9 January, 1997

>Jan. 9, 11:04 AM
>Zac's drinking water froze in our tent last night.  That means it's cold in
>the tent.  Yesterday I worked on my journal under my jacket because the
>yellow light inside the tent makes the screen on the lap top difficult to
>.  Today I do it because my hands are very cold.
>I woke up at about 4:45 this morning to use the bathroom and found that it
>was snowing.  After getting back to bed I read for a couple of hours and
>listened to music.  I dosed off and woke at 8:15, time for breakfast.
>We've been without helicopter support for two days because of the very bad
>weather.  The weather also limits what we are able to do here.  We can't
>get to the best collecting sites because they are steep and dangerous when
>slippery.  It is ironic that we cannot work because of snow since the
>Valleys are among the very driest places on earth.
>Bad storms at McMurdo and Marble Point prevented helicopters from reaching
>us to take us to other collecting spots yesterday.  Therefore, Bruce, Jon,
>and Mike did some sampling in what is known as the basement sill.  I worked
>on the solar battery charger , the journal, and organizing.  I also took my
>first nap since sometime back in Delaware.
>Todays weather is far worse.  We will meet again at lunchtime and see if
>the clouds have lifted enough so that we can climb to the Basement Sill.
>This is the place where we can actually map out the formation of  an
>igneous rock layer deep inside the earth.  Yesterday, Bruce even found
>evidence of the vent (the place where all the melted rock came from).
>Yesterday I said that I did not have enough battery power to describe the
>Dry Valleys.  I might be able to give a brief description now.  Bill Green,
>author of Water, Ice, and Stone said, "It was the most austere and
>beautiful land I had ever seen...this improbable Eden of ice and stone."
>Louis Halle in The Sea and the Ice  says, "...there are no other scenes on
>this earthly planet as unearthly as those of the Dry Valleys... In this
>realm of eternal winter they look like summer."   .I don't know Louis was
>here when is snowed, but it sure looks like winter to me.
>But on a sunny day it does look  and feel like summer, even if the
>temperature is below 0 C. .  It is a Shangri La hidden deep within the
>Transantarctiic Mountains, almost completely unknown outside of the Taylor
>Valley until the 1950's.  They are so new to humankind's knowledge that we
>feel like pioneers here.  We feel privileged to be among the few to venture
>into the little known land and to sometimes walk where none have walked
>before.  After years of "wilderness" hiking, this is the first true
>wilderness I have seen.
>When I look into the nearby Wright Valley and along Bull Pass I feel I have
>stepped back to a primordial earth.    The land is almost completely
>lifeless except for us and the microscopic life that lives here and there,
>and the microbes we brought with us (which will increase until we are able
>to bathe in a couple of weeks).  Although there is sand and sediment around
>us there is no soil.  It requires life to produce soil.  All around, when
>the sky is clear, we can see white mountain tops on dark slopes.  It is an
>Ansel Adams picture in four dimensions.  The fourth dimension being
>time---the scenery looks and feels like the earth two billion years before
>a hint of the humanity to come.
>I'm glad it is cold and I'm glad it snowed today.  Otherwise, I may have
>never seen the dark hills shift to gray.  I may have never seen the clouds
>drifting across the valleys sometimes covering and then revealing the
>features about me.
>We live well here.  We have more chocolate than even the most ravenous
>chocoholic can stomach.  When not eating chocolate we eat bagels and peanut
>butter and lots and lots of dried foods.  Other field parties in Antarctica
>wince when they hear what we assembled to eat.  We passed over the frozen
>steaks and shrimp for the dried pastas, the frozen pies for the graham
>crackers. and the perked coffee for the instant freeze dried.  We enjoy
>these meals because there is very little preparation.  This means that we
>can spend more time in work and conversation and less time in preparation.
>The three Scott tents we live in are a luxury in the field.  They are of
>the same design as the tents Scott used on his last expedition.  Tall
>enough to stand in  and wide enough for two small cots and a little room in
>the middle.  A vent in the top lets out the warmth produced by our bodies,
>but it also removes the humid air and prevents water from collecting on the
>sides.  Bruce sleeps in the cooking tent, the rest of us share the other
>two tents.
>When not discussing our work we talk about many other things.  For example,
>during breakfast today we heard a BBC report on breast feeding on our short
>wave radio.  This led to a discussion on the pros and cons of breast
>feeding (not a good topic for five men in an isolated field camp).  Later
>we told stories about Edward Abbey, discussed park conservation, and argued
>about Lee at Gettysburg.  In each of these discussions someone will
>interject a humorous comment.  In all of our discussions the humor is the
>most important point of all.  Bruce laughs easier than anyone which makes
>the rest of us laugh all the harder.  It is the laughter that will help to
>keep us on friendly terms during out time in the field.
>Jon is a practical joker.  Before leaving McMurdo he made a stenciled sign
>which read Isolation Ward and mounted it on our tent---Zac has had the flu
>and now a cold; I had an eye infection.  Two days ago when we were
>surveying the area Mike was conscientiously collecting rocks.  Each time he
>found one he asked Jon to put it in his pack.  And each time Jon placed the
>specimen in Mikes pack he would toss in a rock or two with it.
>1/10  10:06  Having battery power problems again.  Solar panel not working
>well since we have been overcast for three days.  Snow again today.
>Temperature -8 - 0 C last couple of hours.  Not bad.  Lap top does not
>always behave in cold.
>Yesterday I saw Antarctic life for the first time.  Marsh, Zac and I hiked
>up to two ponds with cyanobacteria in them.  Very remarkable stuff.
>Fossils of this bacteria have been found in rocks over 3 billion years old
>long before there was enough free oxygen to breathe.  Since these guys
>produce oxygen as a waste product, you have them to thank, in part, for the
>air you breathe.  Cyanobacteria looks like a lot of fall leaves that fell
>into a pond.  When you pick it up along the shore you can see greens,
>yellows, browns and reds.  It's very exciting see and touch something so
>ancient in structure and one  of the few things to survive the interior of
>Jon and Mike had walked up to these ponds the day before and named them
>Lake Jon and Lake Mike.  Mike is especially good at naming things around
>here.  Whenever he picks up a rock to examine he pauses thoughtfully before
>putting it down and says, "I think I will call this rock, hmm, Mike."  Of
>course we are not the first in this area, Bruce, George Denton and others
>have worked here before.  However, so few have been here that we make new
>discoveries about the rock in this region almost everyday.
>We are only 5 days in the field but already things are getting pretty
>dirty.  There is no prospect of a bath for at least 13 more days because
>water is so scarce.  When cleaning our plates and spoons some of us lick
>them clean while others use a paper towel.  Bruce and Mike actually drank
>the sludge left over after cooking spaghetti.  I tried it with coffee but
>could only take a few sips.  Most of us don't even use water for our teeth.
> We take a small dab and of toothpaste on the end of our toothbrush, then
>brush, then swallow.
>Sand has been collecting for five days in the tent.  I'll probably sweep it
>out when I get some time later today---not an easy job since the floor
>covering is a mess as well.
>My one concession to extravagance is lip gloss.  I put it on whether I need
>it or not simply because I like the flavor.
>Much of our clothing remains on for 24 hours.  The last couple of nights
>have been pretty cold in the tent so we sleep with at least one layer of
>long johns on.  Each of us has a limited number of clothes so we might wear
>the same pair of socks for three or four days straight, same with
>underwear, and the same pants everyday.  Most of us wear the Peruvian style
>hats even when sleeping (I use to hate this style, but find it wonderful
>headgear for the field).  Of course, our hair is parcticularly
>awful---greasy as bacon.  But no one cares.  We dress for no one but
>Since we'll get no helicopter support again today we will hike to an area
>we found three days ago that has some very interesting possibilities.  It
>looks like an area where a magma flow deep inside the earth came to a halt.
> It will be interesting to see what we can tell from the crystals there.

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