After Dr Chris Stokes had left, it was time for us to return to Tierra del Fuego for our final ten days in the field. We worked hard and managed to achieve a great deal, though the weather became steadily worse as the Patagonian autumn properly arrived.
We started by finishing our project looking at soil depths in the area (see our last blog post). Many, many soil pits later, we felt at one with the Fuegian earth and had it well and truly ingrained in our skin, our ears, our hair and under our nails. Continually sticking our heads down small soil pits, with the wind eddying around, meant there was silt everywhere!
We also spent some time at another of the groups of giant erratic boulders, which are thought to have been carried down from Cordillera Darwin by an ice-lobe in the past. Like before, we were studying their location, size and physical properties to assess how they might have come to be deposited and what the weather has done to them since. These boulders were the most impressive yet – they are so large that you can see them from many kilometers away. However, the terrain was much tougher to traverse and spiky bushes and dense, waist-high shrubs were everywhere so that our legs are now scratched and scarred from traipsing from boulder to boulder. Luckily, we found a cracking spot for our tent, and left it there for several days to return to in the evenings. We were treated to stunning sunsets, looking out over the vast, low expanse of northern Tierra del Fuego whilst we ate our dinner. As the sun sank low beneath the clouds, the yellow grass turned a golden orange against the grey skies – always a perfect way to finish a long day. (For anyone interested, our dinner was always a variation on pasta or instant mashed potato and always hit the spot nicely!)
The rest of the days were spent checking Chris’ mapping of the glacial geomorphology, and in particular focusing on more complex areas where the ice-lobe might have retreated but then re-advanced over the same position in the past. Then, all-too-suddenly, Sunday arrived and that was it, we had finally reached the end of our seven weeks of fieldwork. We said goodbye to Tierra del Fuego in driving rain. A pity, but then it saved Chris from getting sentimental – he now has a year and a half back in Durham to complete his Ph.D.!
However, the challenges were not quite over. Firstly, we had to negotiate a non-time-change. That is to say, the clocks were not supposed to go back…but did. On Sunday, every electronic device and computer went back by one hour for the winter period. However, we later discovered that the Chilean government had decided that the time should not change for a couple of weeks! Confused? We certainly were, and so were the Chileans. Apparently, even the national news channel was broadcasting the wrong time for most of the day!
We also had the heart-wrenching task of deciding which samples to ship back to the UK for analysis. Moreover, we had to actually get the samples shipped, which was by no means simple. Amid a lengthening queue at the courier service, we explained in our very best Spanish that we wanted to send two cool-boxes full of gravel back to the UK. This raised many questions from the staff – most pressing of which being why on earth we wanted to do it! Chris was heard to mutter “las rocas son muy importantes para mí” (the height of his Spanish abilities) though we figured an explanation of past glacial processes was probably a bit much for both sides.
Eventually, the samples were sent, the vehicle was returned to the rental company and everything was packed away. Needless to say, after several weeks of almost non-stop work, we are now shattered. But we have a few days to rest, recuperate and see a little bit more of Patagonia before our flights back home. The plan is to go and find some real ice…