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Mike Leahy's Diary

Day 23: Speed and Melt of Glacier

As usual Mike and I go to Ricky's place to get a ‘special' hot chocolate. The other guys stop to pick us up in the Landcruiser. Ellen is sat in the front and doesn't say a word. She is ill. Steve (the boss) is stressed. He realises that we are now a man down. It will cause big problems for filming. Must be the ‘botanist's blight' again.

Kathy, J and I prepare to go to the glacier. I'm a little worried. I have problems with heights, especially slippery ones. Kathy has a list. We start to check through it. Better safe than sorry.. The helicopter arrives as arranged at nine thirty. It has no storage pod for the gear. We measured the stuff up specially. It's never going to fit in the cockpit. Because Ellen is ill things are confused. We are not ready to leave. The pilot leaves, ready to come back in half an hour.

Jonathan and MikeEventually we are airborne. The flight is one of the best so far. The glacier is beautiful. From high above it looks soft and smooth. This couldn't be further from the truth because the surface is wracked with crevasses, cracks and lumps which are made of rock hard ice. We land near where the helihikers are dropped off, unload some gear and walk towards the area where we are to work. Of course every movement has to be filmed so progress is painfully slow. It doesn't bother me. I'm hardly nimble on hard packed snow and ice - never even managed to ski or skate. Surprisingly Kate isn't much better. She is nervous and unsteady too. In fact she is the first to fall over - on camera - I am the second. J falls over. Five minutes later he falls again. He is struggling with the two huge protractors. We find somewhere to put the flag in the glacier which should be visible from the solid rock. J and Kathy toss a coin to see who will put the flag in the tall pinnacle. Kathy wins, meaning she won't be at the baseline to take readings. This is obviously no problem for us because a monkey could draw the diagrams and take the angles necessary - even a virologist/ecologist.

Mike and KateWe move on. My load is ungainly and sways wildly as I try to climb up a crest of ice. We stop for lunch. Around us the glacier is moving. The movement is too slow to see but the evidence is all around us. A whole heap of ice plunges down a nearby ‘icefall' while stones and rocks roll down ice slopes close to us. Above us a big rock teeters over a melting ice wall. It is sure to be gone in a few days, just hope that it doesn't fall on us. The discussion goes on, physicists are like that I reckon. They think that they are seeking the truth maybe. Time isn't so important.

After a great lunch we press on and take one set of measurements. For sure it's not enough to accurately determine how quickly the glacier is moving, but at least we should get a half decent reading.

We get our kit together and prepare for the helicopter to pick us up. When the helicopter finally settles down its tail is hanging over a precipitous drop. We pile into the helicopter and head for the ‘Alma Hut' where we are to stay for the night. The Alma Hut was built in 1922 and it shows. Whilst nostalgic, the interior is a little threadbare.

I speak to Chris (our guide) as he cooks. We are all in high spirits. Chris tells us that the glacier moves a bit like a freight train, stopping, then shifting, then settling before jumping forward again. Once it moved ten metres in three days. It can shift very quickly "a nightmare to walk on".

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Photo: Mike Leahy
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