Antarctica Dispatch

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

Better Dorms & Gardens


Even with a reduced population of only 119 people, it's difficult to get to know everybody. Thankfully someone organized an open house for Dorm 208, which is where I live. Those who chose to participate opened their rooms up, and it was quite surprising to learn the extent some people go in redecorating their room.

Twin Beds joined to make 'king'

Unlike most dorms where the are common bathroom facilities, the dorm rooms in my building are arranged so a bathroom is shared between two rooms. During the summer two people share a room making for tight accommodations. 'Lucky' or married couples are able to have a bathroom to themselves.

'Love Shack'

Although we're down here for only a few months, I can understand why people want to make their rooms as comfortable as possible. It was kind of hard to do so down at the Pole with everything so new, but here people move couches into their room, repaint, build shelves, and hang cloth on the walls to make it a 'home'.

Note Christmas lights and greenery



Back in 1961 the US Navy constructed a bowling alley down here. Since then it hasn't changed much. The pin setting is done manually as is score keeping. If you look closely at the picture, you'll see the lanes are numbered '3' & '4'. I guess the first two lanes never got completed. The bowling lanes have got a unique characteristic. The pins are never set in the same place consecutively because the machine is probably out of alignment. Hey it's a harsh continent!

Luckily a few good friends wanted to sign up to play in the league so I finally got to bowl at the world's most southern bowling alley and probably the oldest. For the next few weeks we'll be matched up with other teams and doing some team 'bonding'. Thoughts of The Big Lebowski come to mind.

Castle Rock


Our first two day weekend. A couple of us got together and headed out to Castle Rock. There are a few recreational trails down here for us to enjoy. Because there are potential dangers all personnel are required to attend an Outdoor Safety Lecture (OSL). Some of the trails can be done solo, but the majority require us to file a 'foot plan' online then stop by the firehouse to check out and maybe take a radio.

The Castle Rock Loop, is one of the longest trails of the 'Ross Island Trail System' - over 7 miles. The highlight is climbing atop this outcropping

On the way back we stopped by the New Zealand 'Kiwi' Scott Base. Unlike the U.S., New Zealand claimed a portion of Antarctica, hence their station is considered New Zealand sovereign territory. This winter there are over 20 people at the base, double the amount from other winters.

Last Flight


Well the day finally arrived when the last of the summer crew departed, and the winter crew officially took over. The South Pole closed down a few days before on Sunday. It seemed like yesterday when I was there watching the LC-130 take off and buzz the station.

USAF C-17 Globemaster III from McCord AFB at Pegasus Runway

This time I was helping out at Pegasus by driving the last passengers out there while the rest of the community hung out at the NSF Chalet sipping champagne waiting to toast the last flight. The weather was very overcast, and the flight crew didn't think they'd be able to perform a 'fly-by', but the visibility near Ob Hill was clearer so they obliged.

All the runways down here are on ice so in order to get to them roads are groomed. When snow drifts flow in it can make for an interesting driving test. I'd done plenty of driving on ice before, but how many people can say they did it on a glacier. It was quite a drive back trying to follow the tracks of the vehicle in front and stay out of the drifts.

Here's me by 'Ivan' the Terra Bus. No I didn't drive this. It's a "all-wheel drive, three axle, 56-passenger, off-road bus" made by a Canadian company called Foremost.

Penguin in our Midst


One thing I looked forward at McMurdo and which brought me back down to Antarctica was the possibility to see wildlife unlike last year at the South Pole. My college bud Wade who came down in August at Winfly had seen wildlife up close and personal. Coming back on the tail end of summer, I wasn't likely to see much. Most of the penguins especially the Adelie had finished giving birth and were headed back out to sea. Still I hoped to see one close enough to touch, which by the way is not permitted. We are not supposed to interfere with wildlife. Doing so will result in termination.

However, my prayers were answered when a single Adelie was found molting near the dorms by Winter Quarters Bay

Usually you'll find penguins doing this thing together at the same time. For some reason this one was late in doing so.

Vessel Offload


Air Freight is by far the quickest means of getting things from one part of the world to the other. As far a volume goes, water transportation continues to be the cheapest. Once a year two important ships arrive at 'Winter Quarter's Bay' where Robert F. Scott first brought his ship the 'Discovery' - a fuel tanker (USNS Paul Buck) and a cargo ship (American Tern).

USNS Paul Buck at Winter Quarter's Bay

The whole reason we have icebreakers is to cut a path for these two important vessels to dock and unload. The US Navy sends down a battalion of support personnel to perform vessel offload. During this time all the bars shut down and safety is of the utmost concern. It's a 24 hour operation, and it's quite an 'orchestra' to watch.

American Tern at Winter Quarter's Bay - McMurdo Station in background