Saturday, December 02, 2017

Back from the Edge

I'm writing this from Auckland on my way back home!

I spent my last day at the Pole helping haul UPS batteries up and down the stairs of the building housing all the IceCube computers, including the servers which run my software. The power plant at the South Pole isn't perfect so we have Uninterruptible Power Supplies to get us through those few bad times. Those UPSes use batteries which must be replaced every 3 years and this is one of those years. 5-7 of us worked for over an hour to carry the new batteries upstairs and the old batteries downstairs. It was good to get out there since the only other time I'd been outside was when I walked from the plane into the station two days before.

The plane ride back to McMurdo was uneventful. We landed at about 8PM, bag-dragged at 10PM, then had to report for transport at 7:15AM.

The 7.5 hour flight from McMurdo to Christchurch was more cramped than I'm used to. I made sure to stand up every hour or so, just to keep the blood flowing to my legs :-)

I spent an extra day in Christchurch to try and catch up on sleep before the 27 hour journey back home. Only 24 hours to go before I'm back in Madison!

South Pole Selfie!

I've done the usual Hero Shot many times now but this is the first time I've had a smart phone at the Pole so I figured it was time for a Hero Selfie!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Starting back tomorrow

After a couple of VERY busy days, I'll start the journey back home tomorrow. I got a few small tasks done and helped the winter-overs with a couple of other things, but there's only so much you can do in 60 hours.

I've got a few more pictures to post and I'll take a few more tomorrow (including a "hero selfie" at the Pole) but barring weather or mechanical difficulties I'll be sleeping in a McMurdo dorm tomorrow, a Christchurch hotel room the next night, and then the 30-40 hour flights back home.

Even with all the difficulties and delays, it was good to come back to this place. I'm currently enjoying one of the little pleasures of life here, a room filled with wet laundry! As I've mentioned before, the South Pole is literally one of the driest places on Earth because it literally freezes the moisture out of the air. I washed some clothes for the 3-4 days of travel, hung up the pair of jeans and the socks in my room, and now it's wonderfully humid!

I'll let you know how the journey went (and maybe I'll manage to squeeze in another post from Christchurch)

Monday, November 27, 2017

Made it!

I'm at the South Pole station! We flew in a VERY packed plane and arrived after 11PM. We all sat through another orientation then got our room assignments. I dropped off my gear and backpack in my room and made up my bed, headed to the galley for a glass of lemonade (but no cookie!), then picked up my suitcase (which I hadn't seen in over a week) and went back to my room. It's almost 12:30AM now and I've got a VERY busy few days ahead of me before I turn around and head back home!

The next update may have to wait until I make it back to McMurdo, but I might squeeze in one more blog post before then.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Scott Base

Last Thursday was America Night at Scott Base, the New Zealand base that's located just over the hill from McMurdo Base. Americans are only allowed to visit a couple of times a week because there are less that 100 Kiwis and nearly 1000 people at McMurdo.

There are shuttles which run between the two bases on America Night, but a bunch of us decided to make the 15-20 minute walk there. It was snowing, and instead of the normal ice crystals I've seen here in the past, there were nice, fluffy snowflakes! Most of the hike is on the service road, but once you get near the base, there's a walking path which saves 5-10 minutes of walking.

All the buildings at Scott Base are painted light green, and most of them are connected to one another with walkways. It looks *much* nicer than McMurdo which, as I've written before, has an isolated mining camp look and feel.

One of the big attractions of Scott Base is their store, which has Kiwi-themed clothing and souvenirs. It's cozy and very busy on America Night! There's also a bar which Americans can visit only on Thursdays.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Fun weather effect

Walking over to Crary this morning, I saw something I'd never seen before.

There were these little flickers of light, maybe a couple of dozen per second, spread across my visual field. It was like old-time TV static, but in real life.

I wasn't quite sure what I was seeing at first but when I turned my head it was obvious what was going on. The wind was blowing toward me and (unbeknownst to me) there were extremely tiny ice crystals blowing in the wind. They were too small to see and invisible head-on except when they'd occasionally reflect the sunlight for an instant. When I turned my head, I was looking away from the sun so the crystals were all catching the light and I could see them streaming past. When I looked straight ahead, only a tiny fraction were reflecting light toward me so I'd only see momentary flashes of light.

It was nice to have a freaky optical illusion to liven up the 3 minute walk to "work".

The weather forecast tomorrow for both McMurdo and the Pole looks good. I'm hoping that this will be the last day I spend in Crary this year! That's the exterior of Crary with the usual vehicles you'd see parked in front of any normal office building :-)

Friday, November 24, 2017

Advanced calculus

It's Thanksgiving Day on the U.S. Antarctic bases, and of course that means people running a 5K Turkey Trot, even in Antarctica. Everyone normally works a 6-day week, then has Sunday off. For holidays we also get Saturday off and the galley prepares a special evening meal. This means there's no hot lunch service, but that just means being able to eat more food at dinner :-)

Since everyone has Saturday and Sunday off, that means no flights in or out of McMurdo. The IceCube winter-overs were supposed to leave the continent 20 days ago, but the weather here has been bad so they're still stranded. After a year of planning what they'll do after they leave the ice, it's got to be EXTREMELY frustrating to be here 3 weeks later.

I'm doing my own sort of "travel math". I was scheduled to be at Pole for 17 days. We were delayed in Christchurch for a full week and I've been in McMurdo for a week. I'm scheduled to start my journey back from Pole on Thursday, 5 days from now.

If we fly on Monday I'll still be able to do a few useful administrative things which are dangerous to perform over a satellite link. Those links can die unexpectedly, and my changes might leave the detector in an unusable state until the satellite link came back so I've been saving a few tasks until I had a direct connection to the machines there.

If we fly on Tuesday or Wednesday, my main purpose will be package delivery. My checked bag contains an instrument that a co-worker needs at Pole, and that bag has been sitting at the bottom of a shrink-wrapped pallet somewhere a the cargo warehouse.

If we don't fly on Tuesday, I'll have to go up to Cargo and warn them that if the Wednesday flight is canceled, I'll need my bag pulled so I can hand the package to someone else. If that happens, I'll just hang around McMurdo until Friday, when I'm scheduled to fly back to "Cheech" (the common nickname for Christchurch). Of course, given the weather this season I'm also mentally preparing myself to spend next weekend stuck here in "paradise" :-(

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Entering the Forbidden Zone

Yesterday I ticked off another McMurdo tourist spot, Discovery Hut. This was the first hut used by Scott on his expeditions to Antarctica, and it still holds supplies from those original missions!

When you enter the hut, you're greeted by the slightly stale straw scent that I associate with my grandparents' barn. This was fodder for the ill-fated ponies that accompanied Scott. The guide mentioned that some of the building's outer corners have teeth marks from where the ponies tried nibbling on the wooden posts.

Further in you'll find seal and penguin carcasses along with lots of boxes and tins in surprisingly good condition for having been left here over a century ago.

I've posted pictures before of the seal carcass outside the hut, but I learned a bit more of its story during the tour. This poor seal crawled up and took shelter next to the hut before it died. It's been here so long that it's now considered a protected Antarctic Heritage artifact!