For three weeks over the New Year period I had the pleasure to be the field guide for a Chinese geological team. The team were conducting fieldwork in the Prince Charles Mountains, Beaver Lake, Vestfold Hills and Mt Brown areas. The group consisted of three geologists from Beijing’s Chinese Academy of Geological Science and one geologist from Chengdu’s First Institute of Oceanography.
We were told the group had English speaking skills ranging from one member with good, two with reasonable and one with little English. When the Chinese arrived we had some time locally around the Vestfold Hills to put this to the test. Collecting samples and mapping of the geological features from Powell Point to Ellis Narrows was the focus of this part of their work. This was a good introduction to the Antarctic surrounds for the team to test their gear and their fitness.
By the time the weather was good enough to fly the group was well versed in basic operating procedures and safety requirements. First stop was Mt Brown by Twin Otter aeroplane with which we had two hours on the ground for mapping and sampling. We returned to overnight at Davis plateau ski landing area then had an early start for the two hour flight by helicopter and Twin Otter to Beaver Lake. Arriving at Beaver Lake we had over 800 kg of camp gear and food, with half going to a northern camp and the other half being left at the Beaver Lake apples. After saying our goodbyes to the pilots the camp was arranged into a liveable state with polar pyramids put up and gear organised.
Day two consisted of a gentle 32 km day with a walk through shin deep snow which was getting deeper as we gained attitude. The team came to appreciate the challenges of meeting their project goals in this difficult terrain! Luckily for us there was another science project coming out to the Prince Charles Mountains the next day by helicopter. We managed to use the helicopter to the best of our ability to maximise distance covered and to reduce walking distances, a great idea all around. As the samples were building up over the next few days we needed to think about relocating south to the Beaver Lake apple huts. The biggest consideration was supplies, as we were in lockdown with weather inappropriate for a 26 km walk to the southern camp. After two days of snow and wind (30 cm of snow) we packed up and moved further south, leaving the samples and camp gear behind for a later pick-up by helicopter.
The second part of the project work was sampling metaphoric rock on the southwestern side of Lake Radok. This was made easier with the lake having been frozen so we could cross it rather than walk around. There was also sedimentary rock that was being sampled on the northern side of the lake. Fortunately the weather behaved and we could cover the ground that needed to be sampled more quickly than the northern area as there was less snow covering the ground.
After 12 days we managed to eat our way through our field rations, carry nearly 700 kg of rock samples and walk over 180 kms. I was very impressed with the focus of the project team, their work ethic and their preference for eating copious amounts of noodles instead of ration packs.