Today was the day of information overload. We had a briefing by Antarctic Logistics Expeditions (ALE) this morning – they weighed our gear and took our bags away.
A few major things we learned were that they take ‘biosecurity’ very seriously. This means that if there are any particles on clothing or boots, they need to be wiped, shaken or washed off. They are trying to ensure that there is no new flora or fauna introduced. We will step in disinfectant as we board the plane.
We were told to separate into carry on, packed gear, and city stay stuff. The airplane, a Russian Ilyushin, holds 17 tons of stuff and 20 tons of fuel. The decision to fly is dependent on weather, visibility and winds. And of course that the airport is open; a few years ago, the airport was closed for 10 days due to strike!
The plane will land on blue ice. This runway is created by wind warming the top layer of snow/ice as it comes over the mountains. This sublimates the ice into blue ice. It is a glacier that is slowly making its way to the ocean. They lose 20 cm of surface glacier per year. Traditionally, the wind on the runway is 30-40 knots.
Union Glacier is the new base camp and because of its location, the runway is a bit more consistent than the old Patriot Hills. This has to do with the direction of the runway, the surrounding hills, and a more consistent safe runway.
They moved the actual base camp eight kilometres away from the runway in an area where the wind eddies and that means it is less windy at camp. But around the camp there are a lot of crevasses. In fact they lost one of their ‘big snow cats’ – a snow machine – into a crevasse earlier this year and it took a couple of months to get it out, so, we are not allowed to go a-wandering. Camp is at about three to four thousand feet altitude.
We met the rest of the group tonight over drinks – and if all goes well we will be heading out tomorrow. In fact, they are predicting an 80% chance that we will go – though past experience tells me not to hold my breath. (Last time, we spent six days on call to get to the Antarctic.)
We camped out with Dino’s Pizza and beer in Diego’s room for dinner and now are off to bed.