Antarctica Dispatch

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

"The Dark Side of Oz"


Saturday night, almost the middle of the year. Back home it's sunny and warm. I haven't been on a beach in quite a while, and I'm looking forward to a 'Jimmy Buffett' experience - carribbean/pacific island sand beneath my feet, sun on my face, with a cold drink at hand. Well a couple of people here helped bring a bit of that with a Carribean Party Theme replete with Mai Tais, Pina Colatas, and marinated meat on K-bobs. Women wore tropical dresses adding to the theme.
Next we headed back to Building 155 for margaritas since we were in our tropical gear. Some black lights were rigged up, giving everyone funky look. People were complementing me on my 'white' teeth though.

Finally we moved the party to the viewing lounge setup in the back galley seating area to watch Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Rainbow' (aka 'Dark Side of Oz). I had no idea how many Pink Floyd fans we had nor had I ever seen the Wizard of Oz from beginning to end.

Southern Exposure

McMurdo has three 'bars' down here - 'Gallagers', 'Southern Exposure', and the 'Coffee House'. There's been much written about the history of these places so I won't go too much in depth. Just do a search on these words and you'll get plenty of info, check out this link. The administrative assistant down here, Tom, writes about it on his blog - bigblueglobe.

For this winter only one bar was kept open - 'Southern Exposure' (a.k.a. 'Southern's), which is the 'Smoking Bar', at least for now. Back when McMurdo was run by the Navy it was apparently called the 'Chief's Club', and it's got quite a bit of character with people's names on one of the main beams.

One of the former workers down here wrote a piece for the May issue of Men's Journal "Do Shots at the Bottom of the World" which was part of an article called "60 Real Adventures". Here's the print:

Established 52 years ago as part of something the navy called Operation Deep Freeze, McMurdo Station and its 1500 seasonal residents needs a great bar like few other places on earth. Actually it has three, but Southern Exposure is by far the best, a dilapidated yet funky wood-beamed drinking haven. Distinguished climatologists chain-smoke alongside hard-drinking lesbian heavy-equipment operators, while adventurous English lit grads, hired to work as galley dishwashers curse the decision that brought them here. There's nothing on tap, the pool table's warped, and most of the chairs, like half the hearts, are broken. But on Saturday nights the place jumps like a West Texas honky-tonk. The only difference being that outside there's nothing but the Ross Sea, a smokeing volcano called Mount Erebus and certain death by hypothermia. It's impossible to drink yourself into oblivion here; you can only drink your way out.
There's even a drink mentioned 'The Nacreous Cloud' which none of us heard of. Still it's nice to be noticed.

Hagglund ride


Tonight I took a 'boondogle' out to Castle Rock. This was an opportunity to get out of 'town' and check out aurorae. We took a Hagglund out. If you watched Eight Below, Jason Bigg's character talks about the Ferrari of snowcats. It was a nothing more than a Hagglund. The Antarctic Center even offers rides in these things. Amazing! The ones we have here have a new paint job, but are pretty worn out. As far as I know they get the job done, but I'll have to ask the mechanics.

Taken with my Canon Rebel XT

We had a full moon out, making it almost appear like daylight. This was another great opportunity to try out my photography skills.

Photo by Chad Carpenter



Once more again I get to partake in viewing the Aurora Australis, which is mostly only viewable to the few individuals in Antarctica during the dark winter months. This time I brought down a Canon Rebel XT SLR camera I bought last year and read the manual along with the one for my Canon A610 PowerShot. I also utilized the expertise of a veteran photographer. Here's what I came out with:

Taken using my Rebel XT EOS - ISO 400, 30 sec shutter, f/2.0

A610 PowerShot - 15" shutter

The SLR allows for greater manipulation of the picture. As you can see I got more detail from the SLR camera. Since I didn't have a remote switch for the SLR to prevent camera shake, I used the self-timer, which was a pain waiting the 10 seconds and watching the LED blink before a picture was taken. Also it was impossible to focus - a dark image doesn't show up well in the viewfinder - so I had to make a guess. I'm quite impressed with my first 'go' at this. The A610 is still a versatile camera because it's easier to carry around than the bulky SLR. Also I can shoot .avi files with it, take it underwater with it's water-proof case, and have a wide-angle & tele-lens to go with it. Wow, I sound like a camera geek or at least a critic.

Scott Base Visit


Other than 'Radio Darts' on Friday nights, the New Zealand Scott Base allows McMurdo personnel to come over and socialize once a month or by special invitation. They are renovating their dining facility and bar so they have a temporary setup in their new Hillary Field Center.

Back when they had a bar, there was this sign on the door in Japanese. Whenever somebody (mostly American) came into the bar with their hat on they would ring the bell and proclaim to the guest that he had to buy a round of drinks. When the puzzled guest said he didn't know about about this rule, the Kiwis would point to the Japanese words and say, "Well it's written on the door!". Ah, well they didn't get that past me, because they never had someone who could translate it. In fact it doesn't say what they thought it meant at all, but literally means "Tell everyone someone's wearing boots."

This winter one of the projects the New Zealand base is working on, along with the Antarctic Heritage Trust is performing some restoration work on Shakleton's hut at Cape Royds. There are four conservators down here trying to preserve what little artifacts are left, and it's quite an amazing thing to see 100 year old boots along with canned food. You can read about the conservators work at London's Natural History Museum's website.

Seth, Pete, and Chris with Phillipa & Jason in back

Here's Phillipa, who works on restoring documents. She's currently working on a newspaper from 1911 along with the labels from all the canned food. You can read her blog - 'Six Months in a Fleecy Coat'.

Polar Plunge


Just like at the South Pole with the '300 Club', there's a tradition here to do the 'Polar Plunge'. Unlike the 'Polar Bear Clubs' that abound, the ideal way to do it is in one's 'birthday suit'. The NZ Scott Base obliged by hosting the event. They dug the hole and even had an unexpected visitor pop up.

So the whole event goes something like this. There's a hut to disrobe. One must put on a utility belt and get 'clipped' in with a rope for safety. The wind was calm, and after getting over the fact that I was doing something my mind said was absolutely nuts, I jumped in. Some people claim there are benefits to cold water swimming. As soon as I hit the water I wanted to get out. Little did I realize that the cold part was getting out and waiting to get 'unclipped'. Finally after what seemed like forever, I was free and ran back to the hut to get warm.

Photo by Keri Gardner

Well my night wasn't over yet. When I got back to McMurdo, we had a little surprise for our 'lineman' who repairs the power lines strung around McMurdo. Brian goes by the name 'Moose', and he's by far the biggest guy down here ~ 6'5" and 300+ lbs. As a belated birthday celebration we tied him up, carried him away (a hard thing to do), and made him wear a costume. Then the imbibing started and continued throughout the night. All in good fun.

Deviled Egg 'Moose' and Barb T.

After a day or so recuperating, he sent the following email:
The folks at home who have never deployed always wonder if I'm just a bit strange, or just completely psychotic for coming back here season after season. I tell them stories of some of the times I've had down here, but I don't think they can fully appreciate the day to day life we live down here. I think the best way I've found to explain it to my family, and friends back home is thus: The folks here are my second family. Without folks like you, Antarctica just wouldn't be even as half as fun as it is. That's reason enough for me to keep coming back here, year after year... spending my time amongst some truly fine people. It never ceases to amaze me that despite being locked away and isolated as we all are, we manage to have the fun that we do.
I extend a heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you for making my 29th birthday a memorable one. Well, as much of it as I can remember at least! As always, it has been an honor, and a priveledge to have spent a season, or many seasons, with each and every one of you.
Thank you again!
Moose, the pretty pickled devilled egg

Land of the Lost


Another two day weekend! These are really special treats that only winter personnel get. Usually it's 9 hour days, 6 days a week, but we get a two day weekend at the beginning of each month. This reminds us a bit of the regular 40 hour work week back home. Hmmm, I wonder how I'll adjust when I get back to a 'regular' job.

One of the guys brought down the complete DVD of 'Land of the Lost'. I remember watching this TV series every Saturday growing up. Watching it now I can't believe I was a fan of it. The 'campy' look and simple special effects are just too funny to look at, but I guess it doesn't matter for a kid. Heck all I needed back then was my imagination.

Well the day's festivities continued with horseshoes at the Vehicle Maintenance Facility. It was a $10 buy-in with a lottery selection for partners. I'd never thrown before so I got there an hour before to get some practice in. Well I did OK, better that the guy I was paired up with, but we only lasted two rounds.

Me 'throwing' with Jim in the background

Scraping By


I just got done watching 'Cinderella Man', a small glimpse into the Great Depression. Both my parents grew up during that time. I can only imagine what it was like, but I remember my mother telling me how when my great-grandfather, who was a country doctor, died my grandfather set out to clear out the accounts. Many accounts were settled by trade, a pig for a delivery, etc. One one visit to a family my grandfather saw there was barely food on the table. He marked the account 'Paid in Full'.

Here I am without having to worry about how to pay the bills or when my next meal will be. My dorm room is better than my college lodging. I have a sink, cable TV, a refrigerator, and telephone. The only drawback is I have to walk outside to go to the dining hall, and I share a bathroom with another room. "It's a harsh continent!"

As for life back home, it's amazing how things have become. I spoke with a pal today who told me gasoline was over $3.00/gallon. For the past 18 months I put maybe 1000 miles on my vehicle. Now on the off chance I need to fuel a vehicle here I don't have to pull out my credit card to pay. In addition it's probably the cheapest, coming directly off a tanker, no middleman. I'm sure I'll have major 'sticker shock' when I get home.



The sun is now below the horizon, but we have a few hours of sunlight, making for some spectacular sunsets. Here's one I took back at the beginning of the month.

Today I climbed atop Observation 'Ob' Hill to snap a few photos:

'Arrival Heights' with NASA radome & NZ radome in forground

Mt. Erebus with Castle Rock in the foreground

Looking south - 'Scott's Cross' in foreground with White Island, Black Island, and Mt. Discovery in background