May 18, 2017

Glacier Benito Journal: Planning and Preparation

Posted by larryohanlon

See the other posts from this expedition here

By Martin Sessions

Over the next six years, the plan emerged following discussions with Olaf W√ľndrich of ColibriVentura and others. The major requirement was to find a helicopter able to undertake the flights. Olaf undertook a project with Discovery Air Chile and discussed the possibility of the flying to Glacier Benito with the pilot, Rodrigo. Meanwhile I had several jobs having passed the normal retirement age of 65. So the plan developed in late 2016 to hire a helicopter to take us in and out of the Levels on Glacier Benito. We also need a method to extract ourselves with a helicopter in the event of the helicopter not being available.

Olaf 2017.

Mark joined the project with the tasks of photography and flying a quadcopter drone on the expedition. He assisted with obtaining equipment and other items needed for the expedition.

Mark 2017

Olaf worked with another Patagonian Guide, Marcos, on Glacier Exploradores early in 2017 and recommended that he should join the expedition. Marcos joined the team so that it could operate as two groups and also provide instruction and training for me and Mark.

Marcos 2017

The Glacier Exploradores Expedition involved flying a fixed wing X8 drone under the direction of Professor Alun Hubbard of Aberysthwyth University. So we invited Alun to participate to enhance the data collection but Alun had too many commitments. Instead he recommended that his researcher, Johnny, who does most of the drone flying and subsequent data analysis, participate. As a result Johnny joined to make a five man team.

Johnny 2017

Most importantly, Jammie of ColibriVentura was able to facilitate the progress of the expedition through the official channels. Gabriela Gomez of CONAF, Laguna San Rafael National Park, sponsored the expedition for its scientific work.
A difficulty arose in late 2016 and early 2017 in trying to secure the services of the helicopter. The major problem was the serious wild fires that occurred in Regions VI, VII and VIII. which meant that most helicopter resources were being diverted to fight the fires. Once the fires started to die down, we approached Discovery Air Chile in conjunction with Discovery Air Headquarters with our planned start date of 10 April 2017. Discovery Air Chile said they would provide the necessary support. The expedition was on!

Left: Taking Off for Glacier Benito from HMS Endurance in a Whirlwind
December 1972. Right: The Discovery Air Helicopter.

Why choose April? Generally most expeditions in the region take place in the summer months (November to March) so April felt a little risky in terms of weather and shorter days. However e-mail correspondence with pilots over the years indicated that supporting expeditions between November and March interfered with their most productive commercial activity and they reckoned the best flying weather west of the Northern Icefield was in April and May. If we wanted to access the glacier by helicopter then we had to trust their judgement . . .

Jammie and Olaf obtained all the necessary approvals in February and March at short notice including a very tricky one of flying drones. They also sorted out all the logistics, including obtaining the necessary kit and food and how to transport eight barrels of aviation fuel 300 km to Laguna San Rafael.

Map of Operations – Glacier Benito (from LandSat 8).

— Next: Execution — 

This post was originally published here

Martin Sessions was born in Kenya in 1948 but educated in England, finishing up with a degree in Engineering at Cambridge University (Pembroke College). For 28 years, he served in the Royal Navy as an Engineer Officer before migrating to Australia where he is an engineering consultant in Canberra. His first expedition was to Koldukvislarjokull in the North West corner of Vatnajokull, Iceland in 1970. Then followed expeditions to Chilean Patagonia (1972/73) and Liverpool Land, Greenland (1977). Finally he made expeditions to Glacier Benito in 2007, 2011 and 2017 to capitalize on work undertaken there in 1972/73.