Thursday, January 31, 2008

90 Degrees South!

I am at the South Pole!!!  Woohoo!!  The flight down here was amazing.  The plane was an LC-130 which was LOUD.  We had ear plugs and the plane was not full, so we were able to get up and walk around a lot.  The landscape of Antarctica is amazing.  Picture the Rockies buried in 10,000ft of snow and ice and glaciers flowing to the horizon.  I took some pictures from the plane and some of them turned out pretty good.  I'll upload them soon.  They let me sit in the cockpit for the landing which was awesome!  The landing was smooth and we parked fairly close to the station.  They hurried us off the plane so that they could load up again and head south.  The didn't even turn off the engines.

When we landed, it was about -35F.  Not as bad as I thought.  We walked up the stairs and into the station.  The new station is amazing!  I've heard that it was like a space station and they were right!  It is really cool.  I'll take some pictures and upload them.  Right now, the coolest thing is that I have my own room.  The bathroom is down the hall, but I'd prefer that to having a roommate.  Not that mine was bad, but it just felt like I was living in someone else's house and I always had to tiptoe around.

Currently it is -42F and -58F with the wind chill, in summer.  I can't even imagine winter.  It take more pictures and upload them as I can.  The Internet is a bit slow from here, go figure. :)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Heading Even Farther South

It is hard to believe that I've been here nearly a month now.  Again, I am ready to go home.  As interesting as this place is, it is a bit too long to be away from home.  However, even if my manager said I could go home tomorrow, I can't turn back from the South Pole being this close.  Besides there's work for me to do and too late to get someone else to do it.  Two weeks and I'm home.

Before any flight north, south, or otherwise off station, you have to turn in your bags the night before so they can be weighed and palletized for the journey.  This ritual is known as Bag Drag.  I'm sure that it is intended to have the dual meaning.  Mine is at 7pm tonight, so I need to go back to my room and pack.  Also, before I can checkout on the way to New Zealand, my room has to be inspected.  I'm going to clean it now so I don't have to worry about it on the way back.  My remaining schedule is as follows (dates are in NZ time):

1 Feb - Fly to the South Pole
2-6 Feb - Work
7 Feb  - Fly back to McMurdo
8 Feb - Fly back to Christchurch, NZ
9-10 Feb - Days Off
11-12 Feb - Work in Christchurch Office
13 Feb - Fly back to Denver

Unless the weather delays us, my next post will be from the South Pole!  At the Pole, Internet access is only 12 hours per day, so I'm not sure how it will work out in Denver time yet, but I think it will be from about 0130 to 1330 MST.  If any of you want a post card from the South Pole, email me your mailing address.  They may be blank depending upon how many requests I get and how much time I have.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Penguin and Discovery Hut

I saw a penguin in the wild for the first time two nights ago!  It was just hanging out near the ice pier.  I didn't get to see him walk around.  He just stood there messing with his feathers for a bit and the laid down.  I never knew that they did that.  I know they do to slide around on the snow, but not to just rest.  I thought they slept standing up.

I did a tour of Scott s Discovery Hut last night and it was really cool on the inside.  It is in pretty good shape for being out there in this climate for 105 years.  It is amazing the conditions that they lived in such a harsh environment.

After the hut tour we went to Gallagher's for a few pints and Burger Bar!  Good stuff.  I spent some time talking to many of the people that I have met.  One person that I talked to a lot was a guy named Charlie who was last here in 1957!  He was down here when they built the original station 50 years ago.  What a great guy.  He was also in our Happy Camper School training.  He then flew out to the WAIS  (West Antarctic Ice Sheet) Divide field camp where they are drilling ice cores.  They drill 24x7 and he would get up at 8am to drink beer with the people just getting off the night shift.  All at 74.  I've spent as much time as I could talking to him and it's been great.  Most of the people I've got to know are leaving tomorrow and so we are going to Scott Base again.  Nothing crazy tonight, but I want to have one last hurrah before they go.

I've uploaded more pictures.

Monday, January 21, 2008

More About MacTown

Not much exciting has happened since my last post.  I thought I was getting a cold this morning, but a good shower and a lot of water seems to be keeping it at bay.  I thought I'd type a quick post before I go to bed about some of the details of the town itself.  We have:

- Two lane bowling alley
- Fitness room
- Library
- Fire Station
- 3 bars - Gallagher's, Southern Exposure, and the Coffee House (just closed for repairs)
- 2 Wells Fargo ATMs (I wonder who fills it?)
- A diesel power plant that provides all of the station power
- A water de-salinization plant for fresh water
- A water treatment plant (they used to just pump it into the sound until just recently)
- An indoor basketball, volleyball, dodgeball court
- A church (The Chapel of the Snows)
- A bunch of dorms
- A radio station (Ice Radio 104.5)

I'm not sure what the maximum station capacity is, but I believe that it is about 1200 people or so.  That is a lot of people sharing an 8Mb Internet connection (it was 3Mb until a few weeks ago).  That is basically 3 cable modems for over 1000 people, their phone calls, data upload to the US, and business operations.  A lot of people complain, I guess, but I think the fact that they have hot showers and a couple of ATMs makes it easy to forget where they are.  I was told that the old 3Mb connection (equal to about ONE cable modem) cost about $160,000 per month.  I think we figured it out to be about $3.70/minute.  That is almost $2 million dollars a year for Internet access.  Ouch!  There are a lot of things about this place that seem outrageous, but you have to remember the extreme location.  It is easy to forget where we are when you are sitting the bar watching the game, drinking a beer, and eating a cheeseburger.  I don't know if I've said this already, but this place is like a cross between a mining town and a college campus.  The fuel ship is supposed to be showing up on Thursday.  Hopefully I'll be able to get pictures of it arriving.

I uploaded some more pictures.  I included some of my dorm room, our hike up Ob Hill, and my helicopter flight to Black Island.  I also chopped the pictures up into albums to hopefully make it easier to figure out what is new.  Enjoy and keep the feedback coming!  Email me questions if you want details on something.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Tied One On and Ob Hill

Last night the IT Station Manager invited us to his room from some drinks.  It was a good time.  He booted us out about 12:30.  I was too wired to sleep and I had to go outside to get back to my room so I decided to walk out to Hut Point.  The weather was excellent and it is so nice to be outside here.  The air is so clean it can't be described.  I laid down on the a flat spot out by the cross out there and just took in my surroundings, the clean air, and the sound of the ice creaking and cracking as it slowly thawed.  It was a great moment.  One I will remember for a long time.  I took a brief nap and decided to head back when as I was getting a bit cold.  I don't know what the temperature was, but my guess is the low to mid forties.  There was no wind and laying in the sun it was 2am.  I got to bed about 3am or so and slept pretty good.

Today we went for a hike up Ob Hill.  The view was amazing.  I took a lot of pictures, but my battery died on top.  However, not before I took pictures of Abby and Cora's animals.  I've been trying to figure out how long the battery lasted.  I think the last time I charged it was over a week ago.  The battery meter was full until last night after a week of usage and it went down fast today.  Now I know.  There was a patch of open water just past Ob Hill and we could see whales using it from the top of the hill.  We hiked back down and around the side to where the opening was and watched the whales surface a few times.  The hole was a bit to far out to see what kind they were.  Around the edge we also spotted two penguins!  The were also a bit too far away to see.  If we hadn't been in Antarctica, they could have been anything at that distance, but we could definitely see them waddle around.  We are going to go out tomorrow and hopefully we will see more.  My battery is charging now so it is ready to go for another trip out there and my helicopter flight out to Black Island tomorrow!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Bad News From Our Denver Office

It's been a bad couple of weeks for Raytheon IT people.  Last week one of the SatCom Engineers died after fighting of an illness for 6-8 months.  I only met the guy once, but heard good things.  He was in his late 40's, I think.  Also, we got a notice today that one of our web developers died at home after few month battle with cancer.  He was about 30, married with two young kids (6 and under).  I worked with him a few times in the office and he was a great guy to work with.  I didn't know him that well and it feels a bit odd to be building a work relationship with someone and then they are gone.  I can't imagine what it's like for his wife and kids.  I imagine things are pretty heavy in the Denver office right now too.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

American Night

It was American Night last night at Scott Base, our neighbor to the south.  Because the number of McMurdo residents greatly outnumbers that of our Kiwi neighbors, we are only allowed by invitation by a resident there or on American Night (Thursdays).  The first shuttle over there was full, so we had to walk.  We got there about the same time as the second shuttle, but it was good exercise.  It took about 40 minutes at a pretty good pace to get there.  They have a great bar with a great view south across McMurdo Sound.
The have a mini pool table, a cool can crushing contraption, and the
Shot Ski.  Of course we had to try it out.  It is basically a cross country ski with 5 shot glasses attached to it requiring coordination between all 5 participants.  The shots all had to be the same so Tequila was the consensus.  All they had was Pepe Lopez, which I had never had.  It was pretty decent.  Anyway, we completed our Shot Ski successfully.  I was a good night over all and a welcome break from all of the paperwork we have been working on.  I'm slacking on the picture upload, but will do that later tonight, I promise!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Happy Camper School Continued

After reading my last long winded post about my night out on the ice, I realized I forgot one of the other cool things we were trained on: HF radios.  I guess these are basically the same thing that HAM radio operators use.  One of the things that I thought was really interesting is having tune the antenna by adjusting it's length.  Our assignment was to tune our antenna so we could call the South Pole (still over 600 miles away) and get a weather report.  I was amazed at how well it worked.  The geek in me could see why people really get into this.  Being able to talk to people that far away without wires is like a wireless predecessor to the Internet and was what the people at the South Pole had for communications before the Internet.  This may be old news to most of you, but I thought it was pretty cool.  Of course, we had to string out a 40-foot antenna, we would have really been a PITA had the weather been bad.  We also were trained on using the VHF radio and repeater system setup down here.  All very cool.  I guess its good that they use satellite phones here for the remote camps, but the old technology is still pretty neat.

I also meant to point out that I said we camped out on the ice, but it is not really ice in the usual sense.  It was on the McMurdo Ice Shelf.  I'm not sure if it is really ice down below but the part we were on was very, very dense snow.  It is just weird stuff.  You can cut it with a saw and use it to build structures, but you can 'sand' or rub it down to a sandy-like substance.  I'm trying to find an similar substance, but nothing comes to mind.  Anyway, we were on over a hundred feet of the stuff.  For those that don't know an ice shelf is basically a glacier that extends out across water.  My GPS said we were 47 ft above water.  This stuff is so thick and hard that a big plane C-17 can land on it like a ground runway.

I went to the Yank vs. Kiwi rugby game yesterday and it was a great game even though we lost by 2.  I had forgotten how brutal the game of rugby was.  It was a rough game but I guess we played a good game.  I don't really know, but that is what the others watching said.  On the way to the game, I happened to come up on one of the coolest snow machines I've ever seen.  I guess the mechanics and welders on station built a snow motorcycle out of old snow mobile and other parts.  I took some pictures that I'll upload in the next day or two.  The guys at OCC would be proud!

I still haven't been sleeping well at 'night' even though our room is almost completely dark.  The mattress and pillow are very hard and uncomfortable.  I'm going to go grab a beer at the Gallagher's (another of the three bars on station) and then call it a 'night'...if you can call it that.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A 'Night' On Ice

Well, we all survived a night out on our own in the Antarctic.  It was a great couple of days and I learned a lot!  Our awesome instructor, Susan, has been doing outdoor training for almost 20 years and her experience and expertise was incredible.  It was great to have her leading our group as she really knows how to bring a group of people together and work on their own.  The classroom training started with the basics you'd expect regarding hypothermia, dehydration, UV protection and what to do to protect yourselves.  Then we packed up our gear for our trip out on the ice.  We were dropped off a few miles from station along the road to the two airfields.  We hiked out about mile to some shelters for some more training on stoves, tents, snow shelters, food, and water.  For those that don't know, it takes water to make water!  If you just put snow in a pot by itself to melt, you will end up with burnt tasting water.  Dump in enough water to cover the bottom of the pot well.  :)

After the end of all of the instruction, we loaded up the sled with our personal gear and bags.  Susan pulled it to our campsite with a snowmobile and we walked after her.  Once we joined her she told us where to camp and what we would need out of the Comdex(?) box out at the site which had all of the tents, shovels, ice axes, sleds, flags, cooking gear, and saws.  Yes, saws!  More on that in a minute.  We loaded all the gear on sleds and dragged it out to our site.  The first thing that we setup was our Scott tent which is basically the same design that Scott used on his own tents a hundred years ago.  It is an interesting design that I won't go into.  One of the interesting things is for this tent is that it doesn't have a floor and has flaps around the edges that you pack under the snow to keep the wind out.

Once the Scott tent was up, we the started on the snow wall to help protect our tents from the wind.  You start out by selecting a place for your 'quarry'.  We cleared off the fresh snow and marked out a grid using one of the tent stake boxes as a template.  Then we used the saws to cut out the blocks of snow.  You start by sawing all the way down two adjoining sides of the grid and digging out the snow along the outside edge as deep as you want the blocks to be.  Then you saw all the way down the rows.  If you saw them one at a time, your blocks come out all different shapes.  Think of cutting a sheet cake.  Once you have some block that have the sides cut (you don't cut the bottom).  You take a square shovel and push it hard at the base of the block and push down on the shovel.  The blocks just pop off.  It works out really well.  You then just line up the blocks to build a wall three or four feet high long enough to shelter your tent from the wind.  If the blocks don't match up right, then you use the saw to make the ends match up.  After each row, you use the saw to create a level base for the next row.  You can encircle your tents if you want, but we just built one wall about 30 feet long east to west as most of the bad storms come from the south.  We then used our quarry as a pit for the kitchen with a wall as well.  It was actually a lot of fun since we had decent weather.  I imagine that had it been 5 below with a 20-30mph wind, it wouldn't have been so much fun.

While others worked on getting the stoves going and melting water, some of us talked about building a snow shelter.  There were a couple of recent Quinzhees nearby and we decided to make use of them instead.  See the link for details.  Having been built before the storm that just came through, the entrance was buried.  So we decided to dig our own.  After a hour or so, we were able to make it to the inside.  It was in pretty good shape but a little low, so we dug out the floor another 6-8 inches which made a huge difference.  One of the other campers and I decided to sleep in it 'overnight'.  I keep quoting words referencing 'night' because to me, 'night' never exists here since the sun never goes down this time of year.  Anyway, sleeping the Quinzhee was awesome!  It was incredibly warm inside and VERY quiet.  Zero noise from from wind or the other camper's tents.  I think that the only real downside is that if you need to get up in the middle of the 'night' to use the bathroom, you have to get fully dressed as you'd get too cold and wet sliding on snow to get out.  Once I post the pics, notice that we dug the hole down and then out.  This acts as a cold sump to draw the coldest air down into the hole.

It was a great time and we really lucked out to have decent weather.  I'll upload the pictures soon and possibly to another post later.  The Swedish icebreaker, Oden, is at the ice pier and there are rumors of penguins out at the point.  There is also a traditional rugby game between the US and New Zealand (Kiwi) base at 3pm.  The Kiwis have won for the past 50 years, but it should still be fun.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

End Of the First Week

It's been busy the first week.  I've met a LOT of people.  Ate too much food.  Probably gone out for more than the usual amount of beer, for me anyway.  All said, it has been a good time.  I miss being home with Layna and the girls, but I keep busy enough to not think about it too much.  I'll try to fill in the details and uniqueness of being down here throughout the next few weeks.  However, I need to go pack my stuff for Snow School (aka Happy Camper).  Everyone who will be leaving the station is required to complete this training.  We spend some time today inside for lectures and training.  Then we go out to somewhere a few miles from station and have to put the stuff to use in the field.  We will learn about building different kinds of snow shelters and learn how to setup a tent to withstand the harsh Antarctic environment.  Luckily the temperature is fairly good at about 30F and the wind has died down quite a bit.  I will try and take a bunch of pictures and post as soon as I get back (and take a hot shower).  Probably in about 36 hours or so.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Finally a Good Sleep

I finally got a good sleep for the first time since I left Denver.  Not sure why, but it must be a combination of time change, anticipation, and homesickness.  I experienced the the strangest thing I have in a long time the first day I was here.  About 7pm, I met several people in the Coffee House for some drinks and relaxation.  The Coffee House is made up of two Quonset huts in the form of a 'T' with no windows and is fairly dark like a typical bar.  A Quonset hut is one of those military, half-circle bunkers made of corrugated steel.  Anyway, about 10pm or so, we thought is was getting late and we were tired.  So we opened up the door to go outside and...wham!...a blast of daylight.  It was just weird and messes with your internal clock.  The sun never gets overhead, it just circles around.  I knew this before I left, but you really have to experience it to understand the weird feeling you get sometimes about it.  Anyway, time for lunch.  I'll try and take some more pictures today.

Friday, January 4, 2008


Nothing too exciting, but here are my pictures starting with the flight to McMurdo.  I will try and note in the blog when I upload more.

McMurdo Station, Antarctica!

The weather was good yesterday so we left on schedule and did not 'boomerang'.  A 'boomerang' flight is one that gets to the 'point of no return', which is just over halfway, and the weather is not good enough to land.  The record is supposedly seven.  I feel sorry for the people on those trips because that means that they basically spent 35 hours over seven days on flights from Christchurch before they actually made it.  The C-17 flight down there was actually a lot better than most commercial flights as there what a lot more room for someone my size.  The seat wasn't as comfortable, but extra space more than made up for it.  We had to circle a few times before we could land because there were a few penguins on the runway.  By the time I got off the plane there was a helo flight coming and they rushed us to 'Ivan the Terra Bus'. It wasn't until we were on the bus back to the station that I found out about the penguins.  Unfortunately, I did not get to see them. :(  Some of the others got pictures, but not I.

When I heard stories about McMurdo in the office, most people described to be like a mining town and I think that description fits it well.  There is very little snow in the station and it is fairly windy.  I has been crazy since I got here and I haven't had any time to take many pictures.  As things settle down, I will take some pictures and upload them.  More to follow.  I have another orientation to go to. :)

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Big Day Tomorrow

Tomorrow is my flight from Christchurch, NZ to McMurdo Station, Antarctica.  I need to get up at 5am to go to the airport to check in at 6am.  The flight is supposed to take about 5 hours and will be on a US Air Force C-17.  Supposedly they sometimes use the C-130 for this flight, but not much anymore.  This is a good thing as the flight on the C-130 is 8 hours and a lot more cramped.  Anyway, I need to get to bed to get my 5 hours of sleep before tomorrow.  I will try and do a post before the flight if I have time.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

My Schedule For the Next Few Days

I have clothing issue tomorrow (3 Jan) at 1pm and then on Thursday (4 Jan) I have to be back at the airport at 6am.  I guess the flight usually leaves around 9 or 10am and is about 5 hours.  I'm sure that 5 hours on a military transport is going to make coach on a commercial airline seem like first class.  That should put me in McMurdo around 2-3pm.

A note on the time difference for easy conversion.  Currently there is a 20 hour time difference between MST and NZT.  So for an easy conversion from the time in my posts (NZT) to MST, add 4 hours and subtract a day: 4 Jan 2008 at 0600 NZT = 3 Jan 2008 at 1000.

All Beer Is Good, Some Is Better

The weather the past couple of days has been great (Sunny, mid-80s).  I decided to go for a walk and get something to eat.  A co-worker recommended a place called 'The Tap Room'.  I was just going to have one pint with lunch, but their beer was so good I had three! :)  This pub features the  brews of Monteith's Brewing Co. and they were very great.  I tried the Celtic Red, Black Beer, and the Reddler.  The Celtic and Black were excellent! The Reddler was good, but a little too sweet for my taste.  The food was good and the menu had a lot of great quotes by famous people about beer and drinkinng.  The title of this post comes from Monteith's slogan.  I wanted to buy a t-shirt with it on it, but no luck.  Thanks for the recommendation, Mark!

Yesterday, Dave F (a co-worker) and I went to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens near downtown.  The weather was beautiful and I ended up getting a decent sunburn.  The gardens were free and definitely worth it.  They had all kinds of different plants but our favorite were the trees.  I took a bunch of pictures to get better at using my new camera (Nikon D40x).  I will have to upload them later as the hotel's Internet charges over $1 for each MB for 10 and it could get pricey.  When I get to the station I will upload them.