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> August 21, 2006 - The Race is On!
post Aug 29 2006, 05:16 PM
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Group: TREC Team
Posts: 28
Joined: 12-April 06
Member No.: 29

Frustration and worry are seen on the face of every member of the team as morning greets us with yet another bad weather day. If we donít get to the quarry, there is a chance we will depart the field with few fossil samples. Plus, there is much work to be done on the prized pachyrhinosaur skull still entombed in the quarry.

There are two forces of nature working against us: cold and rain (at times snow). The reason cold and rain are problematic is because the plaster used for jacketing the fossils will not set properly under such conditions. If the jacket is not tight and set properly, the fossils will be damaged as they are transported off the quarry.

The weather and demands of Arctic field work are taking a physical toll on everyone. Today, the stresses of camp life would final culminate. First, we had to activate the ELB (Emergency Locator Beacon) to alert Search and Rescue to find our camp for a medical evacuation. One team member is exhibiting signs of a torn retina and must have it immediately looked at to prevent the potential problem from becoming worse. While waiting for the helicopter to arrive from Barrow, Tony decides to take advantage of a break in the weather to try getting to the quarry.

With only one functioning boat, Tony transports us to the bluff in two trips. The first trip carries the two stronger members of the team and the second carries the two smaller members. When we arrive at the bottom of the bluff below the quarry, we observe that many portions of our primitive trail to the top have slumped away due to the excessive precipitation.

The two larger men cannot establish a new trail because their larger frames make negotiating the thick mud not only impossible, but dangerous. Furthermore, one of the members suffers from a damaged knee and smartly decides to remain at the bottom. Tony, despite suffering from pneumonia, suggests the lighter members try cutting a new trail. Using shovels and mattocks we fight our way to the top, but not without some precarious falls on the way.

Another set back is realized when we arrive at the quarry; a large slump fell on the quarry burying the partially jacketed skull under mud and debris. With no time to complain, we begin re-excavating the site as the rain again begins to fall. When the area around the skull is finally returned to a workable condition, we realize yet another problem. The final portion of the quarry that must be excavated to release the skull is solid rock. Taking turns, we use a three-pound sludge hammer and cold chisel to chip away at the matrix. Good fortune finally surfaces when one of the stronger team members arrives. The fact that he is covered from head to toe in mud tells much of the labor he endured clambering up the slipper slopes of the bluff.

IPB Image
Thomas Adams and Chris Strganac race to complete the jacket around the skull.

Due to the cold, we must heat water on a portable camp stove to try and make conditions better for the plaster to set. Burlap, water, and sweat fly as we race to complete the jacket. The only task that remains is rolling the massive jacket over and plastering the underbelly. However, the rain has increased to a tremendous downpour and Tony decides we must head down. The decent is like a bad dream. The trail we cut earlier is gone and new channels of water cascade down the bluff. We slip often and use our tools to arrest our falls. When we finally reach the boat at the bottom, all agree that we cannot attempt climbing the bluff again Ė the danger is too great.

IPB Image
Chris Strganac uses a mattock to stop his fall down the muddy bluff trail.

Tomorrow we will have to rely on the helicopter to transport us to quarry. Plus, we will have to work with lightening speed to ready the skull. Tomorrow is our last day. If the skull is not ready it will have to be left behind. It appears the Arctic is not ready to release this prize to us without a fight.
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