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Casting Off the Lines



CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND– It is a quiet spring night in Christchurch, New Zealand. The air is filled with the heavy scent of the spring flowers. In twelve hours if the weather and aircraft cooperate we will take off for Antarctica.

We have completed the familiar routine of sorting through two large orange bags of clothes. I am glad I packed alternatives to the four pairs of wool tube socks I received. I am both groggy from the jet lag and concerned about delayed traverses missing aircraft certifications and dented fuel drums. My achy back makes me fidget. The feeling in my stomach is similar to what you feel in the hours before you cast off the lines from the dock to sail across an ocean. Your head is racing plans, alternative plans and worries but time is running out. Tomorrow morning the lines will be cast off and the focus will be on the here and now.


The Gamburtsev Mountains beneath the ice.

This project to study the Gamburtsev Mountains is the biggest I have ever helped put together. For almost eight years we have been puzzling over the logistics of how to get to this hidden mountain range hidden beneath the largest ice sheet on our planet. They are completely covered with ice. Not a single craggy peak sticks up out of the ice sheet. They are tall – rising about 9000 feet above the surrounding terrain. This means the Gamburtsev Mountains tower over the Appalachians and are about as high as the Alps. They are wide – hundreds of miles wide. If a well-maintained highway cut across them it would take the better part of a day to cross them. But alas there is no highway.


The AGAP Project logo.

We have assembled a multinational team for the International Polar Year from six nations. We developed an expedition consisting of three small scientifically equipped aircraft with over 25 scientists and engineers. But we only have a very short seven weeks when the weather is warm enough to work in. Warm enough means the temperature is warmer than -50 degrees C.

Much has to happen before we can start “doing science”. The two field camps have to be constructed and the fuel to fly the aircraft and heat the buildings has to be delivered. Parts of the plan are beginning to change already. The British plans are delayed due to paperwork and the traverse has had trouble with the crevasses.


One of the partially built AGAP field camps.

The lines for this expedition have been cast from the dock. The here and now has arrived.



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2 Responses »

  1. Go Robin Go! Great article. Go safely.

  2. The Exploratorium webcast crew is in New Zealand now, experiencing similar pangs of restlessness and nervous energy. We’re treading the same footsteps as many before us, chomping at the bit and raring to go.