McMurdo, on the way home

March 5, 2007

(Ok, so I’ve been sitting on this post for nearly a month…)

The rest of the flight from the pole back to McMurdo was uneventful. I spent a good hour staring out the window at the passing mountains underneath – only the top of which poke through the snow and ice. The ice flows are amazing to see from the air. The thought of ‘will I ever see this again?’ can’t help but run though your mind. A unique experience indeed. I looked around for a place to stretch out on top of some of the cargo pallets only to see some feet hanging over the top of the only accessible place. When I looked back up toward the front of the plane, I could see that my “seat” (canvas and web straps hung between aluminum supports dropped down from the side of the plane) had been taken by two people who had sat up in the cockpit during take-off. Not that there is assigned seating by any means, I figured this was a good sign. Perhaps I could get up into the cockpit for the landing? I went and asked the load master if I could go up, but there was already someone up there.

I sat and talked (yelled really) with him for a few minutes. He told me about how as a member of the NY ANG they fly both in Antarctica and in the north in upstate NY and Greenland. He said he often sees the same people on flights in the north that he saw a month earlier leaving the pole. Some people follow summer around the globe, others follow winter it seems. He ended up handing me his business card (it never occurred to me that people in the military would even have business cards) which has a photo of a C-130 landing (or maybe taking off) with quotes around it: “Ski Plane Adventures“, “You call… We Haul“, “50 Below… Good to Go” and “If It’s too Cold… You’re to Old“. On the back is a shot of a C-130 landing at the pole stating the temp of -50° C. If you want to inquire with the NY Air National Guard on “Ski Plane Adventures” let me know, I’ll get you his contact info…

Here’s a shot (and a movie) looking back at the C-130 which took me from the the pole to McMurdo station:

C-130 in McMurdo having arrived from South Pole

Catching a C-130 at pole

February 7, 2007

Waiting for the flight from McMurdo to land at Pole was during the last few minutes a bit nerve racking. The visibility was getting worse as the arrival time approached and I was frequently looking out the windows at the markers the Met folks use to report visibility to the pilots. I could see only two markers as opposed to the 4 or 5 and then the horizon one could usually see on clear days. When I went over and asked them if this meant the plane was going to land (as opposed to boomeranging and heading back without landing – or picking me up) Chris leans back in his chair and says:

“Ya know, the weather is a like a cat…”

These winter-overs love torturing us grantees, especially when we are obviously nervous about getting off the ice. He continues, after savoring the tense moment (at least tense for me), “…you never know if it is going to do what you want.”

“Well, I can see 2 markers, that’s 2 miles, right?” I ask.

“Nope, those are 1/2 mile markers. I just reported 1 mile visibility”

“How much visibility to they need to land?”

“1 mile.” he says with a Cheshire grin.

Well, the visibility didn’t get any worse, in fact it got a little better, and the plane landed just fine. I packed up all my stuff (except my music player which I forgot in the hustle and is currently being brought home for me) and walked out to the skiway to wait for and then load onto the plane.

Some of the best days you’ll have at pole are the days you arrive and leave, but not just for the obvious reasons. There is a real comradery which happens at those times. When arriving by having friends and co-workers show up to greet you and carry your bags for you (because you’re sucking air due to the altitude) and then when leaving by wishing you well and standing out there in the cold to see you off. You don’t have to go out there, but you want to. John has some great shots of us out there that day.

Finally on the plane after the door closes as we start to taxi, I hear a loud squeal (through my earplugs) thinking ‘oh man is that going to go on for the next 3 hours?’, not a second later I notice that the air is getting easier to breath. They’re pressurizing the cabin to normal flying pressure (approx 5K ft.) which is usually thinner air than normal but here, it is thicker air! I whipped out my GPS, which has a barometric altimeter and Michelangelo caught a little video of that thick air filling the cabin. I spent the next hour or so taking deep, deep breaths.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a post without at least one silly movie from me on my last day at the pole:


February 7, 2007

I’ve made it home just fine, thanks. 5 flights and now a few days hanging (and hiding) out at home.

I’ve got some catching up to to here, so here goes, in separate posts…

Last day at the pole

February 1, 2007

My flight leaves in about 5 hours. I’ve bag-dragged (“checked my bag”), moved out of my Jamesway and been drinking coffee all night in anticipation of trying to stay awake until 9pm or so tonight in McMurdo. Not sure that’s the best strategy, but that’s my plan and I’m sticking to it.

Before I go, here’s a photo tour of the main station (click on the thumbnails to get a larger image):

B2 ScienceThe game room for pool or ping-pongB2 LoungeThe gym with cardio machines and weights.Basketball CourtThe music roomThe Galley (cafeteria)Dome from GalleyThe pole looking out one of the galley windowsThe store and post officeThe stairs from inside the DZ entranceClub MedDark Sector PanoramicLooking down the hallway from the 2nd floor above the main entrance

A pretty comfortable place.

Winding down/north

January 31, 2007

My shoe laces seem to come untied easily when I’m outside. What’s up with that?

Yup, It’s time to leave.

My flight north to McMurdo is on the 1st, which is tomorrow. But since I’m working nights, it’s more like the day after tomorrow in that I have another work day at the end of which (when I usually go to bed) I’ll be getting on a plane.

Panorama from the inside of the dome

So, I finally got a panoramic photo from the inside of the dome. I both need to get a better camera and learn the gimp or photoshop or some such. This though gives some sense of what the dome currently looks like. With it’s spooky gutted main building and boxes of frozen supplies stacked about.

My co-workers who arrived a few days ago are slowly getting acclimated. They are planning on staying here until close of station. Usually that is Feb 15 but that has been “conditionally extended” by perhaps a week. It’s all up to the weather. With -50° F being the point at which the electronics and hydraulics of a C-130 are not rated to work below. It’s down to -23°F today and I’m leaving tomorrow.

Sparkling world, Grid north and the Sun as a 24-hour clock

January 30, 2007

I woke up today at about midnight, stepped outside into the cold air and exceptionally bright daylight to walk the few meters to the bathroom for a sorely needed shower. It is difficult to describe how bright it is here when the sky is clear. What was striking about today was all the microscopic ice crystals floating in the air, reflecting the bright sunlight such that everywhere you looked the air was sparkling like the face of an adolescent girl who just discovered glitter make-up. Even when looking at my feet (which is all I could do as I didn’t bring my goggles or sunglasses with me for the short walk) the air was glistening. I looked up and covered the sun with my hand and could see two sun dogs on either side of the sun. I could only look for a split second since even those sun dogs were too bright to look at for any length of time. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera and by the time I got back to my Jamesway, the clear sky had become overcast enough so that the sparkling ice crystals and sun dogs were gone.

One of the reasons why the sun was so bright was that it was directly in front of me as I stepped out of the Jamesway. This made sense as it was close to grid north which corresponds to it being near midnight here (where we keep New Zealand time). How’s that you ask? Good question. First let me go back to when I was on the C-17 flying south from Christchurch to McMurdo station. I happened to be up in the cockpit talking to the pilots when we crossed 60° south latitude. They joked about how there was going be a big flash and the plane was going to start flying backwards. What they were talking about is that a different navigation system is used at latitudes higher then 60° (closer to the poles). A grid system where the direction towards the prime meridian is considered north, or grid north, and the direction towards the international dateline is grid south. This meant that we would go from flying due south from New Zealand (which is relatively close to the international dateline) to flying grid north without ever changing direction.

Still doesn’t make sense? How about thinking about it in terms of the Sun being a clock…

The sun never sets here at the south pole in the summer time it just circles over your head. Of course the Sun isn’t moving, it is the Earth which is rolling under it presenting the part of the world where it is noon up to the Sun. So at the South Pole the sun is pointing to wherever it is noon on the Earth at “normal” latitudes (and ignoring all that messy daylight savings time stuff). Since we are keeping New Zealand time here, at noon the sun is pointing towards New Zealand. Further, since New Zealand is pretty close to the International Data line, it is also pointing grid south. And so at midnight here, the Sun will be in grid north. One thing to keep in mind here is that if the sky is a clock and the Sun is the hour-hand, it is a 24-hour clock, with one revolution per day, and not the 12-hour we are used to looking at.

Ok, so there you have it – an entry without any pictures and full of pseudo-technical talk. Check out my flickr and youtube sites for photos…

A few more days

January 29, 2007

In order for me to have some time working together with my (3 day delayed) fellow DAQ co-workers, and not get on the plane they get off of, I’m staying here a few more days. This is, of course good for work, but not the best news for home. The word from the station manager is that tomorrow morning I’ll find out if I need to change rooms while staying here due to space constraints. Now, to me the word “room” implies a door and not a curtain, so I’m holding out that this somehow means that I’m going to get moved into the station. Mind you, I’m not holding my breath, but hope springs eternal.

I wandered over to the dome last night, to try once again for a panoramic shot from the inside of the dome. It didn’t turn out as I’d like, but this one from inside the dome looking out the main entrance turned out pretty good:

Looking out the dome

And I can’t resist, here’s another in-camera movie, walking from the pole into the dome:


January 28, 2007

Here I am, holding up the world.


Don’t go overboard with thanks, just by me a beer next time you see me…

I’m famous

January 27, 2007

So, I took some photos of a book (a comic/animated novel, actually) my wife asked me to bring down here. I popped it up on the geo pole marker and took some shots. It fell off a few times and again my fingers nearly froze off (I can’t push the button on my camera with the leather mittens I wear over my glove liners), but the shots turned out pretty good. I sent them off and they’ve tickled the author so much he’s put them up on his blog. He’s linked to my blog, now I’ve linked to his, I’m so hooked into the blog thing now…

In other news, I walked out to the TOS to help with another deployment. There was a C-130 on the ski-way, so I had to wait to cross. I got a treat of watching it take off in front of me and then circle over MAPO, the ICL and the station before heading north (of course) back to McMurdo. Unfortunately, it is pretty small and I stopped recording after it passed me, but here it is:

I’m still here

January 26, 2007

So, some (but not all) of the novelty of being here is starting to wear off. Mostly due to my odd (even for this place) work and sleep schedule. I’m keeping a satellite schedule to be awake during the satellite visibility and hence Internet connectivity. After looking at the clock several time several days back and honestly not knowing if it was am or pm without really having to think about it, I switched my alarm clock to 24 hour display. A day later, my body revolted and I slept for 14 hours straight one “night”. I guess I needed it, but I ended up on a day shift which wasn’t the plan. I’m now firmly back on “satellite shift”. Speaking of satellites, apparently the only reason why these three satellites are even visible from the south pole is because they have fallen out of their intended orbit just enough to pop up above the horizon here a few hours a day each. Lucky us.

Another difficult to get adjusted to thing down here is that you have to conserve water usage. Drink all you can, you need it, but you’re only supposed to take two 2-minute showers (running water time) and do one load of laundry each week. During my last rinse-soap-rinse shower, it crossed my mind that if I ever believe that 2-minutes of water per shower is enough, I’ve been here too long.

In fairness, there’s always something fun to do at any given time, a well-stocked music room, pool table, various lounges ranging from quiet reading to smoking, drinking and watching the latest downloaded football game. I just haven’t been taking advantage of all that enough.

I have though, been trying to get outside at least a few times each day, so for you viewing pleasure here is a walk from inside the main station, out to the pole.