Since the team last updated the blog, much has happened with both their planning and patience being put to the test.
Their opportunity to finally see Antarctica came when their venerable Ilyushin Cargo aircraft got the green light to fly one of the most challenging scheduled flights in the world, to Union Glacier. After just over 4 hours, they did the unthinkable and landed on a blue ice runway, in a 100 tonne aircraft! Due to the temperature, the aircraft needed to depart as soon as possible, so the team were quick to unload their equipment and head for the Union Glacier camp.
The camp is a tiny pimple of relative luxury in the bleak Antarctic landscape. They were impressed by the foot hold that ALE have with all of their basic needs covered and in good supply. So what next? Push on to the Mountains? No… The weather showed them who’s boss, and conditions were not good enough in the mountains to fly to base camp. The team were forced to be patient while the weather came, went, threatened to do one thing, and then did something else. Meteorology in the polar regions is notoriously difficult. The meteorologist doesn’t necessarily have a satellite looking at the mountains, and they certainly don’t have anyone there to tell them what the weather is like. So they must forecast in other ways, they have computer models, charts, but mainly experience; it’s a tough job, and it’s getting harder as climate change takes hold.
This was particularly frustrating as the conditions at Union Glacier were sometimes good for summer in Antarctica. So what were the team to do while they waited? Well, quite a lot as it turns out. They’ve been planning, briefing, and acclimatising, with day trips to local land marks such as Elephants head, and Drake’s fall. They’ve even been out on snow bikes (push bikes with big wide tyres) and settling into their new environment. Acclimatising is an important process in such an extreme place, the team are experienced and tough, but there are no second chances in Antarctica. They must practice at being comfortable outside and working together in the cold, because understanding how the environment can impact you is vital.
The team has also been passing the long light nights with some chess practice. However, it sounds like Pete will need the whole Antarctic winter to practice before he is any good!