Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The journey home

I'm in the Christchurch airport, waiting for my flight to Sydney. I've already hit the first delay of this leg of the trip, but I've got a lot of layover time so it shouldn't be a problem.

In my last blog post I was flying to McMurdo. I obviously made it there

Unlike most people's picture of Antarctica, McMurdo is on the coast and was EXTREMELY warm. The temperature was around 32 degrees when I got there!

I did get to see penguins...

but they were in a display case in Crary, the main science building.

Since we had an entire day in McMurdo, I decided to spend the afternoon on an excursion to Scott Base (the New Zealand base near McMurdo). I told Gonzalo my plans, and Stefan walked up while we were discussing it and said he'd like to go. While I was leaving, one of the South Pole Telescope people started talking to Gonzalo and Stefan. When I showed up at 3PM, half of the people from the Pole flight were waiting to walk to Scott Base!

Scott Base is a decent hike, about 45 minutes over a small mountain. Most of the hike is along a road but the last half mile or so is a trail down a kind of steep slope.

The view is pretty spectacular. The ice from the bay pushing into shore near Scott Base makes for some dramatic scenery.

The day we left McMurdo we were asked to report to the Cargo building at 6:45AM. Of course, any Antarctica flight involves waiting, so we got onto Ivan the TerraBus by around 7:30, trundled out to the airfield and then stood around waiting to see if our flight would take off. Over the bus driver's radio I heard them say the weather in Christchurch was starting to look bad so he should wait with us in case the flight was cancelled.

One pleasant surprise was that we ran into a few IceCube people who were on their way to the Pole (the poor suckers!) They had shown up at Cargo at around 5:30AM and were still waiting for their plane! We chatted a bit and then they were called to grab their stuff and get on a shuttle to their plane. I haven't heard, but I think they made it to Pole on their first try.

We finally were loaded onto our plane, which was packed elbow-to-elbow with passengers. A short 8 hour flight later, we were back in New Zealand. We went through customs, walked back to the CDC to drop off our ECW gar, then ... waited half an hour or so for a shuttle to the hotel.

I was in my hotel room by around 7PM. I grabbed a bite to eat, repacked for the trip home, then took a shower (to cut through the first couple of layers of grime) and then a half hour BATH!!! I got to bed by around 10PM so I could wake up and dash out the door for my 5:15AM shuttle to the airport.

Now just 4 flights stand between me and home!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Coming and going

Yesterday was alternately exciting and boring. I was scheduled to leave Pole so I spent part of the morning packing my remaining belongings and cleaning my room. Part of that task was stripping the linens off my bed and bundling them into a pillowcase. Since the last few flights were cancelled, I waited until the last minute to strip it so I wouldn't have to remake it. I was also a little distracted because...

The British group finally paid us a visit prior to catching their ride home. This group included the Prince and the two celebrities.

They drove from their camp to the station and were treated to a tour which included the science area where I was working. Ralf, a former winter-over and current IT expert, gave a presentation on IceCube and I chimed in with one minor fact. I didn't get to drink with McNulty, but he did give me a smile on the way out.

Our part of the tour ended at around 10:45 and the plane was due at 11:30 so I finished packing and moved my stuff out of my room, then grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading out to wait for the plane. After 20-30 minutes of waiting outside, they waved us onto the plane!

It's about a three hour plane ride from Pole to McMurdo, but there is some great scenery!

After landing, it usually takes around an hour to go from the Pegasus ice runway into the main base. We were dropped off by the main building, and everyone walked to the housing office to get our room assignments. I went to my room and stripped off my winter gear, unneeded because it was a balmy 32 degrees. I walked over to the laundry facility to pick up my linens, carried them back to my room to make my bed, then walked back to the laundry to get a pillow since I hadn't noticed that my bed was missing one.

When my bed was finally made, I figured my bags would be available so I walked up the hill to the cargo area and fetched my luggage and lugged it back down to my room.

By that time, it was suppertime so I grabbed some food in the galley then headed over to the Crary library (where transiting scientists go to use the Wi-Fi) and soaked up some sweet, sweet relatively high-speed Internet!

This morning I got up and took a shower!!!! then checked the McMurdo website to discover that there were no flights or bag drags scheduled for today. I resigned myself to at least a couple of days in McMurdo.

However, I got email a little while ago alerting me that I'd be bag dragging at 8PM for a flight tomorrow! This could mean that I'll be flying home as originally scheduled. Of course, this season has proven that one can never assume things will go as scheduled!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Last Day?

Today might be my last full day at the Pole. Yesterday I left my bags in the cargo area to be added to the ever growing pile of bags destined to be loaded onto the next flight to McMurdo.

Last night was the big South Pole Telescope party, but I spent another Saturday night unconcious. I was asleep by 9PM and woke up (for the final time) at around 7AM! That's the second time this trip I've gotten around 10 hours of sleep, a rare thing at the South Pole.

I did make it out for the start of the South Pole marathon. Over a dozen brave souls started the race.

I didn't stick around to see the finish, Sunday brunch was calling me.

In case you didn't heard, it was a big week for the IceCube project. Physics World magazine named IceCube's observations of neutrinos the Breakthrough of the Year. This is after IceCube made the cover of Science magazine.

It's pretty cool being a tiny part of that work!

Friday, December 13, 2013


The word went out yesterday that Prince Harry's group had set up camp about 10km away from the station. The station managers talked to them and all agreed that they would have a few hours alone at the Pole tonight, then at around 4AM Sunday anyone who wanted could head out to the Pole for a group photo.

Unfortunately, there was a misunderstanding somewhere and they Prince's group showed up early this morning, took their hero shots, and went back to their camp. So, no group photo.

They'll be leaving in two groups, one departing on Monday and the other on Wednesday. They'll stay at their camp until then, so the tourist camp remains empty.

The bad luck with flights continued today as yet another flight was cancelled due to mechanical problems. All the people who have been trying to leave for the last 4 days will now be on the Monday flight with me ... assuming that flight makes it here and back to McMurdo with passengers.

And finally the moment you've all been waiting for ... my hero shot for the year!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Happy Antarctica Day!

Welcome, all Antarctica Day celebrants!

Today's big event was a group departure for my project. The four drillers were scheduled to leave two days ago and Gonzalo, one of my co-workers, was supposed to leave yesterday, but the last two flights were cancelled. All of them were ready to leave today!

The plane was due in just after noon, so everyone had a leisurely lunch then got dressed and assembled at DA (Destination Alpha, one of two main exits for the station). After waiting about 15-20 minutes, an announcement on the station PA instructed all passengers to proceed to the departure area.

Ralf gave them a South Pole limo ride from the station to the departure point, then everyone wandered around saying their goodbyes. It seemed to take a LOOONG time before they announced that passengers could board.

The first movement we saw was one of the cargo loaders moving its load back to the cargo shed, followed by another loader taking the baggage off the plane. The plane had trouble with its hydraulic system and the crew were worried about landing in McMurdo with passengers or the extra cargo weight. So everyone is spending an extra night at the Pole!

In other news, we've been told to expect visitors to the tourist camp in about 30 hours or so. This will add to an already busy weekend. The South Pole Telescope is holding their annual open house tomorrow night and the South Pole Marathon will be held on Sunday. After all that frivolity, I'll be ready to leave for McMurdo on Monday so I can get some rest! (Although seeing the current problems with getting planes to Pole and back, I'll consider myself lucky if I make it home by Christmas!)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Travel in Antarctica always has a degree of uncertainty because weather can change in an hour or two and make it difficult to land at the other end. The Wisconsin drillers were scheduled to leave yesterday but that flight was cancelled and today's flight has also been cancelled due to weather.

My flight is already changing even though I'm not leaving for almost a week. My departure date has been bumped up a day, from the 17th to the 16th. I've heard that this is because they're making fewer flights between Pole and McMurdo, and between McMurdo and Christchurch.

Flight in Antarctica always involves a "bag drag". Here at the South Pole, instead of showing up at the airport an hour before the flight and checking in my luggage, I'll need to walk out to the Cargo shed by 3PM the (work) day before my flight with my checked bag. That bag will be weighed and taken away, and I won't see it until several hours after I've landed on the other end.

Since I'm now leaving sometime on Monday and Cargo is closed on Sunday, I'll need to be packed by 2:30PM Saturday. Of course, my flight might get bumped a day or two so I might not really leave until Tuesday or Wednesday. There's also a chance that they'll try to put me on the next flight out of McMurdo, so I might not see my checked bag until Christchurch. This means that I need to plan to be without my checked bag for at least 4 days. I'm already planning on doing laundry tomorrow so it'll be dry on Saturday and making sure I finish up all the work I wanted to get done here at Pole.

There's been no sign of any of the British groups here at Pole, but we did have a minor British Invasion. One of the new arrivals brought in a copy of "Day of the Doctor", the latest Doctor Who episode which aired everywhere else around Thanksgiving. Last night there was a showing in the downstairs lounge. I already feel like I'm back in civilization!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Being green

For you snow-bound people, here's some greenery from the South Pole.

Since there are no flights for at least 8 months, the greenhouse is the only source of fresh fruits and vegetables, referred to as "freshies" here.

The greenhouse area is also delightfully humid so it's not unusual to see someone sitting on the couch inside the greenhouse, soaking up some moisture.

In other news Bill Spindler, who runs pointed me at this article which explains everything you could every want to know about raising and leveling the station. It's a bit technical, but still a fun article if you're interested.

Also, we've cleaned up our area here in the station and Ian is working on a short IceCube presentation because we've been told to expect British media on station in the next couple of days. So maybe I'll get to see McNulty after all!

That last item is particularly important to me because my departure from Pole has been moved from Tuesday to Monday (5 days from now). For some reason I still don't understand, instead of an overnight stay we now need to spend two days in McMurdo on the way out.

So I'm rushing to finish the big task I'd hoped to complete on this visit, but I think that's been true of every visit to the Pole :-)