Written by Erin Phillips Writer
After a hearty Sunday brunch at McMurdo station, Ken, Paul, Dan, and I went out for an afternoon on the snowmobiles. This outing would allow those of us with no prior snowmobile experience to become more comfortable with the machines, as we will be using them for sampling rocks in difficult terrain during the coming weeks. We gathered our gear, bundled up, stowed hand warmers in our mittens and headed out across the sea ice (Plate 1). It was a brisk ride; the minimum wind chill for the day was -22°F and the wind speed was over 30 knots for most of the day. We all managed to stay warm on the ride to the Erebus Glacier Tongue, which took about 45 minutes.
The Erebus Glacier Tongue is an elongate seaward extension of a glacier that is surrounded by sea ice at this time of year. Its zigzag pattern looks like a chain saw blade sticking out onto the ice. When we arrived at its northern margin, Ken hopped off his sled and climbed up to a small hole in the vertical ice. He broke away some snow and then disappeared into the hole. A few moments later he poked his head out and told us to turn the snowmobiles off and come on in. We all scrambled into the cave, a welcome shelter from the howling wind (Plate 2).
What we found inside was exquisite. Intricate hexagonal ice crystals and long elegantly curved icicles surrounded us, and blue light bathed the spacious cave (Plates 3 and 4). We were all mesmerized by the place. We stepped and crawled gingerly through the cave to avoid disturbing the ice artwork. I think we could have admired the scene for the rest of the afternoon, but the snowmobiles were getting cold and we didn’t want to take a chance on having them fail to start, so we reluctantly left the cave, revved our engines and pointed our motorized steeds back towards McMurdo station.