Sling load

November 25th, 2002

We're in separate helos. Tony gets one, I get the other. I'm flying with Barry, a pilot I've had dinner with a bunch of times.

He shows me how to open the various compartments. Where the gear will be stored. Where the survival kit is if we crash and I survive.

We load the stuff in the pod on the skid. I hop in the front, squeeze into my white helmet and plug in the intercom jack. The helo tech hands me my belt straps over my shoulders. Can't reach backward that far in the red parka without him.

Barry makes a bunch of radio calls. They tells us the tail rotor is clear. The engine winds up. Then we're up. He flies over to our box hovers over a helo tech holding a cable with a hook. The guy attaches the hook to the bottom of the hovering machine and steps away.

With a twist of his wrist we're up. I can't feel the 700 box lifting below us. A sling load as it's known in helicopter terminology.

We head out over the Sound. For the next thirty minutes it's me and Barry over the ice. Then over the land. He considers taking me over the mountains instead of down the throat of the valley, but the clouds at the peaks are dense and he's not flying where it's not VFR conditions.

Over New Harbor, Barry makes sure I have a good view so I can get pictures of the camp. Up the valley to Lake Bonney. He gingerly lowers us until our cargo touches the ground, releases the cable, and then we're off.

I get out at Lake Hoare. There are some old friends here. They're heading out to another glacier to take measurements. They get into the helo I get out of.

I wave "bye" to Barry as if he's just given me a ride to the hardware store. I unload the pod. The glaciologists hop into the helo and they're off.

It takes me a good two hours to erect my tent. I'm missing a tent pole so the door kind of flaps. And I positioned the opening near a large rock I'll inevitably trip over getting into and out of. (or not).

It's below freezing and I'm going to be sleeping outside for a week.

There's still snow on the ground here at Lake Hoare. People are more quiet than they were last year.

My tent is at the foot of the Canada Glacier, in the shadow of the great blue ice. I'm back in its world, and I admit a part of me is uncomfortable with it. Maybe even afraid.

The sun circles overhead. It's never dark.

Everything is blue, white, and gold. It doesn't feel real. It doesn't translate into anything I'm used to. I feel like a cat walking on a plate glass window. I feel like a ghost.

This is really far away. I didn't feel it last year. But I do now.