So far, Salmon Bay was one of the biggest highlights of this trip. It was such a spectacular and amazing place to see and explore.
We landed there just afternoon. The polar haven had already been set up by Sam and Laura the day before and there were two tents for us to sleep in. The camp was minimal, which was good, cause it meant that we had less to bring back with us. Almost immediately after we landed, we had a seal in our hole. He stayed with us for the entire weekend. We arrived on Thursday and planned to stay until Saturday morning. We would do three dives and collect all our samples at that time.
That diving was absolutely opposite of anything that I have done in Antarctica yet. There were soft bodied animals everywhere and algae that covered the bottom. Small bryozoans have these structured colonies that rise up on the bottom, and I even saw a small octopus, smaller than the palm of my hand. The sediments here were also very different. So far we have been working in fine sands, but that was just straight muddy goo. Sam called it glacial flour which describes it pretty well. It was very hard to work in and very difficult to core. We did manage to get all our samples, just didn’t have too much time to look around. One other thing that was very particular was an alga that grew on the base of the sea ice. It looked like brown hair extending down almost 2 feet. When we tried to grab on to some to bring it to the surface, but it was so fine that it just dissolved on out gloves. It was really incredible.
Later that night, after we had finished collecting our samples, the winds picked up a bit and it was pretty cold in the morning. No problem. We were heading out on the helicopter that afternoon. So that morning we got up despite the cold, ate breakfast, and packed up everything for the helicopter ride back to New Harbor. I asked Sam if I could go back up the valley a bit for some pictures of this Koala bear that is traveling around the world for a 3rd grade geography project. I have him right now. There was this really cool mummy of a crab eater seal that I wanted to get a picture with the koala bear. Though it might be educational. Any was Sam told me to run really fast up there and be back in camp in an hour.
By the time I got back to camp, the weather had turned for the worst and it has started snowing. The helicopter was canceled for the day. Only problem was that we couldn’t get one out the next day cause it was a Sunday and the helicopters don’t fly on Sunday.
Might not sound like a big deal accept that we had only packed for only two and a half days of food and water. So that afternoon we took inventory. We also decided that because storms here can easily last a few days to a few weeks, we should be very cautious. That night for dinner we had one dehydrated meal and one packet of instant pasta split 4 ways. For dessert, we had one oreo cookie. Not too bad accept that we had spent the day working pretty hard and hiking and collecting sediments from shore for Sam’s colleagues research we were were pretty whipped.
Fortunately we had a generator so we were able to watch old monster movies until everyone fell asleep. The next morning we slept in late. The idea was that if we just slept most of the day away, we wouldn’t be that hungry. It kind of worked. Only one problem, we were running out of water too. So after we all got up and had our one hot drink and a chewy granola bar for “breakfast” there was a break in the storm and we decided to take this opportunity to hike back up to the glacier and collect ice we could melt for drinking. As we were on sea ice, we couldn’t really use that for drinking. That hike was one of the longest hikes ever. The way there wasn’t all that bad. It was really cool to walk through the narrow gorge up to the glacier. The winds had moved a lot of dirt and even uncovered several other bits of seal that were scattered everywhere. Really interesting. The way back though was hard. You want to aim straight for camp, but there is this huge moat in the way that you have to go around. The moat was liquid just a few days before so we didn’t think that ice would be hard enough for us to walk on. Plus on the way back we were each carrying a bag with about 30 pounds of ice. Add the empty stomach and you have a hard hike.
That night for dinner, we were scraping by. We had on can of chicken noodle soup watered down and split 4 ways. We also had a small bit of tuna. I added mine into my chicken noodle to warm it up. Everything was frozen. We were trying to not use the propane heater since we also used to propane to make our food and heat water. Last night I had the hardest time sleeping. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t even really sleep at all, just dozed in and out.
We were hoping for our helicopter this morning first thing. Helo ops had told us the night before to be ready. When we woke up at 6:30 but the wind was still howling and we couldn’t see across the sound which was bad. We got a call from Helo Ops and they postponed us until 10:00. Since everything was already packed and ready, we just waited in our shelter and played cards. At 10:00 we were told that we were still on stand by and that we should be ready at a moments notice. At 12:00 we finally heard the beating sound of a helicopter. You will never believe it, it was for our sling load of stuff to go back to New Harbor, not us. So we belly hooked our stuff and then, just after we watched our stuff leave before us, another helicopter came and picked us up.
It was such a relief to be back at New Harbor. Just coming into a familiar place and having all you can eat and drink in front of you was awesome. I also took a sponge bath and changed my cloths. Something I hadn’t done in almost a week. Although this wasn’t a dire situation, it really gave me a different perspective on what could potentially happen to us and reminded me that I am in Antarctica, not just some vacation dive camp.