16 October, 2003
The morning looked iffy-gray skies, flat light, clouds obscuring the horizon. We called to check on the possibility of setting up our camp today and found, much to our surprise, that the crews were already down in the transition zone hooking up our orange fish huts to the tractor. After all the delays, it was surprising to find out it was actually happening. Luckily, we'd all packed our bags days before, in hopes that eventually the weather would clear. We dragged our things to the Crary Lab to load them in the Pisten Bully, along with the rest of our seal tagging equipment. On top of this we put the canned goods and dried foods we'd gotten earlier in the week and stored indoors so they wouldn't freeze. Then it was down to the transition zone to fire up the snow machines and head out to Big Razorback Island to be there when the camp was set up.
We followed the flagged road across the sea ice that leads to Cape Evans and Cape Royds (at the edge of the sea ice). Darren, Kelly, and Mark blazed ahead to pass the wagon train of orange huts, while Gillian stayed behind to keep track of the snowmobile neophyte (that would be me). It's hard to believe, but is quite true; even after almost 25 years of living in Utah and Colorado, I have never driven a snowmobile until today. So that was definitely the first excitement of the day. The snowmobiles have heated handgrips-but I am sure that I was gripping mine too hard to even fell any of the warmth! But hey, rev up the engine and rock and roll-it's time to learn to drive yet another new vehicle. Just past Big Razorback Island we left the relative smoothness of the 'road' and took off across the snow and ice to reach our camp, which is strategically placed in the lee side of the island.
Shortly after our arrival the set-up crew arrived. Our huts were set into position. The kitchen hut was placed first, to ensure that it would have the premier view of Mt. Erebus. We have 4 huts-a kitchen, lab, and 2 for sleeping. Each is equipped with a propane heater. The kitchen has two, 2-burner Coleman propane stoves and a well-stocked pantry. We store our frozen foods outside (hey-it's Antarctica) in coolers and boxes. We don't have to worry about critters getting into our food here! It's more important to make sure the coolers and boxes are securely tied down to prevent unplanned flights during high winds. The bunk beds in the sleeping huts are equipped with insolate pads, an extra-thick thermarest inflatable mattress, and warm sleeping bags with fleece liners.
Once the buildings were in place it was time for, perhaps, the most important job-setting the outhouse into position. First, a hole was drilled through the sea ice. The outhouse is mounted onto skids that allow it to be dragged into position over the hole. Then small v-holes (remember sea ice school when we drilled holes to anchor our tents?) were drilled at the two ends of the outhouse, and ropes were tied to anchor the outhouse firmly to the ice. It just wouldn't do to run the risk of unexpectedly flying north to New Zealand during a trip to the outhouse! Our outhouse is quite deluxe-there's ample room to maneuver while wearing multiple layers of bulky clothes, as well as coat hooks and even a book rack. I must say, however, that it is a bit chilly to linger there while the ambient temperatures hover near zero.
Once the physical set-up was completed, the electric crew arrived to hook up our power. The kitchen hut is equipped with a roof-mounted photovoltaic panel that produces electricity for our camp. Lines were run between the kitchen and the lab hut. The electricity generated by the panels is stored in a series of batteries stored inside the kitchen hut. We also have a generator that we can use to charge the batteries if we are beset by a multi-day storm that keeps the system from charging. Now we are waiting for the telephone to get hooked up. Once this is done, we will be able to call McMurdo as well as access the Internet through the McMurdo phone line (and I'll be able to continue sending my journals and pictures to the TEA website).
Amazingly enough, once our camp was set up, the sun came out. I saw mountain ranges I had not seen since we arrived in Antarctica. The views are incredible-the Royal Society Range of the TransAntarctic Mountains to the west, Mt. Erebus to the east, and rocky islands jutting up through the ice behind us and to the north. We took time in the afternoon to visit some of our neighbors-Weddell Seals that come up onto the ice through the crack that parallels Big Razorback Island. We saw a few pups and mothers as well as a female that looked like she could have her pup at any moment. Tomorrow we will begin tagging the newborn babies and any other seals that are either untagged or have broken or missing tags.
We ended the day with a beautiful sunset over the Royal Society Range and a toast to our new home. It's taken 2 1/2 weeks since we left home and we're ready to begin work.
Camp's set up, the heat is on
Meet our new neighbors
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