October 23, 2009 Let the Tunneling Begin
Yesterday the weather improved and helicopters were allowed to fly so we finally had our supplies delivered to the tunnel site. That meant that today would be chainsaw day. It's about time we got to work!
Step #1 - Locate a Good Spot: The Taylor Glacier is a huge glacier and we want to select a spot to put our tunnel that has the ice we want to analyze and is safe to be near. Glaciers are moving rivers of ice and we wouldn't want pieces of ice to break off (calve) and fall on us while we are working. Last week Mark and Brent went on a reconnaissance flight to find a suitable location and they found the perfect place.
Step #2 - Build Stairs: To get to the glacier we have to cross a moat where the melt water from the glacier flows during warm summer days (we haven't seen any of those yet). Then we have to go up a hill of ice along the side of the glacier called the apron. The apron is made of pieces of calved ice joined together by melt water and is really slippery, so we used chainsaws to cut stairs into the side of it to get up to our tunnel site.
Step #3 - Start Tunneling: Once we had stairs up to the tunnel site, we started chainsawing into the side of the glacier. We divided up into two teams and we work five hour shifts each day. One team hikes up to the glacier (~1/2 mile up and down sandy/rocky hills) and works in the morning from 9am - 2pm, while the other team gets chores done around camp. Then at 2pm the other team comes up to the tunnel and works until 7pm, while the other team cooks dinner. Within the chainsawing team, everyone has a specific job and we rotate. One person is chainsawing, another person is moving the ice over the apron edge with shovels or boots, and the last person is the spotter and watches for dangerous glacier movement. Our goal is to chainsaw 15m into glacier and today we got about 2m done.
Today I was on the morning team and I learned some chainsawing skills and then I was on my way. It was a lot easier than I thought that it would be. My favorite job was being the ice mover. It was empowering to throw huge chucks of ice off the tunnel edge and listen to them shatter on the rocks below. My legs are definitely more powerful after kicking 200lb ice blocks off the edge.