9 December, 2003
Nature can be quite the tease.
Although I woke this morning with no expectations of flying today because the wind was howling all night and had only begun to lull, I still would not allow myself to dash all hope. We had great plans for today and nature took it all away with one mighty blow!
I walked over to our cook tent where several of the crew was already gathering. Bill, (Dr. Hammer) did not look good. He had come down with a case of what the folks down here call the "crud". His head was stuffed and he felt generally lousy. Checking with the camp EMT he was told not to fly because the altitude could put his body in real stress, so regardless of the weather Bill was staying in camp. Next I made a short trip out to the comms (communication) shack and the rest of the bad news was confirmed, no flights today. This was parcticularly bitter news since our blaster came in over night and was ready to work this morning. As I left the comm. tent, almost on cue the wind began to lessen. I almost turned around and stepped back in to see if they would change plans but before I could decide, the wind once again piped up and I shrunk down into my parka and slunk back to the cook tent.
The blow of the last 24 hours had built some monster snowdrifts that have the consistency of Styrofoam. It is not very heavy, you can walk right on top of it and when you cut into it with a shovel, it breaks apart in an irregular pattern. We spent some time clearing away the drifts around our camp and digging out supplies that were buried beneath. We now have to go down some steps to get into the tent. This was not much work however and exhausting the supply, we retired to our individual tasks of writing or reading.
Later in the day, the wind subsided a bit and it was quite pleasant. Down to 15 to 20 knots the helicopter folks were beginning to ramp up to get what missions that could be done off the ground. The 212 took off to see what the conditions were like around Mt. Kirkpatrick and Mt. Fallah. The radio report that came back was not promising, in fact as the tech was making the report, the pilot cut in with the words "hold on!" and then there was a short silence. The radio snapped back on and the tech reported that they had just unintentionally hit 140 kts. as they made a turn away from the mountain it was a real "wild ride" and both pilot and tech said they did not want to do that again. They did report that they could put us in about 500 feet below our work site but that the altitude pressure was reading 15,000 feet there. The actual elevation for that landing zone is around 11,000 feet which means the air pressure is already unusually low and it would put us at greater risk for altitude sickness climbing up to our work zone. That hike is 500 vertical feet, so even before we would be able to strike a lick of work we would be tired, something you do not want to be when you are scheduled to be blasting. Already almost two weeks behind, we were seriously considering the option when the wind came up to over 35 knots and the decision was taken out of our hands.
As I walked back to my tent to read, I watched the snow blow across the glacier. When you look at it in the distance it is a blur, almost like a fog that reaches up 6 feet above the surface, above that the sky is blue. But when you look at it near you, with your back to the wind, the snow takes on a different look. I wish I had my friend Daphne's, skill with words to write a poem about this. What I saw was millions upon millions of snow crystals fleeing away from me, weaving slightly en mass, a little one way and then the other. Sliding up one side of a drift and flying off the other only to crash and tumble and start all over again. It looks like a scene from an old movie where you see hordes of people fleeing a dam break or some other catastrophe. It is a magnificent sight and even at this time when one is pretty disappointed, you still marvel at the beauty and grace that this airflow creates. Small compensation, but I will take it just the same.
The forecasters are saying that we have a series of low-pressure zones coming one after another so we will need to work in between if we expect to get anything done. Our field bags are packed and ready to go at a moments notice. Lets hope for the break we so desperately need.
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