Monday, October 31, 2005
posted 10/31/2005 08:09:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Big machines!

Fun day! Nearly perfect weather all day - warm and only a slight breeze all day long. Started out the morning with the morning meeting as usual, only this one took a fair amount longer since we went over willy hose lay stuff and were introduced to a safety guy who we'll be working with for the next few days. Supposedly, he's going to be helping out with the project to get a better idea of how to do it more ergonomically. This whole safety thing is part of the same one that says we can't lift more than 40Lbs without assistance or tools, or stand 4 feet above anything without fall protection gear. *cough* Great program *cough*. Anyways, it should at least be free labor, so that's cool. Next, Matt and I got back to work getting setup for the big hose lay project. I had to get a snowmobile from one side of the peninsula (near the ice runway) to the other (near Scott Base.) That entailed spending nearly an hour trying to get it to start, a few minutes of tweaking the carburetor settings to keep it going, then 45 minutes of driving! Probably a good thing that I was driving one of the ancient "Alpine 1's", which are designed more for pulling stuff than our new machine that has a speedo that goes to 130. After lunch we bolted a couple big sections of culvert together with the help of a Caterpillar 950 loader to get things lined up, directed the digging of a trench, put down some dunnage, lay in the culvert, and bury it with snow. Tomorrow we will be laying out the first several hundred feet of hose, including the section that will go through the culvert that we created today. Finished up the work day with gathering together small stuff for the hose lay and loading it into the Pisten Bully. Fun day!

Out the windshield of the snowmobileMaking a Kiwi Crossing

Sunday, October 30, 2005
posted 10/30/2005 06:39:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

What a weekend!

Saturday was another busy day at work - spent the morning getting stuff ready to move out towards Willy Field, then the afternoon was another ice runway transfer and some more Willy prep stuff. We got out of work early since the Halloween party was Saturday night and we had an 'all hands' meeting in the galley. All hands meetings are realistically only attended by a fraction of the population down here, but the fuelies try to make it to them as a departmental thing. This one was mostly about the south pole traverse, which was pretty neat. Once the all hands meeting was over, I headed over to my room to grab a quick nap then get ready for the Halloween party. The party was a lot of fun - it was especially neat to see some of the elaborate costumes that people put together (or bring) down here! Stayed up pretty late visiting with friends, then headed back home to sleep.

Sunday has been a lazy lazy day. Lots of sleeping, reading (reading This Game of Ghosts, the sequil to Touching the Void - excellent book!), eating, surfing the 'net, etc. Found out that I'm in the biggest newspaper on the continent, the Antarctic Sun! The web version doesn't seem to be as updated as the print one is down here unfortunately, so I can't link directly to the article just yet (it's about happy camper school.) That's all for now, later!

Cool landscape photo from right outside my dorm
Ian and Molly in costume
Some of my friends in Halloween costumes - photo by Chipotle

Friday, October 28, 2005
posted 10/28/2005 12:46:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Checking in

Hey everyone! Been pretty busy over the last few days, so I haven't had a chance to write too much. Things have been going pretty well - lots of work and a fair amount of play too! The season is really starting to get rolling now, we've been doing fuel transfers pretty much every day, and several of the fuelies have been in and out getting to various field locations and the south pole station. Since the sea ice under the runway isn't very thick this year, we haven't been able to fill up our ice runway fuel tanks to full capacity, which is in turn forcing us to refil them every day now. Filling the runway tanks requres a few hours and five people, so between that and several other jobs we're getting a little stretched for people. The upside of doing a lot of runway transfers is that I've been able to work out on the ice a lot, and drive our snowmobile quite a bit! We use the snowmobile to inspect the soft fuel line as we're doing a transfer in case it starts leaking or whatever - it's a very important job, but pretty fun too! The other thing that's been taking up a fair amount of my time is helping to get ready for laying a hose from near Scott Base out to Willy Field next week.

Away from work, the station has been gearing up for Halloween! We had a really cool haunted house over in one of the warehouses yesterday, which was a blast. A lot of people have been working on their costumes, but fortunately I have one done already (simple thing - came from a thrift store in chch.) Also went bowling for the fuelie bowling team, which was a blast although I'm not very good at it. Have moved to a smaller dorm, and this one has a window! Can't think of anything else off the top of my head, so that's all for now - I'll try to post here more often in the future!

Matt marshalling a spool of hose onto it's base


Q:What kind of warning system do you have for these big storms, if any? -Catherine
A:We've got a weather department down here that keeps track of what's going on and does their best to let us know what the weather will be doing before it happens. If the weather department is predicting bad stuff approaching, it gets broadcasted out over the radio so that everyone knows what's happening. Unfortunately, we don't have a bunch of weather monitoring stuff away from the station, so sometimes there isn't too much warning when the weather starts to change. One thing that's really neat about the location of McMurdo Station is that we can see for a long way in the direction that the storms usually come from, so we can just look out over the sea ice and see whether it's clear out there, or if there's a big cloud of blowing snow indicating winds approaching. Realistically, the biggest problem with storms is cleaning up the blown snow afterwards. If you're around base, you just sit inside and wait them out, or you wait in a vehicle if you happen to be outside when something happens.

Sunday, October 23, 2005
posted 10/23/2005 07:43:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

It's windy out there!

So, not much else to report for today. Been goofing around playing pool and watching movies mostly. Have a nice little storm going on outside - it's condition 2 here in McMurdo, but condition 1 pretty much everywhere else around here. Windchill in town is around -60F, and visibility is pretty slim as illustrated here. It's really gusty out (as in it's hard to manage an outside door by yourself,) but this picture really doesn't do it justice:

Slow day

It's my day off, so I got to sleep in! Had brunch down in the galley, hung out with friends for a bit, read, then hopped on the computer! One thing that's really neat about the network down here is that the IT people provide some community space on one of their servers where people put pictures and such to share with other people down here. While I was looking around what was on the shared drive, I ran across this picture of the same Emperor Penguin that I got to see on sea ice training a few days ago:
The penguin I got to see during sea ice training

Saturday - Helped out with a big fuel transfer down to the ice runway storage tanks, plus some other smaller jobs. Had a good time sitting up above the heliport at the control valve watching helicopters take off and land, plus loads of activity down at the ice runway with LC-130s practicing landing and practicing touch-and-gos, a C-17 doing it's thing, and some Twin Otters arriving. Shoveled out a big section of our flexible hose as the transfer was happening to keep warm (although it's been a practically balmy 10*F out) and get something else done while watching the valve. Went over to the coffee house to watch open mic night, but that was the same plan that practically everyone else on station had so the place ran out of even standing room (see picture.) Learned how to play cribbage, which then disintegrated into building a house of cards, then watched Cold Mountain up in the lounge. Nice day!
Quincy playing his fiddle at Open Mic night

Friday, October 21, 2005
posted 10/21/2005 06:46:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

It's Friday!

Got a lot of stuff done at work today - some meeting type stuff, some paperwork type stuff, some fuelie stuff, and a little blogging stuff. We had a nifty little storm here today, nothing major but with enough wind to whip up snow and cut visibility way down. Unfortunately, I left my camera in my room and didn't get any pictures of that :(. Town never got worse than Condition 2, but some places like the ice runway were at Condition one!

Basically, we have three 'ratings' for how bad the weather is down here:

  • Condition 3: Ideal to slightly funky. Wind speed is less than or equal to 48 knots (roughly 55mph,) visibility is greater than 1/4 mile, and windchill temperature is greater than -75°F.

  • Condition 2: Funky. Wind speed is greater than 48 knots (~55mph) but less than or equal to 55 knots (~63mph,) or visibility is greater than 100 feet but less than or equal to 1/4 mile, or windchill temperature is greater than -100°F but less than or equal to -75°F. You don't want to be outside in condition 2

  • Condition 1: Really Funky. Wind speed is greater than 55 knots (63mph,) or visibility is less than or equal to 100 feet, or windchill temperature is less than or equal to -100°F. At condition 1, everyone except the S&R (Search and Rescue) people are required to stay put and not go outside at all.

So, before lunchtime, the storm had passed, the air was crystal clear and pretty warm (upper single digits/low teens!) Worked on some stuff around the fuels barn including learning how to work with fittings that go with our 6" diameter flexible "lay flat" hose. We'll be laying several miles of this stuff in a couple weeks, so we all had to get well acquainted with it to be able to help. Had lunch as usual, then back to work! I spent some time filling drums down at the heloport, took a look at a weird little filter sump (an external drain that lets you remove some of the junk that a filter catches) that I'm going to modify sometime soonish, then went back up to the shop. We had acquired a couple really big (12"X 20') sections of steel pipe with flanges on the end for making basically a culvert for fuel lines with. Unfortunately, in their last use these pipes had been covered with some weird insulation stuff that we had to remove in order to use them, so I helped out with that effort for a while. They were also packed up with snow, so David (one of the other fuelies) and I scrounged up a bumper jack, some big metal pans, and some big chunks of wood to prop the pipes up at an angle such that when the snow melts, it'll drain into the pans instead of our shop's floor. Fun work, might post a pic later if I remember to take the camera to work tomorrow.

So, here are some pictures of the last several days:
Ian standing beside one of Scharen's wheelsC-17 Sitting on the ice runway
C-17 being unloaded on the ice runway

Thursday, October 20, 2005
posted 10/20/2005 06:48:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Busy busy busy


Monday was a really fun day - I got to work on the sea ice runway! The only plane coming in was a C17 carrying primarily people (including my friend Molly!) so it turned out that they didn't need to refuel at all. Nevertheless, we had to get our runway fueling system set up and ready to go in case they decided to take on some fuel, so I got trained up on that and helped set it up. While waiting for the plane after we had things ready to roll, I took our snowmobile out for a little drive to blow some crud out of it's carburetor. Those snowmobiles are fun little machines! So, the plane arrived as planned and didn't get any fuel- also as planned. Unfortunately, the airstrip people don't let us approach planes on the runway to greet people or anything, so I wasn't able to get over to the plane to say hi to everyone, but it was really cool to see the plane land on the sea ice, offload about a hundred and fifty little walking red blobs (everyone has to wear their big red parkas on flights,) take on some more cargo and PAX (as passengers are called - think it's an air force thing,) then rocket off into the sky! After closing down the fuel system, we went back up to the fuels barn, took care of some other stuff, and finally it was time to go to dinner! Met Molly in the galley at dinner and visited for a while. Went for a walk around McMurdo, watched some TV, then crashed for the evening.

Tuesday was another busy one, but it involved a TON more physical labor. Shoveled out some valves that were buried under some deep, crusty snow drifts near our big bulk tanks (the ones on the right side of that picture from last Sunday) with Bryan. Once that job was done, we cleaned up some construction debris from one of the other tank's containment berms. This stuff had apparently been blown up there in a storm several months ago, so we're not really sure where this big (10 feet by about 150 feet) rectangle of felt-like material came from. It was a major pain in the rear to dig out though! Imagine this giant chunk of material crunched up into a ball and wedged under some big fuel pipes, then fill all the voids with snow, pebbles, and ice. Now, imagine digging/pulling this thing out by hand... After that, we took off for lunch and did some small stuff around the fuels barn and a transfer to fill up the incinerator building (which doesn't hold an incinerator anymore, but still has that name) heater tank.

Wednesday started out with a little class by one of our station physical therapists about stretching and how to perform some heavy tasks safely. Raytheon has a (stupid) new rule that doesn't allow anyone to lift more than 40 pounds by themselves (I think we have a monkey wrench that is over 40 pounds, going to check up on that one soon,) which is a source of endless entertainment for many of us who work down here. A big part of the class was the PT trying to come up with ways for us to mount the blower motor onto our "hermie heaters" with two people. The blower motor ("hermie head," it's detachable so that we can keep the motor in a heated place when we're not using it) is something like 55lbs and goes in an awkward position so that only one person can realistically put it in. The PT basically ended up giving up. Lots of small tasks Wednesday as well, including my first mogas (regular unleaded gas, which we don't deal with too much) transfer and a lot of small maintenance stuff. Bodie (the fuels foreman - he's in charge of day-to-day operations basically) came out with the schedule for what each of us fuelies will be doing for the season. Unfortunately, it looks like I'll be in or around McMurdo all season - don't get to go work at the South Pole or any of the field camps (we've only got a couple camps this year, usually there are quite a few.) Although, I am a fuels operator now, so that's definitely better than the GA position that I had (which had very very slim odds of taking me out of McMurdo.) Molly had the day off to help her transition into working the night shift as she will be doing until Christmas, so I did my part by staying up late playing pool and random board games. Both of the two pool cues in the lounge here in Building 155 are really funky. They're both very straight aluminum cues, but the tip on one is cracked and the other is loose. Think I might label one "Infinite Improbability Cue" sometime later.

Today was another day full of smallish odd jobs. Been kind of groggy all day - didn't get nearly enough sleep after staying up so late and think I've got a little cold to boot. Spent a fair amount of time fixing a fitting on one of the relatively small (something like 2,000 gallons) building tanks. Got some funny looks walking through town toting two 3 foot monkey wrenches, but that's what happens when you're a fuelie! Also helped out with a transfer to fill up the power plant fuel tank and spent much of the evening filling 55 gallon drums at the heloport. Weather got overcast and a bit breezy today, 0 degrees sure feels a lot colder when it's combined with a fair bit of wind and a little blowing snow! Had dinner, started a load of laundry, then started typing this entry!

Will post some more pictures soon - think I've got some good ones from the ice runway on Monday!


Q:How much time will you spend out on the ice? Will it be free time or
work time? -Larrey

A:Not sure exactly how much time I'll spend out on sea ice, but probably not too much. We got our finalized (as final as it gets) season fuels schedule done the other day and by the time I've got airfield shifts (we rotate through airfield duty every 3 weeks or so) the ice runway will have melted. At that point we'll be using Willy Field, which is an airstrip we use on the ice shelf (permanent ice) when the sea ice melts enough that we can't safely land planes on it. I can go out on the sea ice recreationally on the road that leads to the ice runway (something like a mile and a half,) or for work. The only work I'll likely be doing out there will be helping to take apart the fuel system we have out there to move parts of it out to Willy Field when we make the move.

Q:How is the food? -Mom
A:Pretty good! As you might imagine, we don't get a lot of fresh food down here, so most of it is either dehydrated or frozen food, but the cooks tend to do a really good job. Fresh food (freshies) sometimes comes down on flights from New Zealand along with other stuff, and is regarded as a treat by most people down here. My favorite treat is the soft serve machine that's in the galley right beside the coffee machine. Whoever came up with that idea was a genius!

Sunday, October 16, 2005
posted 10/16/2005 08:10:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!!

So, after that last post, I scrounged around Mactown (as we often call McMurdo) and found a sheet, a strip of wood, and a couple cotangers (coat hangers) to make a little privacy curtain in my room so that it's easier to regulate light when I'm trying to sleep. The project went smoothly and I think it'll be rather effective! Met up with John and hiked up Ob Hill (Observation Hill - ~750' mountain right by town.) Slippery, windy, and cold going up, but we were dressed for it and had a pretty good time. Here's the mandatory McMurdo from Observation Hill picture, click it to view a larger version with labels for buildings that I've mentioned here:

Q:Think an old fart hiker in his mid-40s in good condition has a
reasonable chance of getting hired at McMurdo? I get the impression
that almost everyone down there is under 30.

A:Yep, there are plenty people in their 40s down here. Definitely go to
the job fair in Denver if you're interested in getting a job though,
don't think too many people get hired without going there. Good

Happy Camper School!

Well, I survived camping out in a snow cave on an ice shelf in Antarctica (tongue twister there!) Had a really good time, and surprisingly didn't ever get very cold with the exception of fingertips getting chilled when doing things that would have been really tricky with gloves on.

There were 19 students in my group and 2 instructors, Cecilia and Trevor, who are super cool people. After an hour or so in classroom instruction, we put on our cold weather gear and piled into the back of a Delta (giant off-road vehicle - this one has a box on the back for people, some have other tasks like our fuels Delta, Scharen, that has a big tank on the back) to roll over to "snow camp city," which is out on the ice shelf past Scott Base. The ride out was nice, much smoother ride than a Haaglund, and we were at the camp 20-30 minutes later. We got out of the Delta and into a warmed Jamesway (leftover insulated tent/cabin thing from the Korean War) for a little more instruction, then set off to start building our camp!

The first big project was setting up our Scott Tents (pyramidal tent in the picture,) which was pretty easy since there wasn't too much wind and the snow was nice. Next, we piled up all our bags of gear, covered them with tarps, and started shoveling on snow. Once we had 18" or so of snow packed down on the gear, we left the pile and started sawing out blocks of compacted snow to build a wind wall. The wind wall construction was pretty cool, the packed snow was about the consistency of really dense styrofoam so we could do some fairly elaborate masonry work with it. Once the wall was completed, we dug an entrance into the snow cave and started pulling out the gear leaving an igloo shaped structure. Next, we erected several modern 4 season, two person, mountaineering tents behind the snow wall. Ben and I still had some energy left, so we set out to dig a kitchen and dining area, which turned out to be a big hit when the wind started blowing a bit later on.

Eventually, we had a completed camp and started cooking and eating. Fortunately, the instructors didn't have us melt snow to get all of our water, which would have taken quite a while for the size group we had. We ate the usual camping food - freeze dried meals, chocolate bars, granola, nuts, etc. and really enjoyed it after a few hours of hard work moving snow! The instructors went back to stay in the Jamesway and we were all on our own for the night.

One of the nifty things about Antarctica in the summer is that the sun pretty much doesn't set. At this point, it dips behind the horizon a bit around midnight, but it's always plenty bright to do things outside, and usually bright enough to need some dark sunglasses. Our group got done building the camp a little earlier than usual, so we were all a little bored and needed something do do before bed, so we did the logical thing and started cutting out a bunch of blocks of snow and stacking them up! In the end, we had built a rather large throne out of snow overlooking all of snow camp city!

I ended up sleeping with two other people in the snow cave that the happy camper class had built a few days ago - it was a tight squeeze for three people, but we made it work and slept surprisingly comfortably!

The next morning, we broke camp and walked over to the instructor hut to learn some more stuff. Fortunately (for learning's sake,) the wind was blowing pretty hard, which was nice because we were aiming to practice setting up camps in a semi-realistic emergency situation. First we were instructed on the use of the handheld VHF radios and the repeaters in the area, then the old military HF radios that are used for communications from the more remote field camps. Unfortunately, the South Pole radio guys were out for the day, so we weren't able to talk with the Polies, but we did setup the radios outside and called in to Mac Ops (our communications guys here in McMurdo.) After the radio stuff, we divided the group in half and went outside for a couple drills. First we had a drill where we had to boil a liter of water from snow, set up a small snow wall, erect a tent, and setup the HF radio in a hurry. To complicate things, one of us (me!) was quietly told to pretend they were getting hypothermic. Had a good time and the group did a really good job. Next, we were given a scenario where someone had walked out of the tent to use the bathroom and a Condition 1 storm blew in. We were given a rope and had to go rescue the person with buckets on our heads to simulate whiteout conditions and loud wind. We didn't do as well with this drill, long story but basically we blindly started walking into a little maze of vehicles, buildings, and small snow cliffs. Also, the wind was strong enough that it blew a few people's buckets off, making things a bit more interesting!

Eventually, we got done with the happy camper stuff and headed back to Mactown. There was an all hands meeting in the galley, which I had to attend, then I got cleaned up and headed over to the fuelie party at hut ten. Had a really good time at the fuelie party, which lasted until 10 or so, then it was over to Gallaghers (one of the bars here,) for the 70s party for a bit, then finally off to bed. Needless to say, by the time I got back to my dorm, I was really tired and very glad to have a regular bed in a heated building!

Other random stuff - Last Friday the Haaglund that I was riding in during sea ice training the other day is no longer with us. It had been driven over to Scott Base and apparently had an electrical fire (wonder if the scott base hitching post is 240v? :) ) while sitting unoccupied outside and burnt to the ground. Preliminary rumors are that the heavy shop will be able to get it going again, but it's going to take quite a while. Apparently the fire was hot enough to melt out all the glass, so it's going to take a bunch of parts to get it going again. Sounds like my promotion will officially be effective at the beginning of our next pay period in about a week and a half, so that's cool. Molly made it down to Christchurch yesterday, so she's going to orientation today and will hopefully be on the flight down tomorrow!


Q:Is your bed comfee and a bit better than the basic college dorm? In
general - is this completely surreal? -Mom

A:Sortof, no, yes. It's a moderately comfy bed, but it's seen better days. I'm in a 4 bunk room in Building 155, which is pretty convenient since that's the same building where the galley, public Internet terminals, station store, and laundry are. So, basically, I can take care of most of my personal stuff without having to put on insulation and going outside. The room is fairly basic - just a rectangle with some beds, some furniture, a phone, and lots and lots of warm clothes. Fortunately (as the sun doesn't set,) we don't have a window so it's not hard to get to sleep when it's time for that! I currently have two roommates, but at some point we expect the fourth bunk to get filled as well.


A:Yes, everyone down here has a job. We actually work pretty hard usually, I've just been 'playing' a lot lately because I've been bouncing around getting trained in on all kind of neat things that we've got down here. The normal work week is 6 days (Sunday off,) 9 working hours a day.

Thursday, October 13, 2005
posted 10/13/2005 07:11:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Work day #2

Another busy day! After our morning meeting where we discussed plans for the day and such, we got started with a transfer to move fuel to the power plant and galley tanks. It's a transfer from one of our bulk tanks (2.2 million gallon capacity,) so we got to go for a nice walk to a pass above town and walk the line all the way from there to the far end of town setting valves and such, which was a nice way to learn where things are in town. Right after we had the transfer setup, I had to split off and go to Piston (Pisten? will check spelling soon) Bully training. Pisten Bully's are nifty tracked vehicles that can have either a passenger compartment or flat bed on the back. The fuels department has one with a passenger compartment that gets used for general stuff moving and especially for rolling up long stretches of flexible hose on occasion. Will post pictures of one soon. Really neat little vehicles; they have some kind of continuously variable transmission, diesel engines, really wide treads, and nice plush interiors with functional heaters! After an hour or two of training it was time for lunch, then off to the fuels barn to help out with prepping a big fuel bladder (want to say 10,000 gallons, but don't remember exactly) that's going to be sent out to a field camp in a few days. Then, it was time to get trained on fuel testing, which was also interesting and I ended up helping out with teaching a little (how to use some of the basic lab equipment properly.) We have a fun little machine that tests the flash point of fuel, will have to get a little video clip of it working posted here somehow. After fuels training, I went for a much more in-depth tour of the barn to learn where all the different types of parts, tools, and fittings were, and then it was time to call it a day. Learned lots of practical stuff today, and actually got to help out with some useful stuff with the power plant transfer and the bladder! Tomorrow, I leave in the morning for 'happy camper school' which is a basic Antarctic survival course where we'll go out on the sea ice and set up a camp, then spend the night in it. Should get back in time on Sunday to go to a big meeting, then off to a fuelie party at "Hut 10," which is basically a little house that people can check out for a day at a time for such events. So, that's probably all that'll get posted here for the next several days as I'll be out and then very busy.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005
posted 10/12/2005 10:02:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Training day.

The fuels barn - where I'm working when I'm not in the field

So, it's been another incredibly busy day in Antarctica, this time with pretty much nothing but eating and training. At dinner, I counted up the topics I've learned about, and got to nine. The major ones were light vehicle operations, runway awareness, radio operation, timecard policies, how to open the heloport (morning routine to get their fuel systems going and take samples,) a shop tour, and some other things I don't recall at the moment. Had a good time, learned some cool stuff, and got to see more neat things in Antarctica! It was especially neat to be right beside the helopad when choppers were landing and taking off, I haven't ever been that close to helicopters zooming around so it was fun for me. That's all for now, I'm pretty sleepy and tomorrow's another work day (have to be at the barn and ready to go at 7:30am!)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005
posted 10/11/2005 10:00:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

First full day on the ice!

Learning to anchor tents on bare iceAn emperor penguin in the distance

Wow, today has been totally amazing!

Last night after I made my post here I was chatting in the hall with Gina (one of the other fuelies) and she told me that there was a rumor that I was going to be promoted from being the Fuels General Assistant to a Fuels Operator. What was apparently happening was that Don, who went down to the ice as a fuelie, had a crane and knew how to drive several bits of heavy machinery. As it turns out, there's a desperate need for heavy vehicle operators, so Don was going to turn into a heavy vehicle operator, which would leave a hole in the fuels crew unless somebody could become a fuels operator. That somebody turned out to be me!

This morning after breakfast, I walked up to the fuels barn for the first time and ended up chatting with Scott about the situation - turns out the rumor was true! The promotion is really good for a couple reasons; the main one being a significant pay raise, but also the added perks of being a fuels operator over a general assistant. I'll be able to get outside more, have a chance at getting rotated down to the South Pole for a bit, get higher priority with room assignments and the like, and did I mention that my pay almost doubled? Quite nice!

So, after a quick visit to the fuels barn, I was off for sea ice training. First we had about an hour of classroom time having the basics of sea ice explained (this page has a written version of what we learned in the course - very neat!,) learning about what kinds of forces cause cracks in the ice, where cracks are most likely and how to spot them, and about the different types of sea ice cracks. After the classroom session was over, we donned our ECW gear and loaded into a Haaglund (the orange vehicle in the picture) to go out to the ice. This was my first time riding in a Haaglund, and it was pretty interesting. The units we have are a bit on the old side, and the heaters are a bit temperamental, so it wasn't heated at all. The ride was a bit bumpy as you'd expect from a tracked vehicle, but it wasn't nearly as bad as some people would have you think.

We stopped about 15-20 minutes out at a patch of bare ice and learned how to anchor a tent when you're out on open ice in case you're out traveling and get caught in a storm. The technique we learned is called a V-Thread anchor (also known as an Abalakov anchor,) where you take an ice screw and drill two holes that meet at the bottom (shaped like a V pointing into the ice) and feed your guyline through the hole to anchor the tent to the ice.

After making a bunch of anchors, we piled back into the Haaglund and went for a bit longer drive out towards the Erebus Ice Tongue. An ice tongue is where a glacier runs off the edge of land and out into the sea, forming a big chunk of ice sticking out into the water. We were heading out towards the ice tongue because among other things, it causes pressure features in the ice, which we were out to learn about. We got to a point where the instructors had planned to close off the road and divert it around some particularly large pressure ridges and 'rounders.' Rounders are comparatively rare and are caused when sea ice is under pressure and flexes downwards, forming shallow rounded troughs. Rounders can actually force the surface of the ice below sea level, so if they develop a hole they will fill up with water, which might or might not freeze.

So, we got out of the haaglund to look at the cracks and place some black wands (bamboo sticks with color coded flags on the end) to mark the road as closed. While we were investigating these cracks someone spotted a penguin in the distance! The penguin saw us as well, and was curious, so he started walking directly towards our group as we took pictures of him. Unfortunately, my memory card was nearly full, so I only got one picture from a distance, but other students got some really good closeups of the penguin (and me with the penguin!) that I'll get copies of and post on here later. As the penguin got closer, we all got down on our knees to be less intimidating and he came even closer! As we the penguin was waddling up and we were watching, a snowmobile came down the road - it turned out to be a nice coincidence that it was one of the main penguin researchers from McMurdo. As we were all talking, the penguin actually walked around and through our group of people, which was a really neat experience.

Eventually, we left to go scout out a new route for the road around the pressure features and find some cracks to investigate. We found some 'working cracks' in the ice and started to profile (measure different properties) them. To look at the cracks, we shoveled out trenches in the snow perpendicularly to the crack to expose the bare ice, then used an ice drill to penetrate the ice sheet down to the liquid water below. Then, we dropped a nifty little tape measure device down the hole to gauge the thickness of the ice. The ice we were measuring was more than 3 meters thick, and we measured the different steps along the working crack to it's thinnest point, where it was still over a meter thick - plenty strong to drive over in most vehicles. Even though we were looking at cracks in the ice, there was no liquid water visible anywhere - when it gets exposed in this kind of weather it doesn't take very long to refreeze, forming a thinner band through the ice sheet.

So, after we had profiled a couple cracks, we set about setting wands along our new section of the road, which was a lot of fun. Three of us walked and ran behind the Haaglund to place the wands - one person would mark where to make the holes, one would drill them, and one would set the wand in the new hole. So, we repeated that process dozens of times and eventually had a new section of road to divert people around the bad ice!

Eventually, we made it back to McMurdo, where I had dinner and then attended a lecture on traveling around outside of the base. There are a few established hike/ski trails around the base here that we can go out on if the conditions are good and if you have attended this lecture. The lecture was pretty much stuff that I already knew about cold weather travel, plus an overview of the trails around here that I had only heard about and seen on a few maps in passing. Good information, and now I can go out hiking (as if I've got any free time :) )!

Once the lecture was over, I went back to my room to find that two roommates arrived on the flight today (which we actually saw landing from several miles out on sea ice,) so we visited for a bit. They both seem like pretty good guys, but they were tired from the trip down so I left and started emailing people and working on this ridiculously long journal post!

Monday, October 10, 2005
posted 10/10/2005 09:58:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

So, it is cold in Antarctica! Made it down safe and sound today from Christchurch, and I got to ride in the cockpit of a C17 on the way! Had a pretty good time, only little teeny bad thing that happened was I forgot to put some spare batteries in my carryon, so I don't have any pics of hopping out of the jet onto the sea ice. Spent a little time unpacking and looking around, ate dinner, then went off for a little walk to get some crispy fresh air and stretch the legs. Will be posting a lot more text and some pictures sometime soonish, but I'm sleepy and need to get up pretty early tomorrow morning. Breakfast, then a day of sea ice training! Can't wait!

Sunday, October 09, 2005
posted 10/09/2005 09:46:00 AM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

To fly? no

So, the flight was scheduled for this morning so we got up early and went through all the stuff to fly out. Loaded onto the plane, taxied around, and waited... and waited... then the navigator came on and told us that the weather was iffy, so we were going to wait... and wait... Finally the flight was cancelled, so we should be heading down tomorrow if the weather at McMurdo is better. Will post more details later, but there's a long line of people waiting for the computer, so that's all for now!

Saturday, October 08, 2005
posted 10/08/2005 11:36:00 AM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time


Last night I found out that I have been bumped off the flight that I was originally scheduled to leave on today, so it's another day in chch! Not sure whether the plane will be flying on Sunday, so it could be two more days! Unfortunately, the weather outside is really nasty - it's cold and raining. Think it's going to be a day of sitting around reading and such, might go exploring if the weather breaks or whatever. That's all for now, will post more when there's more to post!

Friday, October 07, 2005
posted 10/07/2005 03:53:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Quick update

Yesterday evening I was goofing around on the computers at the YMCA and ran into my friend Shelton from the AT. Shelton will be a prep cook at McMurdo, and is scheduled to go down to the ice on the same flight that I'm headed down on. Hadn't seen her since somewhere in New Hampshire on the trail in 2003, so that was kind of cool. We visited for a bit, then she headed off to bed to sleep off the long flight over here from LA.

This morning after breakfast (Fruit Delight Muesli - very tasty stuff!) I went for a long walk up to the Antarctic Centre, took care of email, then finally took the Antarctic tour that's advertised all over town. The tour was pretty neat, they had several interesting displays, including one where people go into a room that gets chilled and windy. It's advertised as being an 'Antarctic Storm,' but I have a feeling the real thing is colder and windier, and has a bit less visibility... Had fish and chips for lunch (the little stand on Catherdral Square is better and half as expensive,) then read for a while in my NZ travel guide to get some ideas for things to do after the ice. So many options!

Talking with Liesl (south pole winter station manager, also south pole fuelie and generally cool person) this evening, I found out that the plane that was heading for McMurdo today boomeranged, so those guys should be back in town in the next hour and a half or so. That most likely means that I'll be spending tomorrow in NZ instead of in the back of a C17, so that's neat. The tentative plan is to take a bus over to Littleton and see what it's like over there unless the weather is nasty. Anyways, that's all for now - I'm off to track down Shelton (who should be finishing up with orientation) and grab some dinner!

Thursday, October 06, 2005
posted 10/06/2005 11:49:00 AM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Finally, some pictures!

So, as you can see I finally got around to pulling some pictures off the camera and posting them! Fortunately, the nice people at the Travel Services Centre in the Antarctic Centre allow us to hook up digital cameras to their computers, and use the 'net for free! They're not the best pictures, just a random sampling of a few shots that I've taken over the last few days. The top two are pictures from the famous Christchurch botanical gardens, which are really neat. They're beautifully maintained and have a bunch of very interesting plants and animals - I'll try to get some better pictures of them later in my visit.

The second row is a couple pictures of around town. The one on the left is the cathedral in the center of town. Haven't been in it yet, but will probably do that either later this evening or sometime tomorrow. On the right of the second row is a picture of where I'm staying, the YMCA, and off to the right is the botanical gardens. The Y is at a really handy location, it's obviously right beside the gardens, and it's only a short walk from the center of town. Right across the street from the Y (just out of the frame on the right side) is the arts centre, which is a neat collection of little museums, cafes, shops, and the like. Very cool architecture in this part of town.

And finally, on the bottom row we have a duck.

So, in Antarctic news. Not a whole lot to write about at this point, but I'm sure that I'll be learning lots more before the end of the day. The flight that was supposed to leave this morning was cancelled, so there are a bunch of ice people wandering around apparently aimlessly. I won't be too surprised if my flight gets bumped a day farther leaving me with Saturday to goof off as well! I've got an arrangement to meet with several ice people to play Frisbee shortly, so I'm off to go do that. More later!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005
posted 10/05/2005 04:16:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Chillin' in chch

Wow that last post sure was a long one!

Yesterday was another day of training stuff, although it was far less comfortable, entertaining, and interesting than Sunday and Monday were with the fuels department. Why the change? Today was 'orientation,' a big meeting of everyone who flew down to the ice this morning... and me!

So why was I the only person in the room not heading to the ice today? It turned out that when I arrived in Christchurch from the states, there were a couple mistakes made. Firstly, someone forgot to send my travel fund to the airport, as I touched on in that last post. Secondly, the packet of information I was given (maps of Christchurch and the Antarctic center, general info, training times, etc.) didn't contain any information on when I was to attend orientation!? Orientation is a fairly generic procedure, so rather than embarking on a (probably massive) paper chase, I just went with the rest of the fuelies (who were leaving today) and all was well. Going a couple days early wasn't a problem at all, and it was neat to meet some more ice people too.

Anyways - orientation wasn't too much fun. We basically had to get up around 6am (well before any coffee shops are open) and drag ourselves up to the Antarctic Centre, which is a bit out of town right near the airport, then listen to the company line for a few hours. First was the director of Raytheon Polar Services telling us we needed to be safer, but not explaining how (because reported injuries had risen over the last season- long rant I'm not going to get into, but the key word there is reported,) then the new HR manager (who has never been to the ice, and has only been with the company for 6 weeks) told us all about herself and how she's going to improve things that haven't even historically been an issue for this group. We also learned plenty about how she guesses her new job will be different from her past experience. So, in short, this was not my cup of tea (although I did consume several of those leading up to lunch.)

After the provided, and pretty tasty, buffet lunch, we got back to the orientation. This session was longer, but I enjoyed and benefited from it quite a bit more than the previous several hours. This session was being delivered by Scott (not to be confused with my boss, Scott,) head of EHS (environmental and health safety I think,) who had some really good points, plenty real world experience, and generally seemed like a cool guy. So we listened to Scott for a while, then took a test at the end before finally getting to leave somewhere around 4pm. This test was an interesting addition to the work-in-Antarctica process, and I think it deserves a paragraph of it's own.

The safety test... Not a terribly interesting set of 50 questions (49 actually, one was a bad question we were instructed to scratch out,) plus some bonus questions including a couple essays, but the implications of this test are something I find interesting. The first thing I found interesting about this little test was that I didn't hear any mention of it until I was already in Christchurch, NZ. Neither had anyone else who wasn't in an administrative position. Not a big deal until you learn that supposedly you won't be able to go to the ice without passing this test. That's not nice, not nice at all. Also interesting is the fact that there's a financial incentive to do well on this test - never heard this called bribing though. The idea is that everyone working for Raytheon Polar takes this test the day before they're scheduled to leave on a plane to McMurdo. If they get less than 80% of the questions right, they don't get to go. If they get more than 80% right, they get issued a 'safety card' and get to board the plane. If they get the highest score (in their group I believe, not positive though) they get a $200USD cash bonus, and there are awards for the first couple runners up as well. This safety card thing is about the only thing Scott (safety Scott) said that I thought was really stupid. We're required to keep this card on us at all times while on the ice, and supposedly we'll be spot checked to make sure that we've got this card on our person while we're working. That sounds like a pain to me, why not just not allow people to go there in the first place if they haven't passed safety training? Why not just keep a list of people who have passed training with the inspector who's doing these spot checks? So, interestingly, someone at the orientation called Scott on this one and asked him those questions. The response to the 'why?' was basically "because I told you so", then it became "because I don't want to carry around a clipboard" when it was pushed a little bit farther. Interesting...

So, today has been a lazy day for me - it's the first of 3 I've got with pay and no work obligations. I slept in, did laundry, read, took a nap, and headed up to the Antarctic Centre (where I am now) to mail a box for my friend Nick, a helo tech, and play on the computers at the Travel Services Center. It's about 5pm now, which means that I'll be leaving shortly to go back down to town for my main motivator - food!

Sunday, October 02, 2005
posted 10/02/2005 07:03:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Live, from New Zealand...

I'm in Christchurch (chch from here,) and have begun training for my job in Antarctica! The trip down went pretty smoothly, and I've really been enjoying being in chch so far. The fuels crew seems like a group of really cool, smart, sane people, so I'm pretty excited about that. I've got nearly $1500NZD in my pocket (travel fund!!) with one more day of training, followed by a day of orientation, then 3 days with no official duties in Christchurch to use it on if I please. Life is good.

So, in a bit more detail.

After making that last post, Molly and I went over to the hardware store and picked up a few random things; a lock for the duffel of gear that I'll be leaving in chch, an inline receptacle (think the jack end of an extension cord,) and I think something else but can't remember what it was at the moment. We then rolled back to her house to finish off a box of ice cream, pack stuff into the van, then head over to the bus stop. At the bus stop we said our goodbyes and all that, I caught the bus and was on the road!

Got the baggage checked with no issues at all, which was a big relief for me since I was checking a boxed bike. I had heard plenty horror stories about people checking bikes and being hit with seemingly random combinations of bike fees, oversize luggage fees, no fees, confusion, etc. This time, it just got an oversized baggage sticker and was loaded through a different conveyor without costing me anything since that's Qutantas' (the international carrier) policy on bikes! I went through security smoothly as well (incidentally, I haven't ever had a real problem with it since 9/11, don't see what the big deal there is) then grabbed a bite to eat and sat down to kill some time at the gate. Within an hour or so, a couple guys showed up and started talking like reunited old friends, and I caught a glimpse of a USAP patch on one guy's pack. So, I introduced myself and found out that I was talking to John Garbe (the friend of my friend Catherine's brother, mentioned previously,) and Doc, who is the fuels mechanic! We chatted for a bit, then more and more ice people started to trickle into the concourse to catch the flight to LAX. We had a good time visiting, then found out our flight out was delayed for 45 minutes, which sounded like a good opportunity for (overpriced airport) ice cream! Caught the flight to LA when it was ready, which went pretty quickly. At LA, we walked over to the international terminal, stopping on the way for (overpriced airport) beers and snacks, then on to wait some more! At the gate for our flight to Auckland, we met some more ice people, then boarded the giant Boeing 747-400 for the big flight!

My first step into the 747 brought back vivid memories of a really long, hot, stuffy flight between New York and Madrid several years ago. It felt like a solid 95 degrees in the plane - I was dreading spending the next 12+ hours sitting in it, but after a quick chat with some other people, it was established that the plane had already started cooling off and they had been assured that within in little while it would be down to comfortable temperatures. The aircrew was correct, and within half an hour of takeoff the plane was comfortable. A while after that it was just cool enough to justify wearing a fleece jacked - my favorite temperature for flying! Listened to music, goofed around with the in-seat entertainment system, talked with my neighbors, ate some decent airline food, and even managed to squeeze in a few hours of restless sleep before touching down in Auckland, New Zealand just before sunrise! I changed out all the US currency in my wallet to get some New Zealand dollars (NZD) and waited in line to get the passport stamped and pick up my checked luggage. The bike box appeared undamaged and my duffel came out unscathed as well, so I got them loaded onto a card and waited in line to go through customs.

Customs, the next step I had worried about, was a breeze as well. Didn't have to unpack and repack the bike after I explained that it was strictly a city road bike and it was run through the Xray machine, and none of my gear was fumigated/dipped after it was inspected and confirmed to be clean. After a nice walk over to the domestic terminal, I rechecked my bags and had to pay a $20NZD fee to get my bike shipped to chch, which wasn't entirely unexpected and I had no problem with after the excellent treatment I had received from Quantas so far. Up until this point, I had been traveling with several other people from the fuels department (fuelies, for short,) but after rushing to board the plane to chch (after being delayed with getting the bike checked and such,) I discovered that I was the only fuelie on the flight!? The plane was definitely headed for chch and I was definitely supposed to be heading for there, so it wasn't that big of a deal, but it was a bit of a surprise.

I arrived at the airport in chch no problem, met with a RPSNZ person, and headed off to the YMCA in a shuttle van. At the Y (where I would be staying for the next few days,) I found out that check-in wasn't until 2pm (this was at about 8am IIRC) so I left my bag and box, then headed out to explore the city and get some food. An hour or so later, I dropped by the Y and found my boss, Scott, getting out of a car and said hi. Apparently, the rest of the fuelies had been scheduled on the next flight and were also a bit surprised to discover that we weren't all on the same plane. Whatever, we all made it in without incident. Went for a short walk in the nearby botanical gardens (think big, really nice city park - will post pics later) and ended up napping in the grass for a couple hours. Walked around town a bit more, then went back to the YMCA again to 'move in.' The room was ready, so I got my stuff moved, unpacked a bit, assembled the bike (University Bikes did an AWESOME job packing it!) then ran into Seth aka 'The Swede,' one of the other fuelies, and we headed over to Bailie's (a local pub) to meet up with any other ice people who might be there. Met up with a couple other fuelies, had a couple beers, then left to find some food! Ended up eating kabobs at a neat little Turkish place, then heading back to the Y to catch some sleep.

This morning was training time! Caught a shuttle to the Antarctic center with a couple other fuelies and met up with the rest of the fuels department there. We all assembled in a conference room at 9:30 and introduced ourselves, then proceeded to talk fuels stuff for a bit. At 10:30, it was time to go get fitted with our Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear, so we all went over to the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC.) At the CDC, I met with another RPSNZ person, who handed me an envelope with my name on the outside and a bunch of $50NZD bills on the inside - my travel fund that somebody forgot to put in with the material that I was given on arrival in chch yesterday. Yay! Since I hadn't been to the ice before, I had to watch a 10 minute video on Antarctic weather, cold weather clothing stuff, and the fitting process, then I joined the other guys who were trying on all the clothes in our two orange duffels. Unfortunately, my orange duffels weren't there, so I had to talk to a few people and figure out what was going on. Due to some weird paperwork stuff, my bags hadn't been assembled yet, so I got that taken care of and started playing dress-up! Got all the clothing figured out, had a quick lunch with John, then back to the conference room for more training stuff. The rest of our meeting went well as the first hour had. Everyone was really friendly, all the stuff said made sense, there were plenty jokes and ice stories to go around, and I learned a lot of stuff about what I'm going to be doing. A little after 3pm, we had covered all the material for today, so we were done with training for the day and let go.

I took my bike over to the CDC and tagged it so it could stay there while I'm on the ice. The CDC will hold stuff for people working on the ice while they're down there, so I brought some stuff to use for adventuring in New Zealand afterwards with the intent of leaving it there rather than taking a bike and stuff to the Ice and back. After signing the bike in, I walked back to town (probably 3 miles away) with another fuelie (can't remember his name - I'm really bad with those,) got back to the Y, organized some stuff, then went looking for a fish and chips place for some food. Before finding a fish and chips place, I ran into this neat looking Internet cafe, so here I am an hour later finishing up a post on the last few days. Going to head over to Baileys since it's right around the corner and see if there are any other ice people there, then see what happens!

**pictures and spellcheck will come later, need to get going now and don't have my camera's USB cable handy...***