Getting onto the ice cap with equipment and supplies is nearly impossible around most of the ice cap edge. Nearly everywhere the ice cap edge drops off in sheer cliffs over 100 feet (54 m) high, or the edge is dangerously moving and crevassed.
However, near Thule Air Base was one of the best locations to get up onto the ice cap. A camp was built there and named Camp TUTO (Thule Take Off). Camp TUTO was approximately 22 road miles from Thule, and it was the support center for research and exploration on the ice cap primarily during the years 1953 to 1966.
Major supported camps out on the ice cap were these: Camp Century at about the 138-mile mark inland from Tuto and Camp Fistclench co-located with the Air Force’s former advance radar station Site 2 (N-34) at Mile 218. Arctic survival huts with supply caches were located along the flag marked "road" at 30-mile intervals for emergency survival and rescue if needed.
Numerous specialized Army offices conducted research at TUTO such as the Polar Research and Development Center (PRDC), Ice and Permafrost Research Establishment (SIPRE) and its successor the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL). In September 1958, during the build-up to ice camp construction, Camp TUTO was reportedly home to 450 military personnel, although some were there seasonally.
At Camp TUTO, a mile long gravel access road was extended out onto the ice cap. I went to the end of that road, where it ends on the ice cap, and set up my camera tripod and took a series of panoramic snapshots. (Showing you this is going to be tricky, especially on a mobile device!) It is done in two parts. I taped the photos together then scanned them in five sections. Below are those five scanned sections.
Starting at the top is the most left section and the next one down the page is more around to the right. After the last shot, you can click to see them all electronically connected in a 40-inch (100 cm) wide panoramic shot.
Below is looking down off of the ice cap toward P- Mountain, where we had some long-haul troposcatter communications equipment.
Below is looking back down the 1-mile (1.6 km) access road away from the ice cap. These sleds (called wannigans) were used in many of the research projects out on the ice cap. They have traveled over 1300 miles (2080 km) on the ice cap. One is for cooking and eating in, one for storage, and one is for sleeping in. They had electric lights and appliances, and even hot showers. Between the sleds and in the background is Mt. Dundas, North Star Bay, and Thule Air Base, 22 road miles (35 km) away.
This pan view is scanning around more to the right showing the edge of the road and some ice.
And here is the end of the road on the ice cap. Vehicles went from here the rest of the way on the ice. Navigation was very difficult on the ice cap because there are no landmarks, and there are frequent "whiteouts" at times when the horizon cannot be determined.
This is looking out on to the ice cap. There is a lot of ice out there! The area of the ice sheet has been estimated at 665,000 sq. miles (1,726,400 sq. km). The ice cap maximum elevation is 10,800 ft. (3,300 m). The dark areas visible here were melt water and dirt from the road.
Many types of motorized transportation were tried on the ice cap. One technique was a train made up of a driving unit that had diesel engines driving two electrical generators. The electrical power was sent to sixteen 40-horsepower electric motors on the wheels of four trailer units. The wheels had tubeless rubber tires 10.5 feet (3.15 m) in diameter.
This train could load at Thule Air Base and travel on the road to Camp TUTO and then out onto the ice cap, which was a big advantage over sleds. The train could haul 100,000 pounds (45,000 kg) of supplies up to 15 mph (24 km/hr). Unfortunately, the tires slipped and slid on the ice too much for safety and control, so were abandon for the sled trains.
Over the years, and even today, many research projects have been conducted both on the ice cap and in it near Thule Air Base. One ongoing project has been to drill into the ice cap and take out ice core samples for analysis of climate change. The air trapped in the compressed snow was analyzed as well as the amount of snow accumulated in summer and winter layers going back over 100,000 years.
Some ice cores from Camp Century out on the ice cap in 1966 from a 4,563 feet (1391 m) deep drilling were stored in a tunnel dug into the permafrost one mile north of Camp TUTO. The tunnel, dug by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research Program in 1959, was 300 feet long. One of the ice cores had a layer of fine gray dust that was analyzed as coming from the Indonesian island volcano Krakatoa that exploded violently in 1883. The dust circled the world, and some that settled on the ice cap was preserved in that ice core.
The permafrost tunnel was both interesting and beautiful with ice crystals formed along the ceiling.
The temperature was very stable inside the permafrost tunnel at 23 to 13 degrees F.(-5.OC to -10.5C.) and provided perfect storage for the ice cores.
Someone with creativity, and perhaps a sense of humor, built a chair and some other furniture out of ice in the permafrost tunnel. Seems likely that this furniture will remain there for a very long time.
© Copyright 1999, revised 2014 by Lawrence Rodrigues
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