Sunday, January 22, 2012

Today's schedule

They're planning on flying us back to New Zealand today. The CHC->MCM (christchurch to McMurdo) plane is supposed to leave at 9PM and since it's a 5 hour flight it'll likely touch down here at around 2AM. If all goes well, we'll be in Christchurch by 8AM tomorrow.

I had to "bag drag" at 4PM, so my suitcase and extra gear are probably already on a pallet headed out to Pegasus field. It's about 5:30PM and I've got little to do except eat dinner and wait until 9PM to make sure that the flight has left.

Once I'm ABSOLUTELY sure the flight's on its way, I'll head back to my room, strip my bed, and then haul my stuff over to the Crary science building and get back on the Internet until it's time to report for transport out to Pegasus. After the quick van ride yesterday, it'll be tough to go back to chugging out there on Ivan!

Old Pole pics

The South Pole computer network has a common drive which people use for actual work, but which also has a sizable collection of photos which people have shared. I found a section with photos from 1960-1961
Back then the entire operation was run by the Navy, and the camp was much more spartan than the cozy station we work in today.
These days EVERYTHING is recycled and hauled back to New Zealand. Spills are cleaned up. The ideal is to leave everything as pristine as possible. I've heard that management of the continent back in the Navy days was a lot, ummm, looser.

I certainly haven't seen any pinups anywhere on station. Of course, I'm sure they never saw any women with blue and pink streaks in their hair. At least not when they were awake.

The ceremonial Pole marker these days is a lot less specifically American, but it still has a similar mirror ball on top.

And people back then also posed for wacky "right-side-up" hero shots!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Antarctic Marathon

Torsten and I got up early this morning to walk out past Scott Base onto the Ross Ice Shelf to watch Carlos, who staying at the South Pole all winter for IceCube, run in the marathon.

We didn't have much information, only that the race started at 9AM at mile marker 1. Pegasus airfield is a bit more than 14 miles from the edge of the ice shelf, so the marathon runners went from mile 1 to mile 14, then turned around and ran back.
There weren't any shuttles and we didn't want to miss the start of the race, so we left at around 8:20AM to walk the 2.5 miles to the start of the race. When we arrived, nobody else was around.
Eventually, the race coordinator and volunteers showed up and set up a table with drinks and snacks for the racers.
We watched Ivan make its way slowly down the mountain and over the ice, until it eventually stopped nearby and let out all the marathon runners -- the half marathoners stayed on Ivan to go to the halfway mark at Pegasus airfield.
After milling about for a while, the race coordinator yelled for everyone to line up and then about 15 seconds later, shouted "Ready, set, go" and the marathon started! Carlos is the runner in the front wearing yellow.
There were also skate-skiers competing, along with a four person team of New Zealanders pulling a sled.
A few people were getting a van ride to the halfway point, and they let us ride along. On the way, we spotted Carlos a minute or two behind the front runner.
The van travels MUCH faster than Ivan, so even with a couple of stops along the way we arrived at Pegasus just as Ivan was pulling up to let out the half-marathoners. Note the planes in the background.
This time the start of the race was a bit less abrupt, so I was able to get a picture of everyone lined up waiting to start.
The scenery for the run was pretty awesome, even though it's probably a bit monotonous when you stare at it for 3-4 hours.
A few people had set up a grill at the halfway point. They were cooking burgers and brats, and had beer, fruit, chips, and cheese available. While I was there, the Kiwi sled team was taking a break, enjoying the couch.

When the van stopped back at Mile 1, I walked back to McMurdo and had brunch. Torsten stayed until the end and said that Carlos came in second. The runners all got to enjoy a dip in the Scott Base ice pool, and then headed back to McMurdo for massages.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Bait and Switch

Yesterday we rushed out of the South Pole a day early, in order to be sure we'd make our Monday flights. Of course, when we got here there was an email message informing us that the Monday flight had been cancelled so we'd be flying out on Tuesday.

So I get to log more time in Mactown. I'll try to take pictures later today, but the overall feel of the place is a mining town with a fantastic view. I'm staying with two other guys in a dorm room. This trip I'm on the bottom bunk, so it's not TOO annoying. However, it's a small room so my main hope for sanity is to spend as little time there as possible.

Right now, I'm headed over to the chalet because I still don't have my airline tickets home...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Quick departure

I was notified today that the Saturday flight has been cancelled (and they never fly on Sunday), so if I want to make my Monday flight to Christchurch, I need to leave tomorrow (a day early). So I'm rushing around today trying to finish everything!
Here are a couple of shots from the visitors' center outreach event. You can see that we had a nice turnout, filling the (kind of small) building.
And just to prove that I did actually talk to people, here's a shot of me explaining IceCube.
And here's a shot of me flying from McMurdo to the Pole. In case you can't tell, I'm the first person on the far wall, probably attempting to sleep. I'll be making the reverse journey in about 22 hours!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

This year's Hero shot

I tried something different for this year's Hero shot.

Centennial of Scott's Arrival

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of Robert Falcon Scott's arrival at the South Pole.

In case you don't know the story, Scott and Amundsen arrived on Antarctica at about the same time. Amundsen's main goal was to claim the South Pole for Norway, while Scott's expedition also had a scientific component.

Amundsen's expedition was better planned, with men on skis and provisions hauled on dogsleds supplemented by several supply caches which Amundsen's team had laid the previous season.

Scott was relying on a combination of dogsleds, Siberian ponies, and mechanical tractors. The tractors quickly broke down, the ponies couldn't handle the deep snow, and none of his teams were experienced enough with dogs to make the single dogsled work, so they ended up hauling the sleds by hand.

Amundsen made it to the Pole weeks before Scott, and Scott's team ended up dying on the journey back to the coast.

The story of Scott's journey is really interesting, displaying (or maybe cementing) the British mindset of the time.

Because of the centennial celebration, yesterday was busy. At around 4:15PM we headed out to the visitors' center, halfway between the station and the visitors' camp with a DOM and lots of IceCube brochures. There are several groups who skied in various distances, including a couple of British Army groups which retraced the Amundsen and Scott routes. Many of those visitors came through the center and were remarkably interested in getting explanations of exactly what we're doing here at the South Pole. I spoke with a guide from Montana, a businessman from England, an engineer from England, and a woman who had flown in to meet her husband who was partially paralyzed last year and was skiing to the Pole by using his arms to push himself on a sled.

After the visitors' center, we walked to the Pole for a half hour ceremony honoring Scott's party. We then went back to the station, dumped our gear in our rooms, and ate dinner. I had started a 24 hour on the detector the previous day, so after dinner I switched the detector back to the normal software and then rushed back to the galley in order to meet the rest of the IceCubers for another session of Pub Trivia! Unfortunately, we did MUCH worse that last week's fourth place finish. This week we were seventh out of eight teams, but we had a lot of fun while losing.

By the time we'd finished it was 10:30PM, but my colleague and I headed back to B2 in order to finish up the last of her work. She's leaving tomorrow, so she wanted to make sure she at least attempted to run everything yesterday. That way, if she encountered problems, she'd have time today to work around them.

Fortunately, everything went smoothly and we finished before midnight.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Work and play

I've been making good progress on my work, I've even started a new project, fixing something in the DAQ that's been bothering me for YEARS.

Last night there was an interesting talk by a cosmologist whose team is installing a Cosmic Microwave Background telescope in order to learn about the first 400,000 years of the universe.

After that, we adjourned to the B1 Lounge to engage in a South Pole ritual I had not yet experienced: watching the 1982 version of The Thing ... in Betamax!!! The South Pole has one of the few remaining Betamax players in the world, and for a long time it was a tradition to watch The Thing after all the non-winterovers had left and the station had closed.

If you haven't seen it, Kurt Russell plays a helicopter pilot stationed at an Antarctic station which is invaded by an alien being. It's quite an experience to watch a decades-old tape on a modern flat-screen T.V. When the movie finished, we actually had to REWIND it. It's probably been a decade since I've had to do that!

Tonight there'll be another lecture by Lt Col Henry Worsley of the Royal British Legion on British Antarctic history.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

My office at the South Pole

Here are some pictures of my "office" in room B2 on the station.
This is most of the IceCube group, missing only Torsten Schmidt and Carlos Pobes. On the left you can see Volker and Andreas to the left (Torsten sits on the other side of Andreas). Naoko is hidden behind Walter in the middle. Sven (in the hat) is sitting at the desk he'll be using all winter long and Heath is next to him.

Behind Sven you can see a partition walling our section off from the Meteorology desks.
Another angle on the IceCube space. You can actually see Naoko in this picture, and Carlos' unattended desk behind her. You can see my unattended chair and computer in the center of the picture. Note also the nifty IceCube poster on the wall!
One last shot. Beyond that file cabinet one the left is South Pole Telescope territory (and you can see one of the SPT folk sitting at the desk on the right of the photo), and there are two more sections beyond that. Despite the warehouse-like nature of the space, it's actually kind of quiet and conducive to work!

Indoor pictures

There are several webpages which dominate my life right now.
Most important is the satellite schedule, which indicates when we can connect to the Internet. Every day there are several small windows of an hour or so when we can talk to computers back in the States, followed by a long drought between around 6PM and 2:30AM.
The current weather is always displayed (along with the satellite times and a few other pages) in on several screens in the galley. It's been cloudy out, but it's supposed to clear up tomorrow!
Finally, there's the outgoing passengers manifest, which tells a little story about the end of the season for IceCubers.

Naoko is the first of our group to leave on Thursday the 19th.

Carlos Pobes is one of the two people who will be down here all winter taking care of the IceCube computers and equipment. He won the South Pole marathon, so he'll fly to McMurdo on the 20th in order to run in the Antarctic marathon on the 22nd.

I'll fly out with Torsten on the 21st. It is a Saturday flight and there are no flights on Sunday so we'll weekend in McMurdo and fly out on Monday. So I'll be able to cheer on Carlos while he's running!

The other four IceCubers leave on the 24th. A group of people who work with IceCube will begin to arrive on the 19th, but they're coming down to work on a non-IceCube physics project.

Just another day

It's been pretty cloudy around here for the last few days. This is kind of bad because when it's cloudy, it's difficult for planes to land. The word going around the station is that they're way behind schedule on fuel flights, which means that there might not be enough fuel to heat the station through the winter. It also means that as soon as the weather turns, they'll probably start running as many flights as they possibly can.

Because it's so dingy, I've spent most of my time working. The room where I sleep, the galley where I eat, and the space where I work are in the same building, so I haven't put on my gear in DAYS. Looking out my window this morning, I can see blue sky and even some sunshine so maybe I'll venture out today.

I'll definitely make it out on Tuesday for the centennial anniversary of Captain Scott's arrival at the South Pole. There was a big celebration of Admunsen's centennial last month but this will be more subdued, partly because, well, Scott was second and partly because his entire party perished on the return trip.

At around 4PM we'll do a bit of outreach at the visitor's center, explaining a bit about IceCube while a computer displays some flashy IceCube graphics and then at around 6PM there will be a brief ceremony.

Since I haven't taken any pictures of the dingy outdoors, here's I sight I'll be experiencing again in just 6 days. This was taken while we were waiting for our plane in McMurdo. That's my heavily laden colleague Andreas in the foreground.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Madison to South Pole in pictures

I left from Madison at around 12:30PM December 31
I hung out in Chicago for an hour and a half.
I had a 6 hour layover in Los Angeles and left at around 11:30PM PST December 31 (but since it was already New Year's Day in Madison, I got to wish my wife and daughter a Happy New Year)
I blearily made my way through the Auckland, NZ airport. It took quite a while to get boarding passes for the connecting flight and I would have missed the flight if there hadn't been aftershocks in Christchurch the previous night.
I forgot to take a picture of the "departure lounge" in Christchurch, but here's an old photo.
This was the "departure lounge" in McMurdo when they thought we were going to get right on the plane, but the plane had mechanical problems...
So we hung out here for about an hour before we finally boarded the plane and flew to...
The South Pole! This is actually a shot from my first trip. I've been out to the Pole to help hold up flags made by several schools at the Pole marker, but I haven't yet taken this year's "hero shot".

Hannah McKeand

One or two evenings a week there's a lecture of some sort in the galley. Last night's lecture was given by Hannah McKeand who told us how she got there. About a decade ago, her godfather died and left her a "pot of money" which wasn't enough to make her rich but, as she said, was way more than she could spend on shoes and handbags. She wasn't sure what to do with the money so it sat in the bank for a couple of years. When her boyfriend of seven years broke up with her, she did the "normal" things -- cutting off her hair, buying lots of shoes and handbags -- but wasn't quite over the break up. At a party, someone mentioned the movie the English Patient and said the cave in that movie was a real place. Hannah decided that she was going to go to that place, even though she'd never done any hiking or adventure vacationing. She kept referring to herself as a marketing manager from London. She did a bit of research and found out that it was in the middle of a huge, uninhabited desert, the second largest wasteland in the world. She found a couple or archaeologists who studied cave paintings and badgered them until they let her come on an expedition with them. After she finished that, she decided that she wanted to travel on Antarctica, so she found someone who led groups, assuming that he'd tell her she was crazy, but within 10 minutes he was telling her she should try to do a solo trip to the South Pole. She wasn't quite ready for that, so she joined a group and a few months later wound up in Antarctica, even though she'd never done any skiing in her life. That group made it to the South Pole in a month and a half, and she fell in love with the continent. She came back the next year and set the record for the fastest unsupported trip to the Pole, which means that she towed a sled containing 45 days of food, plus her tent and other essentials, travelling 15 or more nautical miles a day across 700 miles of snow and ice. She made it in 39 days and set the record. She's had lots of adventures since then and now makes her living as a guide. This year she led a group of three people from the coast the the Pole, one of whom was blind! It was an amazing lecture and I recommend attending it the next time you're at the South Pole.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Each of the 86 IceCube holes contains a string of beachball-sized sensors attached to a couple miles of cable. Back when we were drilling holes, we shipped dozens of big spools of cables down every year. When it was time to feed a string of sensors into a newly drilled hole, one of those huge spools was mounted onto a big machine and the cable was slowly fed into the hole while people worked furiously to attach each sensor to the cable.

Some of those cast-off spools were turned into an art project at the edge of the berms (the warehouse district of the South Pole.) This is fondly referred to as Spoolhenge. I snapped a couple of picture while we were visiting the South Pole Traverse.

Since every vertical object eventually accumulates and is overwhelmed by the snow which blows in from the edges of the continent, and since Spoolhenge hasn't yet been buried, I can only assume that it's either officially or unofficially sanctioned as something which should be maintained year after year.

I hope it stays around for a while, because it makes me happy to see some cast-off utilitarian objects being turned into a fun piece of art at the bottom of the world!

Hey, you got meat in my salad!

One of the nice things about being at the South Pole is that you can focus solely on work, undistracted by normal things like bills, cooking, or even daily showering. I've started working on a new feature several times over the past couple of months only to be distracted by other problems, but after less than a week here, I'm making good progress and should have it finished before I leave next week! Speaking of cooking, the food at South Pole is always good and sometimes it's fantastic. This year the chefs seem to be producing a more meat-centric menu, where the main course is roast beef or pork chops or sirloin ... pure unadulterated MEAT. At home I'm the cook and I try to make vegetarian meals at least 5 nights a week, not because of any philosophical stance but purely for health reasons. The cooks here always provide a non-meat alternative, but where in past years it was equally as good as the meat entree (and sometimes better), this year it seems to be more of a begrudging after-thought. There are usually two or three salads to go along with the meal, so if the veggie entree is lame, I usually just get the hot vegetable side dish and pad out my meal with salads -- and desserts Yesterday the entree was pork chops with mashed potatoes and gravy. I was happy to see that the gravy was vegetarian, because the none-meat offering was a bland, dry veggie loaf. I loaded up my plate with mashed potatoes and a slab of veggie loaf, dumped gravy all over it, and moved down the line to the salads. There I saw coleslaw, a pasta salad, and an avocado/pepper/beef salad. BEEF SALAD!!! And they wonder why people in isolated places go insane :-)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pictures of the day

My lovely wife asked me to add more picture, so I'm trying to publish at least one or two a day. These are from the McMurdo to South Pole flight. I was in the middle of the passenger's section, so you can see just about the entire passenger compartment. The back half of the plane is full of cargo.

Passengers need to walk carefully because there are metal rollers in the middle of the "aisles". Of course, we're all wearing our big South Pole boots, so we'd need to step carefully even without the rollers.

You can also see one of the passengers looking out a rear window. Throughout the flight, there at least one or two passengers looking out the windows or taking pictures.

The red jackets are covering up the passengers' "overhead bin" baggage, which is strapped down just like the green bags in the upper photo.

Busy day

I spent most of yesterday working on software, so nothing exciting to report.

Just before supper I ran on an elliptical machine for 20 minutes and didn't notice any problems due to the high altitude, so I think I'm safely acclimated. I heard there was an amazing halo around the sun while I was working out.

After supper five IceCubers played pub trivia in the galley. As you might guess, the South Pole has a high concentration of science types, so the questions tended less toward sports and more toward science and science fiction. I had to almost force one of the Germans to be part of our team because he was convinced that he wouldn't know anything. Out of the four rounds, he probably ended up contributing answers in at least three rounds, including the third round which was made up entirely of math questions.

My two favorite questions (that most teams got wrong) were:
  1. What is the 10th digit in the Fibonacci sequence?

    I think every team got this wrong because they thought the sequence was 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55 so the answer was 10. The quizmaster asserted that the answer was 34, because the sequence actually starts with a 0.

    In case you've forgotten how the Fibonacci sequence works, you add the last number and the one before it together to create a new last number. Thus 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 2+3=5, 3+5=8, etc.

    And just so you know how geeky I am, in my teens and twenties, I used compute the Fibonacci sequence and powers of two (2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, etc.) in my head to lull myself to sleep.

  2. How many U.S. presidents are buried in Washington D.C. (the city, not the greater metropolitan area).

    Most people guessed that there are no presidents buried in the city, because they're buried at Arlington cemetery in Virginia. The correct answer was one -- Woodrow Wilson is buried at the National Cathedral.
Oh, and a bonus question:

What is pogonophobia?

Fear of beards

Since most of the IceCubers are PhD students and postdocs, I mostly helped out with questions about stuff from the 60's, 70's and 80's (Who is Gordon Sumner? Sting. Which T.V. show contained a spaceship named Yamato? Star Blazers.)

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Mount Erebus

Most people don't realize that there are active volcanoes on Antarctica. There's one visible from McMurdo station. While waiting for the plane to the South Pole, I took this picture of Mount Erebus. That line of cloud is actually the hot vapor coming out of the volcano.

A Lovely Day for a Walk

The airdrop was rescheduled for today. Last night they moved the arrival time from 6AM to 8AM, so I was able to sleep in! We'd agreed to meet at Destination Zulu (one of the two main entrances) at 7:45AM, so I got up at around 7:15, brushed my teeth, put on my gear, and headed up to the galley for a quick breakfast, where I discovered that the drop was postponed until 8:55. Fortunately, the satellite is up until 9:45, so I got in some Internet time. (In case you don't know, we connect to the Internet via a few different satellites, and those satellites are only visible to the South Pole for a few hours a at a time. The current window runs from 2:42AM to 9:42AM, then there are a couple of hours starting at 11:30, and then nothing until 2:39AM tomorrow morning.) We met up at 8:40AM and trudged out about half a mile to the edge of the station grounds (an area which is normally off limits, but the station granted us special dispensation for this event.) It was fun seeing the clumps of two or three people all walking to the same location. It's the largest group of people I've seen outside here! We'd only been there a few minutes when the communications person announced over the radio that it was too cloudy and the drop had been cancelled. Oh well, it was a nice walk -- the most exercise I've gotten since I arrived here! That's not because I'm lazy -- I've been taking it easy because one of the other IceCubers has been suffering from the high altitude, which has made me paranoid. I am planning on working out for about 20 minutes tomorrow. I'll let you know how that goes. Right now, I get to take the first of my twice a week 2-minute showers! I'm so excited!

Saturday, January 07, 2012

South Pole Traverse

Yesterday we got a tour of the South Pole Traverse vehicles. This is a group of 8 vehicles pulling sleds of fuel on the Antarctic "highway" from McMurdo base to the South Pole station. The "highway" is a snow road constructed over several years by filling in crevasses and leveling the snow as much as possible. It's marked by flags and needs to be maintained every year.

That sounds like a lot of work, but it turns out to be very cost effective. The traverse vehicles end up using about 1 gallon of fuel for every gallon delivered to the Pole, while it takes two gallons of fuel for a C-17 plane to fly each gallon of fuel. Each traverse ends up saving about 40 flights per year.

It takes the team about 3 weeks to drive from McMurdo to the South Pole. Along the way, they picked up all the scientific gear from a camp which was at high altitude and thus would have taken many more flights to remove. There's less air at high altitudes, so the planes have less air to "grab", and therefore can't carry very much for each trip. The traverse vehicles just loaded everything onto a couple of sleds and carried it along with everything else.

The red buildings in the background are part of the traverse. One of tractors tows the living quarters (kitchen, bunks, etc.) and a module with a generator and a toilet, and a second tractor tows a module containing all the food needed for many weeks along with a toolshed module.

The driver who gave us the tour said that the tractor engines generate enough heat that he's actually hot. There were times when he was driving along, shirt off, with the door open to try to keep the cab comfortable!

Happy Birthday Elvis

Today the galley celebrated Elvis Presley's 77th birthday by playing Elvis songs over the P.A., then taking over the video feed to play an "Elvis in Vegas" concert DVD and, best of all, by serving grilled peanut butter and banana french toast as part of brunch. The french toast was surprisingly good!

Friday, January 06, 2012

Made it back!

We got up at 5:15AM on Thursday, grabbed some breakfast, donned our ECW gear and took the hour plus ride to Pegasus Field. It's only ~14 miles away, but the Terra Bus can only travel at a maximum of 25 m.p.h. to avoid tearing up the snow and ice roads and the route to the airfield is rather circuitous.

We were on the plane by 9:30AM, but it had mechanical problems so there was about an hour's delay while they switched all the cargo to a new plane. When we got on the second plane, I was able to find a good seat on the end of a row and four relatively painless hours later I was back at the South Pole.

Because I'm a veteran, I got to skip the orientation talk and go directly to my room. This year I've got a room with a view (of the next wing of rooms). This isn't necessarily a good thing -- the sun is out 24 hours, so a LOT of light sneaks in through the window shade. Fortunately, a previous inhabitant left a thick piece of cardboard I can jam into the window well and block out 99% of the light.

I didn't want to go to sleep too early, so I trudged through the rest of the day and collapsed at around 9:30PM. I didn't want to stay up much later because I knew I was getting up early again today.

An airdrop was scheduled for 6AM. Planes can't land at South Pole in the winter (because it's so cold here), but if there's an emergency they might need supplies delivered, so the National Guard unit does a practice drop once a year.

I woke up this morning at 5:20AM, met with some other IceCubers and we all started to walk out past the Summer Camp to watch the airdrop. When we were about halfway out, I asked one of the nearby "natives" if we were going the right way, and she told us the airdrop had been postponed until Monday. At least I know I'll be able to sleep in tomorrow.

So far my work time has largely been spent setting up my laptop for the South Pole (getting access to various servers, adding my local email account to my mail reader and forwarding my IceCube mail to the South Pole account, etc.)

Thursday, January 05, 2012

In Antarctica

Well, I made it back to Antarctica!

We went to the Clothing Distribution Center yesterday and 5PM and got all our gear. At 7:30PM we checked in our baggage and then got weighed with our carry-ons and extreme weather gear, then filed onto a couple of buses and were driven out to the airfield. We got onto the plane and by 9PM we were flying to Antarctica.

I managed to get a couple of hours sleep, which shortened the four and a half hour trip somewhat. We landed at the Pegasus airfield on the Ross Ice Shelf, and then got on another bus to get to the baseIvan the Terra Bus
The airfield is far enough away, and Ivan the Terra Bus must drive slowly enough that we didn't get the McMurdo until after 2:30AM, so we didn't have time or energy to do much except get our bedding then go to our dorm rooms, make up our beds, and fall asleep.

This morning I got up and took a shower(!), then walked over to Crary Labs where the IT guys configured my computer so it would work on the computer network here and at the Pole. I worked for a couple of hours, walked to the galley for lunch and then to another building for the "Welcome to Antarctica" briefing, which gives new arrivals some guidelines for living and working at McMurdo.

At the briefing we learned that we needed to "bag drag" today so at 5PM we carried all our worldly possessions a few blocks up the hill to the cargo building, where we were again weighed and waved goodbye to our checked baggage. We're supposed to report back there at 7:30AM, and the plane will probably take off sometime after noon.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Maybe today?

As I was heading downstairs at 4:55PM yesterday, I met a couple of fellow travelers who told me the day's flight had been delayed until 11PM. I grabbed some food and went to sleep at around 8PM in case I was up late waiting for a plane. That flight was also cancelled. Today we're supposed to be ready again at 5PM. We'll see what happens!

Monday, January 02, 2012


I'm in Christchurch! The trip here went off with only a minor hitch. The flight from Auckland to Christchurch was delayed about an hour and a half due to earthquake!

I heard there were several "minor" quakes overnight (in the 4.0-6.0 range), which somehow caused our flight to be delayed. While I certainly wasn't happy to hear about the quakes, the situation worked out well for me and two other Antarctic-bound passengers I had met because we couldn't get boarding passes for our Auckland-> Christchurch flight until after we cleared customs, and the huge line at the connecting airline's counter meant that didn't happen until after the original flight would have left.

Once we got to Christchurch, we met with a USAP (U.S. Antarctic Program) representative who briefed us on the situation, told us to pack a light bag and keep it and our shoes by the bed in case there were more quakes, and put us on a shuttle to our hotels.

After checking in I took a nice long shower (something which will be impossible at the South Pole), walked to a nearby mall to get my glasses fixed (boring story) and then wandered around the area, which is a typical suburban neighborhood with a New Zealand spin. It's a bit cool here, so there was a nice mix of people in shorts and sandals and those wearing jeans and puffy jackets.

I *think* there was a mild aftershock at around 8PM, but it could have been a large truck going by...

After 9 hours' sleep, I got up and ran to the city center. The place where the Devon stood is now several piles of rubble, and most of the remaining businesses downtown are fenced off and shored up, waiting to be destroyed or rebuilt.

Now I'm repacking and waiting until 5PM when a shuttle will take me to the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center) where I'll get my ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear and, weather permitting, be back at McMurdo base in Antartica by around 2AM tomorrow!