Feeds:
Posts
Comments

2020 bump

Just a quick log in to let WordPress know I still care.

2018 Bump

Just making a quick post to keep the site “active”.   Nothing new to add.

Bump again

My annual log in to prevent this blog from becoming digital dust.

Bump

Just adding a quick note to the blog so it doesn’t get deleted from inactivity.

New Zealand

 
 

Temperature +14F (in McMurdo)

Station Population: 1000+ (in McMurdo) 

Current Location: Somewhere above the Southern Ocean 

Time to New Zealand: 4 hours  

On Tuesday of this week my replacement arrived at Pole. We had corresponded almost everyday throughout the winter and he was here last year so our turnover was actually quite brief.  Wednesday was a busy day for planes coming and going. I think there were 5 or 6 in total (all Hercs). I worked to wrap up some loose end for work and finished the majority of my packing. Of the stuff I brought down to pole with me, much of it I left behind in Skua which is a sort of leave stuff and take stuff stash. Over the winter I found several nice things in Skua…computer speakers, shirts, a pair of shoes. Now it was my turn to make donation to the pile with stuff that I no longer needed or wanted. The rest I was able to ship back to Seattle. I sent 4 large boxes of stuff directly from South Pole to home. It will be very nice not to have to drag that stuff through New Zealand. This left me with a modest sized duffel bag of stuff I’ll need in New Zealand. The cargo people took this bag in preparation of my flight the following day. Wednesday evening they posted the flight schedule for Thursday. 2 morning flights and 2 evening flights. Thursday morning I woke up and checked the flight schedule. The two morning flights were on weather delay. The winds at Pole were from grid west and this brought in warm moist (both relative terms) air. This was dropping visibility to the ¾ miles range. This was by far the warmest day yet since I’ve been at Pole with temps in the -18F range. However, the stiff west wind kept a real bit to the cold. The Hurcs typically need 1 mile. As the morning advanced, the 2 hour delay became a 4 hour delay. Then the first flight canceled. Then the second flight canceled. Thus, it was looking like the 10pm flight was my next best option. The weather was slowly clearing though the day and they scheduled a new evening flight for 8pm. I had my final dinner at Pole, made my final-final packing and toured the station, saying goodbye to the few people I still knew. I make a final trip out to the pole and thus began my journey north.  The Hurc flew over the landing strip on a low and slow pass undoubtedly checking visibility since we it was very borderline. About 5 minutes later we saw the plane again over the landing strip about a ½ mile from the end of the strip and still not on the ground. I figured this was just another flyby since they usually land quite a bit sooner and taxi in. However this plane only got its skis on the snow with a ¼ mile of strip left. “Touch and Go” I thought. But the plane stayed down and the engines were thrown into reverse and they roared at full throttle. The plane was moving fast and the end of the landing strip was coming faster. The plan glided about 100 yards past the red flags that mark the end before coming to a stop. These Hurcs land on unimproved field camps all the time so it was not really a big deal, since the only difference between the landing strip and what lays beyond is just some grooming, but it was exciting none the less. 

 

 

LC-130 Landing

LC-130 Landing Me and the Plane

Some people came out to see me off. Not many though. The plane was only bringing cargo and fuel to pole so no one got off. There was only one other person leaving pole. He was an IT guy that had only been there about 3 days. After cargo and fuel were off loaded, we were signaled to the aircraft. It was strange crossing the safety line that had separated me from so many other planes that left me behind. As I neared the aircraft I looked back one last time at the station and the handful of people seeing me off, while at the same time being careful not to veer off into one of the 4 propellers of the 4 running engines. I climbed into the fuselage of the empty airplane an took a seat on a fabric bench seat along the starboard wall. My one green duffel bag was comically strapped down in the center of the large cargo bay. I sat down and was confronted with my first seatbelt in 10 months. This was something I forgot about, but only took a minute to locate a pair of dissimilar ends to couple together. One of the flight crew gave me a 10 second safety briefing that that was mostly “If we crash, follow me! Don’t walk into a propeller! It’s all the same as when you came in”! I shouted over the engines that that was 10 months ago, so he spend another 5 seconds pointing to a couple doors and gave me a thumbs up. 

My Luggage

My Luggage

On the Herc

On the Herc

 The plane taxied to the grid south end of the landing strip turned and took off into the wind. The first hour of the flight was just pure whiteness outside the windows. Around hour 2 we flew over the Trans Antarctic mountains. I again was impressed by their size and steepness. They really give perspective to the size of the glaciers that fill the valleys between. These mountains also constituted the first earth I’ve seen in 10 months (rocks, dirt, gravel) We hit a good bit of turbulence as we neared McMurdo. It as pretty intense but only lasted a minute or two.  

 

  

Transantarctic Mountains

Transantarctic Mountains

Transantarctic Mountains

Transantarctic Mountains

We landed on the ice runway just off the coast from McMurdo. When I came through last fall we were landed much further away and had to be driven about a 30 minutes into town. This time it was just a 5 minute van ride. I was dropped off a some type of cargo building and waited for my green duffel to arrive. It got to ride in its own vehicle. I did some last minute re-packing and turned it back over to the McMurdo cargo people for tomorrow’s flight. Here I learned that the 10pm and 11pm flights to Pole turned around en route due to bad weather. I was so fortunate to get out when I did. I also learned that a big storm was moving into McMurdo and the C-17 were probably not going to fly tomorrow. The good news was the New Zealand Air Force was flying an C-130 Herc (without the skis) in the morning and they were putting passengers on that. It was leaving at 8am so I had to be ready for the shuttle van at 7. I really wanted to sightsee in McMurdo and without an alarm clock I was really nervous about oversleeping so I decided to do a little e-mail and facebooking, go to the midnight meal served in the galley and then go explore all night and then sleep on the plane. There is 24hour daylight here, but the sun does get lower on the horizon at night. The weather in McMurdo was around +14F with a bit of a wind. I was out in just a sweatshirt and jeans and was getting pretty cold. I was disappointed at myself for being such a pansy in positive temperature, but reminded myself that +14 is still still well within ice fishing temperatures and a sweatshirt is still just a sweatshirt. Around 1am I decided I would go to my room and just kill a few hours with a quick sleep. The room was dark. As I entered, just as I suspected, there were other people in there. How many I don’t know as I was trying to be discrete and used my flashlight on it low setting to find my way to an empty bunk. I just took my boots off, laid down with all my clothes on and used my Big Red as a blanket.  

On the Sea Ice Runway

On the Sea Ice Runway

 

The Airfield

The Airfield

 

Van Ride into Town

Van Ride into Town

 

Mt Eribus

Mt Eribus

My tiny watch alarm did not wake me at 5, but I awoke at 5:30am regardless. I was tod to be ready well before 7am since they might try to leave earlier to beat the storm, but the flight schedule was still showing a 7am shuttle for the 8am flight. So I had some breakfast and another round of computering and headed for the shuttle bus. The whole time I was in McMurdo I was washing my hands like someone to OCD because I wanted to get in and out without picking up the McMurdo crud with is some kind of flu/cold/pinkeye concoction I was warned about. As I was walking up a steep slope with my heavy carry on bag I instinctively kicked into low gear to compensate for the the altitude, but then remembered that I was now at sea level and probably hadn’t taken a breath for the last 30 seconds. I adjusted my pace accordingly and was up the hill without any extra panting. This is quite the opposite from when you get to high elevations and the part of your brain that knows how fast you can go doesn’t understand this new lack of oxygen and sets your legs at their usual sea level pace and 30 seconds later your consciousness needs to step in to sort things out while you are panting in your tracks. After 10 months at altitude, the opposite seems to be the case.

On the Kiwi Hurk

On the Kiwi Hurk

This fight has about 12 people on it. Since it is a Herc it is slower (and nosier) than the C-17 planes that usually do the New Zealand to McMurdo run for the US Air Force. The Kiwis have treated us well with snacks and drinks on the plane. The flight crew is either sleeping in cots suspended from the ceiling or making their round checking the mechanics of the aircraft. Flying over the Southern Ocean is serious business. Here is pretty much zero chance of rescue if we were to go down here.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Temperature -17.9F !!!

Windchill -48.2F

Station Population: 220 (Summer People)

Station Population: 5 (Winter Overs)

Time until New Zealand: ??? hours

Days on the ice: 286

4 hour delay

4 hour delay

Warmest Weather in 10 months..but windy

Warmest Weather in 10 months..but windy

T minus 5

5 Days

5 Days

Temperature -49.9F

Windchill -78.5F

Station Population: 175 (Summer People)

Station Population: 5 (Winter Overs)

Time until New Zealand: 123 hours

Days on the ice: 282

Hits to this blog: 23,538

On Wednesday about 25 winterover polies left the South Pole. This left about 10 on station. Over the next couple days about 5 more left. Now there are only 5 of us. Me and 4 scientists. I’m the last of the Raytheon winterover crew.

Polies Leaving

Polies Leaving

Leaving Polies

Leaving Polies

Heading to the Plane

Heading to the Plane

 My departure date is November 12th. The extra time here is a drag but the hardest part is seeing your friends leave and knowing that you will not share that part of the experience with them. The best analogy is can give is it is like failing Seinor Englsh and having to watch your friends walk across the podium and graduate while you have to go to summer school and get your diploma from the mailman. It has also been hard to watch all the Facebook posts of those who are now in Christchurch. As long as my flights go on time, I’ll be ok. Otherwise, I will be a very unhappy camper. One can only withstand so much disappointment with good spirits.

Those Left Behind

Those Left Behind

Last week I also had to change rooms. I had to give up my room to a summer person with more seniority. Again, the move itself is a drag and my new room is smaller. However, the part that’s hard to accept is that if I had departed with the other winterovers, it would not have had the hassle of the move. Just another drawback of not getting to leave on time.

So Hurc flight are now daily occurrences. The weather has been nearly perfect. Sometime we get 2-3 a day. This has brought the station population to 175 people. I now have to wait in line in the galley. The lounges are always busy. The Internet is slower. People stand in doorways and block entrances. For 9 months I saw the same faces everyday with never an exception. Now it is a rarity to see a familiar person. I’ve gotten to know a few of the summer folks and they typically nice people, but we are on different trajectories.

The temperatures are much warmer too. Ambient temps are running in the -40’s and windchills are in the -60 to -80 range. I have to be careful with the temptation of going out under dressed in windchills in the -80’s. Compared to the winter where the windchill rarely got above the triple digits, windchills in the -80’s are downright balmy. However, without good coverage it will still bite you. However, even with modest head gear, it’s easy to be comfortable in a -80 windchill where as at -130 or -140F even when wearing everything possible it still gets you. The range from -60 to -80 is tricky because you can be out for a while in big red, jeans, hiking boots, a hat and gloves, but if you’re out too long your hurting. I’ve found that a -60 windchills is quite manageable without a face mask.

I’ve got most of my stuff in boxes now. My plan is to ship most everything home and walk out of here with only a modest bag or two. In a couple days I’ll do my “bag-drag”. That’s where my “checked” luggage will become th property of the cargo department. They will weigh it and load it onto a airforce type pallet. This usually happens the day before the flight, but if the flight is delayed you could be days without your luggage. Another part of life in Antarctica that warrants careful planning and patience.

One interesting thing that is occurring is the removing of the winter drifts. These huge drifts that are around every building on station are excavated and pushed into even larger piles where they will eventually be drug off station.

Big Piles of Snow

Big Piles of Snow

Big Pile of Snow - with Polie (me) for scale

Big Pile of Snow - with Polie (me) for scale

 I’m not sure what the future of this blog will be from this point on. I usually do my blogging on Sundays (my day off). Hopefully this will be my last Sunday on the ice and I really don’t think I want to spend my time in Christchurch sitting in the hotel writing about the Antarctica (or anything for that matter). So, I might try to make a few small posts during the week, both from here, McMurdo and Christchurch. Just updates, nothing philosophical. I may start other blogs in the future, but I doubt that I will ever have an experience that is of interest to such a broad audience as living at the South Pole for nearly a year..

 I will eventually do a re-cap and postmortem on the experience, but that might be months out when I’m back in Seattle. Either way, I’d like to thank all those that read my blog and and a special thanks to those who left comments or questions. At the time of this posting I’ve had almost 24,000 hits to this site.

PS: My Wife has been bicycle touring through New Zealand for the past month and has started her own count down…

 

9 days

9 days

 

8 days

8 days

7 days

7 days

6 days

6 days

Temp -47.9F, Windchill -74.7F

Station Population: 121

Days remaining on ice: 12

Days on the ice: 278

Hits to this blog: 22,931

 The news of the week was the arrival of the first LC-130 Hercules airplane. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_LC-130 Due to all the bad flying weather, they have pushed up the Herc schedule to help us get caught up with moving people from McMurdo to Pole. The Baslers can only carry 16 passengers where as the larger Hurc can carry 30-40 passengers. These are still tiny compared to the big C-17 Globemasters that fly from McMurdo to Christchurch that take on about 100 passengers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C-17_Globemaster_III The Hurcs are the largest aircraft that can land at pole because our landing strip is only a snow surface and cannot support wheeled aircraft. McMurdo has a sea ice runway that is much stronger. Rumor has it that there has been some talk of trying to create a hard surface runway here at pole to support larger wheeled aircraft. However on of the the arguments against doing that is it would allow more tourism here at Pole and that is generally frowned upon. I don’t know if that of that is true, but it’s interesting. Regardless, the ski equipped Hurc remain the backbone of logistics of the South Pole. Occasionally a C-17 will air drop supplies to South Pole, but that is more a test of concept than a significant method of moving materials. So the Herc showed up on content one day before its arrival at pole. They come here from working up north in places like Greenland. The weather the day the Hurc came in didn’t seem any better than any of the weather of the previous week. I wonder if there isn’t a little bit of rivalry between the Air National Guard and the Ken Borek Air Service as to who can get the job done. That is also probably not true, the the reality is more complicated, but I’ve got to wonder.

First LC-130 Hurc First LC-130 Hurc
So the Hurc landed on Wednesday and 30 something new people came to pole. Before their arrival, the winterovers still outnumbered the new people, but now we are the minority. No longer is the sight of a familiar face a guarantee, but is now the exception. Before the station had the feel that it still belonged to the winterover’s and the new people were only visitors. Now the situation has shifted and we are now being pushed into the corners. However we are happy to do this. We are steadily and quickly passing responsibility to the newcomers. This includes the duties of our emergency response teams. We conducted 2 drills last week. The first was conducted by the winterover team and the summer ERTs were observers to see how it’s done. The second drill was 2 days later (Saturday) and was conducted by the summer ERTs with the winterovers there offering guidance as needed. They did very well for their first time.
 

The continent is starting to feel a little crowed

The continent is starting to feel a little crowed

One of the passengers of the Hurc brought me a US flag that I ordered online. We have been raffling off the old flags to the winterovers, but luck was not on my side. Regardless, the idea of having a flag that flew over the geographic south pole was tantalizing. So a couple days ago, it put up the flag and will probably take it down after a couple more days. Since we are on top of a huge glacier, we move 33 feet per year. That means the location of the geographic pole is now something like 28 feet from the real pole since the survey last summer. So I paced off about 30′ in the direction it should be and planted my flag. So to the best of my knowledge, my flag is flying directly over the geographic South Pole.

My Flag (in the foreground)

My Flag (in the foreground)

 

 

 

 

I have not been that interested in meeting the summer crew and generally preferring the company of my fellow winterovers. I attribute that to a number of factors. First is that we are on our way out and it seems pointless (to me at least) to get to know these people. I believe many of them feel the same about us and would rather invest their time into more important relationships. (They might be a little afraid of us too 😉 ) I am also kinda socially exhausted and the effort of meeting the new people seem like so much work. This does not seem to be the case with all of the winterovers however. Also, it’s just more comfortable to be with like mined people. We all have our inside jokes, the twinkle in our eyes of our futures and the toasty 1000 yard stare. We can commiserate or reminisce about our winter together. Much like our families, we didn’t choose each other, but for better or worse here we are.I answered a posting on a climbing forum (www.cascadeclimbers.com) by someone looking for mitts for a climb of a 20,000 foot peak. I thought I might have something to contribute so I replied. I’m been wanting to write about my hand wear system for a while, but never got the ambition to actually do it, I thought I would just add a copy here.

I’ve got to give a strong vote for the BD Absolute Mitts.

http://www.blackdiamondequipment.com/en-us/shop/mountain/gloves/absolute-mitt

I’ve been living and working at the South Pole for the winter (February – November). I’ve come to really love these mitts. I used them almost exclusively when the temps are colder than -60F, and that has been virtually everyday for the past 8 months. When it gets really cold (ie -80F to -95F) my hands can get cold, especially if I am holding something, or if I have them out of the mitts too much. But really…-95F with a -145F windchill what do you expect.

 There might be warmer mitts, but there is more to a glove system than just warmth. I love these mitts because the shell is insulated with primaloft. Most other mitts have a really thick liner that goes into an uninsulated nylon shell. What I do is remove the liner from the right mitt (I’m right handed) and I wear a modest fleece glove (OR Gripper) on my right hand. Without the mitt’s liner, the right hand goes in and out easily. This give me the dexterity to do almost anything. This does not happen if you are trying to use a fleece glove with a mitt that has a fleece liner. If you were to try this with most other mitts, you wouldn’t have any additional insulation provided by the shell. Thus it wouldn’t be much warmer than your fleece glove alone. In extreme cold (like we have down here) exposing skin for a few seconds = frostbite (been there – done that). For my left hand I just run the mitt stock since I don’t usually need that level of dexterity in both hands.

www.freezedriedengineer.wordpress.com 

I’ve been really quite happy with these mitts and how they work with my system. The are obscenely expensive at $180 a pair, but if any one can justify the most expensive mitts on the market, it is some one spending 10 months at the coldest place on the planet. The program issues gloves and mitts too. There are 2 types of gloves, one is a lightly insulated leather glove and the other is a better insulated leather glove. Neither is particularly warm, but for some they are ok in surprisingly cold conditions. I tend to have cold hands so, this is not and option. The next step up is a pair of leather mitt that are reasonably insulated. These are fairly popular for winterovers. They are still rather pitiful, but can be paired with liner gloves and chemical hand warmers to result in a workable system. The next step up is the bearpaw mitts. These are just military issue mitts. I got a pair of these at the CDC, but I put them the the emergency gear cache and never used them. I actual own a pair back home, but they are so bulky that you can’t really do much with them. I guess they are good for driving the snowmobile or to use them like a muff where they are just a place to rewarm hands or for walking from place to place. In my opinion are not that warm. However, some people down here give them strong marks for their warmth.

Left Mitt Shell; Left Mitt Liner; Right Liner, Right Fleece, Right Mitt Shell

Left Mitt Shell; Left Mitt Liner; Right Liner, Right Fleece, Right Mitt Shell

Like I said, even at negative whatever, it is rare for my to get really cold hands with my Black Diamond mitts. If I am holding something (especially metal), it does tend to compress the insulation a bit and the conductive heat loss can be an issue. One time my thumbs got very cold in them. I started out with cold hands and then took a snowmobile on a ¾ mile ride to take some photos of some buildings. It was about -85 F and I had to stop a number of times to swing my arm to force some more warm blood in to my vasoconstricted fingers. Another problem usually comes from when I am in and out of them for detailed work (ie writing, fixing something, taking pictures, etc). When I need dexterity, my right hand has a fleece windstopper glove with a liner underneath. That’s still pretty good dexterity and warmth. The most important part is that the fleece glove be windstopper, otherwise forget about it. If I know I will be doing a lot of detailed work I’ll drop in a pair of hand warmers inside the right mitt. One other “trick” is to use the idiot string where I can remove my right mitt and I can let it dangle while I do what I need to and the mitt doesn’t blow away or get lost in the darkness.

 I wonder what percentage of the world’s hand warmer industry output goes to Antarctica. I’m not sure, but we go through thousands of them here. I typically think of these things as cheating (or “aid” for the climbers). However, when the windchill is running at -130F or colder…anything goes. However, I try not to depend on them. I like to have the confidence that my system will keep my hands from freezing without the warmers, because they can get dropped or stop working prematurely. It’s a safety issue if you are relying on them.

Ode to the Handwarmer

Ode to the Handwarmer

Temp -57.1F, Windchill -91.8F

 Station Population: 72

 Days remaining on ice: 18

 Days on the ice: 268

On Monday the 19th we go our first flight in. It was supposed to arrive on the 15th, but they require 3 miles of visibility before they off deck from McMurdo. This seems excessive to me. It is also a rule that seems to bend in direct relationship to the number of days they are behind schedule. Regardless, the first flight came in without incident. Joe and I were up in comms at the time assisting the flight from a communications point of view. Comms is the center of activity when there are inbound flights and that’s where everyone wants to be to get the most up to date information. However, we had to eventually close the door and put of a “Stay Out” sign, since the commotion was starting to interferer with our ability to hear the faint voices in the ether. 16 people got off the plane and 3 winterovers left.

 

Going Out to Meet the Plane

Going Out to Meet the Plane

 

 

 

 

The shock of new people was far less this time than when the transit flight came through. While the plane was on the ground, much of the station was helping to bring in the cargo. The Baslers don’t bring a lot of cargo; just some hand carried bags for the passengers, about 50 lbs of fresh food and a few critical parts we have been waiting for. Regardless, the hand carry bags are a bit too much for most of the new arrival to manage at 11,000 ft and the fresh food needs to get out of the -50F weather before freezing. After the plane departed and the cargo was up in the station, there was group forming in the galley eating the newly arrived fruit. Bananas and Kiwi fruit being the predominate options. There was quite a bit of mingling among the new people and the winterovers. Most of the people that arrived have one or more summers on ice so there wasn’t the complete star struck aw that would accompany completely new person, although there were a few. Some of the new people I recognized from the end of last summer or whom I have corresponded with throughout the winter.

 

Freshies
Freshies

 

  

The next morning we had fresh eggs for breakfast. Two fried eggs. Amazing. I really haven’t had too many food craving here. They galley staff did a great job with providing variety and I’m not too fussy about freshness. However, these eggs were a surprise to my pallet that I was not expecting.

The next 3 days were touch and go in terms of flying weather. The visibility would be bad here. Then it would clear up and get bad in McMurdo. Then get bad here again.

On Wednesday, we had the winterover awards ceremony. Each winterover was issued an Antarctica Service Metal http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antarctica_Service_Medal  and http://www.tioh.hqda.pentagon.mil/Awards/ANTARCTICA%20SERVICE%20MEDAL1.html.  As I understand it, the metal is actually a military decoration that is award to civilians. Also, Steele, the winterover machinist, made each winterover a token that with out names and winterover number on it. My winterover number is 1243 since I’m the 1243rd person to winter at the South Pole. The token is made from metal from each of the South Pole stations. One of the metals from the old Navy station from the 50’s. Another is from the a discarded door frame from the old dome and also some metal that was from the new station. 

Finally on Friday, we got our second plane. More or less the same routine, only this time I didn’t have to work the comms and was able to be on the ice for the arrival. This second plane also brought in one of my colleagues. I meet with him and again helped haul cargo into the station. This was a late flight arriving around 7pm. Thus there was only a little milling about before everyone went off to bed. 

 

Freshies

Freshies

 

The Awards Cerimony
The Awards Ceremony

 

 

Second Flight

Second Flight

16 New People

16 New People

Darren "Got to see the people!"

Darren "Got to see the people!"

Darren and "Boss"

Darren and "Boss"

Saturday, was a full work day for winterovers and the Monday arrivals. The newly arrived were still in hiding while attempting to acclimate to conditions here.  At 7pm we began our First Flight Festival. This was a concert and beer tent that was set up in the gym. The music started at 7pm and went to 11:30pm. All of it live.

 

The Rookies

The Rookies

Attendance was good, but still only about half of the station population of 72 was there. Many of the winterovers are toast and were just to tired to attend and some of the new arrivals were having the same symptoms, but for different reasons.

 

Temp -44.7F, Windchill -76.8F

On Tuesday, the Basler arrived at Pole, refueled and pushed on to McMurdo. The Twin Otter, being a slower aircraft, arrived at Pole about an hour behind. They too landed, but had trouble with one of their engines. Since the temp was around -73F they left the right one running while they refueled, but had to shut down the left engine to allow safe access for fueling. Well 20 minutes with the engine off at -73F was enough time for things to freeze up and ground the aircraft. Fortunately, one of the crew of 3 was the mechanic. So they set to the task of fixing the engine fully exposed to the triple digit windchills. This windchill exasperated the fact that the crew was greatly unaccustomed to the cold having only days before been flying through the tropics. This slowed progress and the next day a temporary tent was erected over the wing and heated with portable heaters. By Thursday the aircraft was again airworthy, but the weather was lousy. Regardless, the crew seemed very anxious to get going and took off in what seemed to me to be very low visibility. They made it off the ground and they were on their way to McMurdo. The Twin Otter’s roll for the next few weeks is only to provide Search and Rescue capabilities to the Basler crew should they go down. For now, the Twin Otter is the only other aircraft on the continent right now capable of a landing on skis.

The Basler was scheduled to make it’s first flight to pole with new people and fresh food on Thursday, but the low visibility caused by the winds persisted. Friday was looking better and the Basler actually took off and started flying south. Once again the weather deteriorated here at Pole and they eventually turned around in what is called a boomerang flight. Saturday they didn’t even try. Visibility was in half mile range. So now it’s Sunday. Visibility is better but still relatively poor. Either way, they don’t fly on Sunday. So it looks like Monday is the next shot. The forecast looks promising and if it is really good, they will try to get two flight in now that we are well behind schedule. If that actually happens, we will have about 2 dozen more people on station by Monday night. All these delays have created a roller coaster of excitement and disappointment. Surly this is no more true than for the 3 winterover poles that that will be leaving on this plane. There is also a lot of activity going on around station in preparation. Cargo is preparing for luggage and food that mush be handled quickly before freezing, there is a team that must read the fueling equipment. I am working with a communications group to monitor and coordinate communications with the aircraft and the South Pole ground crews. Plus we continue to work to prepare the station for visitors.

I’m excited for the first cargo/passenger flight of the season. However, I remain apprehensive about all the new people coming in. When it became evident that the crew of the Twin Otter was going to be spending the night, I was in my room just before heading up for dinner. I was trying to prepare myself for seeing the first new people since February 15th. I had always assumed that this would be a novel experience, but now that it was here, I had no idea how to do it. It was completely blowing my mind. It was like the President or some other famous person coming for dinner and to spend the night at your house. How do you react? Do you look excited and surprised? Do you stare? Or do you play it cool like it’s no big deal. Do you try to talk to them and ask a bunch of questions or do you give them some space. Well as it turned out, they were very cold and tired from their long flight and troubles on the ground, so for their sake, as well as mine, I just tried to be friendly, but nonchalant. There were actuality quite a few other people on station tripping over each other to get some time with our guests.

Temp -69.2, Windchill -97.6

Days at South Pole: 256

Last plane: February 16th

The Basler Being Refueled

The Basler Being Refueled

The Basler

The Basler

The Twin Otter

The Twin Otter

Temp -66.3, Windchill -102.5

Days until first plane: 5

I have not written anything is quite a while. The sun is now very much up. In fact, if there are no clouds you need the tinted lens in the goggles or sunglasses. Things are certainly starting to change here at the South Pole. The process of getting the station ready for summer is well underway. Some of the outbuildings that were cold all winter are now getting started up. The skiway for the airplanes is getting prepped and the flags that mark its boundaries have been replaced. The decorative flags have been replaced and the tightly spaced flag lines that were needed to guide winter Polies from place to place are being taken down. Inside the building, we are re-arranging the furniture to a configuration that is more appropriate for 300 instead of 43. We are also busy with our primary jobs too. Writing final reports, trying to get material ordered for the summer season, and finish all the projects we have started.

The first plane was scheduled for Monday10/12, but bad weather on the other side of the continent has caused at least a one day delay. This first flight is a transit flight only. Two small aircraft contracted from Kenn Borek Air (a Basler and a Twin Otter) have been working there way down from Canada to South America. Once the weather is good, they will fly to Rothera, a British station on the Antarctic peninsula. They will spend a day or two there, take on fuel and fly to the South Pole for another refueling. Since this is only a transit flight, they will not be dropping off or picking up anyone or anything from Pole. They will continue to McMurdo. Once in McMurdo, the Basler will begin making semi-regular flights to back and forth from McMurdo to Pole for the rest of October. The first of which is scheduled for the 16th.

All of this busyness and the associated excitement is in direct contrast with a station wide fatigue. I had thought that the return of the sun would bring relief from all the ills of winter. However, in may ways, it has made things worse. Other than being able to see around, most of us are having trouble sleeping again and everyone’s fuses seem to be getting shorter. Again, I’m not sure if this is wholly attributable to the sun, or if it’s just the result of being this far along and this close to the end. Getting motivated to do much of anything takes twice a much willpower as it did just 2 months ago. Writing in my Blog is no exception. I guess we are getting Toastier. I am getting more and more forgetful, losing track of what day it is, forgetting people’s name.

It really is unfortunate too. There is still so much I wanted to Blog about…more clothing to discuss, a full tour of the second floor, where our water comes from. I guess someone else will have to pickup that torch. Please send me a comment if there is something you are really interested in reading about and I might be able to squeeze out one more posting. Other than that, I will be focusing my writing on the day-to-day activities as our 9 months of isolation is turned upside down.

We did take another group photo. We all voted on what photo will be our official winter-over photo.  (This photo and all other group photos in this blog are by Patrick Cullis)

 

 

 

The Official 2009 Winterover Photo

The Official 2009 Winterover Photo

 

 

Temp -87.9, Windchill -122.6

 

Days until first plane: 12

Days left on ice for FDE: 42

Still Cold

Still Cold

Van with Tacks
Van with Tacks

 

Group Photo

Group Photo

Snowmobile with the Station in the Background

Snowmobile with the Station in the Background

 

Temp -62.9, Windchill -78.9

 Days until first plane: 21

 

 

BEFORE -- Feb 7th

BEFORE -- Feb 7th

 

 

AFTER -- Sept 23rd

AFTER -- Sept 23rd

Temp -82.7, Windchill -127.4

Days since sundown: 185

 Days until sunrise: 0

 Days until first plane: 22

 

 

Disclaimer

This post is to clarify something that should be obvious to any long term reader.

I am not a representative for Raytheon in anyway. I also do not represent the National Science Foundation. Furthermore, this blog is in no way is a representation of either organization. None of the information contained within is official. It is all my opinion and my observations from a very limited point of few. All information is subject to errors. My focus throughout this Blog has been to illustrate the experience of wintering at the South Pole through my personal experiences. I discuss very little about my work, the work of others or specifics of the program. If you are interested in more information on this topic please see the “Notes from the Editor” tab above. If you are looking for official or accurate information on Raytheon or the National Science Foundation please go to their respective websites. If you are looking for the incoherent rambling of the Toasty Polie formally know as Nathan Greenland aka the FreezeDriedEngineer, well, here’s the spot.

Temp -82.7, Windchill -112.2

Days since sundown: 179

Days until sunrise: 5

Days until first plane: 28

We are now just days from sunrise. For now the storms are gone and the sky is again clear. We can see the horizon and the wispy polar clouds. The storm had cloaked the sun’s progress but now all has been reveled. The clear weather has also allowed the cold back in, but -80F is really no matter at this stage of the game. The size of the snowdrifts continues to amaze all. One of the side doors in the Logistic Office was completely buried by the storm.

Almost Sun Rise

Almost Sun Rise

Anyone got a shovel?

Anyone got a shovel?

 

We Ain't Goin Out This Way

We Ain't Goin Out This Way

This is a time of contradictions. Most of us had the expectation that the return of the sun would be an across the board improvement of all things. Moral would be up, it would feel warmer, we would be revitalized. The opposite has been the experience of many. We are more tired, feel colder, cranker, our skin feels drier, we are just Toastier. Is this really due to the sunrise or have we just crossed some invisible point on the calender that is irregardless of the sun. One theory is that the body can adjust to constant darkness, but the constant twilight seems to trigger the “go to bed” circuits in the brain. It’s all hard to say. At least with the window covers on, the brain could trick itself to think it was any time of the day it wanted to.

We have all been assigned dates for our departures. Mine is November 12th. It is foolish to think of that date as an actual time, but rather the center of a bell curve of possible dates. There are dozen of factors than can cause that date to move (usually later). Weather is probably number one (both cold and viability can cancel flights). Others are mechanical issues of the aircraft, complication with those who are replacing us, etc. Regardless, it’s a date on the calendar and something to be thinking about. Most people on station have the number of days remaining in their head. Mine is 57 days. When I dwell on that number I get too simultaneous feelings. One is where I am a bit deflated when I think that I have almost 2 more months left before I go to New Zealand. The other reaction is I only have 57 more days to capitalize on this experience before it is over, never to be seen again. More contradictions. There is a certain harmony that we have developed down here. Yes, it may be played in a minor key and not aways in tune, but it is the music of OUR winter. Less than 1300 people have every wintered at pole. We will all be forever bonded to that. I want to go out and try to pack in more socializing. It won’t be long before we are dispersed. However I find myself wanting to be alone more and more.

 In only 28 days our isolation will be shattered by the first plane. It will bring new people that will disrupt our chemistry. Not too long thereafter, winterovers will start to trickle out. The first 8 planes that will visit poll with be Basler Aircraft. They are much smaller than the LC-130 Hercules aircraft, but have fewer restrictions. Even just 8 of these smaller aircraft will absolutely swamp the station with people. Then on November 4th the first of the Herc will arrive bringing 20 or 30 people on each trip. Most of the winterovers are scheduled to go out on this first Herc. I will not be joining them. I will be here an additional 8 days. Myself and a couple scientists will be the sum total of the 2009 winterover crew after November 8th.

 My excitement for leaving South Pole is not due to my desire to leave this place, but due to the exciting things that await me off the ice. My plans in New Zealand, seeing my wife, friends, and family. Experiencing the real world again. Buying a new pair of shoes…oh how I want a new pair of shoes. In fact, I think I would feel very much the same if this wasn’t the coldest, darkest place in the world, but instead it was an isolated tropical island paradise. It’s the isolation …. it’s the isolation. It’s the inability to do what ever you want. Even Gilligan wanted off his island. Even the characters in show LOST want off the island. How is it that 43 adventurous people have decided to all live in a place for 10 months where we cannot (or dare not) travel any further than 1 mile from where we sleep?