Tuesday, May 10, 2011

several posts in one!

One week after this picture was taken, all the snow and ice was melted.
Taking a load to camp

Going to Camp
The sun is shinning and it’s warming my tent. Through the window, I can see the frozen river coming out of Leverett Glacier and up the river, Leverett Glacier itself. Last night’s snowfall covers the peaks and valley in front of me. I have a full pot of tea made from melted snow, my slippers are on and it’s too warm for a coat. My computer is sitting on a little table and is connected to a car battery. A second one is outside charging on a solar panel. Finally, I’m in my Science Tent.
There was no helicopter. We trucked several tons of equipment to the very end of the road, made a huge pile, and over the past few days have been hauling gear in on our backs. The first time I did the hike I swore it was six miles but to my dismay it’s actually only around two and a half. The hike is through snowdrifts, over sand dunes and then up a large hill. I suppose when the snow is gone and I’m in better shape, it won’t be that bad. I generally like to pass the time on this hike by cursing every hour I was not on a long distance training run before coming here.
We hiked in late one afternoon when the sun was low in the sky. Not long into the hike I saw my first musk ox. It was a mummified head looking up serenely at the sky, its horns were sawed off and its body gone. Then Greg said, “Look they are watching us.” A group of figures were silhouetted on the ridgeline above us. Like sentinels from another world and time, a herd of musk ox stood watching us move up the valley. I kept turning to stare at them as we hiked. There were little newborns being guided by their parents as they slowly moved down the slope.
I set my sleeping tent on top of a large hill overlooking camp. The view was magnificent and I wondered why I was the only one to pick such a beautiful spot. That night I learned why. The wind picked up, and I spent the night listening to and feeling my four-season-hurricane-proof tent violently flap and bend in obscene directions. The next day I moved my tent behind some sand dunes and boulders close to the rest of the team.
Spring is late this year to Greenland but it is surly coming. There were no birds the first day but now hardly a minute goes by without hearing geese and now even the songbirds are back. The temperature has been hovering around freezing, and the snow is slowly disappearing.

The River Crossing
There is a river to cross to get to our camp. As mentioned in a recent post, we’ve been working for a few days to set up a rope and pulley system to haul a boat back and forth once the river melts. Till now, I never thought much of walking across the frozen river. It looks like a shallow braided stream that I assumed grew substantially when melt started. Then yesterday, while working on our pulley system, we did what everyone does while hanging out next to a body of water. We threw rocks. This is especially satisfying if the surface is partially frozen and of course big rocks are more fun than small rocks so I was throwing the biggest rocks I could muster. The small rocks went through a thin layer of ice and then stopped when they hit the bottom several inches below. Then I picked up the biggest rock I could possibly lift and dropped it off a ledge about 15 feet above the surface. The rock blew through the ice and vanished out of sight leaving a dark black hole. It took me a while to understand what had happened.
What I had assumed were sand banks in the middle of the river were actually thick windblown sand and silt deposits on top of the river ice. This made the river look deceptively like a small braided snow covered stream. The reality was the river was likely deep and clearly there was moving water below the ice. After seeing the rock plunge through the ice, we were now faced with a decision. We either had to cross the river, now fully loaded, or go into town to find our boat (probably in some hanger). After some discussion and several failed phone calls to anyone who might know exactly where our boat might be, we decided to cross. So we slung our packs on, some weighing near 100 lbs and walked to the bank. We paused at the bank and I undid my pack’s waist belt. I saw Dave and Greg do the same. During the day when the river’s surface ice had melted, pools had formed which were now frozen on their tops to form the first layer of ice. As we carefully walked across this ice, it would sometimes break causing our feet to stomp down on the ice below. I stopped when I got to the middle and listened. I could hear water rushing below me.
Looking back I suppose we could’ve left our packs on one side or spent the night in town crossing early morning after the night’s freeze. But we had crossed earlier in the same day and every day prior, and though it had been warm, we didn’t think that much could’ve changed in a few hours. The only thing that had changed was our appreciation for the danger. Anyways, we’re crossing at a much safer spot now. The British have a way of downplaying everything. I believe Dave Chandler, said of our crossing, “A bit spooky aye?”

May 9, 2011
It’s gone from winter to spring in about a week. The snow is rapidly melting and soon the river I’ll be sampling all summer will be flowing. The temperature must have hit around 40F though I’ve no idea because I’m horrible at Centigrade and there are no Americans in camp to compare temperature guesses with. Tom Cowton said it was around 7 though. Whatever that means.
Two days ago we finally got a helicopter to carry the remaining gear into camp. I got a great picture of the helicopter slinging a load but my camera’s card reader seems to have bitten the dust. Speaking of dust, the dust here is unbelievable and deserves an entire post in itself.
After that first windy night I found my shoes and everything else in my tent’s vestibule half buried in sand. As in the sand was almost to the top of my running shoes. After about a day in camp, enough sand had built up on my scalp to give it sort of a bumpy feeling. After the first week, I have to carefully wash my face with a wet wipe to avoid getting any of the sand glued there into my eyes. I’m told tent zippers last only a couple weeks before little bits of sand destroy them and our dishes are also hopelessly coated. Greg Lis of the University of Bristol keeps handing me sticky sandy dishes saying, “See sparkling clean!”
The veterans of Greenland fieldwork take a sort of Zen-like acceptance to the sand and its effects. I’m working on mine but for now, the shower I had tonight at K.I.S.S. was marvelous.

What’s to come-
-Science! What are we doing here anyways?
-Hiking to the Portal! (Trekking over land and ice to sample at the glacier’s mouth)
-Translating English to American!

The helicopter delivering supplies to camp and our dubious river crossing.

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