Monday, November 25, 2013

Traverse ready to roll from Cape Prud'homme - le depart du raid

Tomorrow, Monday 25th, we depart on traverse ("raid" in French) for Aurora
Basin. We are enthusiastic about getting started, but have greatly
appreciated the support and hospitality of our French colleagues during
our time here at Cape Prud'homme.

It has been a fairly busy week with the French team making and checking
off a long list of tasks. As I look now, there is nothing that remains
undone - even the loading of 120 loaves of bread, which happened today.

Yesterday was a key day - we took a number of sleds, with fuel tanks and
containers "up the hill" 60km along the traverse to pre-deploy them. This
was a good familiarisation for those of us new to things ... getting the
feel for driving the tractors and getting used to the pace of things.
Pre-deployment is required because the steep terrain (we gained 1250m in
the 60km) limits the towing capacity. Indeed, for the initial stretch up
from the coast, we had extra tractors "double hauling" (assisting the tow
with ropes). After 10km or so, they uncoupled and returned, leaving us to
complete the pre-deployment.

For my Australian colleagues, Sharon and Noel, driving these vehicles is
not a novelty, but as a scientist, getting my induction/training and
driving a large Caterpiller Challenger 65C is not something I had ever
expected to do and makes for a nice new experience. Nobody is just a
passenger on traverse!

The traverse itself will consist of four prime movers (the Challengers)
and a Kassborer "groomer" which runs ahead of the traverse knocking off
bumps and generally smoothing the way. We will be pulling an assembled
cargo on (I think) 12 sleds. The traverse cargo totals around 90 tonnes,
and includes the 30 or so tonnes for Aurora Basin, plus vans for living
and generator, fuel, mechanical spares/support. Should you wish to see
something of the sort, you might search for pictures of the French
logistic traverses that operate to Concordia Station at Dome C.

The other day on predeployment we were able to make a speed around 11-13
km/hr. Our days will start with warm-up of machines at 8am, departure at
8.30, and stopping for the night at 8.30pm, with an hour lunch break. In
the 11 hours driving, we hope to cover around 100km per day, but this is
"good" progress, and will probably not be achieved every day. Weather and
visibility can slow the traverse, or even call a halt if bad enough. The
snow surface is also a potential impediment, especially in the second
stage of the traverse when we turn west toward ABN. For the first run,
several hundred km up to D85, we follow the known traverse route to Dome C
(which in fact has had a traverse over it in recent days).

The end of each day, from 8.30pm will have an hour or so for fueling,
servicing vehicles and any science tasks we undertake, with dinner at
9.30pm, before wind-down and sleep.

So that is a run down on what will be happening. There may be some blog
comment along the way, I hope, subject to how much time and energy remain
at the end of the day!

As a small side-story and postscript, last evening we went across the
sea-ice from Cape Prud'homme to Dumont D'Urville and enjoyed a barbecue
and convivial evening with the station population. Today, we went back
across to DDU for lunch and were treated to a tour of station, powerhouse
and a visit to an emperor penguin colony. The emperors were a special
treat - one came over to us within just several metres and was well
photographed. This was good for us - but the year has not been good to the
emperors, since the fast ice is unusually thick and extensive, reaching
still to 50km. This is a very long march for the penguins and has
prevented many from being able to return to support the chicks, with high
mortality as a result. To be hoped such an event is just an anomaly.