Field Camps in Antarctica

Here are Dave’s pictures from all the field camps that he’s been to. Everything from flat-white deep field to the scenic terrain of the Dry Valleys.

Take it Dave!

“So in the past couple of months, I’ve been sent out to three deep field locations called WAIS, Byrd Camp and Siple Dome. I also was sent to Lake Bonney in the Dry Valleys.  I figured that I would take the time to explain what I’ve been working on at these places, and what life is like out there.

The biggest problem with deep field locations is the weather, especially when the only way you can get to them is via fixed wing aircraft.  We flew on a US Air Force LC-130H.  These planes have been outfitted with skis in order to land on snowy runways.  There are no control towers at these locations, and only a small ground crew to help direct them once they taxi.  When I was trying to get out to WAIS, I was scheduled on October 29th, and didn’t fly until a week and a half later due to poor weather at WAIS, poor weather at McMurdo, or mechanical problems.  Since the aircraft was originally built in 1962, things can go wrong, especially in cold temperatures.  And they did.  Over and over and over.

The flight to WAIS was 3 ½ hours of uneventful flying.  The landing was surprisingly smooth due to the soft snow and freshly groomed runway.  I quickly settled in by setting up my tent and then began setting up a Polarhaven, which is an insulated tent that uses galvanized pipes for support.  All of the large tents are heated with diesel heaters which work great in all but the strongest of wind storms.  We set up a couple other tents during my stay at WAIS, a second, older Polarhaven and a Jamesway.  Jamesways are leftovers from the Korean War.  They were designed by the US Army, and while they are strong and without a doubt a giant leap forward in temporary structures of the day, they can be a bit of a pain to assemble.  Many of the parts are broken, the insulated ‘blankets’ which are the cloth part of the tent are torn with insulation hanging out, and oh yeah, they’re painted with lead paint, so I’m constantly reminding myself not to gnaw on the structural members.

At one point we had to dig out the fuel bladders from the winter snow that had drifted into the catch basin.  These are 10,000 gallon bladders and are about 20 feet long on each side.  We did this in 30 mile an hour winds with blowing snow in single digit temperatures.  Surprisingly the crew maintained a positive attitude throughout the day, and actually we all had a pretty good time.

WAIS is known to be a small tent city.  It is the location of a large ice core drilling project and two 225kw generators power both the city and the drilling rig.  There’s a full galley, a recreation tent that has cross country skis, books, magazines (about two years out of date or more), a television, dvd player, showers, washer/dryer,  sewing machine, exercise bike and more.  There’s a field maintenance facility where they can do basic repairs on the equipment that’s out there, and a medical tent that can handle basic field emergencies.

Other tasks I was assigned were to put in 20 foot poles to run power lines, and also to raise the old poles that had been left in place from last year that were now three feet lower due to drifting snow.

After 12 days I was sent back to McMurdo which was just in time for Thanksgiving.  It was nice to be home with Janae, who was just transitioning back over from night shift, so we got to spend three days off together.

About a week later I found out that I was going to be sent out to Siple Dome.  This is a much smaller field camp that is actually an old drilling location.  They’ve transitioned it to a fuel depot in order for the smaller fixed wing aircraft to stop on their way out to places like WAIS.  There are only two guys out at Siple during the entire season and they had been there for 39 days without seeing another person before our Herc landed.  Our job for this trip was to replace the old Jamesway tent that had been set up in 2009, with a new RacTent.  RacTents are very similar to Jamesways, in fact they’re based on the design of a Jamesway.  They were designed by a USAP carpenter who realized that he could develop a better product, and he did.  We also needed to replace the old freezer cave with a new one.  The downside is that we had to dig out the old Jamesway and freezer cave the were under almost 8 feet of snow and ice.  We started by setting up the new RacTent and then began to dig out the new freezer cave.  It took us two days to dig down 8 ½ feet along with the stairway for the new cave.  It was the old Jamesway that really started to give us problems.  The old tent was 9 sections long with each section being four feet wide.  That’s right, 36 feet long, on both sides, plus 16 foot ends, and 8 feet deep of hard packed snow and solid ice (due to the heat from the tent).   One of my coworkers totaled the volume of snow that we moved by hand at about 4523 cubic feet…which translates out to almost 170 cubic yards for those of you who have poured concrete.  For those of you who haven’t, it comes out to 8.66 million tablespoons.

While out at Siple we ate like kings.  It got to the point of being completely ridiculous.  Mel and Jarrett, the camp staff who had been sustaining mostly on meat and potato chips, decided to set the bar high for any other field camp.  At lunch we were eating things like pork chops stuffed with figs and dates and drizzled with a fig reduction sauce.  For snacks we had freshly baked bruschetta and cookies.  For dinner, steak and lamb sushi and lobster.  One night we had filet mignon with a dry coffee rub and it was fantastic.  I definitely tossed on a few pounds despite digging snow and operating a chainsaw every day.

After 11 days we got a plane sent out to us.  They delivered a new Sno Cat and despite plenty of communications from our end and from Janae over at MacOps, they didn’t realize that they were bringing anyone back.  Thankfully we were able to get on the plane and made it back to McMurdo at 10 pm.  It was a 2 ½ hour flight with an hour and a half slushy ride in a cramped van to get home.  The icing on the cake was that I was invited up to the cockpit for the landing.  Completely awesome!  It’s amazing watching the crew take the plane down through complete cloud cover and see the runway appear at 1500 feet.  They did a great job setting her down and due to the warm, slushy conditions, it was the smoothest landing I’ve ever had.”

Then Dave got shipped off to Byrd Camp to close it down for the season. He spent about a week out there breaking things down, making it back with a few days to spare until we’re shipped off the ice on Feb. 13 (hopefully).


Lake Bonney

Lake Bonney

Lake Bonney

Lake Bonney

Lake Bonney

Lake Bonney. Petrified Crabeater seal, you can tell by the specialized teeth.This thing could have died hundreds of years ago. With such cold temperatures, decomposition is a very slow process.

Lake Bonney

Lake Bonney. Dave was traveling with the research group that was commissioned by Google Earth to map out areas of Antarctica.

Lake Bonney. Some of these mummified seals are over a thousand years old.

Lake Bonney

Lake Bonney

Lake Bonney. Dave standing in front a a glacial wall.

Lake Bonney

Lake Bonney. Dave clipping the sling load to the helo.

Deep Field (WAIS, Byrd or Siple) view from a LC-130. Unloading cargo from the back of the plane with a forklift.

Deep Field (WAIS, Byrd or Siple). The plane is known as a Herc, skier, or LC-130. It goes by all, however the L in front of the C-130 indicates that the plane has skies for landing on snow and ice.

Deep Field (WAIS, Byrd or Siple). Twin Otter.

WAIS. Tent City.

Deep Field (WAIS, Byrd or Siple). Bassler.

Deep Field (WAIS, Byrd or Siple). Herc.

Deep Field (WAIS, Byrd or Siple).

Published by Janae

Follow our blog as we travel the world, work in Antarctica and build our own house in the mountains of Colorado!

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