Monday, 14 March 2011

DZ CREW - Jack 7.0 - The Cave

I stood at the foot of the snow covered hill and soon realised that it was a pretty foolish description. It was more like a mountain. I’d began searching the area at the base of the rock, there was no use climbing up it, and was soon onto a massive lead. Not only had I found a series of footprints in many varying sizes, but I’d also discovered where they led...into a cave. The hulk of rock must have protected the prints nearest the cave from being covered in the snowstorm! This had to be them, the rest of the DZ team would have to be in the mountain range somewhere. Thinking about it, where better for a bunch of lizards to hide and where better to shelter from the snow storm? I checked my pack and found my head-torch, placing it on top of my hat instead of the snow goggles. Relieved that the batteries were still in working order (I’d completely forgotten to check since Brazil and the Fish Hunters) I began to explore the cave entrance.

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Tuesday, 8 March 2011

DZ CREW - Jack 6.0 - The Storm

“We’re here!” It was Lewis’ voice and he was shouting over the sound of the storm from somewhere ahead of me. The sudden interruption to the rhythmical, dream-like shuffling through the white landscape had come as a surprise. I looked up and was instantly alarmed when I couldn’t see anyone. The storm had got worse. Snow was flying horizontally; giant flakes spun madly on the ferocious wind, filling my entire vision with white. It was like static on TV when your aerial broke, the only thing I could see that wasn’t white was the thick misty grey of snow clouds and blurred distant rocks.

There was no sign of the team anywhere.

“Hello?” my shout seemed strangely muffled and in-effective against the wind and storm that raged about me. It had closed in fast.

“Hello?!” again I shouted, as loud as I could. Then it dawned on me, if the last thing I had heard was “we’re here” from Lewis, then surely this meant that were Lizards close by? Maybe shouting wasn’t a good idea.

I walked steadily forwards, leaning with great effort into the wind that had changed randomly from blowing me sideways to now blowing right down my throat. It was hard to make progress, there was still no sign of anyone and there was no bleeping of the sensor and no voices. What was going on? How had this situation so quickly got out of control?

I stopped again to listen, lifting a corner of my two layered hats from my ear so I might be able to hear properly. I didn’t know what to do. Should I shout again or would I be putting myself at risk? How would I find the others if I didn’t try and let them know my whereabouts. I bent down and drew a quick X in the snow in front of me before spinning a slow 360 degrees, listening with all my might, straining to discern the un-natural electric bleeping noise or any voices from the natural rage of the wind and snow. Nothing. No-one. No bleeping.

If anyone get’s separated, just make your way back to the boat.

At least that was what Harrison had said over two hours previously. Unfortunately as I spun in a circle again I realised that I wouldn’t know exactly which way was back to the boat. This was bad. My heart was beginning to beat faster and there was that annoying sick feeling that started creeping into my stomach, the same feeling when you can’t find your wallet or from when you were little and you lost your Mum in the supermarket. What was I going to do? My emotions swung almost as quickly as the weather from panic to annoyance. Why didn’t all of us get a motion detector? Why was Lewis the only one member of the team to have one? Then I remembered. Bob! Of course. Contact Bob for satellite support!

Dr. Walker was our resident genius for the Dragon Zoo security team. Although she rarely left the zoo she was always on hand to provide remote support for our expeditions. But did that extend to Antartica? I grabbed the satellite phone from my back pack and pushed the massive power button on the side. It blinked into life, but the signal bar did not. I looked up at the skies as if by doing so I might conjure a satellite to pass overhead, all there was to see was grey and an unimaginable amount of white flakes spiralling at speed towards the ground. Crap.

Plan B. Keep walking and keep listening. That would have to do. If I stayed still much longer I would freeze regardless, so walking seemed like as good a plan as any. So much for remote support! So much for working as a team! It was me, on my own, with nothing but a couple of gas grenades and my handgun.

It seemed like hours but was probably only about thirty aimless minutes of wandering around in the snow storm. I hadn’t heard a single sound for any clue or had any sort of lead as to the whereabouts of where either the team or any of the lizards might be. At least fifty percent of this was good news. As I’d continued my search the storm had gradually started to abate, the snow flakes had begun to reduce in size and the wind had gone as quickly as it had appeared. With the increase in visibility came an increase in purpose and direction. I was actually able to see more than a metre ahead of me, enough to spot something on the horizon that wasn’t just flat and white. It looked to be either a large mound of snow or a bunch of rocks that had been covered by the storm. Either way it was a feature, and there was nothing else to aim for on the horizon.

Foolishly, as I walked I found myself looking for footprints. Even with the lighter snowfall and the brighter skies the snowfall was still substantial enough to mask my trail of footprints almost as quickly as I had left them. There was nothing I could think of that would be more useful or more sensible than what I was doing, looking for landmarks, looking for likely places that could accommodate either the team or the lizards. I pressed on.

The walk hadn’t taken long and upon closer inspection I discovered it was just a closely huddled bunch of rocks. This place was strange, almost alien. Especially seeing as I was alone, in complete isolation. It was like Hoth from Star Wars or something. But where could I head now? What would Han Solo do? I eased my goggles off my face to clear the build up of mist on the inside of the lenses again. As I did so I looked about me. With the added clarity of vision I spotted a definite place to head for, a small snow covered hill, but behind it was a large rock face, I could see the grey weathered texture just visible in patches where some of the snow hadn’t manage to mask. I put the goggles back over my eyes with new determination, the disappointment of the useless huddle of rocks I'd just discovered was soon behind me as I had a new target to head towards.

My awkward shuffling walk had increased to somewhere near a jog, this was the most promising thing I’d laid my eyes upon since I’d originally lost the guys ages ago. As I approached, more of the rock face behind the mound of snow began to become visible, it was actually a series of rock faces built up into a series of small hills. Because I had approached it from directly in front of it, I had missed the exciting fact that the hill was much larger than it first appeared. It was definitely worth exploring.

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Saturday, 5 March 2011

DZ CREW - Jack 5.0 - The Ice

Once we were down and onto the small boat, the sea was surprisingly not calm at all. It felt like we were on a very turbulent flight, the boat shaking and rolling involuntarily. We had only gone about ten metres from the main ship when I caught something rising in my throat. It wasn’t good. Luckily I managed to hold it, trying desperately not to appear to be on the verge of vomiting to the rest of the crew.

The small boat we were on was powered by a rear off board motor, I didn’t really know much about boats and stuff, all I knew was it looked like the type of thing you see SAS teams in wielding harpoon guns and combating Somali pirates! We were all crammed into the raft, clinging onto the sides to stay onboard. Me, Lewis and Lex were in the centre, with Gray at the front and Harrison steering the boat at the back. Lewis sat just in front of me, and had one arm hooked through a thick strap to avoid bouncing out of the raft, with his other hand clinging to his motion sensor.

“We need to keep going north! The signals from the mainland are still too faint.” Lewis shouted over the noise of the motor and the suddenly woken sea that was splashing angrily against the boat. Harrison grimaced and continued to make adjustments on the rudder to stay on course.

The journey was taking too long. It seemed like our destination was a lot further than had originally been planned. My wrist was sore from the wet rope that I had wrapped tightly around it but thankfully it was doing its job, keeping me on the dry side of the boat! I couldn’t take it much longer. No one was talking, we were all getting wet from the spray, and this only accentuated just how cold it was. I couldn’t wait to get back inside, and we’d only just started our mission. It wasn’t looking too good.

Lewis was still fixated on the soaked display of his motion sensor, over his shoulder I could see the screen, and a series of red dots had begun to focus on an otherwise green background. We must be getting close. I looked up ahead of us and saw the mainland that Harrison was now headed for. There was no easy way of getting from the boat to the shore, no jetty, no harbour, just a wall of ice and rock. I turned around to look at Harrison, I was about to barrage him with a torrent of panicked questions but before I could he held up his hand like a stop sign straight at me, his eyes never left the rock face looming ahead of us.

“Everyone hold on!” Harrison shouted as he cut the engine. The boat was coasting toward the rock face, the swell rocking us backwards and forwards but not enough to stop the onward momentum. As I looked up, the face of the rock blipped the sun out of the sky, we were directly next to the ice now. Gray was at the front of the boat when the side knocked into the ice wall, he was ready. In his hands was a grappling hook, the likes of which I’ve only ever seen Batman use before. He pulled the trigger on the handheld device and the hook disappeared over the edge above us.

“The thickness of this ice will be enough to take out weight no problem.” Gray was shouting over his shoulder, presumably to Harrison, at least it was he who answered.

“Ok, climb up first. You’re the biggest apart from me.”

Gray smirked before pulling heavily on the rope. It held, and he began to climb up.

It took only ten minutes for the entire team to scale the ice wall. Unfortunately, I felt like I was solely responsible for about eight of those minutes. The trickiest part had been the jump up onto the rope from the rolling unstable boat. The gap between the edge of the boat and the rope had kept changing constantly and it was difficult to tell when would be the best time to jump. Once I had made the leap of faith over the freezing water I then needed to cling on and brace for the natural result of colliding with the icy land mass. With a combination of spiked boots and hard work I managed to struggle up the rope and eventually reach the surface. Lewis was on hand to spare vital seconds away from his motion sensor monitor to give me a sarcastic wink, Lex looked sort of embarrassed for me.

Back down below Harrison had anchored the boat against the ice at three points, he’d left it bobbing harmlessly up and down, awaiting our return. Within seconds he had scaled the rope and had turned his attentions to his next task. Before we set off he wanted to make sure that we would be safe on our downwards climb back to the boat.

He carved a trench out of the ice that was about three inches deep and then wrapped the top end of the climbing rope around a steel pole. This pole was then placed into the trench so that it was securely fixed. Harrison spotted at how attentive I was being. I was trying to take in what he was doing in the hope that it might prove to be a useful technique at some point in the future. He smiled up at me,

“This is in case we need to make a quick getaway. Can’t have the rope giving way if we’re all trying to escape down it at once. Then again...” Harrison stood up and looked down over the edge dramatically at our little raft bobbing up and down on the icy waves, “ can always jump.”

He gave the rope one last tug – the steel bar not moving an inch in its trench – and jogged on ahead to catch up with the others. Lewis was leading the way with Lex close behind. His eyes were never off that stupid motion sensor. It had now started to emit a highly irritating bleeping noise, approximately once a second, apparently this meant we were getting closer. As I trenched along the ice trying to regain some feeling in my finger tips I had started to have my own ideas that any lizards we were hoping to find out here would surely be out of here at the first sound of that annoying bleeping.

We walked for a long time. It was easily about three miles and must have taken at least an hour in the conditions. The thing with Antarctica is it can all change so quickly. The blue skies and calm, mill-pond, seas can swiftly turn into a black shadowy storm cloud filled sky and angry waves. The wind had picked up and it had started to snow quite heavily. Amazingly, snow fall meant that the temperature had actually risen a few degrees, but it certainly didn’t feel like it. I had my spiked snow boots on, thermal unders, water proofs over the top, gloves, thermal under hat, woolly hat over that, my hood was up on my jacket and my goggles shielded my eyes. I was certainly well protected from the cold, but the goggles were clouding over with my perspiration. The combination of the misty goggles and the snow storm outside made it difficult to see. All I knew was that regardless of what I could see, as long as I kept following that bleeping I would keep on track.

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