Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas on Antarctica

Well, it's Christmas on Antarctica! Santa Clause did not forget us, even though we're so far from home! He brought me a little stuffed cat that meows, so that I won't miss my cat back at home. Reindeer aren't allowed to come into the Taylor Valley, because they are not native here and their hooves might damage the ecosystem, so Santa had to come by helicopter. This made him very easy to spot! His elves also came with him and brought along cookies!
But, even though it's Christmas, we still had some work to do before we could enjoy the holiday.

In the morning, Mike and I hiked one of the elevation transects. This is similar to what we did several days ago on the other side of the lake. We hiked up about 1,000 feet along the edge of the valley. Once we got up to the top of the transect, we had a quick lunch , then started walking down to take soil samples at regular intervals along the way. We used the GPS to mark where we took samples, so that we know the exact location and how high up we were. We'll measure the chemical properties of the soil at each of the different elevations, from up at 1,000 feet all the way down to the lake. It was very hard, because we were carrying some heavy equipment and parts of it were very steep. Mike says, "The problem with doing the elevation transects is that you work really hard to get to the top, and your only reward is a beef stick and the opportunity to turn around and come right back down." That is very true! We ended up hiking about 10 miles total for the whole transect, so we were very tired!

While at the top of the transect, I had a really good view of the Fryxell Lake basin of Taylor Valley. Here is a panoramic video of the scenery I shot while we were eating lunch:
video

After working on the transect, we were ready to walk around the lake for Christmas dinner with the rest of our group and the NASA scientists. Since it was a special occasion, we tidied up as best we could. Since we can't use a lot of water, we had to find creative ways to clean up! Mike demonstrates how to take a proper Antarctic shower for Christmas dinner:
video

When Mike and I moved across the lake to this camp, we were able to take a helicopter. This time we had to walk! We were already very tired, and had to walk another hour and a half for dinner! But, it was worth it! Doug had made a great dinner for the group. We had turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, asparagus, and biscuits. Plus, Elizabeth made gingerbread and an apple & pear pie for dessert! We ate a lot of food and had a good time together. Here's a picture of all of us around the dinner table.

Luckily, when it was time to walk back, someone drove Mike and I back to our home in the camp across the lake. I'm very glad we didn't have to walk another hour and a half! We rode on the back of an ATV across the frozen lake, which only took 15 minutes. Here's the view we had off of the back of the ATV on the lake ice:

Overall, we had a good Christmas here in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica! We worked hard and did a lot of hiking. I think this is the only Christmas in my whole life for which I've had a net loss of calories, rather than a gain! And now, it's finally time for some hard-earned rest! Merry Christmas, from the bottom of the planet (and the farthest point on Santa's journey)!

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