Bill Baxter on the satellite phone above Beaver Lake
Bill Baxter on the satellite phone above Beaver Lake (Photo: R. Stanaway)
The camp at Beaver LakeView of the Beaver Lake region from the helicopterThe German camp at Radok LakeThe 'Dragons Teeth' near Beaver Lake

29 January 2002

These photos were taken last week at Beaver Lake.

I should have smelt a rat straight away – as soon as Richard, one of the geologists working in the Beaver Lake region, said he’d like to go and do some work on the GPS site.

The interior of the apple hut at the Beaver Lake field camp that only seconds ago had been shaking with the boisterous sounds of ten people, went deathly quiet. Within a minute, there was only Richard and me left. Everyone else had found work that needed immediate attention. How long will you be up there? I asked.

About an hour.

Okay, I'll come with you.

This GPS site had been installed some four or five years ago and had always caused problems and seldom achieved its purpose. It was sited on some high ground about five kilometres away from Beaver Lake.

It was while I was packing safety gear into my rucksack prior to leaving for the GPS site, that the full foolishness of my decision became apparent. Young Tom sidled over: Did he say he'd be an hour?

About that I replied.

And with a smirk that suggested there's no fool like an old fool, he parted with: You’d better be ready for six or eight!

Yesterday evening, Al and I had arrived with two helicopters, pilots and an engineer at Beaver Lake in the Prince Charles Mountains, to join a summer party of ten. There were geologists, seismologists, surveyors etc and we came to help them move various camps to different sites.

The German core drillers from Lake Terrasovoje to Radok Lake, a group of three from Terrasovoje to a high camp on the Loewe Massif as well as the long flight up to Dalton Corner in the southern PCMs for a quick check of various GPS stations.

For five days Beaver Lake camp was busy with between nine and fifteen people, and I fell into the role of cook and Richard's minder.

The times spent up at the GPS site fell easily into a routine. We would be dropped up there by helicopter. It was always blowing and 25 knots was a good day.

Richard would work trying everything he could to fix this recalcitrant instrument. Oblivious to the wind and cold, not wearing any windproof gear, hat or gloves, his head would be stuck for hours inside the big silver box.

I would be snuggled down in my bivvy bag, reading or drowsing or listening to Richard’s running commentary, punctuated with surveyor invective. If all went quiet, I would poke my head out to see if he was still alive. But I need not have worried, he was a Kiwi after all!

When the hour had become five I would start the process of turning his mind to accepting defeat for the day and heading back down to Beaver Lake for food and warmth. He never liked to give up, so it would be a while yet before we put on our skis. This for me was a highlight, a five and a half kilometre down hill run to camp, worth the hanging around in the name of science!

At night, back at camp while I slept, Richard would work away on his laptop computer, or be soldering bits together until two or three in the morning.

His determined quest to get this station working effectively never let up.

Yet time was running out for Richard. The helicopters were heading for Davis and he was leaving too. He persuaded the chief pilot, Leigh, to give him one last go. He was confident he knew what the trouble was and could fix it. Leigh gave him ‘just an hour’. This time it was a flight up and out, so there was no chance of him stretching it!

And with 15 minutes of his hour left, the silver box made new noises, new responses flashed on the screen of the satellite phone and he had done it!

I do not know who was more excited, him or me. Over the last few days I had grown to like, respect and admire Richard. I had seldom come across anyone before who applied himself with so much application and determination in such testing environmental circumstances, and yet maintain a good sense of humour. He accepted my congratulations and praise in a modest yet embarrassed way. Then we just shut up shop and waited for our lift.

This account was written by Bill Baxter, Field Training Officer at Beaver Lake