The Best Field Trip Ever!
I’ve been thinking a lot about my three experiences in Antarctica, and today I selected my favorite blog from my trip to Antarctica in 2006 as part of the ANDRILL Project. This day will forever be one of my very best Antarctic memories. Matteo and I still talk about this field trip around Ross Island, and I will never forget what he said to me when we got off of that helicopter at the first stop, Cape Bird: “Trummel, this is a day for all our lives.” He was SO right…it was one of those days in your life that is just too incredible to believe. It truly was the best field trip ever! Come along for this trip…as I relive it again.
Christmas Came Early This Year! December 16th, 2006
I’ll always remember that Christmas came early in 2006, because today I was given the most incredible gift. Even if my camera had broken down and I never got one photo from today, the memories would be seared into my mind forever and I would be able to imagine each scene quite clearly. I know the photos I’ll include can not possibly do it justice, but I think you’ll agree that the field trip I went on was quite spectacular.
Loading up the helo and getting ready to go…
After a series of delays, I boarded a helicopter that left McMurdo at 1:00 PM… bound for several destinations around Ross Island. Our Kiwi pilot, Rob, flew up the coast of the island, past places I recognized such as Big Razorback Island, Cape Evans, and Cape Royds. The was sun shining brightly, Mt. Erebus was constantly in view from my side of the helo, and sea ice stretched out far and wide below us. After Cape Royds it was all new territory for me, as we continued north to Cape Bird. Total flying time from McMurdo to Cape Bird…about 30 minutes.
As we started to descend near Cape Bird, the scenery below us became more and more beautiful. Open water, icebergs ranging in all sizes, and penguins everywhere… all waiting to greet us as we touched down. We landed just south of McDonald Beach, which you can find on the contour map above. Stepping off the helicopter…it was one of the moments in my life where I just wanted someone to pinch me…to be sure I wasn’t dreaming.
We walked from the landing area to the edge of Ross Island…far down below from where I’m standing in the photo above. As we headed toward the open water, the sights, sounds, and smells of penguins surrounded us. There were thousands of Adelie penguins as far as we could see. Some were in small groups, huddled on eggs, others were busily moving around land or ice…always moving with a sense of purpose. What that purpose is…sometimes you just can’t figure it out. They waddle, toboggan (slide on their stomachs), and hop, seeming to always have enthusiasm for the task at hand. They are comical creatures, and being able to observe them in their natural habitat is really a treat.
What a surreal scene…using a telephoto lens helped us get an up-close look at the penguins laying on eggs. These Adelies were not bothered by our presence…they just carried on like usual.
At times the Adelies were eager to check us out…wandering closer and closer to take a look at what we were doing.
Our group headed north up McDonald Beach, past Keys Point and north to Caughley Beach. This is probably one of the top three hikes I’ve ever done…and coming from a person who’s hiked a ton…that’s saying a lot. We followed the shoreline, penguins weaving all around us, spotting a Weddell seal swimming by, and with skuas dive-bombing us to force our group away from their nests. It was so warm out that I took off big red and carried it almost the entire way down the shoreline. What a fantastic day to be outside and hiking.
That’s a Weddell seal swimming by gracefully as I watched from the ice edge/ shoreline.
One of many nesting skuas….they have such great camouflage that they are hard to spot…until they start making a racket and diving at you! Their eggs are also well hidden because of their color. It would be easy to step on a nest if you didn’t have the adult birds chasing after you making noise.
This little guy was taking a look at that crack and trying to figure out how he’d get across…
Some of the penguins in this small group had decided to hop into the water…
Matteo and I stopped with our group for lunch near the helicopter…and pretty soon…we had a visitor!
An Adelie checking out our helicopter….making sure all’s well
Our two hours at Cape Bird had elapsed in a heartbeat and it was time to head inland toward Mt. Erebus. We were headed to a feature called a “saddle” or low point of a ridge connecting two mountain peaks. The Erebus/Terra Nova Saddle is the location of Nancy Bertler’s ice coring field camp. Nancy’s a Kiwi who works jointly with the Antarctic Research Centre at Victoria University in Wellington and GNS (Geological and Nuclear Sciences) in Lower Hutt, New Zealand. She has also been an Assistant Research Professor with the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine.
A first look at Nancy’s camp…set up just yesterday on the saddle
The temperature dropped considerably from the coast at Cape Bird to the Erebus/Terra Nova Saddle and it was time to put our bunny boots and ECW gear back on to jump out in the snow.
Nancy’s explaining her work to Matteo and Stefan…
Glenn Kingan (ANDRILL driller TK’s brother) and another member of Nancy’s team are preparing the pit where they’ll do their ice coring. Nancy’s work relates to ANDRILL because two of her locations are in the immediate vicinity of ANDRILL drilling locations. The ice core record that Nancy’s drilling for will provide data on terrestrial (land) climate and give scientists the opportunity to compare present-day onshore and offshore records.
Using a plastic sled to move the ice/snow blocks they saw out with the chainsaw…
Tim Naish and I with Mt. Erebus in the background…
We were on the ground less than an hour at Nancy’s camp…when it was time to move to our last stop….Cape Crozier. The flight to Cape Crozier took another 30 minutes or so, and we landed on a little rise near Post Office Hill.
Flying in was incredible….icebergs out in the open water, the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, it was one fabulous view after another.
Tim on the top of Post Office Hill…we hiked up top to get some fantastic 360 degree views of the area…just spectacular!!
Down below us….thousands of Adelie penguins, some pretty awesome scenery…and the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf.
On the way back to McMurdo….one more place to flyover….the ANDRILL drill site!!
Crevasses on the slopes of Mt. Erebus…
Observation Hill in the distance, and Willy Field in the foreground of the photo…
The ANDRILL McMurdo Ice Shelf drill site…
Our helo pilot, Rob, circled around the drill site twice…which gave us a chance to get some great photos…
Flying over Scott Base on the way to McMurdo…
A great aerial view of McMurdo Station…notice the lack of snow in town!
Thanks to Rob, for providing safe transport all day!
Thanks Tim for being our tour guide, and thanks to ANDRILL for making this trip possible.
It was the field trip of a lifetime and one I’ll never forget.