As promised, a poet’s-eye view — driving across McMurdo Sound in a Hagglunds vehicle.
As Dr. Sam Bowser describes it:
“This vehicle is a Hagglunds, built in Sweden. It is a personnel carrier. The engine is in the front unit, but both sets of tracks are powered. It has an added feature that is not apparent: it floats! This is especially valuable when traveling over sea ice that is not thoroughly explored. If you unexpectedly break through a thin spot, you have only to get out, keep warm and then figure out how to get the vehicle back on the ice.”
Aside from noble purposes of scientific research and poet-support in Antarctica, the Hagglunds is really used as a military vehicle, which seems a bit odd to consider. The second image on the Hagglunds website depicts a Hagglunds vehicle.
I once again accompanied Team Andrill out to the sea ice, to observe retrieval of their second under-ice ADCP device ( (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler). Once again, a Hotsie was used to melt a hole down through the ice (much larger this time – because the device was larger). According to Seth White, who also observed ANDRILL’s work:
According to a write up from Seth White: “ADCP measures the direction and speed of the ocean currents below the ice. Useful info for people intent on drilling down to the sea bottom through a thousand of feet of water…. The camp was about halfway between McMurdo and Marble Point…about 20 miles from station, I think.
Recovering ADCP Part 1 (Movie)
Recovering ADCP Part 2 (Movie)
Once the ice was melted and the ADCP device was hauled up, we carefully opened it. The data it gathered for the past month was kept inside, and the first goal was to transfer down a full copy of the data, before we risked moving it further. The computer cables stretched carefully out the back door of the Hagglunds; inside was Richard Levy with his PC laptop, running a program to download information from the device.
The whole process went slowly – very slowly – taking over an hour and a half altogether, I believe. Luckily, one’s sense of time is blurred in Antarctica. The wind was to my back and the sun to my face, a sun which slid slowly in the sky, as if being tugged by a distant, invisible rope. I was reminded once again that scientific inquiry in Antarctica follows the same motto as farming : “Hurry Up and Wait.”
A few of the guys crawled up into the front cab of the Hagglunds and napped while the data trickled out. It was warm in the sun, but still cold, with wind blowing across the sea ice. How to keep warm without anything to do? Eventually, Matt asked Richard and I to play “the ice axe game.” It’s like playing horseshoes, I suppose – only you use an ice-axe instead. There is a bit of risk involved. Points are given for how the ice-axe lands: sharp point down into ice? blunt edge down into ice? or (best) standing up with the handle pointed down? No points if it wobbles or bounces or lands flat without any points into the ice. Some of us tried to toss the axe quite high first, to give it more “holding” power as it fell. This was a fun if pointless way to pass an hour, and kept the blood flowing to the extremities. After a while, we decided to make the game more interesting by throwing the ice axe using only our left hands (we are all right-handed). Ha! What a difference that made. Very hard to aim. At one point I accidentally threw it straight up over my own head (!) and we all dove for cover. This effectively demonstrated why I was never involved in sports as a child.
After the ADCP data was finally recovered, we boxed everything back up, took down the scaffold for the winch, rolled up cables and cinches, piled everything on a cart behind the Hagglunds, and drove back to cozy Camp Andrill.
While we were gone, David Harwood and a couple others who remained behind had started to “strike camp.” They had taken down the Scott Tents, boxed up most of the equipment, tools, generators, fuel cans, food, stoves, kitchen utensils, tables, folding chairs, sleep kits, personal duffels – pretty much everything except the Rac-Tent structures. Everything was piled on an ice berm in front of camp, waiting for the Hagglunds vehicle to return. There were also sorted bags and buckets of burnables/recycled paper/aluminum/glass/food waste/human waste etc. Although a hot meal would have been a more welcome sight, we immediately swung into action and loaded everything onto the already loaded wagon we were pulling behind the Hagglunds. We filled the second vehicle of the Hagglund, and strapped piles of cargo to the Hagglunds’ roof as well. Finally, everything was loaded. I was reminded of the scene where Grinch has stolen all the trappings of Christmas from the Who’s down in Who-ville, and he’s heading for the top of a mountain with his impossibly ponderous load (to dispose of it). The Hagglund was loaded to the brink. The front vehicle “comfortably” seats 4, but I think there were 7 riding in there. I volunteered and was allowed to drive the snowmobile back, which also had a little loaded cart behind it. The guys were happy to let me do this — they slept in the Hagglunds during the long cramped drive back to McMurdo (about 30 miles total).
I’m can still smell snowmobile exhaust on my ECW gear. The snowmobile ride was not comfy, persay (my fingers kept freezing, and later I was told there was a trick “cruise control” button for setting the hand accelerator) but it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, never the less — to find myself riding alone one an unflagged route across a frozen sea, in Antarctica! I talked to myself for a while, and then sang out loud for a while, and then finally settled into a peaceful state. Sometimes I would drive a few dozen feet off-track, to look more closely at an upwelling of ice (resembling mirrors, mini-mesas, or clear blue mushroom caps). Othertimes I would realize that I had gotten a bit too far ahead of the Hagglunds, and I’d stop and rest, idling for several minutes while they caught up. The sun was shining when we set out, but there had been a storm brewing in the south all day — we watched it from the ice as we played ice-axe, and commented on the developing clouds several times.
A majority of storms sweep up from the south, including the worst storms (Herbies – or hurricane-force blizzards). If there were children on McMurdo, and they needed a “boogie monster” the monster’s name would be HERBIE. As we drove back to McMurdo, I was transfixed by the dark horizon to the south. Several key weather-predicting features (including Mina Bluffs) had disappeared. I felt very small, alone on a snowmobile in such an enormous landscape. The look of the brewing storm suggested that night would soon be falling (which is particularly eerie in a land of 24 hour sunlight). I was relieved as we neared the well-flagged route of the Cape Evans Road, which we could take back along the coast of Ross Island until we reached McMurdo. The air behind McMurdo was gray by now, and white snow was busy erasing the rocky features of Ross Island (including Castle Rock and Observation Hill). Flags were standing at attention and snow was falling heavily by the time we reached the cargo field on the sea-ice, just below McMurdo. It was a lovely.
It was after 9 pm by now, and McMurdo had been transformed from a gritty mining-town to a sort of dazzling ski-resort! Everyone was in a great mood, due to the fact that Saturday would be our Thanksgiving holiday (otherwise Saturday is a work-day). We’d missed dinner by a mile, but David Harwood had called an Andrill member back in McMurdo, and asked them to “pull meals” for us. We were happy to find our dinner plates wrapped in cellophane, waiting in a warming box at the back of the kitchen. Hot meal! Much better than peanut butter and jelly! (a cold P&B is what you can get at any time.) Everything would need to be unloaded, but it was late, Team Andrill was tired, and it was agreed that the rest of the unloading could be finished in the morning.