Antarctica in Pictures, Part 3: Head to the Hills

After almost two weeks of preparation Greg and I took a shuttle out to Pegasus Runway on Monday, 13 December.  We were riding along on the cargo flight - our snowmobiles, fuel, radar, GPS equipment, sleds and tents were going to be deposited ahead of our arrival.

Greg checks out the strap job on the palletized snowmobiles.  A few minutes after this photo was taken, we learned that a mechanical failure had occurred.  A C-130 has three altimeters, and all three must be within 21m / 75' of the runway's actual elevation.  In two start-ups that already occurred that morning, this was not a problem.  But for this start, one altimeter was suddenly 60m / 200' off.  An hour later, the flight was canceled for the day and rescheduled for Tuesday.

Take 2 on Tuesday.  This time the flight took off, with the same crew from the day before.  They were clearly excited to be doing this flight - later it would be determined that we were the most remote field team of the season, and for the C-130 crews, this was the longest single flying day possible this year.

Camp Neptune existed briefly in the 60's and 70's for three seasons.  Our "put-in" was in approximately the same spot.  Since there wasn't a fork lift to remove our cargo, we had to do something called a "drifted" or "combat" off-load.  The plane would move forward at a slow speed while the pallets were pushed off the back, similar to how bales of hay are dumped off the back of a pick-up during feeding.  So for one minute everything was inside...

...the next minute everything was gone.

An LC-130 didn't have the range to make this flight without refueling, so we got to stop at the South Pole to top off the tanks for the McMurdo leg.  We would leave here with just the absolute minimum of gas necessary to make it back.  The majority of the fuel at South Pole is flown in by LC-130 during the summer - there are typically six flights to the Pole daily in the short three-month summer, and every gallon of gas at the Pole represents four more gallons spent getting it there from McMurdo.

We had the chance to run over to the South Pole.  The ceremonial Pole is located right in front of the station - the real Pole is about 30m to camera's left.  In our excitement we forgot to run to the real Pole!!  The actual geographic pole "moves" every year because the station sits on a glacier that is ever-so-slowly moving across the terrain.

Now that we had gotten the bulk of the cargo at Neptune, we need to get there ourselves.  We were briefly delayed by weather on Wednesday.  Finally on Thursday, 16 December all six of us boarded our flight. 

This flight was "drifted" like the first. | photo Claire Todd

photo Kat Huybers

photo Claire Todd

Once we stepped off, the aircraft had to wait for us to do two things.  First, we needed to get one of the sat phones out and check in with McMurdo to demonstrate we had communications.

Then we had to set up one tent to demonstrate we had shelter.  This site wasn't optimum for a tent, but my goal was to get the plane out - we moved this tent to a more suitable location after the C-130 left. | photo Kat Huybers

Camp Neptune was re-established on 16 December 2010, population 6.  But this wouldn't last for long - we wanted to move camp 40km north to the Schmidt Hills, which are just barely visible in the left of the photo.  We stayed in Neptune for two nights, but cached the food and fuel we would need for the second-half of the trip here.

My friend Anna is a carpenter and painter in McMurdo, and she whipped up this great sign for us! | photo Seth Campbell
We went straight to work getting ready for the move.  Eventually, half of our fuel supply would be dedicated to our Schmidt Hills Camp. | photo Mike Vermeulen

Greg, Kat and I left Friday morning with two drums of fuel and half of our first camp food to reconnoiter the best route to the Schmidt Hills.  We made it a little bit more than half-way before caching our sleds and returning to Neptune. | photo Mike Vermeulen

Claire, Mike, and Seth were busy getting the other four sleds ready for the move while we were gone.  They dug out a fantastic freezer for our cached frozen foods.  Left on the surface, these things would thaw out superficially and re-freeze every day, turning into mush.  This pit was eventually covered with one of the empty aircraft pallets. | photo Mike Vermeulen

On Saturday, we packed up Camp Neptune and left for the Hills. | photo Seth Campbell

The Neptune Range runs roughly almost due north-south, and the Schmidt Hills are a series of "front-range" peaks to the west.  The wide valley in between is Roderick Valley.  We drove 30km north on the Roderick before turning west and driving through a gap in the Schmidt Hills. | photo Mike Vermeulen

The Schmidt Hills are two low lengths of peaks, also running north-south, with a valley splitting in between, running parallel to the Roderick Valley.  We needed to name the features we would be interacting with, so I started referring to this as the Schmidt Valley.  Mt Nervo, named by the 1963/64 Camp Neptune survey, is the rocky summit just left of camp.  For scale, that black dot to the left of camp is someone riding a snowmobile.

Our first night in Neptune, Kat lead us in practice of the Lotus Pose.  Its a credit to all of us that we left this season as friends. | photo Claire Todd