop site. There were seven more bundles (each bundle contains four barrels) of fuel waiting for us and thankfully all were visible. Everyone spent the morning digging out the bundles no small task indeed!
In most cases we had to dig down five feet or more to free the fuel barrels. This depth would not normally be a problem, but the impact of the bundle (which weighs around 2000 pounds) compresses the soft snow into a concrete-like consistency. One has to take regular breaks to combat the lightheadedness that accompanies exertion at high altitude. I tried a technique called pressure breathing to combat my nausea. My crevasse-training instructor, Matt Szundy, taught me how to do this. It is really quite simple. All you do is hold your lips together tightly as you breathe out so that the air in your lungs has only a small hole to escape through. Then you increase the force of your outward breath while keeping your lips tight. The result is increased pressure inside your lungs, which in turn allows them to absorb more oxygen into the bloodstream. I found the technique to work rather well after a major session of digging rock hard snow.
After excavating all the fuel and packing it along with all its associated materials (webbing, parachutes, cardboard etc.) we ate lunch and prepared
the trains to drive.
I was on first driving shift in the dozer CAT. The dozer CAT is now pulling the train with the fuel sled and kitchen module, it handles the load quite well but cannot turn very sharply at all. The first few hours of driving were lovely and smooth, but the last few hours brought large sastrugi that made travel slightly more difficult and slow; at least we weren’t getting stuck!
Upon arrival at our evening destination we discovered that one of the tow chain strong points on the Aalener sled had snapped. This was probably a result of the large sastrugi combined with the weight of all the full fuel drums. Luckily, Lynn welded it back up in no time and it is as good as new!
Latitude: 83.44 degrees South
Longitude: 96.58 degrees East
Wind speed: 2 knots
Wind direction: not given
Kilometers traveled: 729
Notes on daily life:
Today was a full 15-hour driving day. We set off this morning and drove directly into a patch of deep, soft, sugary snow. The dozer CAT became immediately bogged down and could not pull free (even after three shoveling attempts). The forked CAT had to unhitch and come to the rescue; the two CATs chained together were able to pull the train free. Matt and Lynn were considering doing a shuttle run, but instead they opted to swap the CAT tractors back to their original configuration (the forked CAT pulling the fuel and kitchen). This worked well and we continued to make progress.
The sugary snow patch turned out to be short lived and the surface hardened up nicely for the rest of the days driving. The gradient along our route is increasing as we approach the upper plateau and this can cause some ‘sticky’ moments for the trains (although not ‘sticky’ enough to get them stuck).
It is amazing how only a slight change in surface snow conditions can greatly affect our progress. It also amazes me how quickly conditions can change; all it takes is a blast of wind overnight and you will wake up to a brand new landscape in the morning. The East Antarctic plateau is not just a homogeneous mass of snow and ice; the surface changes constantly as you move across it, sometimes in subtle ways such as the hardness and consistency of the surface and sometimes in less subtle ways such as the sudden appearance of meter-high sastrugi as far as the eye can see. All these factors affect our speed of movement over the ice; some days are easier than others. Today was a good day; for the majority of the time conditions favored movement and we ended up covering 92 kilometers. It is quite humbling to consider that if we turned back and retraced our steps we would encounter quite different conditions to those we just experienced; we really are at the mercy of the elements.