Day 13 – Davis-Ward

Nearing the top of the Beardmore glacier. That’s the south edge of the Meyer Desert in the foreground, and Mt Ward in the distant left center!

Hello World! This is Brian H. (aka Hosie, aka absentee blogger-to-date). I’m not one with a desire for a social media presence and since I’ve been here before, all the McMurdo prep was nothing new and exciting from me. So I’ve let the others take the lead. McMurdo is a vital link in the supply lines to field scientists. The people there are wonderful and as Johnny Ringo said at least 40 times over the last week, “what an amazing production!!!”. It is almost unfathomable how all the complex moving pieces work like clockwork; all the time.
But today I was thrilled to leave McMurdo. Johnny Ringo, Paul and I were headed to the field and with nothing but smiles. Personally, I don’t feel like I’m in Antarctica until we deploy to the field. That pristine, quiet, natural, wilderness solitude just can’t be attained in MacTown. And that’s why I was so excited to leave.
All the Bassler flights had been canceled for the previous several days due to ice fog out at the runways and lots of crummy weather in the interior. So we were hopefully, but also ready for disappointment. Before breakfast we packed our bags to take to the field and bags to leave in McMurdo. I was also up in the wee hours to submit my grades for this semester’s classes. With that final piece of work done and our final pre-cooked breakfast, we departed from the rest of the team and headed out to Willy Airfield. There, we helped finish loading the Bassler and before long, we were on the plane.
The Canadian bush pilots are amazing people. What a job to fly in the interior of Antarctica – with a significant lack of information on what lies ahead (weather and otherwise), ever-changing conditions, snow or glacial “runways”, and flying in the harshest conditions on the planet. The planes, pilots and flight crew are based in Calgary, Canada. Each season, they take about 14 days to fly down the spine of the Rockies, across the jungles of Latin America, over the Atacama Desert, across Patagonia, over the Straits of Magellan to the coast of Antarctica, from Palmer Station to the South Pole, and then across the other side of the continent to McMurdo. That must be an amazing trip! And at the end of the Antarctic summer season, they reverse course and land in Canada just in time for the summer season of bush piloting everything across the Arctic.
We were all straped in and ready to take-off at 9:15 a.m. Shortly thereafter, the Bassler took to the skies. The trip to Davis-Ward was amazing. I recalled the flight to the interior was a highlight of my trip during my previous ANSMET season in ’09-’10. I am a geomorphologist – someone that studies the shape of the landscape to understand the processes that have acted on it through time. Most of my studies are focused on the planet Mars and one of my research foci is to use the present landscape on Mars to infer the past conditions. For example, by studying the dried up river networks and deltas, we can determine how much and how long water was flowing across the surface (probably at least 10s of millions of years to form the bigger river valley networks). So when I’m on a plane, I always pick the window seat and most of my in-flight entertainment is watching the landscape go past below and thinking about how it came to be that way.

So a flight along the Trans-Antarctic mountains is a dream for me. Seeing the forces of nature, actively carving up the landscape is a thrill. In places, 5000′ icefalls are in the process of falling down cliff faces. All around you, there is textbook glacial geology/geomorphology – from all the different types of moraines, to cirques, aretes, horns, bergshrund, nunataks, – you name it. While I normally look at the landscape from a nerdy geologist’s eye, it’s impossible not to appreciate the artistic side of nature when flying over Antarctica. These are the most breathtaking views I have ever seen from a plane. The scale, the vastness, the emptiness, is utterly amazing. Flying over a glacier that is 10s of miles wide and a 100 miles long is just mind-blowing. Looking down at the rough crevassed surface, with huge cracks going who knows how deep, makes you think of the early explorers and their struggles in the race to the south pole via this very glacier. What an ord eal that must have been. But today, I could just take in the majesty of the most amazing landscape on the planet from the speeds and comforts of an airplane.

Brian (also known as Hosie), enjoying the view out the Basler’s picture window.

We landed after the 3 hour flight and taxied down the snow runway Johnny S. has been preparing for the last week. Quite nice, although the pilot wanted it a little wider… It was great to finally be in what I consider the true Antarctic. This is why I’m here and I am so happy to be in the deep field and the soul-refreshing solitude that comes with it for me. The weather was nice – 15F(?) and 5 knot winds. We made quick work of setting up the tent and settling in. Ringo and I made steaks, tater tots, and a few veggies (just to fight off the scurvy); all fried in butter. Yum. After a tag-up with the other tent, we turned in for our first night at the lovely Davis-Ward camp. All was well in our world.


-Brian from Davis Ward December 13, 2018  (captions added by rph)

OTHER NEWS (via rph).  Email from Jim Karner suggested Elena and Sheridan got on board the Basler for their put-in flight yesterday, and since he didn’t say otherwise I think they made it in.  Jim and Brian R. should follow them today.