16 November, 1998
What a fantastic day. Today was another fishing expedition. Our entire research team of 5 people loaded up a sled, took 5 snowmobiles and headed our to Cape Evans for a day of fish collection. I keep calling it fishing but what we are doing is collecting fish (alive) for our research. For all of the researchers to conduct their various studies several hundred fish are needed and various sizes are also needed. My research only needs small fish, 5 or 6 inches long. These smaller fish seem to be the most hardy and survive better on the return trips to the aquarium.
The hour it took to get to our destination was like riding a roller coaster. Dr. Petzel decided that since I was older than the others I would follow at the rear on my snowmobile. The first two snowmobiles carrying the 3 graduate students left first and then I followed Dr. Petzel who was pulling a large wooden sled with our gear. The sled resembled a dog sled seen in movies about the North. I figured that we would have a nice leisurely ride to the cape. Boy was I mistaken. Dr. Petzel is like a demon on a snowmobile.
The trip out to Cape Evans took about an hour and it was across sea ice that ran past glaciers, islands and mountains on both sides of the bay. The only trouble was I was too busy hanging on for dear life and trying to keep up with Dr. Petzel. You would think that sea ice would be pretty smooth. Again not so. Now I am from Kentucky where we do not get enough snow for snowmobiles so I had no experience on these vehicles. We were given a one hour lecture about snowmobiling when I first arrived and that was the extent of my instruction.
Sea ice has what are called pressure ridges where the two edges of different areas are pushing together and form rising ridges. The big ones you can see and avoid, in most cases. Snow covers much of the ice where it has blown in. The snow forms mounds and valleys which cannot be seen very easily. At a nice leisurely speed they are easy to ride over. In my case, I had two choices: drive at a nice leisurely speed and fall behind or keep up with the pack and hang on for dear life. Since I did not know where we were going I had to make the latter choice. Believe me some of the ridges and mounds had surprises for me. I would go up and the snowmobile would go down or vice versa. It was ratherfun sort of like a roller coaster and as jerky. I survived and was no worse for the wear when we arrived. Dr. Petzel has to be part madman. The sled he was dragging was veering crazily back and forth. A couple of times I thought the sled was going to flip but he made it. Oh yes, we were flying at 50 miles per hour!
Located at Cape Evans is the hut that Captain Robert Scott built and set out for the tragic trip to the South Pole. We were able to walk through the hut. It was really a trip through history. Everything has been left there. The original food containers, stacks of seal skins, the science laboratory, their beds. One could almost hear the voices of hose five early explorers. The building actually housed 25 men and 19 horses. It was amazing to find so much history still intact. Although the hut looked pretty run down and gloomy to us in 1911 it was home for two years to 25 brave men. There is a hill behind the hut where a cross has been erected as a memorial to two other explorers who perished on the sea ice in a blizzard in 1916. This was another reminder of the price paid in the attempts to conquer Antarctica.
After our journey through the hut we had to get to work and drill holes in the sea ice so we could fish. The ice here was about 8 feet thick. The jiffy drill bit comes in pieces each a yard long. Putting each piece together as you drill down through the ice is quite difficult. Since we needed six holes Dr. Petzel and I decided to not take apart the drill bits each time. We, instead positioned two of the snowmobiles together and stood on them while we drilled the other holes. I am sure that if anyone else saw us they would think we were crazy. We did however manage to get all six holes drilled and caught quite a few fish. I think I caught 12 in an hours time. We were quite successful in our fishing trip bringing back several fish to add to our growing collection.
The trip back to McMurdo was much like the trip out only going out there was no wind so I did not get cold. On the trip back the wind picked up and I was a bit chilled driving at 50 mph in a blowing snow. There was not a lot of snow in the wind but it went right through my clothes. As we returned we saw the C141 cargo jet taking off from the sea ice. That was only the 3rd flight that has been able to land in two weeks.
In the last week the population at McMurdo has gone from about 150 people to over 800 people so McMurdo is getting crowded. There are lots of new faces and lots of new research getting started. It is becoming quite a busy community.
Well that is all of the adventures for a few days because for the next three days at least I have to start my research and that will take every bit of those days. There will be no time for outside activities. That ends another day. I have about three weeks left so stay tuned for more.
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