Author of the JP Weiscarver Mystery Series
Out of all of my adventures and expeditions, one stands apart from the others. And, in a very real sense, it was the impetus for what came later.
My greatest regret from my four-month experience working in Antarctica was that Leah wasn’t able to accompany me, but she was very much a part of it. She was left alone to manage a home on acreage that we purchased less than three months before I left. She took on more than what should have been her responsibility when my mother died. Plus, she was a brand new grandmother. Still, on top of that, she followed along with me the entire journey as I called home just about every day.
I could go on for hours talking about the amazing sights and outstanding people in Antarctica, but I would still fail to adequately communicate what it feels like just to be there, to look out over the sea ice at the Transantarctic Mountains, to watch slowly belching smoke emerge from Mount Erebus, to look outside at 3 a.m. into bright sunlight, to set up camp in blizzard conditions with a wind chill around 50 degrees below zero, to watch penguins plodding around, to work alongside hundreds of exciting folks all dedicated to doing their parts to further scientific research on the last continent.
In introducing this package, I must also get in a plug for my book, “The Reporter and the Penguin.” Throughout the story, I wove together honest looks at what life is like on the Ice. With the exception of the mysterious death and my character’s investigation, most everything really happened or is at least realistically possible. And, certainly, the day-to-day life I wrote about is an accurate reflection of what it was like.
Below are excerpts from a journal I posted online so friends could follow along. I’ve added links to some of the stories I wrote for further information.
Let the adventure begin
Saturday, July 29, 2006
I am in the second day of recovering from having six teeth – half of them wisdom teeth – pulled or cut from my gums. Some of the teeth needed to go; the rest just did not need to go to Antarctica.
It seems they are really picky about ensuring people are in good health before they send them off to the bottom of the earth. Since medical care in Antarctica is somewhat limited and evacuation to New Zealand is not only expensive but also gets in the way of the work going on and is at times made impossible by the weather, it seems a wise policy.
The good news is that I passed the most demanding physical I’ve ever had. The bad news is that those six teeth did not. Some were removed not because they were causing a problem but because they might eventually cause a problem.
Now, after about two months of filling out paperwork and subjecting to tests, I feel like it is really going to happen. I am going to Antarctica.
In late August, I will travel to the Denver area for a week of preparation. We will plan, as well as we can, what we will write about during the summer season. Then, about Oct. 1, we will fly to New Zealand for orientation and to receive our extreme cold weather gear. Next stop will be McMurdo Station. On your globe, look due south of New Zealand, and you will find it. My assignment runs until about mid-February, when most folks pack up and leave before getting stranded for the long, cold, dark winter.
That’s it for now. More details as we go along.
Did someone say cold?
Saturday, August 19, 2006
Someone asked, “But, don’t it get cold down there…?”
Yes, but it’s a dry cold. Honestly, they say that; I’ll let you know later. My research shows that the temperature will get below zero every “night” (no, the sun does not actually set at night, but it gets very low in the spring and fall) for the first few weeks. By January, maybe December, it will regularly get above freezing during the day, as high as 40 degrees, sometimes warmer.
Many of you know that I have a well-documented distaste for cold weather. However, I consider it a mental exercise and worth the effort for the neat experience.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Counting down the days … my latest information is that I’ll be flying to Denver Sept. 30 for a couple of days of orientation, leaving Oct. 2 for Los Angeles and on to Auckland and finally Christchurch, New Zealand, arriving there Oct. 4 (an overnight flight and jumping forward a day crossing the International Date Line). Of course, I’ll also be jumping forward … or backward … a couple of seasons as they will be coming out of winter into spring. We will spend a couple of days in Christchurch, primarily to be issued our ECW (extreme cold weather) gear and to reset our bodies’ clocks. My group is scheduled to fly to McMurdo on the Ice on Oct. 6. However, the word is that we should expect to be pushed back a day or two. If so, the entire schedule is likely to slide with it.
I spent a week in Denver the end of August, meeting the rest of the team and planning what we’re going to do once we’re down there. One of the stories I’m supposed to do is about the 50th anniversary of the first plane that landed and took off again from the South Pole. (Read that story here.) We’re hoping to be able to wrangle a flight for me to the Pole for it. Going to Pole is the only thing at the top of my wish list; it would seem a shame to get to 77 degrees south and not make it the rest of the way!
We have a good team, I believe. Of course, I am the old man, but the other two have a year’s experience at the job. Peter, a long-time friend, is the boss, what they call the lead journalist. The other fellow, Steven, is just over a year out of college, a year younger than my daughter, but a fine guy. We seemed to hit it off well. I’m looking forward to working with them both. Additionally, the administrative team in Denver is a fun pair.
I’m starting work now on final packing plans. Packing is something I’ve never done well in advance, but this is one I cannot put off until just before I leave.
The timetable is set
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
I just received my itinerary and it matches the previous post, so I will be leaving Los Angeles Oct. 2, arriving in New Zealand Oct. 4 and Antarctica Oct. 6.
I am scheduled to undergo “Snow School” Oct. 10-11. It is an “overnight” survival class that, to be perfectly honest, I’m not looking forward to. However, I will take a good attitude and all my warm clothing into it. So, when family are remembering me on my birthday Oct. 9, it will already be Oct. 10 where I am and I’ll be digging a snow cave to sleep in.
Then, on Oct. 14, I’ll take a daylong safety class on the sea ice.
You can definitely expect to hear more about these events.
And we’re off
Sunday, October 1, 2006
I’m posting from Denver, having arrived Saturday afternoon. Orientation runs Sunday and until noon Monday. Will fly to LA Monday evening and on to New Zealand.
Springtime in New Zealand
Thursday, October 5, 2006
I arrived in Christchurch, NZ, Wednesday afternoon. It’s springtime here, remember, and quite beautiful though still rather chilly. It’s obvious from walking around downtown this morning that they put a lot of effort into flowers and gardens.
I had dinner last night at an Indian restaurant with friends and met quite a few others bound for the ice, including a young lady from Texas who recently graduated college in Boston. Even though she earned her degree in mechanical engineering, she accepted a job as a GA (general assistant, I believe) and will spend her time doing things such as shoveling snow and what-have-you. Most people who have been down multiple years will tell you they started as this-or-that and changed jobs regularly until they got something they preferred. Like me, she said she was no fan of cold weather but could not pass up the opportunity.
We were scheduled to fly to the ice tomorrow, but flights were canceled yesterday, so we will likely get pushed back.
Flight to Ice scheduled
Friday, October 6, 2006
We just got word to report to the center at 4:30 a.m. Saturday (10:30 a.m. Friday, Central time) to prepare for our flight to McMurdo.
From all I’ve learned, this is far from a sure thing as weather often intervenes, but I’ll update as soon as possible.
On the ice
Saturday, October 7, 2006
We arrived on the Ice just after noon Saturday, Oct. 7. Yes, it is cold and captivating. I’ll post more details when I have a chance to pen them, and pictures, of course.
Friday, October 13, 2006
I’m writing this at 10:45 on Thursday night, but will not post it until Friday morning. I do not have Internet access from my dorm room, which is one excuse I’m using for not keeping you up-to-date.
About 15 minutes ago, I snapped the photo above from my second-floor dorm window. It’s cloudy or things would be brighter. The sun is still “setting” – that is, dipping below the horizon – for a couple of hours each night, but it’s not getting dark. Soon, the sun will not disappear again until after I leave in mid-February.
One reason I know this is that I spent Tuesday night camping out in the snow on a nearby glacial ice shelf. All night, as I woke up regularly and spent quite a bit of time not sleeping, it seemed like there was a strong night light in the tent. And that was in spite of considerable cloud cover.
Camping out was not a choice I made, but it is required as part of a safety course for those who leave the relative safety of McMurdo for field camps and other trips. They call it Snow Craft, I think, but everyone calls it Happy Camp. The two-day camp started with a short classroom session Tuesday morning. Twenty of us campers and two instructors, bundled up in our extreme cold weather gear, threw our considerable luggage onto two vehicles specially made for this terrain, one a track vehicle and another with huge balloon tires.
After unloading our equipment and bags, we trudged through blowing snow to a hut for a lunch of cold sandwiches and further instruction. Then we walked back to the staging area and went to work setting up camp. We labored together to pitch nine tents, build a wall of snow bricks to block the wind, set up stoves to heat water and put out flags to mark locations. To make us even happier, we got to do this in what they call Condition 2 weather. Temperatures were about 10 to 13 degrees below zero and the wind chill was about -50 degrees. Several in our group were experienced highlands campers, though they said these conditions were worse than they had stayed in before.
I’ll admit it. I was miserable and asking how in the world I ever got myself in this situation. I thought about quitting. They would let me sleep in the instructors’ hut. But, thankfully, I did not. There was a definite esprit de corps that developed in our team members. Any work I did not do, someone else would have to.
All the advice passed on in the lectures paid off. Most importantly, they said, we must keep feeding the body, giving it fuel to burn to keep us warm, as well as drink plenty of water. We learned to take a snack to bed and eat in the middle of the night. I also tucked my water bottle (carried all day inside my parka) into my sleeping bag so my body heat would keep it from freezing. It worked and I had water to drink the next morning. Regularly through the night, I “jogged” in my sleeping bag, working my legs and arms to keep warm. Actually, I was warm enough through the night.
Wednesday morning was probably as cold but without the strong winds. My job was to heat water while others took down the small tents. We removed the two large tents last and got ready for the instructors to return for our gear. We still were not through, though. We hiked the approximate quarter-mile (though it seemed a lot longer) back to the hut for hot drinks and more lessons. Then we were back outside to practice putting up an HF radio, staking out the long antenna wires. We were in the middle of building an emergency camp when we were told to break it down instead. Nobody complained because we knew the shuttle was coming to pick us up.
The instructors were great at teaching us, pushing, encouraging and praising. Instructor Susan asked me as we made the walk to the shuttle one last time if I would do it again. The question was often repeated and was understood to mean, “Would you do it again even if you didn’t have to?” “No,” I told her, “once is enough.” She understood and was probably accustomed to hearing it.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
OK, I’m about to mark a full week on the ice and it seems like it’s been a month. Let’s do a little Q&A.
Q: What are the living conditions like?
A: The rooms seem to vary quite a bit. I have three roommates in a fair-sized room. We have two bunk beds. I was the last one in, so I’m on a top bunk. The puzzling part is the fact that one of us works at night and sleeps during the day. It’s not much of an issue except on our day off on Sunday. Each of us has a roomy metal cabinet with space to hang clothes and three drawers. There is also a mini-fridge, a desk, a sofa, a phone and a television. Not every room has a TV, though it seems they add a few each year. The bathroom is across the hall. We’re not talking about the Hilton, but it’s comfortable enough, especially considering that everyone is kept pretty busy.
Q: Do you cook your own meals?
A: No, that is considered one of the great benefits about living here. There is a sizeable kitchen staff that prepares four meals a day, which includes midnight rations for those who work the overnight shifts. The food is pretty good, most everyone agrees, though the veterans say you get tired of the same thing by the end of the season. You may eat all you want. They just ask you to take no more than you will eat because food waste has to be shipped back to the United States for disposal. It hasn’t happened yet, but it is said that we will occasionally run out of freshies – fresh fruit and vegetables.
Q: Just how cold is it?
A: I believe the coldest this past week has been about 13 degrees below zero with a wind chill of about 50 below. The high has been about zero. Saturday’s forecast is for a high of 9 above. I hope so since I will spend much of the day out on the sea ice. By the height of the summer – December and especially January – the temperature can be expected to regularly get above freezing, sometimes reaching 40 or higher. It will start cooling down again before I leave in mid-February, but I do not believe it will get as cold as it is now.
Q: What kind of television do you receive?
A: The television is delivered by the Armed Forces Network. Remember that McMurdo was originally a Navy station and the armed services are still involved, primarily in providing transportation. I haven’t paid a lot of attention to the television schedule, but they pick and choose, combining the various networks. Earlier, one channel had a report from BBC, followed by a financial commentary from Fox News, followed by an ABC news program that may be prepared just for the network. Right now, it is broadcasting a Thursday night college football game. There are no traditional commercials. Breaks are filled with blurbs about or related to the military. That makes the programs go faster.
Q: Is there any wildlife?
A: Not yet. The only dependable wildlife, I’m told, are the skuas that will arrive by December or so. They are like large, brown seagulls. Anyone who has been to the beach and tossed bread crumbs into the air know how gulls will swarm for the food. Apparently, the skua is a little more aggressive. I’ve heard that walking outside with a paper sack is an invitation for a skua attack as it assumes you’re carrying food. We’re not supposed to feed them, by the way. There is a slight possibility that we can see penguins pass by later this year and there are better odds that we will see seals in the bay. People sometimes ask about polar bears, but those are only in the Arctic, up north, not down here.
Q: Can you play with the penguins?
A: I’ve read that penguins look at humans as if they, too, are penguins, but I do not know how true that is. However, we are under strict guidelines to never interact with any of the wildlife. It is all part of various international agreements. We are told that we may watch them and even approach them for photos and such, but if our presence causes them to change their behavior, we are too close and must back off. Neither are we allowed to collect anything, such as a penguin feather.
Q: Does it snow all the time?
A: There is snow on the ground everywhere, but there actually is not much precipitation, which is good since it would melt very slowly. Mainly, what you see is snow blown by the wind.
Q on electricity & diversions
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Q: We are curious about the source of heat. What type of generators do you have to produce the electricity? Do you have any places you can go visit for a little change of pace? How far to the nearest mall? 🙂
A: McMurdo is like a small town with most of one’s conveniences. If you’re not going outdoors, life’s not that tough.
I’m not sure just what our generators are, but they produce copious amounts of electricity. While we are constantly reminded to conserve energy in order to avoid having use of it curtailed, there is plenty to keep things nice and warm and the lights all lit. I do know that our generators burn fossil fuel, which is amazing considering that all the fuel must be shipped here and that everything here is ecologically minded.
Water comes from the ocean and is treated here. We are encouraged to conserve water, too (while always being reminded to drink plenty of water), such as taking quick showers and not running water while brushing teeth and shaving. They help us save it by keeping hot water at the ready, like a hotel does. Wastewater is treated and released in the ocean, much like in a city back home.
Trash and garbage is different. We separate our refuse several different ways and the waste department works to gather things together for shipment back to the United States. In late January or so, our once-a-year cargo ship arrives, with the help of icebreakers, to deliver supplies for the next year. It’s a big deal, docking at the ice pier and undergoing round-the-clock unloading. Once that is done, they load up all the garbage from the past year to return to the United States for disposal.
As for things to do, they put quite a bit of effort into that. First of all, the fact that we work six days a week helps because there is less down time. There is a recreation department that organizes various activities and a lot of things are simply started by the people who live here. During the summer, there is both a Roman Catholic and a Protestant chaplain on station with regular services at the Chapel of the Snows. (See story here on Page 3.)
There’s a library, two or three types of gyms, hiking and skiing trails, just to name a few. In fact, there is a two-lane bowling alley that I’ve heard is rather challenging. The three guys at the newspaper and the wife of one of us are going to have a bowling team. They assure me they are as bad as I am. There’s also a couple of bars that offer a lot of activities. One of my roommates just left to compete in a darts tournament.
We are a short distance from New Zealand’s Scott Base. It is a much smaller. Thursday is American night and we are invited there. My understanding is they are always welcomed here. The size differences are the reason for that; the Kiwis could have a hard time if a bunch of us decided to go over there at any time. A shuttle runs between the two sites on Thursday night (and maybe Sunday) but some people just walk.
The closest mall? I don’t know if there are malls in New Zealand, but it’s the closest country. It’s about a five-hour flight.
Sea ice photos
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Following are some photos from sea ice school, the purpose of which is to give you advice to keep yourself or your vehicle from plunging through thin ice or a crevasse into the sea. They hate it when that happens because the vehicles never run as well afterwards.
This is the PistenBully we took onto the ice. It is a track vehicle that pulls a trailer that held six or eight of our party and some cargo.
Above, our class dug through the snow to the sea ice at a fracture in the ice and drilled holes to measure the ice’s thickness. It must be 30 inches thick to drive a vehicle over it. This was much thicker than that.
This is a view toward Scott Base, the New Zealand station, with the sun filtered by clouds. Look where the land meets the snow, the slight, dark bump. That’s them.
Toolin’ around town
Sunday, October 29, 2006
I got to add something to my never-done-that-before list this week. (After all, wasn’t that the driving force behind me traveling to Antarctica?) I got to drive a PistenBully.
That’s the funny-looking tracked vehicle in the photo in the earlier entry below. It really wasn’t a big deal. I had to go through training for some of the vehicles here just in case there is a need for me to use one. The six of us in the class were shown how to do pre-trip checkups for each type of truck (there are a lot of nuts and bolts that can come loose on a Mattrack) and then we took turns driving around town.
The Mattrack (pictured here) looks like a four-wheel drive pickup, except it does not have wheels. Instead, each corner of the truck has a triangular track, each operating independently of the others. It drives similarly to a truck but reacts more slowly, kinda like a cross between a truck and a boat.
The Pisten Bully has tracks more like a tank’s, one on each side running nearly the length of the vehicle. Driving it is a totally different experience. For example, there is no brake, just an accelerator. A button on the funny-looking steering yoke determines whether you’ll go forward or backward. A thumb dial selects the “gear.”
To steer one, you cannot redirect the tracks like you do the front wheels on a car. You do turn your steering yoke, but turning it left, let’s say, makes either the right track go faster or the left track go slower or stop. I believe a hard and prolonged turn to the left will actually make the left track reverse direction, so you can pretty much spin in one place. They didn’t want us doing that.
I also signed up for the mass casualty team. No, that does not mean I volunteered to be a casualty.
For a place with more than a thousand people during the summer and with the nearest hospital more than 2,000 miles away, we don’t have a very large medical team. The first thing that is done to address that is the people who send us here required all kinds of medical tests and checkups. People are in pretty good health before they ever get on a plane south.
But there are a couple of doctors, a dentist and additional staff. So, the biggest potential problem is an accident that injures a lot of people. That, too, is addressed in a pro-active manner with considerable training and safety guidelines. Like driver training.
If something does produce a lot of injuries, the first line of defense is a large fire department and all the firefighters have emergency medical training. Next is the mass casualty incident team. There are several roles different people play. Mine is as a stretcher bearer. Our job is to move the injured so more highly trained people can concentrate on the patients.
It’s all part of being a community and being prepared. I’m sure a lot of people have thought out how to face any number of problems. I’ve heard there is a written plan in case nearby Mount Erebus should erupt. (Technically, I believe it’s erupting all the time, though it’s in small amounts.) I’m not sure I want to see that plan, just in case all it says is something like “pile everyone you can into the nearest plane and take off.”
Sunday, October 29, 2006
It was nice outside again today – probably a degree or two above zero and hardly any breeze – so I took a walk after church. (The chaplain opened the service with, “Welcome to the southernmost house of worship in the world.” Hmm, I guess that’s true.)
This is a view of Observation Hill, commonly called Ob Hill. Hiking to the top is something I believe everyone does sooner or later. (This I failed to do and it will be one of my first trips if I ever return.) I believe it is in January they have an annual race up the hill. I will not be doing that.
Look on the right side, just a little down from the top. Do you see the cross?
It was erected on Observation Hill by the remaining crew of Capt. Robert Falcon Scott’s failed expedition to the South Pole in memory of the many people who died in the attempt.
Finally, here is a view from McMurdo looking down on the sea ice runway. Planes have backed up here this week waiting for weather to warm up enough at the South Pole for them to start carrying in the summer crew. Of course, that means there are also dozens of people at Pole waiting for their chance to go home. The first flights were scheduled for Oct. 21, but they are still waiting. A fellow at church this morning said it was -49 Celsius at Pole today; one degree warmer than the required -50, so maybe they will leave Monday.
The sea ice runway is, as the name implies, a sheet of ice on top of the Ross Sea, specifically McMurdo Sound in this case. It is the closest air strip to McMurdo and is used until the ice gets too thin. During the summer, this ice should break up and float away, though it hasn’t totally cleared out the past five or six years.
Moon over Antarctica
Friday, November 3, 2006
I took this shot Thursday night after our bowling team thoroughly embarrassed ourselves … I’ll have to tell you about the two-lane bowling alley sometime.
Don’t be deceived by the blue sky. This was taken after 10:30 p.m. The sky looks about the same 24 hours a day. Something I’m going to have to explore … or maybe one of you can tell me … is if the moon “looks different” from down here. Just looking at this photo, I would say the moon was waning (and I’ve not noticed it enough recently to have kept track of the cycle; it’s not easy to notice when the sun is shining), but a glance at the charts shows that it is indeed waxing. The “golf ball” on the hill is a satellite receiver. Actually, it is a skin that protects the dish from winds. It can get quite windy here, especially in the winter, I think.
Sunday, November 5, 2006
Skuas, as mentioned earlier, are large, brown seagulls that arrive here in the summer. I’ve heard one report of a sighting, but they are not here in numbers yet, any way. Like the seagulls we’re more familiar with, skuas are scavengers. They have a reputation for attacking people who may have food.
But this entry is about a different skua.
A small building at McMurdo is known as skua and it is an exchange center for … well … almost anything. People will bring something to Antarctica and decide they do not need it or, at least, don’t want the bother of taking it back home. It goes into one of the many skua bins around town. Janitors periodically collect the items and put them in the skua center. (Yes, you figured that out already … the janitors get first crack at things. Actually, anyone can go through the bins at any time.)
Clothes are the most popular items in the center. There are also shoes, games, various odd items and even partially used bottles of shampoo.
I made my first visit to skua yesterday. I hadn’t been because I don’t need anything, but I walked down with Bethany, the wife of a co-worker, just to look it over. Of course, I found something … a 6-inch Christmas tree. It may be early to think about that, but I don’t know that the tree will last that long. And the fun part is that I’ll return it after I’m through and someone else can use it next year.
Fire and ice
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
OK, it’s not the best look at a volcano, but way in the background, above Steven and Bethany’s heads, you can almost see the smoke coming from Mount Erebus, a short distance north of McMurdo Station. The little gray ball is actually much closer on the black hill. It is a cover that protects a satellite dish from the wind. I’ll tell you about our hike and post some other photos tomorrow, I hope.
Hit the trail
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Sorry for the slow post … it’s been a fairly busy week. The weather was so nice last Monday that, after work, co-worker Steven and his wife Bethany joined me for a walk. Had they not come, I probably would have just walked a few laps around town, but we set out on the Hut Point Ridge Trail, probably about 5 miles total distance.
By nice weather, I primarily mean that the wind had been low, but the temperature was probably at least 15 degrees and had been as high as 20. As we reached higher elevations, the wind picked up and we took to sheltering our faces, as seen in the photo posted earlier … they assured me they were smiling underneath.
Above is a look at McMurdo Station from above. Behind it is Ob Hill, mentioned in an earlier post. I have another photo from the hike to share with you, but I’m going to save it for a later post to package it with another I plan to take.
A peek at my day: it’s Sunday morning now and I’ll be leaving in about 90 minutes for a trip to the sea ice. I was awarded a “morale trip” for some reason. I will accompany and assist a team of researchers studying seals. That’s all I know at this time. Hopefully, I will have some way cool photos to share.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Yes, I got the opportunity to join some scientists doing research on Weddell seals.
First, I must state the permit numbers authorizing us to interact with the animals, something not generally allowed. They are NMFS permit # 1034-1854-00 to M. Horning and ACA permit # 2007-007 to M. Horning. The principal investigator for the project requested we do that. He’s an awfully nice guy, to boot. He teaches in Oregon but used to teach at Texas A&M. Go figure.
This is my favorite photo. We did not approach this mom and her pup; in fact, we stayed away from all the newborns. However, I was able to zoom in rather well from where we were working. We were checking tags on the tail flippers of various seals, which did require that we get right up to them.
You may not see it very well on this shot, but this seal – named Felicia – has several monitors attached to her back. Here, Markus and Millie are “walking” her up to an area where their teammates removed the monitors and took some blood and tissue samples. Felicia’s contribution to science was done.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Remember the Oct. 29 post? (Don’t worry; you can peek.) This is the same shot, made Saturday. I wanted to take a walk after work. It had snowed off and on all day – nothing heavy, mind you, just light snow – but of more concern to me was the wind, which had been rather stiff.
Anyway, I decided to take a walk before dinner. I pulled on my knit cap and Big Red (our super parkas) and started out on my normal route. It takes me out of town proper going up a fairly steep hill and two-thirds of the way up the wind started picking up and soon it was blowing snow horizontally into my face. I did not take time to put on my neck gaiter to cover my nose because I knew it would be OK once I reached the top and turned right because that took me behind the hill and offered protection. Before I got there, though, I was thinking my nose (warning, slight exageration ahead) might freeze.
It is on that leeward stretch that I shot this photo, showing Ob Hill virtually obscured by blowing snow. The rest of the lap wasn’t bad and I decided one was enough. Actually, I should have simply reversed the course and would have had the wind at my back in the bad spot. Alas, I did not think of that. On second thought, I might have been blown down the hill.
The weather is warming up. We’ve been in the 20s rather regularly and the lows are still in the teens. Again, it’s the wind that makes all the difference.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Everything is different here. Thanksgiving, for example, is on Saturday.
Since everyone works six-day weeks, mostly off on Sundays, they tend to move Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s to Saturdays so folks can have a two-day weekend. Believe me, it is a good idea. Most of the support staff (that is, not the grantees – the scientists, etc.) has been here 6-8 weeks now and a two-day break was well-received. Since Christmas and New Year’s fall on Monday this year, we will take off Sunday and Monday, I’ve been told. Of course, when everyone back in the States is celebrating Christmas, we’ll be back at work on Dec. 26. Oh, well.
Dinner, by the way, was great. Instead of the standard 2.5-hour window where people come and go, they had us reserve one of three meal times. They even put tablecloths on the tables. There was turkey and dressing but also prime rib and boiled shrimp.
Oh, yeah. Saturday morning here is Friday morning back home, so I started by Thanksgiving Day celebration by watching the Fighting Texas Aggies whoop the Texas Longhorns. Yes, we have much for which to be thankful.
I’m still here
Friday, December 15, 2006
Sorry for the slowdown in postings. It reflects the fact that I’ve slid into a bit of a routine. There’s not much new happening.
I am scheduled to fly to the South Pole on Tuesday and stay for three nights. Probably nobody here, but a lot of folks think that going to Antarctica means going to the South Pole. McMurdo Station, where I am, is the southernmost port (I do believe that is true) but it is still more than 800 miles from the Pole. Remember that the continent of Antarctica is larger than the U.S. and Mexico combined.
Anyway, not all that many people get to Pole, so it’s special to get this opportunity. I’ll be working most of the time I’m there, collecting information and taking photos for things to develop once I get back. (This links to the paper that has three stories about a new telescope. This was my most comprehensive work while on the Ice and was something in which I took a great deal of pride.)
But my desire is simply to be there, get my “hero” photo next to the pole, and be able to say, “Yeah, I’ve been to the South Pole.” Travel there, even in the summer, is still iffy at times, so my schedule could easily change and could possibly be canceled, though I doubt that.
Hope you’re all getting ready for a nice Christmas. That’s something else here. There’s not much change for the holidays. I guess that’s mainly because there isn’t a bunch of stores having Christmas sales and, of course, we don’t have commercials on TV.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Yep, that striped stick I’m standing next to is the ceremonial South Pole. I flew down Tuesday, Dec. 19, on a ski-equipped LC-130, flown, as always, by the New York Air National Guard. I’m returning to McMurdo on Friday.
My first two days here set record low temperatures for those dates, both 25-point-something degrees below zero. That’s cold for mid-December (today is the summer solstice in the southern hemisphere) but it is far from cold by South Pole standards.
When Sir Robert Falcon Scott reached the Pole, he wrote in his journal (which was recovered alongside his frozen corpse about a year later), “Great God! this is an awful place.” How true. I’m tickled to have had the chance to come … by plane … and stay in the new station you see behind me. And I’ll be glad to get back to McMurdo tomorrow, another day closer to returning home, too.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
You’re familiar with the phrase “comfort food.” Its existence is an acknowledgement that food is … well … comforting.
That is recognized by the military and other such organizations whose members are required to miss holidays at home. Our galley crew knocks itself out for our holiday meals. We had our Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve. I partook of lobster tail, beef Wellington and boiled shrimp. I stopped short of the duck. There was asparagus, salad, wild rice, a variety of breads and a broad selection of desserts.
My two roommates and I had dinner together and, in turn, talked about what our family Christmases were like. You can’t help but think about what you’re missing, but at least the food is comforting.
Merry Christmas to all.
Sunday, December 31, 2006
This photo was shot with a 300 mm lens, so it’s obvious that it’s a ways away yet, but the season’s first icebreaker is en route to McMurdo Station. This is the Oden, a Swedish ship that will assist a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker in plowing and maintaining a road to us. The preparations are for the annual cargo vessel and fuel tanker. Without those two ships, this station and the South Pole would face a difficult time continuing operations. It has everyone excited, partly because it’s a big deal but, I suspect, mostly because the arrival of the icebreakers means the cargo ships will be coming soon which means most of us will be going home soon. Well, about six weeks soon.
We’ve got penguins
Monday, January 8, 2007
Yeah, we’ve got Adelie penguins lounging around Hut Point, posing for camera-toting humans. A pretty good number of them were there when I went out Sunday. The fellow above was particularly enthralled with us, walking around among folks and putting on a show.
We are under clear orders that we are not to approach or interact with wildlife. While I was out there, folks were very well behaved, positioning themselves so this guy and a few like him might very well approach them but without bothering the penguins at all.
Take this photo, for example. Photographers or folks just watching would sit still while the penguins moved around them. The folks approaching from the back, with the yellow stripes, are off the icebreaker Oden mentioned previously. The ship has docked next to the ice pier and its crew members have been visiting in town.
Thursday, February 1, 2007
Snow just blew through the window onto the desk where I’m sitting. It’s Feb. 1 and that may mean that summer is officially over here in Antarctica. That’s what my roommate said, adding that there will be about two weeks of fall and then winter will be here until spring sometime in December. Of course his rather negative analysis might be colored by an earlier comment of his. He was holding up seven fingers and asked, “Do you know what this means? Seven days until we leave!” Actually, it’s close to eight days, but who’s counting? Well, just about everyone who’s leaving.
Yeah, my departure date was bumped up a little bit and we’re scheduled to leave here Feb. 9. That can change again … earlier or later … due to changing circumstances, but it looks like a pretty good date. We are winding down at work, putting the finishing touches on the last edition. We will then start shutting down the office for the winter and doing various things that need to be done.
Being none-essential personnel, we’re among the first to leave. There is still a lot to be done on station before it sends out the final flight about Feb. 25. Just today, the fuel tanker arrived and they have started pumping millions of gallons of gasoline, diesel and airplane fuel into storage tanks.
The fuel tanker is the one on the right. It is docked at the ice pier, which is just that, a huge block of floating ice. It doesn’t look like it because it’s covered with a layer of dirt to insulate it from the sun, which causes melting and that’s bad.
To the left is the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Sea. It and a privately owned Swedish icebreaker, the Oden, opened the channel and turning basin for the delivery vessels. The Oden is gone now, leaving the Polar Sea to keep them open. In the background is the research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer, which is owned by the National Science Foundation and used to conduct research. Pretty quickly after the fuel vessel completes its offload, the cargo vessel will arrive. A few dozen members of a U.S. Navy cargo handling battalion arrived a couple of days ago. They and a bunch of our people will attack the vessel when it arrives, emptying a year’s worth of supplies and reloading it with a year’s worth of garbage. (And here’s a story I wrote about that.)
Before they finish that, though, I should be en route to Texas and home. Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.
Friday, February 9, 2007
Unless something changes (you learn to always qualify travel-related statements down here), I will be leaving the Ice in a few hours. What follows will be a five-hour flight to Christchurch, New Zealand, route through customs, to the U.S. Antarctic Program facility to turn in our extreme cold weather gear, receive hotel assignment and flight information, and get to the hotel. With no small amount of luck, that will occur by midnight or 1 a.m. I hope that I will start home later that day and should get there four more flights and about 24 hours later.
Until then …