Sunday, 18 May 2014

This years first field trip


I was lucky enough to be asked to accompany a field party of one of our winter science programs to check access to a few lakes and bays in the northern Vestfolds. Since it is relatively early in the sea ice season, lightweight and dependable Honda TRX420 quad bikes would be the mode of transport and we would be staying at our northern most field hut, Bandits.

Think of a trip like this as a camping trip. A camping trip in -25 temps and riding around on frozen lakes, fjords and sea. Needless to say, it requires quite a lot of planning and packing. Our shopping list consisted of:

Personal Kit:
Survival Packs – including full survival gear, ice axes, crampons, throw bags
Radios and spare batteries
GPS with waypoints and spare batteries
Head-torches and spare batteries
Epirb/PLBs
Foot and hand warms
Warm clothing for 3 days
Winter sleeping bags

Group Kit:
Trip form
First Aid Kit
MSR Stove and Shellite Fuel
Sat Phone
CO detector
Mega bivvy
Ice Drill
Electric drill and spare batteries
Quad Recovery Kit
Jumper pack
Jumper leads
Heated visors
Spare fuel
Fuel spill kit
Grey water container

Food:
2 x breakfast each
3 x lunch each
2 x dinner each
Snacks each (3days)
Beverages 

So Sarah, Alyce, Rob and myself started planning and preparing almost a week before our departure day. 

We departed station after Smoko (11:00am) on Thursday and ventured onto the sea ice. The ice around the Vestfolds melts every summer then reforms at the beginning of winter so we had to drill and inspect the ice regularly as we were the first group in this particular area this year. 

Lots of drilling for thickness

The trip through 'Ice Berg Alley' was as breathtaking as usual and made the journey to our first destination, Organic Lake, seem like minutes.

Iceberg Alley!

After Organic we decided to make our way directly to the hut as the sun had finished rising and had begun setting. At the moment we aren't getting any 'daylight' just long sunrises that turn into sunsets and then darkness.


Bandits

Loo and entry to the 'cold porch'

As mentioned before, Bandits is the northernmost of our huts in the Vestfolds and is considered by many to be the best hut in the area. It is on an island which makes it inaccessible during the summer unless you hitch a Helicopter ride but proves to be a perfect winter hut when you can use the sea ice to almost drive right to the front door. It is constructed near the top of hill and gives amazing views of the Icebergs, Hills and Antarctic Plateau.


The next day involved finding a route to a large inland bay (almost a Saltwater lake) called Taynaya Bay. This proved harder than expected as the tidal flow through the extremely narrow Barker Channel meant instead of sea ice there was open, flowing water. We tried another couple of routes near Lake Fletcher and Rubnaya Inlet but they were too rocky and steep. This day (Saturday) was particularly cold, -35 with wind chill so we called it quits and returned to the hut.


The extreme cold adds extra dimensions to being out in the field. Any exposed skin when travelling can freeze and get frost bite. Any food or water you are carrying freezes (ice sandwiches aren't much fun) and it is hard on any equipment you are carrying. 

Consider trying to live outside for 3 days at temperatures colder than the inside of your freezer.

Ice Crystals on my helmet

Sarah's frozen eyelashes

Frozen Snickers really satisfies!

On our final day (Saturday) we departed at first light (11:30am) to attempt another pass at Taynaya Bay from Tryne Fjord. 



This proved more fruitful as we scaled a large blizz tail (where snow builds up on the lee side of a hill) and we made it onto the bay! We didn't proceed further as our intentions were to head home via Pioneer Crossing and Long Fjord which also had not been tested for safety. Good thing we did leave plenty of time as we constantly came across thin ice in the Long Fjord narrows. 


Eventually we found a safe route through the Fjord and made it back to Davis, cold, smelly and tired.


All in all it was an amazing trip. We were blessed with perfect weather (yes it was cold but we had no wind) and had no health or equipment issues. I can remember declaring at one point that I believed the four of us were the luckiest people on the planet at that particular time. Money could not buy what we were experiencing, perched up on a rock in -30deg, watching the sun set at 3pm over hundreds of icebergs and kilometres of frozen sea.

Ill leave you with a quick shot of some experimenting I have been doing, and yes, that is the Moon, not the sun!