Chapter 1: Discoveries
Who am I? Mister almost average, A very fit 1.73 metres tall. Nothing out standing in the looks department, just average. Brown hair, light blue eyes, average. If anything my nose might be a little on the large size, but not to large at least that's what I think, you can never tell. The bloody thing sticks out between my eyes, can't focus on it. The only outstanding feature are my face and hands, they are brown. I'm not talking about a little sun bathing brown, I'm talking about sun baked brown from years of baking above the snow line. I have a lot of lines on my face, not crows feet around my eyes, I'm talking about ravines etched into my face. My Mum says I look like a 80 year old dried up prune. The rest of my body is white, so white that when the sun shines off it, it will blind everyone around me. Well that's about me except my age, believe or not I'm not a young man of 20 I'm 36. Yes that's right, average.
I'm a single man. Could never find some one to share my life with. Don't know what it is about me or my life that they find so wrong. Maybe its sleeping up a 100 metre cliff with nothing more than a harness and a couple of carabiners stopping you from plunging to your death, or maybe it's spending three day's stuck in a snow cave at 8,000 metres while a blizzard howls out side. Maybe they just like their beds to much, don't get me wrong I like my bed as well. It's just I'm born to this, to hike, to climb, to ski, it's adventure. I'm just a big kid with a very large backyard to play in.
Oh I'm sorry I still haven't answered my opening question. Who am I? Well that depends, most call me Tony Blair. But there is one that calls me by my true name. I get a shiver ever time I hear it. I break out in a cold sweat ever time I hear it. My mind holds nothing but fear every time I hear it. "ANTHONY THOMAS BLAIR GET YOUR ARSE IN HERE." Yep it's my Mum. I have learnt long ago when she uses my true name there is no hiding place she can't find, no fortification strong enough to withstand her blows. Even my dad runs to the hills when my true name echo's off the mountains. The best I can do is to look at her with the best innocent eye's I can manage and say " It wasn't me mum it was Blackie. " Has it ever worked? Nope! Mothers have a sixth sense, I call it the lieometer.
So that brings me to the where and now.
Where am I? Well I'm on a hill that is part of the Transantarctica Mountain Range. A hill not big enough to warrant a name, the best they could do is give it a number. Hill 1764. It's significance, it is a hill that sits on the edge of the great Polar Plateau, next to one of the many glaciers that flows to the sea.
Which brings me to the when. I know it is January 2006, but to what day I think it might be the 19th can't be sure, it could just as easy be the 18th or 20th. Does it matter, not to me.
Now the why. First of all to set up a weather station on a ridge about 2/3 up this hill. I was dropped off by chopper with the station. The hardest part was bolting the stays to the bedrock. That only took a few hours to do. Next I set up the station and tightened the stays checked that the gauges are working. It is a simple station it has a cup anemometer, cup generator, wind direction gauge, thermometer and a barometer. It is all controlled by a small computer and the data is transmitted by a satellite transceiver. All powered by a small battery charged by the generator. The other part to the mission is to collect rock and mineral samples and then head to base camp on the plateau. Simple.
It is here that this story begins. It is up to you to believe or not to believe, but please remember it is your fate that I am trying to save.
Here I am about 100 metres past the first sample site torch in hand, peering into a ice cave I've just found on the side of the hill. It seemed odd that there is such a cave only 200k's from the South Pole, how did it form, why isn't it filled with snow or ice. I decide to investigate, but first better contact Base Camp. Turning the torch off and fumbling for the radio in the side pocket on my back pack.
" Ted you awake yet " I said into the mic.
After a few seconds " Bloody hell Blair don't you ever sleep it's 4:30 for Christ sake " Ted said with annoyance.
" Sorry to wake you Ted, found something interesting. A ice cave "
" A cave " Ted said " Ice caves can't form this side of the mountains "
" That's what I thought as well, but here I am standing outside of one " I said
" What is it a thermal vent or something "
" No can't be, these mountains are tectonic in nature not volcanic. Thought I might have a look see what's formed it "
"O.K. Be careful, your two hours from any help from McMurdo and I'm sure as hell not going to climb up there to pull your sorry arse off that mountain "
" Yep will be, the cave seams to go into the hill for some distance, can't see the face, thought I might grab some breakfast first then head in " I said " Ted are they getting good telemetry from the station"
" Yes they called last night and said they where getting good readings "
"O.K. Ted I'll give you a call when I come out of the cave"
" O.K. Tony be careful, base out"
With a heave I sit the back pack down on ice. I open the top flap and extract a cooker and a billy( small Pot ) and then scrap snow into the billy. Lighting the cooker I places the billy on it and sit down to wait for the snow to melt then boil.
I look out to the Polar Plateau stretching out before me, What a fantastic sight, ice as far as the eye can see. The Sun sitting at about 20degs above the horizon allowing long shadows to form on the irregular surface of the Plateau. It is hard to believe that at one time many Moons ago parts of Antarctica was north of the Equator.
My thoughts move to the beginning of this adventure, it all started 4 weeks ago when we flew out of Christchuch on a RNZAF Hercules Aircraft, heading for Scott Base, Antarctica. Five hours later I was standing on the ice shelf. The first thing you notice is the ice laden winds blowing up the Ross Ice Shelf.
The first few days we organize all of the supplies we have brought down with us, Food, Diesel fuel and various other bits and pieces.
The first trip away from Scott Base was to Mount Erebus to check on the seismic recorders and to collect samples of ores and minerals.
Which then brings to second mission witch is a joint mission with the Americans.
This is the primary reason I'm up here is to set up a weather station to monitor the Katabatic Winds, that done, I am also here to collect samples of minerals and Ore. There are Two places that is free from ice and snow that I plan on getting my samples, one not far from were I had set up the weather station. The other being a few hundred meters down the mountain. I was heading for that face when I came across this cave.
"It's impossible, it's facing South, it should be all ice"
Looking at my Billy I see the snow has melted and the water is nearly boiling. Opening the back pack I remove my cup, Coffee, Powdered Milk and a Beef Stew MRE.
Turning off the cooker I poor the Coffee, Powdered Milk and boiling water into the cup.
Mixing the chemicals in the MRE to heat it I then put it down pick up the cup and take a couple of sips.
Tearing open the MRE I start to eat the stew. Not the best but adequate.
My thoughts go back to the time my Father would take me on hikes up in the mountains behind our farm. Love those mountains love the feel, taste and smell.
The farm is situated in the Matokitoki Valley bordering the Mt Aspiring National Park in the Southern Alps of New Zealand. It is here that I grew to love Mineralogy and Geology. My Father was a amateur Mineralogist and Fossil hunter, it is he that taught me about Mineralogy until I went to the Otago University to get my Doctorit in Mineralogy and a Degree in Geology. We have a large room in the back of our farm house that is dedicated to our samples, all cut and polished to show the ore and crystals. Our collection has come from all over the World either by getting them ourselves or by swapping with colleagues.
With the MRE finished I place the empty package into the side pocket of my pack. Take the last two gulps of my coffee and pack everything back in its place.
Lifting the pack on my back I enter the cave. After a few Metres I smell something sweet. I remove my Parka hood then the goggles and then the Balaclava. Not only is there a smell, there is also a breeze, a warm breeze. This cannot be! There is no sulphur smell that you would expect from thermal or volcanic activity. So where is this warm air coming from. The light starts to fade the further I move from the entrance. I decide to use the gas lantern rather than the torch. Lighting the lantern I notice that I am now into the strata, oddly smooth as if it has been machined.
" What has formed this. This has to be man made, it's to smooth. Weathering can't produce this, Lava tubes are not this smooth so it has to be man made " I said to my self.
Looking down the cave he sees that it is oval in shape, at a uniform height heading down at about 10 deg's and rotating to the left. There is no more ice in the cave and seems to be getting warmer.
I again remove the pack. Then I remove my Gloves, Arctic Parka, Crampon's from my boots and pack them away, lifting the pack back up I head down the cave. After walking for 15 minutes I stop and I take a couple swigs of water from my water flask. While pondering the situation the cave is still smooth still going down at about 10 deg's still spiralling to the left. The temperature has got to be about 15 deg C still has that sweet smell which reminds me of a Pine forest after a summer rain. Thinking aloud I say " This has to be man... " His thoughts are interrupted buy a loud mechanical THUD! Then a few seconds later another Thud! This one sounded further away. " What is this place? "
Moving tentatively forward I come across a metal door with metal slats covering most of the inner part. Reaching out I push the door open. Inside is a metal chamber of a bout 5 metres long. At the far end is another door similar to this one. I walk up to the second door and push it, it doesn't move. I try pulling it. It doesn't move. I look around and see a light in the wall about 20cm's square, I try pushing that. I then hear a Wack! And then THUNK! Coming from behind me. I turn around to see the first door closed. " This is not looking good " I said to myself. I try the second door again. Nothing! I turn around and head back for the first door, before I reach it I hear a loud Shhh... ! " This is definitely not good " my voice becomes horse. I start coughing from the thick air and become dizzy collapsing to my knees.
Base Camp +2 1/2 Hours
" Base camp to Blair " Ted said into the mic...
" What do you think he's not answering. Should we call it into McMurdo or wait a little longer "
" No harm calling it in. There is nothing they can do till tomorrow, the weather is closing in they will not be able to get here before then " Will said
" Yeh. I suppose your right. How long till that storm hits us. "
" Hour- hour and half. Wind is already picking up "
" What about Amundsen would they be able to help "
" Nope they are in the same boat having to wait the storm out "
" Shit! Not a lot we can do, might as well call McMurdo " Ted said with indigences as he turns the channel selector. " Base camp to McMurdo "
" Base camp to McMurdo "
" McMurdo here is that you Ted "
" Yeh its me, is the Commander about, we seem to have lost Blair "
" That be right put him down in the corner and then he disappears. The Commander is in the Café, it'll take a couple of minutes "
" I'll wait "
Several minutes later " Ted what's this Blair gone missing. "
" That's right John, He found a cave and went exploring, Haven't heard from him since, that was 2 1⁄2 hours ago "
" Shit, with this storm coming there not a lot we can do till tomorrow afternoon when it blows out. Well it's to early to start panicking, You keep trying to contact him if he doesn't answer you by 1:00 this afternoon then well start organizing search and rescue teams. "
" sounds good, O.K. I'll give you a call at 1.00pm if not before, talk to you later John "
" O.K. Ted, take care "
Ted rotates the dial back to it's original position " Base camp to Blair "
" Base camp to Blair "
Putting the mic down Ted said " If that bugger has broken his neck I'm going to kill him "
McMurdo Base 1:00pm.
" Base camp to McMurdo "
" Hey Ted any word "
" No Andy, Not a whisper, will you let John know "
" Will do, hows the storm "
" The storm o.k. Gust up to 140k's temp is -21 deg's "
" O.K. Ted we will get the S&R teams organized. Is there any thing you need "
" Yes we are getting low on gas cannisters. You might want to throw a few in the chopper "
" Will do, John will want to talk to you latter until then take it easy "
" O.K. Andy see yah "
Andy picks up the radio remote and heads down the hall to the commanders office. Knocking on the door he hears " Enter " opening the door he says
" Ted just called, No contact with Blair "
" Shit, contact the Kiwi's let them know what's happening, contact Amundsen organize a team there and do the same with the Aussies. You better let Christchurch Know as well. I'll set a couple of teams from here then call Ted "
" Will do " Andy turns and heads back to the radio room.
John picks up the phone and dials the hanger and hears " Grease Pit "
" Hello Frank, don't know if you have heard we have a Kiwi missing and I am planning a S&R for tomorrow after the storm clears "
" Yeh I've heard do you want both choppers "
" Yes both, extra food and LPG for base camp and give the choppers a light service "
" We are doing a service know and will get some MRE and cannisters "
" Good, there will be a planning meeting at 4:00pm bring that evil twin jockey with you "
" Frank Laughing " will do, see you then "
John switch's the phone then dials operations "Operations "
" Good afternoon William's, how's it going "
" Good John, What can I do for you "
" Heard about our lost kiwi "
" Yes the rumour mill is up and running, so what s the plan "
" Two S&R teams of four from here, one from Amundsen and hopefully one from the Aussies flying out as soon as the weather turns probable late tomorrow morning early afternoon. Can you get the teams together, kit them and post the flight plans to and from hill 1764. We probably won't have much flight time over the search area due to fuel restrictions but try to extend it as as safety allows. There will be a meeting 16:00 hours be there with the two teams."
" Sounds good I will be there John, need anything else "
" No can't think of any thing but if you can let me know. Thanks William's see you at 16:00"
" O.K. John see you "
John walks to the radio room " Hi Andy "
" Hi John, talked to the Kiwi's they said if we need any thing let them know. They do have an experienced mountain hugger that would like to volunteer. The rumour mill is working well Amunndsen already knows about our missing climber and are setting up a S&R team. The Aussies are having a few problems with their chopper but said it should be up tomorrow with a team. Talked to Christchurch they will prep. a Galaxy Starlifter with a chopper and a S&R team on board. They will wait for your word to come down. They will also let Blair's family know that he is missing."
" Good. That just leaves Ted. Do you mind contacting him for me. "
With a nod Andy key's the mic. " McMurdo to base camp"
" Hey Andy "
" Any word from our lost soul "
" No not a whisper, been trying every 15 minutes nothing "
" I've got John here he wants to have a chat "
" O.K. "
" Hey Ted. What can you tell me about where he was where he was going."
" Hello John. The info I have is speculative at best. But first let start with what we do know. We know that he camped at the weather station last night. He called at 9 o'clock to let us know that the weather station was set-up and running. The next morning he was to go to his first way point about 150 metres to the west, to an exposed rock face to collect his samples. Then he was to go to his second way point about 1200 metres down and to the west of the first way point, then he was to tramp to base camp of about 3k's. He was not due here till 12 O'clock today. We also know he called at 4:30 this morning when he found the cave. This is where I start guessing, he would have fallen a sleep about 10:00 last night, he usually sleeps for about 5 hours that makes it about 3:00am when he gets up. More than enough time for him to break camp and to reach his first way point. How much time he spent at the first way point I don't know. He may have been travelling to the second way point but I doubt he has travelled far from the first way point. This is where I suggest we put a couple of teams. I take it you will be putting more than two teams into service."
" Yes Ted. There will be four, two from here, one from Amundsen and one from the Aussies. The choppers from here will only have enough fuel to drop the teams off before heading back to base to refuel. The Amundsen chopper should have a little more time to do a search about 15 minutes and also they should arrive a lot earlier since the storm should clear earlier tomorrow up there. I will put them at way point one. Then I'll put one team at the weather station, one at way point two and one in between way points 1&2. You will have to stay there to act as a radio relay station. We are having a planing meeting at 4:00 to organize search grids. With luck we should find him quickly. Is there any thing your going to need?"
" I've already told Andy that we need a few bottles of gas might as well get some batteries for the radio. Otherwise we are fine. We do have all the ice cores ready to be picked up."
" O.K. We will arrange that for the second lift and if there is anything from the meeting that you will need to know we will call."
"Thanks John, Base out."
McMurdo 16:00 Hours
" O.K. gents lets get started. Thanks Williams for setting this up. " For the next hour John explains grid search patterns for all teams as well as kit food and radio frequencies. They went over chopper flight routes, refuelling, search patterns and radio frequencies. He also told Andy to send all info to the Aussies highlighting there search responsibilities and also told Williams to do the same with Amundsen Team.
" Gentleman please play it safe don't take any risks, find Blair and or the cave. The storm will have covered any tracks and may have covered the cave entrance so use your pick handles to feel around. Get a good nights sleep tomorrow is going to be a big day. That's all."
John added " Andy! Give Ted a call see if he has heard from Blair."
" Will do "