Antarctica Dispatch

Journal of my Antarctic experience working to support the United States Antarctic Program.

New Years - Party in Every Time Zone


It's the morning after the big party. A few of us gathered in Old Comms (under the Dome) to start the festivities. The NSF Ops Rep was 'cutting the rug' with every available female. Next we set off for the Vehicle Maintenance Facility aka 'The Heavy Shop' which was turned into the party house. Outfitted with a stage, dance cage, and parachute drape, everyone turned out and enjoyed live band performances and drank alcohol poured down a slab of Antarctica ice. Dancers had to get used to the oil slick floor. I guess kitty litter was never brought down.

At midnight the 'ball' dropped and we all raced out to the Pole for pictures.

Ice Tunnels


One of the things you don’t always think about is how we get water and get rid of waste water. The first South Pole station melted snow. Well when more volume was needed they came up with a solution that involved drilling a giant bulbous well using hot water. This is called a ‘rod well’. When the water is used up, waste water is pumped into it. These long tunnels were dug out to carry the water to/from the station. Utility personnel (known as UTs) inspect these tunnels every so often.

Some mementos are left down there such as this pig’s head.

This sturgeon was given to McMurdo in 1995 by a Russian ship’s crew. It was left about for a year or so until it started stinking. A kind soul hand carried it to the South Pole and entombed it here where it will remain.

Race Around the World


It's a tradition every year at the 'Pole' to host this event where people run, ski, walk, etc a course around the pole marker. How could I come down to the bottom of the world and not do this. You might think this is crazy in this frigid environment, but it was still quite warm (for the South Pole). The hard part was trying to run through parts which were soft, thus slowing down one’s pace. There was even one person on stilts! Others participated by zipping around on snowmobiles or other vehicles. There was one black mark on the event when one person got injured from one of the vehicles.

Later we trudged over to where the Traverse Team was parked to check out the equipment.



Yesterday a historic event occurred. The first overland traverse from McMurdo arrived, delivering heavy equipment and snow removal equipment with a total weight that would have required approximately 11 LC-130 flights. They left McMurdo the same day I arrived back in November, so the whole trip took just shy of 45 days.

Happy Camper


Down in McMurdo, all personnel that might work in remote camps or outside must go through snow survival school, a.k.a. ‘Happy Camper’. Things like how to walk about in blizzard conditions, build a snow cave, cut blocks of snow to make a wind break, pitch a tent correctly, etc. are taught.

For us Polies there’s not much need for this since we don’t have areas where we go far from the station. However, as another ‘boondoggle’, instructors are brought up from McMurdo to teach classes. Unlike McMurdo, we don’t get time off to partake in this, and so it occurs during our precious time off.

We drove out about 2 miles from the station and setup camp. We were the last class of four, but we still had to erect tents and boil snow. I imagined what the early explorers - Shackleton, Amundsen, and Scott as I helped make camp. By the time we were done it was midnight, but in the land of 24 hours of sunlight, you never know unless you look at your watch. I turned in, and for the first time since I arrived, I got over 8 hours of uninterrupted, restful sleep. Not many people can say they slept out outside at the South Pole!

Ice Challenger


Throughout the summer months many expeditions and private tours come to the South Pole, which is called Non-Government Activity (NGA). Most of them ski in, but here was an interesting story. The Ice Challenger is a customized van that drove from the Antarctic coast to here. Wow!

They ended up staying longer at the Pole than anticipated because they were waiting for fuel to be flown in. Apparently the warm weather we had slowed them down and caused them to use more fuel than they expected.



Unlike other stations like Palmer or McMurdo, there isn’t much opportunity to get away from the South Pole station known as ‘boondoggles’. However, once a year the meteorologists must take measurements of snow stakes placed every ½ km for 20 km which measure snow drift. There’s about six trips total, and six people can come along for the ride. We used one of the tracked vehicles, this one being a Pisten Bully, which we rotated through driving.



I’ve had a few Thanksgivings away from home, some of them just by myself. This time it was different because it felt more of a community. A few days before people came into the galley to help peel vegetables and make pies. There were sign up sheets for three seatings since it was impossible to fit 250+ people in the galley at once, and volunteer wine stewards.

The night before ‘summer camp’ hosted a party. It’s an area about ¼ mile from the station where most of the ‘summer’ workers live. The buildings are called ‘Jamesways’ which look like Quonset huts, but instead of fabricated metal, canvas and wood are the materials.

I hoped my additional clothes would have arrived by now so I could properly dress for the occasion. Instead I wore jean and a flannel shirt, but I wasn’t the only one. Before each meal, hor devours were served (brie, salmon, shrimp, etc.). The science groups had purchased all the wine, which there was plenty of. The food was great as was the company.

Side Trip


Today I went out to SPRESO (South Pole Remote Earth Scientific Observatory). It's an area the USGS has instruments buried in a vault about 6 km away from the station. We took a LMC 1800 tracked vehicle called 'The Wrench' out to it. In this picture the station is a spec in the far distance.

We climbed down into the vault to fix a problem CTBTO (Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization) was having. It's amazing that there are instruments down here at the South Pole checking for nuclear testing. In any case we replaced a malfunctioning hardware so Vienna could access the systems.

The South Pole!


Once again we boarded the LC-130 for this our second attempt for the Pole. Since everyone took pictures the day before, most of us just read or tried to sleep. Still I though I needed to take a 'squirrel' shot.

We cheated death once again, landing at the South Pole. There to greet me was my boss Bill, Chris (whom I was replacing), and Tanya who I knew from working at ING with back in 2000-2003. We went in for lunch, then grabbed our luggage and went to our 'berthing'. Mine was in the elevated station although I kind of looked forward to staying under the Dome, which would be the last season it would hold residents.

Next we had an orientation to go to where the Doc talked about acclimating to the elevation – taking it easy, no working, etc. Well that was not be for me since the guy I was replacing was leaving in a week or so.




We boarded the ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules aircraft the 109th ANG unit out of NY is tasked with flying to support the US Antarctic effort. I looked out at the Transantarctic Mountains and set my eyes upon the Beardmore Glacier, which is the largest glacier in the world (over 260 miles long) . What an awe inspiring view!

3 hours later we were over the station, which I could see below. However due to weather we could not land and so we returned back to McMurdo. So our 3 hour flight in the noisy, cramped, LC-130 turned into six hours. After getting back to McMurdo, we found out we wouldn't get our rooms back. Instead we were assigned to the 'Hotel California'. The accommodations there were bunk style instead of the dorm room we had before. Oh well, we'd only be there for a night.



Yesterday we were supposed to fly to the 'Pole', but the weather had other ideas so we were guest of McMurdo until Monday. Well we decided to make the most of our layover in McMurdo. I hiked up Ob Hill and checked out the landscape.

McMurdo Station (USA)

Scott Base (NZ)

Next Stop, Antarctica


Arriving back at the CDC, we got into our ECW gear and slowly did the 'bag drag' which involves taking all our luggage and shuffling along to weigh all our check-in bags (4 for me), our carry-on bags, and ourselves with our 'hot' ECW gear on. After watching a video and grabbing some breakfast we got onto busses and headed out towards the tarmac where our C-17 awaited.

After boarding the C-17 aircraft, the biggest concern for us was getting 'Boomeranged', which means having to turn around. However after a six hour flight, we had to do a couple of 'touch-and-gos' at McMurdo's Ice Runway to burn off fuel, but we made it! This was my first sight of McMurdo:

On our way to our dorm rooms, this truck pulls off and starts honking at our group. We're all wondering what's the problem. The guy inside is pointing at us. Then I talk a closer look and it's my old college friend Wade Cunningham!

We've had a brief tour of the Station, if you've ever been to a mining town, McMurdo is pretty close to that along with a college dorm style atmosphere. Truely amazing!

Far Side of the World


Well I skipped the 9th crossing the International Date Line. Flying over New Zealand I was awestruck by how green everything was. Then we touched down in Auckland.

Because our LA flight was delayed an hour - the plane had to wait to take off against the wind and therefore traffic - we had only an hour to get through Customs in Auckland and make our 0830 AM flight to Christchurch. Like most airports, the international terminal is separate from the domestic terminal. We each had our luggage on carts and made our way the 1/2 mile or so to the domestic terminal, following the 'red' line on the ground. When we got to the domestic terminal, we noticed Marijke wasn't with us. Apparently she got held up in Customs. We waited for her, but the plane was leaving. She'd get the next flight.

As we were waiting for Marijke I eyed this girl who was on the flight from LA with us. She looked familiar, so I told her that. Great pickup line right? Well it wasn't because she thought the same thing. So we started with Colorado, but when I learned she was doing the Southern Traverse adventure race I figured out how we knew each other. She'd been at Lake Tahoe in 2003, for the Subaru Primal Quest adventure race. This is a picture of her (right) with her friend Renee.

After saying goodbye to Shannon & Renee, Kevin, Chris, Craig, John, & I headed over to the Clothing Distribution Center where we spent a good hour trying all our 'Extreme Cold Weather Gear' (ECW), which totaled 50 lbs. Afterwards, we had only half a day in ChristChurch, but it was still a sight! The architecture reminds me of Bermuda in a way, but bigger. We first headed over to a bar called 'Bailey' which is frequented by those heading down or coming back from Antarctica. I didn't really suffer from jet lag, but just the travelling wore us out so we all turned in around 1030 PM.



Well I left my parents at the hotel where Raytheon had put us up, and headed out with Chris, Craig, and Robert in SUVs to DIA. There we met up with the other individuals who were at the orientation yesterday. While we were waiting I borrowed a cell phone and made some quick calls to friends to say some last minute goodbyes. Marijke was able to sweet talk the security people into allowing her husband escort her to the gate. They spent every last moment together. It would be 3-4 months before they saw each other again.

On the flight out to LA, I sat near Kevin who was a vetran of McMurdo. He previously was a science diver, but this time he was working for Raytheon at the airfields. He told me his 'war' stories and about swimming under the ice, which kinda made me want to go for that commerical diving certificate or at least a dry suit one.

At LAX Chris lost his boarding pass so we waited for him to get a new one. Next we hit the Duty Free store where Marijke was buying liquor her boss in McMurdo asked her to get. We were acosted by 'charity' organizations. I'm glad there's none of that in Denver, then we waited at the Security line to get in. Chris passed through, but we were told we needed new boarding passes. Argh! We looked at the line at the ticket counter and rolled our eyes knowing our plane was leaving soon. Hand it to a woman though, Marijke went around and spoke with an attendant. She waived at us to come over and we bypassed the example of old Communist Russia.

I can't say much for the flight though because I had a window seat, crammed next to people I didn't know. I remembered back to my flights to Japan, which were more comfortable. I think I got up only twice during the flight.