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, “...you 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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