Ice? Did you say ice? You mean, as in penguins and Eskimos and igloos and ICE? Yes. There is ice up here. No penguins though. But you can certainly see why igloos are made. You could cut this snow into blocks with a chain saw.
Back at the homestead by 7:30 is such a treat tonight. We’ve been on a bit of a rampage as everyday can be your last when you don’t know when the fuel is going to run out for your helicopters or if the weather is going to shut you down for the next week. I don’t think I’ve ever slept so well. A good days work in under -20 C will do that.
Things have been really successful, which is nice to report. We pack up our two helicopters each morning with enough auger flights to drill to whatever country we’d pop up at if we drilled straight through the Earth. New Zealand? Then some food, a big piece of red metal (EMI) that looks like a bazooka that we haul around on a sled to measure the ice thickness, and enough down jackets to make a feather bed. I stepped on the scale at the airport with all my whole get-up on and determined I put on 20 pounds worth of clothing and boots before going out. Either that or I really easily put on that blubber layer to keep myself warm.
Today and yesterday we’ve flown about 150 kilometers offshore to the west of Sachs Harbour to drill holes – so many holes – to measure ice thickness of different multi-year ice flows. Drilling 10 – 11 meters with a 2” auger should be simple. Whenever you do anything in sub -20C, especially involving water, is never simple though. The good news is that we were testing out a new ice thickness instrument which we’ll just have to drag over the ice and we’ll get an automatic ice thickness reading. But this is the first time anyone on this trip has used it and it arrived, like normal, the day before we left for Sachs. So no one really believes it works yet…or everyone is just cautiously hesitant to until we drill enough holes that measure the same thickness to validate its readings. It is going to be such a beautiful day when our leader, Klaus, decides that ‘Snoopy’ (we didn’t name it…) does in fact tell the truth.
I keep talking about our fuel situation, with is always evolving – right up to the bitter end. The Canadian Wildlife Service was great and let us use their store here on the island. We went right through their 20 drums, so we replaced that with drums flown in from Inuvik on an old DC3. So then we dipped into the replacements, and are going to have to now bring in another flight load to replace those. Today is the very last flight day though, so we have to make it worth it! One helicopter is going to fly to the limit of the helicopter’s range to put in another triangle of beacons on three ice flows northwest of where we’ve mostly been staged. Hopefully I’ll get out this afternoon on helicopter number two to get back on the ice island and get that radar to take some more thickness readings of the ice island to the south. It would be awesome if the Snoopy machine would take thickness readings of the ice island too – but it flat lines at 15 m thickness.
The fieldwork on this trip is completely different than what I experienced on the Amundsen – October’s icebreaker. It’s pretty awesome to be in charge of when you come and go – and the helicopter’s are here to do your bidding. The Amundsen had its own schedule, so the stress level was always off the charts to get your work done in a perpetually underestimated time frame. Even just having the helicopters stay with you all day, and not leave you at each site, calms my nerves. The helicopters can then shut down and you can get all of your equipment out without the fear of having your head lopped off. They are long days though – the time out on the ice plus the transit back and forth, then the packing and unpacking at each end. So you learn little tricks to survive the day comfortably. I’ve got my outfit down to tee – 5 layers top and bottom. 2 buffs, gloves and mitts, glasses, definitely only one pair of socks (less is more on this occasion). I’m super jealous of Margaret, our local wildlife monitor who has come out with us on polar bear watch, who has beautiful musk ox gloves. The women in town knit the most gorgeous scarves and socks out of kiviat – the soft musk ox hair. Their supplies were bought out by a group of Americans who were up here last month. Which is good for my wallet but I know my feet would be incredibly happy with a pair of those toasty socks.
Then there are the little things like 2 sandwiches – with as much heavy meat and cheese as you want. Peanut butter and jelly holds up pretty well too and is a good dessert. A thermos of hot tea is crucial as well. A single hot sip honestly warms you all the way to the tips of your toes and makes it easy to keep working. I’m still rationing my Cadbury mini-Easter eggs too. They may be the only chocolate left here in the house.
We have had had no reason to spend one penny here in Sachs Harbour. Lucky too, that we bought enough food. We’d be spending a lot more if we didn’t, since Margaret told us that cans of Coke are going for $5 a can down at the Co-op. Having Margaret along has been great. She was showing pictures of the polar bear that her son had just brought home and she documented the whole processes of preserving the hide.
So last day today, pack up tomorrow and start the trip back south on Sunday. There’s got to be one more story out of this trip. Just hopefully nothing too exciting involving close encounters of the big-white-bear kind. ‘Til then!