Lots of work, some progress

Saturday 24th March. Posted by Miriam Jackson

It’s a late start today as everybody catches up on their sleep, and breakfast is several hours later than usual at 10 a.m. Eventually we all wander up to the research shaft, 1.5 km up the tunnel from the living quarters.

First on the agenda today is to continue with trying to open the borehole to install the two new load cells. We find a large crowbar with a flat end, and I shove that down the borehole and hit it with a hammer. Because the pressure of the glacier has squeezed the ice tunnel during the night making it much smaller, there’s just room to swing the hammer. Progress is slow but at least there’s some.

In between hammering the crowbar into the borehole, we shoot water into the hole under high pressure. Bits of gravel come up and at one point even a piece of cable from the old load cell that we had removed from the hole on Thursday.

We notice that the crowbar is going further and further into the hole each time. Just as well, as it means there’s still room to swing the hammer, despite the hole getting smaller. At the bottom of the borehole there is a long stretch of cable hanging out. Pulling on it stretches the cable, but we are careful not to pull too hard and break it off. Suddenly it gives way on one pull, and Pierre-Marie falls on his back.  The hole is still blocked, so it’s back to hammering and pumping water in.

After a while we realise that what’s blocking the borehole is an old piece of wood. Now we have to be careful to try and get it out, rather than simply hammering it further out of reach. An instrument is fashioned out of an old thin piece of copper pipe and a bent nail. This is often how we get things accomplished in the tunnel – by looking around and seeing what is available and then modifying it to fit our needs. This makeshift grappling hook eventually does the job and we think the borehole is open. However, all this time the glacier was pressing down on the ice tunnel we had melted out. The space is now very small making it difficult to work and we go back to melting ice.

Meanwhile, Alex has been busy trying to get the All Terrain vehicle to work. The tunnel isn’t the best long-term storage place for a vehicle, and it is very unreliable – sometimes starting easily and other times refusing to show any sign of life. After trying everything possible, Alex realises that the gear positions are slightly off, and by putting the gear stick slightly off park, is suddenly able to start the vehicle.

This makes moving heavy equipment along the tunnel much easier, and she starts transporting batteries for her GPS receivers that she will place on the glacier later in the spring.

Later on, the pipes blocking the boreholes that were used in the pump tests, (when water is pumped up to the glacier at high pressure to see what affect this has on the glacier) are removed from the boreholes.

We have made some progress today, but it’s been a lot of work for little reward.

Photo 1: Pierre-Marie Lefeuvre, Mathieu Tachon and Alexandra Messerli in the ice cave

Photo 2: Alexandra Messerli, Mathieu Tachon and Pierre-Marie Lefeuvre removing the packers (pipes) that were used in the pump tests.

Photo 3: Alex and Mathieu work on the packers.