posted 11/10/2005 08:45:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
The last few days have mostly centered around laying the hose to Williams (willy) field, with some fuel transfers thrown in for good measure. Tuesday was a bit different in that pretty much nothing went smoothly. First, our Pisten Bully wouldn't start, so we weren't able to lay much hose. We tried improvising and running hose without a mobile bully, but soon discovered that one of the hose reels was jammed. Managed to get that straightened out with the help of a big prybar, then headed off for lunch. Got back from lunch expecting to find one of our mechanics fixing the bully, but before we even got there, we found a truck without a driver apparently stuck off the road. As we were investigating this truck, we noticed that someone had unhooked our bulldozer from the hose reel trailer and was driving it towards the pickup. It was soon apparent that either the driver of the dozer wasn't very good at it or the dozer was having some mechanical problems. We ran down the bulldozer, and found out that the driver was our mechanic, who had driven out thinking that he could use our tracks as a road to get to the pisten bully and had gotten himself stuck. It was also revealed that the dozer did in fact have a bit of a personality, so we had our operator drive it to the mechanic's truck, tie up, and drag the truck cross country over to where the pisten bully was stuck. We opened up the pisten bully (neat process - will post pics at some point) and used a Herman Nelson ("15 gallon gas tank that you can light the top of") to heat up the engine. It was a particularly cold and windy day, so the pisten bully's builtin heater wasn't up to keeping the engine at starting temp, so once we warmed it up a bit it started right up. Now that we had all our mechanical problems sorted out, the mechanic's truck was drug back to the road and we tried in vain to lay hose. To add insult to injury, the base radio unit at the fuels control center was down, so we weren't able to do anything anyhow! All in all, about 10 new feet of hose made it on the ground and we were able to plant one marker flag...
Wednesday, we had much more success and spent all day efficiently laying hose down. Some small changes were made to our arrangement, so we ended up unrolling 4 full reels of hose (on the order of 2,000 feet each) to land about 35-40 feet short of our destination. We had a nice lunch out at willy field rather than driving all the way back to McMurdo for lunch, which was a nice experience. On the way back to the barn at the end of the day, I was really looking forward to getting home, changing into some clean, dry clothes, and eating some food though. To my complete surprise I got to the barn and Bodie said I would have to stay later to prepare to go to a fuel cache and take samples tomorrow! yay! Helicopter ride for Ian!!!
Thursday - today - has been a blast! Took care of some small last minute stuff this morning, then headed down to the helopad to catch my bird out to the Darwin Glacier, which is pretty much the farthest out point that helicopters go from McMurdo. We were going out there to take samples from a fuel cache in order to verify that the fuel contained in the barrels was still usable and in good condition. Also, since the cache had likely drifted over, we needed to dig the drums out of the snow and place them back on the surface so that they could be used when needed. These caches are placed in several strategic locations around the continent to allow helicopters or ski planes to stop out in the field and get fuel in case they are forced down or are out on an extended trip for some reason. They each get inspected once a year, and I was lucky enough to be doing one of the inspections this year!
I was going with five other people; the pilot, the helitech, Jodie (one of the other fuelies,) and two guys out on a 'boondoggle.' Boondoggles are pretty much the only way that people get to go off base if they work a 'town job' and are a very special treat. Basically what happens is a few extra people are sometimes needed to head out to field camps or whatever to help out with basic tasks. Rather than having a special labor pool for those tasks, seats are handed out to each department to pass down to people who win a break from their normal jobs. Our two helpers usually work for the supply department and the utilities department, and were coming along to help Jodie and I with excavating the drums and any other tasks that we would need to accomplish in the field.
We each had our bags, tools, and bodies put on a scale to help figure out how much fuel to take, then we were given a quick briefing on flying in a helicopter (this one was a Bell 212,) fitted for flight helmets, etc. Once the chopper was ready, we were lead out onto the pad and boarded the helicopter. Takeoff took a few minutes as the helicopter needed a little time to warm up (which is usual for the first flight of the day,) but soon we were in the air and headed out towards the distant mountains that you may have seen in some of my pictures here! About an hour (and loads of amazing scenery) later, we touched down on what appeared to be nothing but a big snowfield with a few tattered blue flags sticking out in a rectangle. After a bit of digging, we struck gold! We struck orange actually, but in any case we found one of the drums. With a little more exploratory digging, we had figured out where the edges of the cache were and uncovered each of the 30 drums that it was comprised of. Fortunatly, the drums hadn't "iced in," so we only had to uncover the top half of them and were able to use the helicopter to pluck them out of the hole and put them down on the surface a short distance away. The plucking process was 45 minutes of incredible flying that was really neat to watch, and a little chilly too. Once the chopper was done moving drums, the pilot landed and shut it down and we set to work taking notes (Jodie,) drawing samples (me,) and rearranging the drums (the helitech and boondogglers.) The old flags were planted back around the refurbished cache, we loaded up, and we were soon back in the air! The flight back to McMurdo was really cool, but I was rather tired and the rhythmic noises of the rotor put me to sleep for part of the ride. We got back to town about 6pm, took our tools and samples back to the fuels barn, then headed off to dinner and the 'net!
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