Geoff Sims @ UNSW
Home South Pole Diaries 2012/13 30th December, 2012


Sunday, 30th December, 2012

Long day (Geoff)

Today was a super long and frustrating day. The short story is we were scheduled to fly to South Pole, but it got cancelled. Unusually, it wasn't a mechanical fault or bad weather that stopped this flight from going ahead; it was good weather. You see, the weather has been relatively warm here, and by warm I mean up to +5 C the past couple of days, which softens the usually hard snow.

Our vehicle, bogged in the soft snow, as we arrive at Pegasus airfield.

The soft and slushy snow (or "swamp", as they call it) means two things: it takes a lot longer to travel to/from the airfield (keep in mind passengers, crew, and cargo all need to be transported), and the planes may have difficulty taking off. These additional delays added up to too much down time, and pushed our crew and pilots over the limit for how long they can safely work in one day, ultimately resulting in us returning to McMurdo.

The interesting part is, the warm weather alone isn't enough to render the snow too slushy for the vehicles. A couple of weeks ago, there was a big storm on nearby Black Mountain, and strong winds at the time carried a lot of dirt material on to the ice shelf where the road and runway are situated. The dark dirt particles efficiently absorb sunlight, heating up the surrounding snow which aid in the melting process.

This is the dirt from Black Mountain in the snow.

The next few photos just basically show how our day progressed.

On our way back, we got on something called the "Magic Carpet", which is an extremely large sheet of rubber towed behind a Cat. These are frequently used to transport fuel and cargo, but amazingly everyone we spoke to said this was the first time they could recall it has ever been used to transport vehicles full of passengers! Of course these photos aren't of us on it, but you get the idea.

Our day went something like this:

  06:00 - wake up
  07:15 - assemble at building 140 in McMurdo
  07:30 - depart McMurdo for the airfield
  09:15 - arrive at Pegasus airfield and walk to passenger terminal; wait
  12:30 - depart pasenger terminal for the aircraft (Hercules LC-130)
  12:40 - arrive at aircraft but no one is on board; wait
  13:20 - get onboard the Herc; wait
  13:55 - flight gets cancelled; wait
  14:15 - get off the Herc, fly on the Magic Carpet to harder snow; wait
  15:00 - depart airfield for McMurdo
  16:30 - arrive McMurdo

-- Geoff


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