As well as installing new GPS receivers and seismometers, part of my role down here is to check on the health of other GPS receivers in the region. In particular, a GPS deployed a few years ago on Cape Framnes - around 75km from Cape Disappointment - needed an upgrade of the electronics board.
Although this site had been visited a few years previously, there was no way of knowing the current snow conditions, and as we circled above the outcrop on our first visit it was clear there were plenty of crevasses around. Our pilot, Alan, deftly landed the Twin Otter away from the cracks, but we were about 4km from the outcrop, and with time ticking on and gale force winds outside we knew we’d need to come back another day.
Photo: gratuitous penguin photo
On our second visit the conditions were probably actually pretty similar, and strong gusting winds made the final approach in the Twin Otter pretty exciting, but Al (different one) still landed us amazingly smoothly. Eager to get on, we enthusiastically jumped out of the plane, only to be faced with a strong, biting wind. I jumped back in and put another layer on!
With back-up from Sam and Al (yet another one), it took us about 90 mins to pull the kit down to the outcrop from the plane and get cracking with the work. I should say here that Sam did all the pulling, Al looked out for crevasses, and I mainly tried to stay upright on my skis. In unknown terrain like this you need to all be roped up as you ski along, and each person needs to have enough equipment on their harness – ice screws, karabiners, pulleys, jumars, slings, ice axe etc. – to be able to rescue one of the others if they fall in a crevasse. The rope-work is all fairly common sense, but crevasse rescue is the one thing I try to practice before every mountaineering trip since there is unlikely to be anyone around to help if your partner disappears into a hole.
Photo: Cape Framnes GPS receiver with solar panels in the background - the solar panels are the main power supply during summer months.
We made it safely to the outcrop, and servicing the equipment took around 90 minutes. Things weren't helped by strong gusting winds and cold fingers, but Al did a great job of securing things down so they didn’t blow away, and luckily Sam has amazing circulation, so he took on the more fiddly tasks as we changed over the electronics board. A quick satellite call confirmed that the site was up and running, and transmitting data to the outside world. Success!
Photo: The new electronics board, successfully installed and about to be locked in a weather-proof box to endure another winter.
We celebrated with a large bar of chocolate before starting the slog back to the plane, uphill, into a headwind…