(26 November 2014, Antarctica): Day 5: After a long day’s driving in arduous conditions, the Massey Ferguson MF 5610 on the Antarctica2 expedition has successfully negotiated a hazardous crevasse field and steep mountainous terrain heading towards the ‘keyhole’ that will lead onto an ice plateau.
Despite conditions slowing progress, the team clocked up 130km in 15 hours driving across the ice. At times they could travel at only 7km/hr or less, reports Expedition Lead Guide, Matty McNair. “We had to climb some very steep hills, but MF 5610 tractor coped well. Then we had to travel on a sort of ‘sea of Sastrugi’. These are like waves of hard-packed snow - some up to one metre high - and the last 50km was really hard driving,” she said.
These challenging conditions mean the drivers have to concentrate carefully, not only checking for crevasses, but also coping with staring into blindingly strong sunlight for hours on end. They are, however, appreciating the forward visibility afforded by the tractor’s slim, steeply sloping bonnet (hood), which helps them to clearly see the ground ahead. While on a farm this helps operators keep on course, in Antarctica it could mean the difference between life and death.
After driving non-stop, and climbing all day they finally made camp at midnight at an altitude of 3000m. At this height temperatures dropped substantially - down to minus 38 degrees C, which with wind chill taken into consideration, plummeted to a bone-numbing minus 56 degrees C. “It makes it really hard to breathe in this kind of air,” says Matty, “Everything is freezing around our faces and neck gaiters. Just wicked cold!”
Despite being cold and tired, the team’s work at camp continues. Having travelled for 15 hours alongside the tractor, freelance photographer Simon Foster along with Sarah McNair, a polar guide and photographer set to work editing and processing the stunning still and video images they had taken during the day.
Still at work at 1.30am, in a makeshift office in one of the support trucks, they begin the long and often difficult job of transmitting these back to base via a satellite communication system, ready to be uploaded and sent out to the world the following day.