January 27, 2009
We took a day trip to Cape Crozier today, from McMurdo Station, to measure our penguin chicks one last time before the season ends.
The 45-minute helicopter flight was pretty spectacular. Instead of being crammed in the cargo area of a hulking 212 helo with 800 pounds of gear and a helitech to help shift things around, today we hopped in a small A Star with one pilot and no gear. What a relief! I sat in the copilot seat for the trip and took photos out the front windows while the pilot pointed out interesting terrain features below. We flew along high cliff faces, over crevasse fields, glaciers, and around 12,000′ Mount Terror, under sunny skies.
It was nice to spend one last afternoon at Cape Crozier, though our stay was cut short by a creeping fog bank that threatened to strand us – we lifted out through an open patch, turning our backs, as fog obscured the penguin colony. The return flight, hemmed in by low-lying fog and mid-level overcast, with snowy mountains on one side and icy sea on the other, was “like playing inside a ping-pong ball”, as our pilot put it – hard to judge definition in any surrounding surface. There was quite a traffic jam at Crozier today, actually; three separate helicopters dropped crews for the day to board up the windows of our hut, yank the comms gear, and get the place ready for a long winter.
So, we’ve seen the last of our field camp for the season. It was weird to see crews stripping down the building today, what was for so long our cozy place. Tomorrow we will take another helicopter day trip, to Cape Royds, to measure and band chicks at the colony there, and those will be the last penguins I see for a while! Time flies!