I just checked my frequent flyer miles balance with American Airlines. 12,600 miles were just added to it. Hmmm... Its that time of the year again - I must be in New Zealand - correction - Antarctica! Our C-17 flight from Christchurch to McMurdo just arrived a few days back. I spent two nights and two days in Christchurch - gathering the usual assortment of Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear, walking around the botanical gardens, and looking at the remaining building damage from the September 4th magnitude 7.1 Canterbury quake. Aftershocks have occurred on a daily basis. I was woken more than once by a shaking bed and shaking hotel room.
I'm down here for another quick season. This time I've been hired to work for a team of four geologists led by Dr. John Goodge from the University of Minnesota in Duluth. Dr. Goodge is accompanied by Dr. Mark Fanning, Dr. Jeff Vervoort, and PhD student Tanya Dreyer. I'm the field mountaineer for this project (G-503). The team is searching for chunks of Eastern Antarctic basement rocks that have been drug (grid) westward by the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, and deposited in moraines on the far eastern fringes of the Central Trans-Antarctic Mountains. Its a very sleuthy project - akin to finding needles in a haystack. More on that later.
My job title may say "Field Mountaineer" but for now I'm just the logistics person until the group gets on the ground (I showed up five days early). That means prepping gear, getting food ready, requesting helicopter support time, scheduling meetings and training, etc... Not much "mountaineering" going on right now at McMurdo Station. Just prep work.
If all goes well we'll be in the air in a few days, searching for Precambrian granite and gneiss clasts in moraines within the Convoy Range, near the Allan Hills (famous spot for both meteorite-hunters and a spectacular petrified forest).
Eventually, the goal will be to fly to CTAM, about 550 miles south of here (about 300 miles or so from the South Pole) and use it as a hub to reach another 10 or so field sites and up to two smaller field camps. From there, we'll use skidoos to roam around hard, blue ice on the fringes of the Eastern Antarctic Ice Sheet where it abuts against the Central Trans-Antarctic Mountains - searching, once again, for old, transported remnants of the Eastern Antarctic crystalline basement. Stay tuned...