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Victoria University Antarctic Research Expedition Science and Logistics Reports 1994-95: VUWAE 39

7 Event Diary

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7 Event Diary

Fri 18 Nov: Departed SB aboard Gentle 11, 1235. Landed McMurdo for a fuel top up. Flew up S side of Ferrar Gl and landed on a snow patch on Table Mountain at 77°58′S, 160°E. Set up camp and reconnoitred to almost immediately find the Sirius moraine deposits. To get communications via VHF we had to climb a slope above the camp. HF reception was poor.

Sat 19 Nov: It had snowed overnight and visibility was down to 100 m. Nerida started surveying her section. Adam and I traversed an extensive snowfield making prominent marks and communicating frequently with Nerida. We found outcrops of New Mountain Sandstone - one of our targeted sections, about one hour from camp, in a gully about one hour away with awkward access. Returned to camp and decided to spend our time here assisting Nerida. In the evening, cloud cleared and we surveyed the Sirius deposits. They extend for almost two km.

Sun 20 Nov: Fine and clear with temp <−20°. We spent the day surveying the Sirius moraine deposits. At our 2000 schedule we arranged for Rachel Brown to join our party on our move to Mt Feather. She could get some field experience and also assist Nerida.

Mon 21 Nov: Snowing and visibility < 100 m. Helped Nerida chisel out 9 bags of soil from a site just above camp. Temp −22° and snowing. In the afternoon we flagged the route down to the bottom of the section (about 2 km). Nerida recorded stone orientations to find flow directions. Adam and I sampled soils. Deposits were very hard and sampling was difficult. Conditions made it very hard on the hands. Reception for 8 pm schedule poor but our move confirmed for the morrow. Nerida melted and filtered a second sample of snow. The programme for this location is now complete.

Tues 22 Nov: Overnight snow. Clear and temp −27°. We confirmed that Kiwi 03 was due at 1400. The rocks were covered in snow and there was insufficient time for more sampling. By 1600 Kiwi 03 still had not appeared. Gentle 15 was assigned and appeared about 1630. Further snow had fallen and cloud was building. Helo had returned to Marble Pt to refuel. They reappeared producing contrails and landed at 1830. Rachel Brown had come to assist Nerida but they also carried an additional crew member. Conditions deteriorated and with extra crew we would have been overloaded under the conditions. Gentle 15 finally left at 2000 without us.

Wed 23 Nov: A fine day with small tufts of low cloud. No flight had been scheduled for us but Alan finally arranged for Gentle 11 who arrived at 1245. Time had prevented them from being fully briefed and they were not fully fuelled. We were in line of site with Mt Feather and were able to show our destination. They decided to move us in two loads. At 1305 they departed with Adam and Rachel, leaving Nerida and me with two tents and survival gear. They arrived back at 1530, with cloud closing in and contrails appearing. We set down at Mt Feather at 1630, also with cloud closing in. At an altitude of 2600 m we had VHF contact through Ch 3 on Mt Erebus. We established camp with wind increasing, blowing snow and temperature of −25 °.

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Thurs 24 Nov: Wind got up at 0100. At 0900 temperature was −25° and wind speed measured off scale at 50 knots from the south. This gave a wind chill factor of −60°. Driving snow reduced visibility to nil. Checked that all guys were secure and moved the loo to some shelter behind the tent. Both parties stayed inside except for essential duties which were reduced to a minimum by drinking sparingly.

Fri 25 Nov: Wind had died down. We were up early, cleared snow out of our tent and returned the loo to its previous commanding site overlooking the Ferrar Gl. In the morning we reconnoitred to the south to determine the extent of the Sirius deposits and to locate any Aztec section. A likely Aztec outcrop was spotted on the east face some distance away. It was capped by a dolerite sill, which would have rendered it of doubtful use as the heat from the sill would have altered the magnetic properties of the rock. It also appeared difficult of access so we decided against checking it out. Instead we located the boundaries of the Sirius deposits and then reconnoitred to the north, along the prominent N ridge. The boundary of the Sirius was again prominent. Descending the ridge below the Sirius, we located Weller coal measures - not our prime target for sampling, but useful to supplement our sparse samples from previous Events. Further down the ridge, a buttress blocked access to the Aztec beds. We returned to camp to collect our sampling equipment. Adam, Rachel and I commenced coring and sampling the Weller coal measures, while Nerida worked on the Sirius deposits just above us. We made good progress until a cold wind curtailed our sampling at 1800. Back at camp, Nerida melted snow for her diatom sampling while we prepared a meal.

Sat 26 Nov: Weather was clear with temperature −21° and an 8 knot northerly wind. Shortly after Adam and I commenced sampling the Weller coal measures (WCM) while Nerida and Rachel sampled the Sirius, cloud rolled in and it commenced snowing. After initial problems with the pump for the antifreeze, we made good progress, obtaining 19 cores. However, coring was then curtailed a little early as snow covered our rocks, making it difficult to locate suitable sampling sites and it became very cold. On returning to camp, we found Nerida had flagged the route. Rachel was in bed with the 'flu.

Sun 27 Nov: A fine clear morning with temperature −27°. Rachel was much improved. Adam and I returned to the WCM, while Nerida and Rachel continued sampling the Sirius. The snow had cleared and we were able to locate our next sampling site, awkwardly placed under an overhang. Cloud rolled in from the valley to the north and by 1100, visibility was down to a few m. We obtained 9 cores from under the overhang. On the next bench down we collected 8 samples. Further down near the bottom of the section we took 6 cores in a narrow coal scam. By 1700 we had completed a pretty representative sampling of the Weller section. Nerida and Rachel had enjoyed a good sampling session. Conditions were still very cold (−27°), and visibility about 50 m.

We had been having some problems with our radio communication. Cloudy conditions and blown snow had rendered our solar chargers ineffective. In addition we were having problems with the connector for our booster antenna. The main problem was with the coax cable becoming stiff and breaking. We had quite good HF communications with other field stations but not with SB. At our 2000 schedule, we confirmed our move to Mt Crean for Tuesday 29th, requesting an am shift for preference as on all but one of our days, cloud had closed in before midday.

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Mon 28 Nov: Dawned clear. After placing our resupply order, which included a signal mirror and more HF batteries we commenced surveying a section through the Sirius deposits. By 1100 the cloud had closed in with visibility <50 m. We finished the survey at about midday. This completed our programme for Mt Feather. At 1530, Rachel, Adam and I set off to climb Mt Feather. The objects were to check our altimeter at the summit trig point and to see if we could spot a possible campsite on Mt Crean, about 25 km distant. It was clear on top so we were able to fulfil our objectives. The summit provided a good viewpoint. We could see down both the Ferrar and Taylor Glaciers, out to the Royal Society Range and over The Portal to the Polar Plateau. We were back at camp at about 1900.

Tues 29 Nov: A fine, clear morning with temperature −24°. At 0800, Alan informed us Kiwi 03 would move us, setting off at 0830. They would make two trips to the airstrip and then come to us. We packed the emergency tent and one Polar tent and readied everything at the landing strip. At 1030 we heard Kiwi 03 at Marble Point. We radioed them to hurry as the usual mist was starting to close in. They later radioed that they left at 1140 and would arrive at 1205. We spotted them briefly through the cloud before they disappeared up the Ferrar Gl. S.B. said they had landed and were waiting. At 1500 heard them fly past but by then visibility was 50 m. Later S.B. explained they had engine trouble. We re-erected the Polar tents and set about preparing a meal. At the 2030 sched Alan said he would do his best to get an early flight on the morrow. We had good communications on HF with K061 in the Renish Gl. region.

Wed 30 Nov: Another clear, cold morning. At 0800, Alan informed us Gentle 12 was leaving at 0830 to move us. They arrived at 1020 with extra fuel tanks to move us in two loads. The mist was just starting to come up from the valley. Adam and I went first. We were able to direct them to a small snow patch on the S ridge of Mt Crean close to the southern face at 77°55′S 159°32′E. We realised it would almost certainly be windy but had no option if we were to be reasonably close to our section. We established communication with Gentle 12 but not with S.B. Gentle 12 returned to Mt Feather while we set up the HF equipment. They arrived at Mt Feather at 1130 and were only just in time to pick up Nerida and Rachel with the remaining gear before the cloud completely closed in. They returned at 1140. We farewelled Rachel who had been a great help at Mt Feather while we were simultaneously undertaking both our projects. We established poor communication with S.B. through our HF system. We established camp on our chosen snow patch with the entrances away from what we gathered would be a persistent wind from the Polar Plateau. We discovered the boxes containing our full fuel had been retroed in error for our empty fuel. with difficulty we Informed S.B. We reconnoitred our planned section about 30 min walk from the camp and found suitable sampling sites. Gentle 12 returned and circled before disappearing in the direction of the camp and shortly after circled again and flew off. We had erected our tents on the previous landing site and with few landing spots nearby it took us some time to locate the fuel drop with the added luxury of fresh fruit and biscuits. While searching we found we could get through on our VHF from a knob about 300 m away. There was unfortunately no suitable campsite there. No signal mirror or extra HF batteries had been supplied. That evening VHF repeater 5 was out. Several events such as Bird and Vanda stations were unsuccessfully attempting to contact S.B. through HF. We had a busy evening relaying messages - with some difficulty as our comms with S.B. were not good but excellent with the other field parties.

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Thurs 1 Dec: A clear day with 8 knot wind and temperature −23°. We had some initial problems with the drilling gear as the collet holding the drill stem had become frozen. Once overcome, we made very good progress. While Nerida and I were moving our equipment to the next site, Adam reconnoitred further sites. He slipped in a snow gully and slithered about 4 m on to a wide ledge. I returned to camp for crampons and rope and we soon had him out. We recommenced drilling and by day's end had collected 43 cores. This was a very satisfactory result, especially as the section is south facing and exposed to a steady wind.

Fri 2 Dec: We awoke to a wind of 30 knots, temperature −24°. It was clear except for wind blown snow. At our sampling site, winds were even stronger and we had to give up.

Sat 3 Dec: The wind had died to 15 knots and temperature risen to −23°. It was snowing but not unpleasant. The 0730 sched was unsatisfactory - S.B. could not hear us. We drilled another 10 cores at the site we had left the previous day. The snow had to be cleared first. We moved across a scree slope to a site under an overhang. It was slippery so we strung a handrail across the exposed part. We collected 50 cores. At the finish it was snowing quite heavily and with visibility of 50 m we were relieved that we had flagged the route.

Sun 4 Dec: It had snowed overnight but temperature had warmed to −19°. The wind had dropped to 10 knots. Again, 0730 comms were unsatisfactory. Still lightly snowing and it was very slippery at our sampling site. Even under the overhang, the rocks were snow covered. We drilled a further 12 cores, then moved to the next site. We drilled 24 cores at two further sites. This completed our scheduled programme at Mt Crean.By 2100 when we finished, it was snowing hard and visibility was very poor. Even our flags at 50 m intervals were hard to pick up.

Adam went up the hill to talk on VHF as the HF was not getting through. Confirmed our move to Portal Mt for the morrow.

Mon 5 Dec: Woke to winds above 30 knots and whiteout conditions. At 0730 communicated with difficulty with SB. Arranged a VHF schedule for 0825. Struggled up the hill and told Alan ops were off. There was also a whiteout at SB. These conditions continued all day with the wind increasing in the evening. Our batteries were low as over the past few days there had been either misty weather or snow on the solar panels.

Tues 6 Dec: Awoke to winds of 25 knots with blown snow but clear overhead. Temperature of-23°. Relayed conditions to Alan. He said he would await a better report. We stayed in our tent but wind was decreasing. At 1100 we were just about to call SB when Kiwi 03 arrived. They had come up on the offchance of conditions improving and caught us unprepared. They waited while we packed (about an hour). They were short of fuel so they said they would move us with minimum load and return with the rest. Our objective was a spur on Portal Mt. I had visited it in 1981 - pre GPS and due to a navigation confusion by the helicopter, we had never been quite sure of the particular spur we had landed at since Portal Mt is a complex massif with many radiating ridges. The coordinates we gave Kiwi 03 took us to a nunatak just on the edge of the massif but not my previous site. We flew on to the end of the next ridge off Portal but I could not recognise that either. So they dropped us at the nunatak. On inspection it contained a small exposure of the Aztec section at the page 9 summit. However, on the return of Kiwi 03 we took a punt and got them to drop us back at the Lashly Mts as they could not take us on further, where I now realised our intended section was located. We were dropped on the SW side of the S ridge of the Lashly massif. A steady wind of about 25 knots was blowing from the plateau. The presence of sastrugi indicated that this was the normal state and proved to be the case. We erected our tents with some difficulty. We could not get communications on VHF and contact by HF was poor. A reconnaissance of the area revealed that there were no suitable rocks to sample in the vicinity while the steepness of the faces and SE ridge prevented safe access to the upper slopes. We established reasonable corns at 2030 but Alan was not available to arrange for the next move. We arranged for a sched at 0700 next day. K044 had just been put into the field and we had excellent communications with them.

Wed 7 Dec: It blew all night. The sky was clear but driving snow reduced visibility at ground level. It covered our solar panels so our batteries did not charge. The temperature was −22°. Alan did not come up at 0700 and by our regular sched at 0730 the transmissions were almost undecipherable. We deciphered a message from Alan through the operator to say he had discussed the situation with Kiwi 03 and were moving us out ASAP. We went for a long walk around the massif to try and locate any rock sections that could be profitably sampled but we found none. For our schedule at 2000, messages had to be relayed through K044. They confirmed that a US helo was setting off at 0930 to shuttle us out.

Thur 8 Dec: A fine clear morning with temperature −20°. The wind had decreased to 5 - 10 knots. We packed but left one lent up. At 1100 we heard the helo and packed our lent. Gentle 11 landed and immediately shut down. They had a leak in their hydraulics. They were unable to communicate with McMurdo with their on-board radios. We attempted to contact SB with our HF radio. Communications were barely readable. Finally the helicopter crew were able to contact McMurdo with their portable emergency HF. They ordered a replacement for the fractured hydraulic coupling, hydraulic oil and material for cleaning up.

The crew were finding it cold so we unpacked our cooker and prepared hot food. Gentle 15 arrived with the replacement items and tools at about 1400. Gentle 11 was finally repaired and the spillage cleaned up. Our party returned to Scott Base in Gentle 15 after an exciting flight down the Ferrar Glacier.

Fri 9 Dec: At Scott Base, a busy day spent sorting out and packing our equipment and debriefing. We expressed our disappointment at not having completed our programme. We had experienced our fair share of holdups but fortunately had budgeted for such eventualities and our programme was incompleto through our being pulled out early.

Sat 10 Dec: The day was spent completing clearing up our equipment and packing.

Sun 11 Dec: Departed for Willie Field Bout 0500. Arrived Christchurch pm.