While Allie had the opportunity to travel for 6 days with the limnology team to assist in their sample collecting, I’ve never spent a night in the Dry Valleys. As such, I was especially excited when I learned that we would be joining B-506 aka the “Stream Team” to collect samples over a 24 hour period in Miers Valley while they set up a gauge at the outflowing stream.
Prior to our trip, I needed to pack the essentials: 57 pounds of food (enough freeze dried food for 6 people so we could live if we got stuck due to bad weather), pee bottles (if we didn’t have these we would contaminate the valleys!), 6 pairs of wool socks (I knew it was only ONE night, but I had a feeling my feet would get soaked, and they did), and 60 sampling kits (each equipped with size M purple nitrile gloves, and syringes +filter so we could filter our samples in the field).
We had an amazing start to our day because we got to fly in the Kiwi Helicopter, which is smaller than the NSF ones. I think our pilot is used to flying around New Zealand at some of the most adventurous locations, so he took us on a scenic route that felt more like a rollercoaster ride than a commute to work. It was incredible!
We landed in Miers and started to arrange our things around camp before we headed off to the 2 inflowing streams to set up a gauge and begin our sampling all-nighter. I felt a bit uncomfortable damming the stream and taking sediment and rocks from our surroundings to direct all the flow through the baskee, but it was only a temporary disturbance so that we could read the stream flow. The baskee works to direct all the flow into one channel, so that there is an easy linear relationship between the height of the water and its rate of flow.
Our sampling night was eventful. To summarize, there was a lot of wind, snow, frozen streams, cold hands, happy young scientists, and 4-year-old crackers and chocolate for dinner. Allie and I had a great time and accomplished the sampling we needed to get done, but the weather was so bad that we got marooned in Miers for the next 2 days. Luckily, our preparation was not overkill, and we consumed most of the food we packed. The extra time gave us the opportunity to hike around the valley while learning much about the esteemed scientists that we shared our camp with. We spent our nights playing Wizard (a card game) and trying to listen in on a BBC broadcast on our high frequency radio (sadly, we only had the frequency for South Africa, and the time change made it impossible to catch anything).
Even though we were technically in a survival situation (we had sustenance and shelter, but we had to drink the lake water and find ways to stay warm), I’ve never felt more at peace with the world and my surroundings.
Over and out,