A Recap of Our 2nd Season on the Ice

Below all the text, there are various photos from this season. Dave did the honor of writing the blog this time.

Dave: “Here’s the update that everyone has been waiting for…well, perhaps not everyone, I think there’s only about four of you out there, but anyway here it is.

When we last left you we had been travelling down the Pacific Coast Highway from Oregon down to California which was an absolutely amazing journey.  By the time we made it back to Arizona we were more or less broke (having spent much more than originally anticipated on our Pacific Coast Highway journey) and were anxiously awaiting our return to McMurdo for another fruitful Austral summer season.  Then it happened…

When I say ‘it’ I am referencing the government shutdown that most Americans have probably already forgotten about at this point.  We began our journey to the bottom of the planet on the second day of said shutdown.  The nice part is that we were our friend, Jason, who lives in Pasadena and works for the United States Geological Survey had the day off and drove to LAX to meet us before the long hop down to Sydney.  It was quite a nice time having a couple beers with him and having more and more Ice folk join our table.

Just like last year Janae left before I did which is always a bit tough.  While it may sound silly for most people, it’s quite hard on us having to split up before a major flight across most of an ocean.  Perhaps some day the planets will align and we’ll be able to travel together.  Nonetheless we both made it to Sydney safely and separately and then on to Christchurch.

Thankfully unlike last year I didn’t arrive on the same day/night as daylight savings and met up with Janae at our provided accommodations which I might add were quite nice and not very far from the airport.  The following day we were driven to the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) and outfitted with the same attire as last year.  Having a bit more experience was quite nice this season as there was no guesswork to what we needed to bring with us down to the Ice.

We had our computers checked out, went to the HR meeting and then got a ride back to the hotel.  We spent the evening with some friends at a wonderful Japanese restaurant ordering food of which we had no idea what we were going to get, and then took a bus back to the hotel.

At this point we weren’t exactly sure whether we were going to make it down to the Ice as the United States Congress in all their wisdom and glory were still acting like children and were unable to come to an agreement.  Several of you I’m sure noted our Facebook statuses which were pleading with you to write your Congressmen to come to an agreement so we could have a job.  See previous mention of Pacific Coast Highway trip and being more or less broke.

That night a note had been slipped under the door which said our flight to Antarctica had been delayed and to await further instructions.  Those further instructions which arrived around 5 am said that we were delayed to the following day.  After a couple more delays we finally made our flight on a Kiwi 757.  For most of you a Kiwi is either a flightless bird or a delicious green fruit surrounded by a furry skin.  In this reference a Kiwi is an individual from New Zealand, or actually in this case a Royal New Zealand Air Force 757.

This  is where things begin to get interesting.  As we were boarding the plane a thought ran through my mind which was that most 757’s I’ve ever been on only fly across the states, typically from Phoenix to Newark in my case which is on average about four and a half hours of flight time.  The flight from Christchurch to McMurdo is about five hours.  While this makes perfect sense to everyone at this point, the issue that we Ice folk have is a dreaded thing called the ‘boomerang’.  A boomerang is when a flight cannot land due to weather conditions in Antarctica and therefore needs to fly back to its point of origin.  Last season for example the first Winfly (or Winter Fly In) flight in August made it to McMurdo in an US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III however was unable to land and therefore needed to fly all the way back to Christchurch giving them a total flight time of 11 hours.  Now I can almost hear the four of you that have been reading this say…’Ohhh…Hmmm.’  Exactly my point.

So getting back to our 757, it turns out that a Minister of New Zealand also happened to be on our flight as well.  We didn’t meet him, however I’m sure he’s a really wonderful chap as every Kiwi I’ve ever met has been.  So we board the plane, it takes off, and before you know it (after watching A Few Good Men and a couple other rather outdated movies) we begin our descent over McMurdo Sound.  We had been told about an hour previous that we should put on our ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear to prepare for landing as it takes a bit of time to get everything on.  As I look out the window I notice some rather low lying clouds and suddenly we’re in them.  You could feel the air resistance of the landing gear and the flaps were up slowing our air speed.  Suddenly the plane throttled up and we were climbing at a very steep rate and we were out of the clouds.  Last year we did a similar test landing so it wasn’t too much of a surprise.  It was a surprise however when the captain came over the speaker and mentioned that due to bad fog conditions we were going to circle to wait and see whether the fog would blow off as predicted for a much more favorable landing.  So we circled…and circled…and circled.  Then we gave it another chance and same thing, landing gear goes down, flaps up, airspeed decreases, then a massive throttle up, severely increased rate of climb and we’re out of the clouds again.  I then realized that we had been burning off fuel so there wouldn’t be a massive fireball if/when we crash landed.

At this point the captain came over the PA again and said that landing conditions were unfavorable and we were now forced to make a ‘whiteout landing’ due to the lack of fuel to get us back to Christchurch.  The flight attendants were going to go over the emergency landing procedures and we should remove any objects from our pockets that could ‘penetrate our bodies’.  Ha!  That’s when things really started to get good.  So we go over the crash positions.  Yes, I have my seat belt on.  Yes, I’ll be sure to lean forward, put my arms on the seat in front of me and rest my head on my arms.  The only thing that was really important at this point is that I was able to hold Janae’s hand through this whole ordeal.  Besides that I really wasn’t worried.  We’re just landing on snow, right?  How bad could it possibly be?  I began to joke around about how the bar was going to be packed as soon as we made it back to town because of this situation, etc.  Gotta make the best of the situation after all.

So we circled some more (to burn off more fuel) and finally we make the real deal approach.  Landing gear is down, flaps up, airspeed decreasing, visibility…um…well…nothing.  Literally it was nothing.  Finally I saw the ground and within a fraction of a second our wheels were on the snow.  To this day I really have no clue how the pilot was able to line up that landing, but he did.  He nailed it.  Actually it was one of the smoothest landings I’ve ever experienced.  We came to a stop and everyone cheered.  The surprising thing about everyone on the plane was that no one really panicked.  No one cried, no one freaked out.  Everyone was cool, calm and collected.  There’s something to be said about the people that work down here.

When we got off the plane we realized exactly how thick the fog was.  Visibility was less than 100 feet, literally.  I could barely make out the fluorescent yellow fire truck that was only about 75 feet away from the door of the airplane.  When we made it back to McMurdo we were let out at Building 155 which is where the galley is and we were met with big hugs from our friends who had either wintered over or made it in at winfly.  Several of our friends were on the Search and Rescue team and they had been freaking out about our flight.  They were told that a crash was imminent, that they needed to prepare for a mass casualty incident, but that they could not leave because no one knew exactly where the plane was going to come down.  So, Yay!  Hugs, happy times, no burning aircraft or bodies and wonderful galley food to be had by all.  What more could we want?

Oh yeah, a job.  That is after all why we came down here.  The next day we were told that we may not have a job for much longer.  The day after that I was pulled out of my OSHA safety class and told I was on the flight manifest and was going to be getting back on a plane tomorrow and heading back home.  It turns out that Janae would not be flying home because the South Pole Traverse (or SPoT as it is referred to down here) was necessary to refuel the Pole and therefore in order to ensure two forms of communication (satellite phone and high frequency radio) MacOps would be funded.  This is where I must mention that I have a deep affection for the people I work for.  Within fifteen minutes I was pulled off the flight manifest and was back at work the next day having been given a new life.  The carp shop management found on station maintenance jobs in one of the dorms which certainly needed it and all but one of us stayed down here.  Crazy thing is that the one carpenter who left, came back a ten days later after the shutdown had been resolved.  Talk about a commute.

So that’s how the 2013-14 season began.  Certainly one for the books.  Overall things have been going reasonably well.  Deep field science has been postponed until next year however local science has been quite active.  Honestly we haven’t really had much down time at all since we were given the go ahead back in October.

Whatever free time I’ve had has gone to working out and a canyoneering training class that I’ve been putting on every Saturday to help teach canyoneering skills to whoever is interested.

It’s been one hell of a season and we’ve had some big peaks and a couple troughs, but overall it’s been great.  Janae and I are both preparing for a trip to south east Asia after the Ice and beyond that we’re not exactly sure.

We hope that everyone back home (all four of you) are doing well and we think of you all quite often, usually every day at one point or another.  You are all with us down here in spirit and we look forward to sharing some of our stories with you in person when we get back.”

The Clothing Distribution Center in Christchurch. This is where we get all the gear and wait for the plane south.

Dave walking on Lake Bonney.

 A friend of ours, Jeremy Clark, was kind enough to take some pictures of us. You can see more of his gorgeous shots at billiejoeandjeremy.com

Billie Jo and Jeremy Photography.

Billie Jo and Jeremy Photography.

Yes, this was really, really cold.

Billie Jo and Jeremy Photography.

Dave and some of his fellow carps in the Dry Valleys.

C.A.R.P.

Dave and I at the Pressure Ridges.

My buddy, Ned, driving the Piston Bully to teach my Sea Ice class.

It was a cold day on the ice. I’m under there somewhere.

Dave in the Dry Valleys.

Dave clipping the sling load on the helo.

A crack in the sea Ice.

Chandra was kind enough to make us a cup made from glacial ice – coolest this ever!

Of course, another year of Mustache Roulette. Here’s the before…

Monkey riding a narwhale. Naturally.

During the shearing.

Finale.

Sweet jesus…

I went to Room With a View with a skidoo party.

Nothing says sexy like ECW gear.

My favorite McMurdonian! Troy!

Photo by Lena Stevens.

That’s me driving the skidoo in the front (first timer).

Photo by Lena Stevens.

Here’s the view at Room With a View.

Photo by Lena Stevens.

Last but definitely not least; there’s a gang of molting Emperors hanging out just off the road to the runway. Poor little guys don’t seem happy.

Molting ain’t easy (I hear it almost as hard as pimpin’)

The sea ice opened up a lot this season, so we’ve been able to watch minkes and orcas in the sound – that has been truly an amazing experience.

We’re all lined up for our travel plans to South East Asia when we leave the ice. We’re dreaming of warm days and fresh food!

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Phew – what a way to spend a few months!

Our time spent at Goldmyer was amazing. Two months of living in a remote cabin nestled deep in the Cascades Mountains. Our neighbors were a river, a rocky peak, a waterfall and the hot springs. We would also have camping visitors who would set up a tent around the area for multiple day use. We were never permitted to let in more than 20 people a day, so things were always quite and peaceful up at Goldmyer.

Banana slug.

Foxgloves. Not actually native to America, they’re European. They’re also incredibly toxic.

We got to a point where there were so many hummingbirds (Anna’s and Rufuous) that we were going through 2 cups of sugar a day to feed the dozen or so.

The moss covered forest.

The adorable Goldmyer cabin.

Some days were spent reading, but most of our days were very filled. Between trail work, cleaning the pools, baking bread for a regular staple and checking in the visitors – our days were long and tiring (but wonderful).

Burntboot Creek was always a source of white noise in the cabin.

This is Grandpa tree. An +/-800 year old Douglas fir. One of many old growth trees on the property. It was very humbling.

Up on the top left is the cave that provides the source of the hot water. There are two lower pools fed by a cascading flow of geothermally heated water.

On an incredible shot of luck, nearly all of time in Washington had blue skies and warm days. Some days we’d have heavy overcast and rain, it was still breathtaking in the mist.

We watched hummingbirds mature from juveniles and migrate south for the winter. We soaked in pristine natural hot springs while settled next to a waterfall. We went on nature hikes and familiarized ourselves with the local flora and fauna well enough that we could identify nearly everything. We dinned on homemade bread and desserts, fresh berries and wild mushrooms (thanks to Bret and Kristin!). No phones, no tv, no vehicles. It was quiet and simple and lovely.

We got to take a break from the seclusion of Goldmyer midway through and took a couple days to enjoy sumptuous Seattle. Best city we’ve been to yet.

We visited the Chihuly Art Exhibit made up primarily of blown glass.

We spent an afternoon in the Seattle Aquarium.

We met up with some friends (Alasdair, an Ice friend and his son, Cullen) and family (Ben, Denise and Chase) while in town, too.

The infamous Gum Wall of Seattle. Eww.

After our time ended at Goldmyer, we spent a night with Dick and Linda for dinner and stimulating conversation (as always, dear Dick).

Then we bumped over to Ben and Denise’s (and Chase’s) for another great night spent with family and good food. Next, off to my Aunt Molly’s! We spent almost a week at her place seeing the sites, including salmon swimming upstream, Weird Portland and The Gorge (phenomenal!).

Of course, we had to wait in line for Voodoo Donuts. Well worth the wait, they were yummy.

And naturally, spent a few evening with The Coston’s (Dave is starting to understand where I get it from…).

Finally, we started our journey south on the 101, aka, Pacific Coastal Highway. Whoa, what a drive. Through rocky shoals, sandy beaches, mountains, Redwoods, fishing towns, huge cities – you name it. If anyone is remotely considering doing this drive, both Dave and I myself would highly recommend it. It always kept us on our toes with what to imagine next and always remained picturesque.

The Oregon coast was spectacular.

McKinley was often foaming at the mouth for the ball time.

The impressive Redwoods.

The Glass Beach in Fort Bragg. It was a result of decades of dumping garbage off the jagged coast. The glass at least made for an interesting aftermath, I doubt much can be said of all the other stuff.

We met up with some friends in the LA area. Here’s Nick, Jason, Sarah, Calvin and Nora.

We made it as far south as Capestrono (we looked for the sparrows, but alas, none to be seen). We had to make it to Utah in time to make it for Paria Canyon, the canyon we hadn’t been able to do the last time we were in Utah due to Jason’s appendix. Come to find out, the entire canyon was flooded. Filled with debris, quicksand and water. Impassible. Dammit.

So we spent a few days hiking and canyoneering in Zion National Park, instead.

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Now? We’re packing up to go back down to Antarctica, next post will be from the Ice.

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Cruising the West

We arrived back from Jersey in one piece. We got to see Lender and Kari’s new house and check up on Ginny. Once we got our ducks in order back in Arizona, we left on my birthday and spent it in Durango. We celebrated our 1st Anniversary and Dave’s birthday in Utah.

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This was such a phenomenal campsite, just outside of Moab.

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We popped into Arches National Park, as well as Canyonlands.

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We had made plans with my Dad to head up to Boulder to go meet our first nephew/grandson on The Coston side. Dad rented a cabin in Jamesville and we had a week of snow and cold (…just what we wanted, after spending 6 months in Antarctica!).

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My brother, Reed. Lainey, his fiancé. And, introducing Declan Coston. Aka Midget Mac, aka Chim Chim. He’s such a laid back baby and he’s always happy.

We bummed around Colorado for a couple weeks. I took care of the medical and dental qualifications for McMurdo. Yup, we’ll be headed back there in fall to spend another season down on the ice. Turns out we kinda liked it.

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We’ve pretty much been living out of a tent. Which we adore. Nothing like finding a place in the middle of no where, with no one in sight, where just the three of us hang out and play outdoors. We did a ton of climbing throughout Arizona and Colorado (all the gear laid out is climbing gear) and worked on getting some color back into our pale bodies.

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There’s Dave up there with our friend, Karen, belaying him. This is The Shelf, in Colorado.

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After we left Colorado, we went south to Albuquerque to meet another new addition to the family, Chase Miles. My step brother’s first son.

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Here’s us with Denise, Chase and Ben.

Chase, G, J & D at old town

Dave and I spent some time in the Sandia Mountains and got back up to speed on our rope and technical skills…it was badly needed. We even got Ma out there for a day to do some rappelling.

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Ma rapping down! She was a natural.

Dave doing all the work kite flying

We bought a parafoil in Boulder so we’d have something to do on days that were too windy to climb. Albuquerque was a great place for the kite, with it always being windy.

D & J assisting on kite flying

We took it out with the family.

From New Mexico, we bumped back over to Arizona to take care of some more odds and ends. Between going through the rounds for the USAP Program and getting my last name changed, I fear I may never be able to look at another piece of paperwork again. After we got things taken care of, it was back up to Colorado so Dave could begin his medical/dental qualification process. Unfortunately, we’ll have to go through the draining and maddening hiring process every season! Bummer man.

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We spent some time up in the Independence Pass area of the Rockies. Checked out Leadville, the highest city in the United States, via the highest paved road in North America (just over 12,000 ft). This picture is us pretty much at the summit. You can see the smoke from the fires that have been raging in Colorado.

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Then we went off to Utah again to meet up with our good buddy, Jason. He works for USGS in California, helping to monitor seismic activity. He also happens to be an incredibly fun guy that we try to meet up with whenever remotely feasible. Months ago, we had purchased permits to do Paria Canyon with him. So we met up in Kanab when the time had come. Jason seemed to be messing with fate on this trip; he sheared off three of the five lug nuts on one of his tires and had to stop in Barstow for the night. When he continued his journey to Kanab, a semitruck tire exploded and the shrapnel hit his window. Finally, he arrived in Kanab and mentioned some severe pain in his abdomen. Considering we were about to head deep into the middle of nowhere, no cell or GPS, we all figured we’d better play the smart card and get him checked out before we start the trek.

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He got scheduled for an appendectomy later that day. The doctor said he was amazed Jason was still standing. If we had gone into the canyon, his appendix very likely would have burst.

Now? We’re headed up to Washington. We’ll be taking the scenic 101 through California and Oregon, arriving just in time (hopefully) to begin a caretaking position we accepted. Some friends we met while cruising the Bahamas asked if we’d be interested in caretaking for a natural hotspring in the Cascades (Goldmyer Hotsprings) – naturally, we took them up on the offer! We’ll be up there until August, in a remote cabin, just making sure everything goes smoothly.

The journey continues!

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New Zealand – Land of the Kiwis and Hobbits.

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We spent an afternoon and drove to Akaroa. Kiwis are the nicest people, until you put them behind the wheel of a vehicle. They drive faster than a bat outta hell and love to pass you at the most dangerous time possible. Compound that with us not having driven in 6 months and having to drive on the opposite side of the road that we’re used to; it was a miracle we survived the trip. Well worth the risk of our lives though – we picked up some local wines and cheese (incredible!) and I ate the best veggie burger of my life here.

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Picton.

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Up on the top of picture is the infamous Kea. They’re parrots that terrorize the community of Arthur’s Pass. They outsmarted us constantly at night while we were sleeping, stealing our shoes and opening the zippers on our bags to eat the food inside. They’ll tear apart vehicles and take food from your plate. They’re endangered (and therefore protected), so you can’t really do much to them other than wave them away, which they don’t particularly like.
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Kea in Arthur’s Pass. A few moments after we took this shot, he tried to steal my purse. When I attempted to stop him, he almost bit my finger. Despite all this, they’re goofy and entertaining. Not to mention, really beautiful.

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Devil’s Punchbowl, Arthur’s Pass.We did some hiking in the area.

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Devil’s Punchbowl.

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We opted to take the train around the north and south islands. It enabled us to see a ton of the country side without having to deal with traffic.

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Kiwi sculpture of iron and driftwood in National Park.

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We refused to pay the $30 bucks to shuttle to the campsite in National Park, so we trekked it along the roadside. The crater in the background is Mount Tongariro – or at least what’s left of it. There have been a couple massive explosions from this one. The entire back side of the mountain is closed from a recent eruption.

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Another peak in the National Park area on the north island. This one is Mount Ruapehu.

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We bumped into friends who were fresh off the ice while we were in Kaikoura. We spent the day sipping White Russians and playing lawn bowling – a pastime the Kiwis take seriously.

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Kaikoura.

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Kaikoura has a gorgeous black pebble beach with azure waters.

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A common scene; us waiting at a train station.

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Shadow of our train going over a bridge a couple hundred feet above the ground – awesome views.

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Akaroa.

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Foggy train ride.

Dave was so kind as to write another blog post!:

So we haven’t made any updates in quite some time however we can assure you that we are doing fine.  We’ve been rather busy and for a while there we did not have access to both the internet and our computers.  So, we’ll try our best to update you so this post may be a bit longer than usual.

 We left McMurdo in the middle of February on a C-17 which brought us back to Christchurch (and the first night time we had seen since October 22). The dumped us off the plane and funneled us through customs to arrive back at the place where the adventure began, the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC).   We offloaded our polar clothing into a massive pile, picked up the backpacking gear that we had left back in October, and spent the evening enjoying a bottle of champagne and some cheese that I had accidentally forgotten to mention to customs.  Oops.

The next morning we went back to the CDC to determine what gear we wanted to leave while we were ‘tramping’ around New Zealand.  Once we had figured that out, we spent the day wandering around the beautiful Christchurch Botanical Gardens.  We easily spent an hour smelling the roses…literally.  After not smelling much of anything at McMurdo for five months it was absolutely wonderful indulging in roses for a while.  Afterwards we met up with Janae’s friend from Flagstaff, Anna Mae and spent a couple days with her.

Anna Mae offered us her car to drive to Akaroa while she spent the day working.  While a bit nervous to drive on the opposite side of the road, we felt that it was an experience that we just couldn’t turn down.  It was very unnerving at first, but after a while we settled in to it.  We often found ourselves further over to the left side of the road than we should have been so our common response was ‘Bitch in the Ditch!’ no matter who was driving.  Both the drive to and the town of Akaroa were stunning.  It is an old French colony that sits on the shores of a beautiful harbor.

We had decided to purchase 21 day rail tickets to get ourselves around New Zealand while we were there.  Between the cost of the rental car plus the cost of fuel, it was actually going to save us money, along with not have to worry about driving in congested areas on the opposite side of the road. Probably safer for both us, and whoever we happened to be driving past.

We took the train up to Arthur’s Pass and spent four days camping up there.  It’s a wonderful area in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, however the Department of Conservation (DOC) campground happens to lie directly between the highway and the train tracks.  So sleep was hard to come by. Despite the lack of sleep we were delighted to see plenty of Kea.  Kea are parrots that are native to New Zealand and they are incredibly cunning creatures.  Throughout the evening they would check to see whether we were awake before attempting to steal stuff from right under our tent.  They tore a hole in my backpack to get at some cashews and at one point even started to drag my shoe away.

While we were there, we ran into Marc Ankenbauer who was also from the ice.  We hung out with him for a couple of days and learned about his goal to swim in every named lake in Glacier National Park.  He’s been raising money for the Children’s Oncology Camp Foundation and you can check his progress over at www.glacierexplorer.com.  As of this writing he only has 11 left to go.

After Arthur’s Pass we took the train out to Greymouth just to see a bit of the countryside of the west side of the South Island before heading back to Christchurch.  We did purchase the rail ticket and figured we should take advantage of as much of the rail system that we possibly could.

We quickly realized that we were burning through cash at an unbelievable rate so we decided to curb our spending as much as possible.  We met up with Anna Mae again before heading up to the North Island.  Back to the train depot but this time onto the north bound train.  It was foggy in the morning which led to some nice photos of the farmland north of Christchurch.

The train ride was quite enjoyable and it runs extremely close to the shoreline.  At some points it’s only feet from the water.  On the way, besides plenty of sheep and a few cattle, we enjoyed seeing fur seals and dolphins out in the water.  We ended our trip in Picton and got straight on to the ferry to Wellington.  It was a beautiful trip up to Wellington and quite a bit different than being on our little 27ft Ericson.

In Wellington we stayed at a hostel and picked up the groceries.  The hostel was a complete joke and there is no way we would spend the night there again.  So over to the Wellington train station and on to Tangoroa National Park.  The ride up to Tangoroa, while still beautiful country, was much more commuter style than the trips on the South Island.  It was rather amusing when we got to National Park because when the train pulled away we had no idea what to do.  None.  We hadn’t done any research whatsoever and assumed that there would be some sort of a National Park office there.  Nope. National Park is the name of the town that is outside of Tongoroa National Park.  Quite a bit outside of the National Park at that.  So we found a hostel that we could camp at and set up shop for the day, while trying to figure out some logistics.  We found a DOC campground about four miles up the road and decided to hoof it there the next day.

We also noticed a sign for a local glow worm tours.  Glow worms have been on Janae’s list of things to see in life, so we signed up for the tour.  Allen (our guide and local to the area) drove us out in his van and we spent the night conversing with him. Great guy!  Allen talked to us quite a bit about the geology of the surrounding area along with the history, as well as American politics.  We got to the location right as the sun was setting and as we walked down an abandoned railroad cut we noticed that they were starting to come out.  It was such a cool experience seeing hundreds of these things lighting up the walls on both sides.  They looked like light blue stars everywhere.  It was beautiful.

The next day we hiked over to the campground and set up our portable ‘palace’ where we would be staying for the next three nights.  There was a nice hike through some wetlands and also a creek that we could swim in (for about 30 seconds due to the frigid temperatures.

We decided that we should see a bit more of New Zealand’s North Island, so we took the train up to Hamilton which is just south of Auckland.  We weren’t feeling adventurous enough to make the trip all the way up to Auckland, and neither was our budget.  Hamilton is a university town with an agricultural background and it was refreshing to get back into society for a bit.

After Hamilton we figured it was about time to head back down to Christchurch so we took the train down to Wellington, skipping the hostel and opting for a hotel instead.  It was $50 (NZ) more but we had our own bathroom and no fighting neighbors which made for a much more enjoyable stay.  The next morning we got back onto the ferry and headed south to Picton again.  This time we were delighted to see several albatross in the water which we were excited about and got to check off his list.

We wrapped up the traveling part of our trip in Kaikoura which is a wonderful beach town on the east coast of the South Island. We spent one afternoon with friends playing lawn bowling, and the rest of the time spent on the beach or wandering the shops.

Finally, back to Christchurch for our last night in NZ. We spent the evening with Anna Mae and her British roomie (Lizzy) eating a great meal, sipping champagne and soaking in a hot tub. Not too shabby.

Now we’re back in the States. We’ve been wrapping up odds and ends in AZ, climbing when we can. We took a quick trip out to New Jersey for family and then we’ll be off to Colorado and Utah for some fun in the sun.

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Dave’s pictures and outlook on field camps…tah dah!

Here are Dave’s pictures from all the field camps that he’s been to. Everything from flat-white deep field to the scenic terrain of the Dry Valleys.

Here’s Dave’s input:

“So in the past couple of months, I’ve been sent out to three deep field locations called WAIS, Byrd Camp and Siple Dome, which Janae has done a wonderful job of explaining in previous blogs. I also was sent to Lake Bonney in the Dry Valleys.  I figured that I would take the time to explain what I’ve been working on at these places, and what life is like out there.

So the biggest problem with these locations is the weather, especially when the only way you can get to them is via fixed wing aircraft.  We flew into both places on a US Air Force LC-130H.  These planes have been outfitted with skis in order to land on snowy runways.  There are no control towers at these locations, and only a small ground crew to help direct them once they taxi.  When I was trying to get out to WAIS, I was scheduled on October 29th, and didn’t fly until a week and a half later due to poor weather at WAIS, poor weather at McMurdo, or mechanical problems.  Since the aircraft was originally built in 1962, things can go wrong, especially in cold temperatures.  And they did.  Over and over and over.  After boarding the plane on two separate occasions, I ended up getting bumped to a later flight because I managed to pick up a cold and they didn’t want to send me into the field that way, so I left two days after my original flight.

The flight to WAIS was 3 ½ hours of uneventful flying.  The landing was surprisingly smooth due to the soft snow and freshly groomed runway.  I quickly settled in by setting up my tent and then began setting up a Polar Haven, which is an insulated tent that uses galvanized pipes for support.  All of the large tents are heated with diesel heaters which work great in all but the strongest of wind storms.  We set up a couple other tents during my stay at WAIS, a second, older Polar Haven and a Jamesway.  Jamesways are leftovers from the Korean War.  They were designed by the US Army, and while they are strong and without a doubt a giant leap forward in temporary structures of the day, they can be a bit of a pain to assemble.  Many of the parts are broken, the insulated ‘blankets’ which are the cloth part of the tent are torn with insulation hanging out, and oh yeah, they’re painted with lead paint, so I’m constantly reminding myself not to gnaw on the structural members.

At one point we had to dig out the fuel bladders from the winter snow that had drifted into the catch basin.  These are 10,000 gallon bladders and are about 20 feet long on each side.  We did this in 30 mile an hour winds with blowing snow in single digit temperatures.  Surprisingly the crew maintained a positive attitude throughout the day, and actually we all had a pretty good time.  Unfortunately my down jacket got a bit wet due to sweating, and I started to get pretty cold, so when we took a break for lunch, I threw my clothes into the dryer in order to dry them out and bring my body temperature back up to normal before heading back out again.

Yes, I did say dryer.  WAIS is known to be a small tent city.  It is the location of a large ice core drilling project and two 225kw generators power both the city and the drilling rig.  There’s a full galley, a recreation tent that has cross country skis, books, magazines (about two years out of date or more), a television, dvd player, showers, washer/dryer,  sewing machine, exercise bike and more.  There’s a field maintenance facility where they can do basic repairs on the equipment that’s out there, and a medical tent that can handle basic field emergencies.

Other tasks I was assigned were to put in 20 foot poles to run power lines, and also to raise the old poles that had been left in place from last year that were now three feet lower due to drifting snow.

After 12 days I was sent back to McMurdo which was just in time for Thanksgiving.  It was nice to be home with Janae, who was just transitioning back over from night shift, so we got to spend three days off together.

About a week later I found out that I was going to be sent out to Siple Dome.  This is a much smaller field camp that is actually an old drilling location.  They’ve transitioned it to a fuel depot in order for the smaller fixed wing aircraft to stop on their way out to places like WAIS.  There are only two guys out at Siple and they had been there for 39 days without seeing another person before our Herc landed.  Our job for this trip was to replace the old Jamesway tent that had been set up in 2009, with a new RacTent.  RacTents are very similar to Jamesways, in fact they’re based on the design of a Jamesway.  They were designed by a USAP carpenter who realized that he could develop a better product, and he did.  We also needed to replace the old freezer cave with a new one.  The downside is that we had to dig out the old Jamesway and freezer cave the were under almost 8 feet of snow and ice.  We started by setting up the new RacTent and then began to dig out the new freezer cave.  It took us two days to dig down 8 ½ feet along with the stairway for the new cave.  It was the old Jamesway that really started to give us problems.  The old tent was 9 sections long with each section being four feet wide.  That’s right, 36 feet long, on both sides, plus 16 foot ends, and 8 feet deep of hard packed snow and solid ice (due to the heat from the tent).    One of my coworkers totaled the volume of snow that we moved by hand at about 4523 cubic feet…which translates out to almost 170 cubic yards for those of you who have poured concrete.  For those of you who haven’t, it comes out to 8.66 million tablespoons.

While out at Siple we ate like kings.  It got to the point of being completely ridiculous.  Mel and Jarrett the camp staff who had been sustaining mostly on meat and potato chips decided to set the bar high for any other field camp.  At lunch we were eating things like pork chops stuffed with figs and dates and drizzled with a fig reduction sauce.  For snacks we had freshly baked bruschetta and cookies.  For dinner, steak and lamb sushi and steak and lobster.  One night we had filet mignon with a dry coffee rub and it was fantastic.  I definitely tossed on a few pounds despite digging snow and operating a chainsaw every day.

After 11 days we got a plane sent out to us (6 hours late due to mechanical problems).  They delivered a new Sno Cat and despite plenty of communications from our end and from Janae over at MacOps, they didn’t realize that they were bringing anyone back.  Thankfully we were able to get on the plane and made it back to McMurdo at 10 pm.  It was a 2 ½ hour flight with an hour and a half slushy ride in a cramped van to get home.  The icing on the cake was that I was invited up to the cockpit for the landing.  Completely awesome!  It’s amazing watching the crew take the plane down through complete cloud cover and see the runway appear at 1500 feet.  They did a great job setting her down and due to the warm, slushy conditions, it was the smoothest landing I’ve ever had.

I’ve got two days off, and yet again, Janae’s days off have coincided with mine.  I’m a such a lucky man. “

Then Dave got shipped off to Byrd Camp to close it down for the season. He spent about a week out there breaking things down, making it back with a few days to spare until we’re shipped off the ice on Feb. 13 (hopefully).

 

 

Lake Bonney

Lake Bonney

Lake Bonney

Lake Bonney

Lake Bonney

Lake Bonney. Crabeater seal, you can tell by the specialized teeth.

Lake Bonney

Lake Bonney. Dave was with the research group that was commissioned by Google Earth to map out areas of Antarctica.

Lake Bonney. Some of these mummified seals are thousands of years old.

Lake Bonney

Lake Bonney

Lake Bonney

Lake Bonney

Lake Bonney. Dave clipping the sling-load to the helo.

Deep Field (WAIS, Byrd or Siple)

Deep Field (WAIS, Byrd or Siple). Herc, skier, or LC-130.

Deep Field (WAIS, Byrd or Siple). Twin Otter.

WAIS. Tent City.

Deep Field (WAIS, Byrd or Siple). Bassler.

Deep Field (WAIS, Byrd or Siple). Herc.

Deep Field (WAIS, Byrd or Siple).

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Some incredible photos from B-174, one of the research groups here. They were kind enough to share!

I wish we could take credit for these amazing pictures – but nonetheless, I wanted to post them in order to demonstrate how beautiful this continent is. I know there are some of you out there who think we’re nuts or who can’t see the appeal. Maybe these will do our decision to come down here some justice.

These little guys are Adélie penguins. They’re goofy and curious. They were Shackleton’s favorite Antarctican creature; he was always having to save them from the reach of his sled dogs because of their perpetual insistence to get just a little too close. They’re notorious for stealing rocks from one another during mating season and for shoving the poor guy in the front of the group into the water to test it out for Leopard seals.

One of the research groups was tagging a unique subspecies of Orca, only found in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica.

Spy hopping.

Penguin tracks.

Ice cave.

Emperor penguins.

The beautiful Adélie.

More Adélies.

Adélies snooping around the science gear.

See the ones in the back; when they walk, they hold their flippers outstretched and waddle. Usually tripping a bit along the way. Makes them all the more entertaining. Stealing one of these guys and taking him home might be worth the prison sentence.

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Mischief in McMurdo

Dave got back safe and sound from WAIS deep field camp. When asked to describe his thoughts on camp, it pretty much summed up to “flat and white”. I’ll post some pictures for it next time. He made it back in time for Thanksgiving – yay! We celebrated Mashed Potatoes Day with the FSTP crew. Allow me to make the introductions (starting on the left and working towards the camera); Liz all the way at the end, then Larry, Jeremy (one of the bakers in MCM, the baked goods here are the best I’ve ever had, no joke), sitting next to Dave is Karen (she’s the top dog of FSTP, super cool lady), then Ned and Suz in the front. Ben is the guy taking the picture, and Alisdair was currently trapped on Mt. Erebus due to weather. I’m working on convincing this group to go canyoneering with Dave and I in Australia!

Thanksgiving

The following weekend, Dave and I got to spend Sunday together. Doesn’t happen much for us, since my schedule isn’t like everyone else’s in town (most people have a Mon-Sat 7:30am-5:30pm schedule). There was an incredible craft fair put on that day, you wouldn’t believe how talented people here are. Everything from custom-made stone jewelry, knitted hats and home-made glassware. We picked up a few more gifts for family and friends, so be on the look out. We stopped into Crary Lab, and our friend, Abe took us to see the Dissostichus mawsoni (Antarctic toothfish). They can live up to 50 years, grow as large as several hundred pounds and have an “antifreeze” protein in their blood that enables them to live in the freezing temperatures in the Antarctic. Researchers used to easily find them in the waters here, now however, they’re being commercially fished and sold as Chilean sea bass which is decimating their population numbers. This years findings were a big deal. They were gorgeous fish, curious too. They’d come up to you when you’d approach their enclosure and you could see their eyes turn upwards to look at you. They’ll be released shortly, but are being held temporarily to ensure they aren’t counted twice this season while scientists continue to look into their numbers. It’s amazing to look at this fish, older than I am, that we know so little about. It was humbling.

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They also brought up a little octopus, too! One of my favorites! They’ll be releasing him too.

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We had to get some of the famous Antarctic photos:

And…Dave’s off again to a deep field camp. Damn! He’s now in Siple Dome (fondly referred to as ‘Siple Doom’ because of the bad weather and lack of planes getting in or out due to it). I finally got to do my Happy Camper course and spent the night in a snow trench I dug out. Never thought I’d say those words: I spent the night in a snow trench in Antarctica. Surreal! The FSTP guys had fun with it – I found about 15 pounds worth of stones in my backpack (after I’d lugged the thing around for the day) and a fake Cobra in my sleeping bag. Loved every second.

Dave and I had signed up for the Pressure Ridge tour, but Dave wasn’t able to make it (due to the Doom). So I went solo. It was incredible. There was a big ol’ seal lounging around in the path to welcome us, close enough that we could touch her (But we didn’t! Don’t fine me!).

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The Pressure Ridge’s are similar in concept to earthquakes. The ice is compressed together due to winds and currents and starts to smash into itself, creating ice ridges that violently jut out of the ice sheet. It’s a more rapid version of the creation of mountains. The wind then shapes the ridges into beautiful formations. You feel like you’re walking on a different planet, surround by exotic and artistic ice sculptures.

Here’s a final picture – for the Christmas fans: this is a stuffed Santa positioned on top of the fuel truck, he’s been cruising around McMurdo up there.

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I’ve heard from some people that not all the photos I post on my blog can be viewed. I know that I myself despise the platform I’m currently using (WordPress) to put out a blog. It’s awful – to be honest. Glitches in spacing (like the one at the bottom of this post), photo posting, pretty much everything. I’ve been considering switching back to Blogspot. Has anyone else had problems seeing the blog or the pictures? Let me know, it’ll most likely quickly solidify my decision.

Observation Hill.

The Dave.

Things have been quiet down here at the end of the planet.

We celebrated the nearly 2000 year old festival of Halloween (Catholic usurped Celtic holiday Samhain) down here by piecemealing our costumes together by Skua-Diving.  Named after the South polar skua, a local seabird bird that tends to partake in thievery. I’m thinking that Skua, the practice down here of donating your things to the community for others to freely use, is to prevent this kind of Audubon-theft.

Ben, he’s the snow cone. And Liz, she’s the pretty zebra.

Here we have a giant Pooh Bear (Dan aka Hot Tsunami), and Larry. Dave was camera shy that night.

The beloved FSTP guys had the great idea of going to the Halloween Costume Competition as the PQ Process. For those of you who bumped into us the months preceding getting hired with the Antarctic Program, you saw our pain while we braved the paper waters of the infamous PQ Process. For those of you who are unaware, it was a multiple-month long joke filled with faxed, emailed, snail-mailed, scanned, lost, found, lost again, denied, claimed never received; onslaught of paperwork. Lots and lots of paperwork. Needless to say, they won the competition, even against some very elaborate and dramatic costumes. Guess it was camaraderie for McMurdo staff.

I’d say the most exciting thing to happen was the election. People down here were pretty absorbed in it. There was a ton of celebrating (with a tiny bit of whining) in regards to the outcome. Most people here are pretty liberal, so overall there was a wave of euphoria that swept across Mac Town. Champaign and wine to usher in the next four years! Dodged a Mormon-bullet. Nothing against Mormons as individuals, mind you. I like the crazy notion that religion and government should be separate. Call me nuts.

Dave finally made it out to the deep field camp, WAIS. West Antarctic Ice Shelf. He’ll be living in the lap of tent luxury and shower-free accommodations until they deem him suitably smelly enough to leave. Who knows when that’ll be! He’s almost as far away as South Pole.

Ma, you were wondering what our living accommodations looked like, here’s a photo of the Hotel Ritz.

What you can’t see in these pictures are my numerous photos taped up everywhere of The Fluff. Seeing her furry face always makes me smile – dammit I miss her!

We have a couple friends who work in FSTP (Field Services Training Program), they’re the outdoor survival geniuses, and they’re always out and about checking out the integrity of the ice shelf and harassing penguins. Last time they came back with a massive hunk of glacial ice. We we all got to have drinks that night with ice that could be as old as 150,000 years – if there is any such thing as the Fountain of Youth, Ponce de Leon was in the wrong climate. It has absolutely no bubbles in it, it’s as see-through as glass. It’s beautiful.
MacOps, where yours truly is receiving a paycheck from (I can’t really say I work there, being down here doesn’t feel much like work) – there was an article written about what we do there. The woman mentioned in the article, Shelly Campbell, is my supervisor (she is completely awesome) and the gal in the photo is Jess, this is also her first year at MacOps (though not on the ice) and is a yoga guru helping me out on some of my balancing poses.

Here are some of my buddies pictures (Dan) worth posting just for the laugh, or the ‘awww’ing of the freshly cooked fur ball.

Nothing strange about this photo, just a normal day in Antarctica; Pooh Bear ice fishing with a Barbie pole. What of it?

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Ice Fishing in Antarctica (..in the name of science, no I didn’t eat any).

Before I get to the climax of this blog entry – first; Dave and I both managed to sign up for Hut Guide. We listened to a seminar on everything, then got to check out Scott’s Hut. It was erected in 1911 during the Terra Nova Expedition. There were 25 men living in the hut. This was the starting point where Scott’s team set out for the South Pole, the infamous fatal trek.  For our sailing buddies: the hut was reused in 1915 by 10 of the marooned team, two years later, they were rescued by the incredible Shackleton. It’s an honor to get to step inside the hut – like so many others who know Shackleton’s story, he’s rather iconic for me. For anyone who isn’t familiar with Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party Expedition, I’d highly recommend checking into it. It’s truly an amazing story.

Now to the ice fishing. After I got back from Scott’s Hut, I was given the opportunity to do a “Boondoggle”. It’s kind of a moral trip for staff, to get out of McMurdo and do something interesting. I was asked to dive tend, which would have been me assisting the divers in and out of their gear and the water. I was really excited about this, ice diving has been something I’ve been interested in for over a decade now. It’s no easy thing to come by, just getting involved in this way is rare.

When I showed up for the trip, I found out it was actually a fishing trip. Which ended up being even better – because I actually got to ice fish! Jealous, Dad? : )

We went out to Cape Evan’s Wall, the wall being a glacier. It was so beautiful, it was almost hard to absorb it all. My group, Dan (the science guy) and Hatle (another volunteer like me) were great.

We caught 38 fish in about an hour. Their research is to try to determine the affects of warming water on the fish. Pretty much all of them of them will be returned back to the ocean, unharmed. I’m going to leave it at that.

In order to access the fish, we had to drill holes into the ice (which will disappear come summer). This was no easy matter. Once we penetrated the, roundabout, 2 meters of ice, the frigid water (about -1.86 C °) came rushing out of the hole, being pulled up with the drill, soaking us up to our knees.

Here’s a shot of McMurdo, nestled on the islands peninsula.

Dan (researcher from Portland) driving the Piston Bully.

Cape Evan’s Wall.

Jellyfish in one of the dive holes inside a Dive Hut.

Trematomus bernacchi.

Weddell Seal.

Piston Bully in front of Mt. Erebus.

Inside the Piston Bully.

Emperor Penguins!

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Life at McMurdo

We’ve had a lot of people asking us the basic questions; how’s the food, living conditions, day-to-day life. So, here it is in a nutshell.

Everyone works (for the most part), 6 days a week. Monday – Saturday. The majority of McMurdo has Sundays off – so Sundays are kind of a big deal around here. There’s a big brunch, and people spend their time socializing or doing recreational activities.

What sort of recreational activities are there, you ask. Everything from hiking trails, to cross country skiing, there’s a climbing wall (yay!), yoga classes, a couple gyms, dance classes, science lectures, snow caves, historical huts, arts and crafts, movie rentals, a music room, spanish classes, a library, mediation class, there are also a couple bars in town. There’s a night bar and a day bar – they even have Fat Tire, can you believe it!. There’s a coffee shop, staffed with a skilled barista (all drinks are free).

We have a standard cafeteria, set up buffet-style. Everything from meat and potatoes, to vegan and gluten free dishes. Some days, the food is incredible. Others…it’s barely edible. But you kinda have to eat it – it’s McMurdo rule. All the energy and money it takes to get food down here is tremendous, so people don’t look kindly on waste of any kind. So choose your food and your portions wisely. There are massive dessert spreads. Desserts here are not taken lightly. Everyday, there will be cakes and pastries, cupcakes and jellos – there’s a 24/7 frozen yogurt machine. Due to the high caloric requirement of the ‘outside’ workers (your body works extra hard in the extreme cold conditions), every meal has to meet or exceed 5000 calories. “Freshies”, aka fresh fruits and veggies, are a limited and highly sought after good. We don’t get them all that often (even less as the season rolls on), so when there are freshies, people are on them like white on rice. There are self serve juices, coffee and teas, hot cocoa and iced tea (no soda). They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you’re hungry in between – there are snacks available all day. Often times we’ll have service stations where you can request eggs to be made specially, or a sandwich a certain way. It’s not bad – we eat well here. Most people put on weight here, so you actually have to be careful not to enjoy the food too much.

There’s a shop that’s available. They have basic toiletries and basic foods (like chips, soda and coffee). They have a lot of ‘McMurdo Merchandise’. They’ll also carry beer and wine (limit 2 containers a person). Everything here is delegated, therefore, therefore everything here is hoarded. We admit we’re guilty, we’ve been hoarding beer and wine in our room in fear of the day when they run out (which they probably will).

Luckily, we’re married so we get the best rooms in the place. There are dorms for the married folks – larger rooms, a bathroom shared with a suite mate only (the other dorms have community bathrooms, like in college), and the best view. The rooms are warm (we control the temperature), and we get a hot shower whenever we want. However, once again – minimal is the rule of thumb. It’s all about conservation here, so everyone is very on top of their energy consumption. For us, coming off the boat, it’s been a luxurious transition – personal showers, food prepared for us, a bed to share together. For others on their first trip, I could see it being a little intense. To live down here, you have to be able to sacrifice. A lot. But its rewards are awesome. For example, we get to see seals nearly everyday lounging on the sea ice.

The people down here are eclectic. There are a lot of folks from Alaska (not surprising). The population is currently 64% male and 36% female. The majority of the population are ‘support services’, then the rest are scientists. Some people stay all year, others stay for the winter, some stay 7 months, some 5, others only a few weeks. Most of the people who work here come back year after year – they love it. Most of them spend their time (when they’re not working on the ice) traveling. Others get second, seasonal jobs. When you start to get to know someone, it’ll surprise you as to their background. Nearly everyone we’ve met has a college degree (even though they’re doing janitorial work), some even have advanced degrees. Some came right out of high school. A lot of people have met their husband or wife here. A lot of people here are single and hook up regularly. Some people are reclusive and unsocial, while others party at the bar every night (that’s one of the reasons they love to come down here). Strangely, I have yet to meet someone who has children.

We watch helicopters buzz around everyday. The most bizarre looking machinery travel through town. There are live bands that play in the bar Saturday nights. Acoustic solos in the coffee shop weekly. Overall, it’s pretty normal living – but it isn’t at all normal living at the same time.

Here are some more videos:

A Windy Day on the Ice.

Dave’s Happy Camper Course.

The issued Red!

The touch tank at Crary Lab. The spidery looking critter is a Sea Spider, there’s a feeding coral on the bottom left, the sea arthropod on the bottom is a perfect example of the gigantism that occurs in the frigid Antarctic waters due to high levels of nutrients – it’s an oversized Sea Lice. The brightly colored guy on the right is a shrimp. The blob squeezed into the upper left of the tank is, I believe, a type of Cod (don’t quote me on that one).

Some days are beautiful blue skies, others are….

Antarctic sun dog!

Alpine glow in the Transantarctic Mountain Range

McMudo sunrise (or the closest thing we have to a sunrise this time of year).

This is the famous Scott Tent – originally used by Robert Scott, who led a British Expedition to Antarctica in 1901. It’s still used today because of its superior ability to withstand the extreme conditions here.

Some people in the group opted for tents….(no fun).

Dave digging his snow trench for Happy Camper.

Dave spent the nice in the ice! Inside view of the snow trench.

One of the lessons during “Happy Camper” school – a survival course for the regional climate. This scene, with buckets over their heads, is to mimic whiteout conditions.

Mt. Erebus, always emitting volcanic steam. It’ll often times shoot off ‘bombs’ and lava.

Snow tracks.

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