35 km, 20 hours of walking, 12 mosquito bites, 6 meltwater streams, 5 sediment samples, 2 packets of Soreen, and 1 tent.
Today we are having a rest day after a tiring two day trek around Blaesdalen. We needed to get to Chamberlain Glacier now that the snow has gone so that we can identify suitable scanning and sampling points. We also had to pitch our tent before returning to Arctic Station to collect the GPR – it was too heavy to take in one journey. In true SEDIGAP style, it turned into quite an adventure.
Our intention had been to hike up the west side of Blaesdalen and then up onto the south side of our own valley. We knew that this would entail finding a way to cross one of the meltwater stream in Blaesdalen, either on the west side (from the gorges entering the valley), or in the main valley itself. The first crossing was an impossibility – a wooden pallet placed half way down a 20 m deep bedrock gorge….
We had to do a U-turn and start up the east side of Blaesdalen with a view to cross the main stream… This was our second fording point, which would have led us nicely onto the Chamberlain moraines….but the water was too rapid to cross safely.
After a brief lunch stop (including the first installment of Soreen – a soft, sticky, raisin malt loaf, for those not familiar with such delights) we made the tough decision that we would have to walk right to the top of Blaesdalen, beyond the stream, and come back down, adding an extra 10 km to our journey. On the bright side, this gave us an excellent opportunity to complete some geomorphologic mapping of the moraines, some of which we have so far only seen on satellite imagery. Kathryn, always ready with a sample bag, was quick to collect some sediment matrix. At our third potential fording point we decided that enough was enough, and we were going to have to wade through the stream. It was merely ankle deep, but very close to its glacial source, and extremely cold. Tim’s face says it all…
We then still had the task of crossing the main channel in Blaesdalen so that we can get to Chamberlain Gletscher. This meant that we had to traverse a good deal of the valley, almost to the top of the valley. The fourth fording point was slightly deeper, up to our knees, though fortunately not as cold. We were finally onto the correct side of the valley!
Another rationing of Soreen later and we started on the ascent to Chamberlain. The 24 hour daylight here came in very handy, and we eventually arrived into the Chamberlain valley at around 10 pm, after 25 km of walking.
The valley has been entirely transformed since we visited in winter, and is virtually unrecognisable. It is filled with black and grey cobbles and pebbles that have been transported straight from the glacier. The stream is twice as powerful as the river in the main Blaesdalen valley making it completely impassible, and is a red colour, rich in suspended load (sands, silts and clays). In the dusky light it made for a very sinister setting to end the day. We have both visited many glacial forelands before – in the Arctic and elsewhere, but we were both completely overawed with the sheer size of this system and the amount of material that was being deposited on an industrious scale. It was essentially a gravel factory.
To get back to Arctic Station, we had two options: cross the stream…or walk all the way back round the valley. We decided, after such a long journey, that the best option was to cook some food on our camping stove, eat some more Soreen, and pitch the tent for the night. As a meltwater enthusiast Kathryn was somewhat overjoyed to be spending the night on a gravel bar. This also meant that she could sneak out early that morning to take some more sediment samples of the fine sediment load in the river.
All fired up on porridge, we made our way down the valley, still in the hope of finding a crossing point onto the south side of the valley. As it was 8am the glacier had had time to cool down overnight, and so the meltwater was less powerful. This gave us a better opportunity to cross the river. We eventually found a suitable point where we could safely wade between the gravel bars. Tim jumped for joy that we had finally made it over the river! We pitched our tent at the base of one of the moraines, leaving it ready for our next trip in a day’s time, and celebrated with a coffee and another piece of Soreen.
Heading down the valley, the sixth and final fording point was the deepest yet, but the river was much less powerful here, and we could finally get back onto the correct side of the valley. We sat down on another gravel bar (Kathryn’s favourite) to have some lunch (including more Soreen) and took a sediment sample before completing the final 2 hour trek back to Arctic Station.
Visiting the valley has given us a valuable insight into the valley configuration, and we now have several things to think about for our sampling strategy. We will spend today reassessing where we can scan with the GPR, identifying points for sediment and water sampling, and tending to our aching muscles!