A Summer of Loss and Luck

There’s a saying in McMurdo…The 1st year you do it for the experience, the 2nd year you do it for the money, the 3rd year you do it because you don’t know what else to do.

That about sums it up. We were surprised at how unexpected it seemed to be for so many people when they heard we would be spending another season on the Ice.

Over the summer, we came across a lovely piece of land just prior to our deployment to McMurdo – and bought the thing. We are now amongst the gentry! Proud owners of 6 acres just outside of Fort Collins, Colorado. It was loss and luck that found us there. A bittersweet ending to our time in the States.

Dave is just finishing up the design of the house and garage. This summer we’ll be installing the septic and well with the intention of building the house next year. Dave and I will be owner-builders, measuring, cutting and erecting every piece of wood, metal and any other misc. material the house contains. The ultimate goal is to be debt-free when this thing is all said and done. With that point, we’ll be coming down to McMurdo as long as it takes to do this. Friends and family beware.

Everything will be as environmentally friendly as we can make it, meaning within financial reason as well as still being within county code – not to mention in the event of ever wanting to sell it down the road, we’d like something that will be appealing to a demographic other than bohemians, freethinkers and hippies.

Land 360

Alright, enough with that.

We deployed to Antarctica early this season, getting a contract to fly in during WINFLY (winter fly-in). I switched positions and am working in the carpentry shop this season as a coordinator, which gave Dave and I the opportunity to come down early. It was, by far, our favorite part of the entire season. WINFLY is gorgeous. It’s still winter in Antarctica at this time, so we got a month-long taste of these formidable conditions; 24 hour darkness, constant winter storms, regular 70 knots winds (winds have been clocked here by instruments reaching 200 mph, some days it was so windy that Dave had to help me walk to work because the wind was knocking me down), Nacreous clouds, auroras, the Southern Cross and Magellanic Clouds, and weeks of perpetual sunset and sunrise. This WINFLY produced the most snow on record. It was a surreal month. We’re hooked.

Flight down to McMurdo
Flight down to McMurdo

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADue to the government shutdown last season, very little science occurred, causing this season to be crammed full of it. That has created a very busy season, so Dave has flown all over the place, which isn’t new for him but he got lucky and was one of the carps to fly to the peak of the active volcano, Erebus, just behind McMurdo Station. I’ve even been fortunate to go on a a handful of helo trips to help in setting up some of the Dry Valley camps, including Blood Falls on Taylor Glacier, Garwood Valley and Cape Royds (home of the beloved Adelie penguins and Shackleton’s Hut).

Helo landing on Taylor Glacier – what a weird experience, being dropped off in a helicopter on a glacier in Antarctica. I would say it’s something checked off the bucket list, but this one was so unexpected I had never dreamt of adding it to the list.
Dave’s helo dropping him off on Erebus, LEH (Lower Erebus Hut).

Dave standing on Lake Bonney.
Dave standing on Lake Bonney.
Dave standing on Lake Bonney.
Dave standing on Lake Bonney.
Blood Falls.
Blood Falls.
Blood Falls.
Blood Falls.
Taylor Glacier has pockets of frozen dirt that produce spectacular designs as the air escapes during slight warming trends.
Taylor Glacier has pockets of frozen dirt that produce spectacular designs as the air escapes during slight warming periods.

The crew I went out with to Taylor Glacier. Awesome crew, awesome time.
The crew I went out with to Taylor Glacier. Awesome crew, awesome time.
PolarHaven being assembled on Lake Bonney just below Blood Falls.
PolarHaven being assembled on Lake Bonney just below Blood Falls.
Erebus Glacier Tongue protruding onto the ice.
Erebus Glacier Tongue protruding onto the ice.
Strangely, the glacier looks almost identical to enormous penguin tracks. Kind of bizarre.
Strangely, the glacier looks almost identical to enormous penguin tracks. Kind of bizarre.

We were able to do a couple new things, thanks to a really great recreation program this season. Including the Ob Tube; a hole is drilled into the sea ice and a metal tube is inserted. People can crawl down inside to a glass tube protruding under the sea ice, to see everything below. It was, by far, one of the most incredible things I’ve ever encountered. It’s deafeningly quiet, while also incredibly noisy. I know that sounds strange, but once you get down there, you are almost suffocated by the weight of silence. Once you sit still for long enough, your ears pick up the orchestra of subtle sound; the popping of the ice, the crackling of microorganisms, the alien-like whistles and high-pitched chirps of nearby Weddell seals. If you click the link, it will take you to a YouTube audio recording of what it sounds like. It’s extraordinary and worth hearing.

Dave in the Ob Tube.
Dave in the Ob Tube.
Me in the Ob Tube. As you can see, it's a tight fit. Kind of claustrophobic - causing some people to flip out once they get inside and get stuck, needing assistance out. Some people just get stuck due to their size and need to be squeezed out...
Me in the Ob Tube. As you can see, it’s a tight fit. Kind of claustrophobic – causing some people to flip out once they get inside and get stuck, needing assistance out. Some people just get stuck due to their size and need to be squeezed out…
Here's what it looks like from inside.
Here’s what it looks like from inside.
The bottom of the sea ice has brinicles, hollow stalactites made of ice created by super cold saline water.
The bottom of the sea ice has brinicles, hollow stalactites made of ice created by super cold saline water.

Another really great recreational trip Dave and I took was to Cape Evans to visit Scott’s Hut.

Scott's Hut at Cape Evans.
Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans.
Dave and I inside Scott's Hut.
Dave and I inside Scott’s Hut.
Scott’s Hut.
The beautiful melt pools on the way to Garwood Valley.
The beautiful melt pools on the way to Garwood Valley.

I was able to go to Cape Royds this season to help in closing the camp. Cape Royds has been on the top of my list since we first started the program – it’s home of an Adelie penguin rookery as well as Shackleton’s Hut.

Adelie penguins are the beloved curious and comical creature of Antarctica. They were the favorites of many of the polar explorers, like Scott and Shackleton. They are only found in Antarctica.

I spent a few hours watching the penguins chase each other around, jump in and out of the water, steal pebbles from each other’s nests  and feed their young.

When a group of them wants to get into the water and they’re unsure as to how safe it is, they’ll all inch towards the ice edge and the poor little guy closest to the edge will be casually pushed into the sea by a random flipper behind him. The rest still standing safely on the ice will peer over into the water to see if he gets eaten or not. If all is well, the rest will go jumping in.

The whole cape is covered with penguins. It was a noisy place to be, with them all squawking and ​cooing.
As for Shackleton; there’s no way to eloquently describe how humbling it was to be in this hut. Don’t get me wrong, Scott was an amazing explorer, however as Apsley Cherry-Garrard, one of the members of Scott’s team on the Terra Nova Expedition, wrote “For a joint scientific and geographical piece of organisation, give me Scott; for a Winter Journey, Wilson; for a dash to the Pole and nothing else, Amundsen: and if I am in the devil of a hole and want to get out of it, give me Shackleton every time.” There is a link to a PBS documentary at the top of this paragraph for anyone curious about the most phenomenal rescue ever made.
Dave and I have been enamored with Shackleton since we first started sailing. To be able to exit the boat-life (hopefully only temporarily), come to the bottom of the planet and step foot inside Shackleton’s Hut will forever be one of the highlights of my life.
Shackleton's Hut at Cape Royds.
Shackleton’s Hut at Cape Royds.
Inside Shackleton's Hut.
Inside Shackleton’s Hut.
Shackleton's signature on his bed frame.
Shackleton’s signature on his bed frame.
Just behind the hut is the penguin rookery.
Just behind the hut is the penguin rookery.
A cape of penguins.
A cape of penguins.
They’re inquisitive little guys, they came close to check me out.

Adelies lounging on a floating chunk of ice.
Adelies lounging on a floating chunk of ice.

We leave here at the end of February. Who knows where this summer will take us.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles in SE Asia (and scooters and ferries and tuk tuks and song taos and bikes and…)

This blog is a conglomeration of Dave’s words and my words, good luck trying to tell the two apart. There are a ton of photos in this entry because everything was so amazingly beautiful. Enjoy!

After the completion of our season, we decided to spend a week in New Zealand in order to complete our Physical Qualifications (PQ) so we wouldn’t have to worry about doing it this summer. We had scheduled everything that we needed to while we were in McMurdo and were able to get almost everything completed for next season.

At the end of our New Zealand week of running around Christchurch we boarded an Emirates 777 and flew up to Thailand by way of Sydney. Dave’s two favorite airlines are Emirates and Qantas, (1) they actually treat you like human beings and (2) international flights serve free booze.

We landed in Bangkok at 2am and went straight to our hotel. The next day we took a taxi into the center of the city close to where the Hualomphong train station is. Because of the protests this took us a little over two hours…and cost us 300 baht (or a little under $10).

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Most of the trees in Thailand are gorgeous. They’re big and complicated and umbrella a substantial area. Most of them are, also, considered sacred – so monks will tie colorful ribbons around them to protect them from logging and being cut down. The Thai believe spirits live in the trees, so you’ll see these all over Thailand. This is a big Jackfruit tree.

From Bangkok we decided we were going to relax down at a small island called Ko Phi Phi, where we had been told we could go climbing and unwind from our season at McMurdo. Getting there was impressive. We took a sleeper train to Surat Thani, then boarded a bus on the side of a highway that later dumped us off into a small pick up truck that drove us to a random restaurant to wait for a van that drove four hours south to a random ranch where we waited for a large truck to take us to the ferry which finally took us to Ko Phi Phi.  Did you get all that?

Our first night there we spent in a beautiful bungalow that had a really friendly (rather sickly) kitty, which we affectionately named Mr. Sniffles. While I had read the reviews of the place we were staying that had mentioned loud music from the main part of the island, there’s no way I could have expected what we were in for. At 10:30 PM the music started and to say it was loud is an understatement. Despite our bungalow being over a mile away from the main part of town, the music was so loud, despite wearing earplugs, there was no possible way we could get to sleep. So unfortunately for Mr. Sniffles who was waiting for us outside our door, we decided to leave Ko Phi Phi and head back to the mainland where we instead went to Ao Nang, another beach town, but different in that it was a bit quieter.

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The view from our room in Ko Phi Phi was awesome.

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Mr. Sniffles apparently thought we adopted him. Janae wanted to keep him (along with nearly every other creature she temporarily adopted along the way.

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The famous long-tail boats of Thailand. They modify an automotive engine and attach the prop directly to the driveshaft. Amazing.

While there we spent the first couple of days finding a place to stay. Ao Nang, being the tourist beach town that it is, unfortunately is quite expensive and any attempts we made to stay at reasonably priced places were futile and ended rather abruptly. Not to mention, Janae proceeded to get a lovely stomach bug while we were there so travel and climbing were temporarily out of the question. Once she got to feeling a little better, we went a more mellow route than climbing and went SCUBA diving off one of the local islands. The visibility wasn’t all that great, but Dave did get to see a pair of incredibly venomous swimming banded sea snakes.

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Us riding a long-tail.

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Piloting the long-tail.

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On the dive boat anchored at one of the local islands in Ao Nang.

From Ao Nang, we took a bus to Krabi and then a flight up to Chiang Mai. It was definitely a much quicker way considering the train would have taken us two full days and the plane was about two hours.

Chiang Mai is beautiful. Incredible golden temples – everywhere. Every place you look there is another temple. The locals are friendly and the food is fantastic. We chatted with Buddhist monks, took a Thai cooking class, shopped in the local night markets, rode up Doi Suthep to see the incredible golden temple, Wat Phra That – we relished every second in Chiang Mai.

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I’m up there in the white shirt, on the right. I’m sitting this way because it’s forbidden to point your toes at the Buddha. Feet are considered the most unholy of body parts to the Thai (and most Buddhists).

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Buddha made of pure jade, at Wat Phra That (Doi Suthep).

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No shortage of gold. Wat Phra That (Doi Suthep).

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Wat Phra That (Doi Suthep).

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The stairway to the temple, Wat Phra That (Doi Suthep).

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Sitting down, having a conversation with a young monk.

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Our teacher for the cooking course, Rika, took us to a local market to see what Thai ingredients look like.

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She also showed us around the garden, to see where the magic starts.

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The final product! We made stir fry, main course, soup and a desert. The food lasted us for days. It was delicious!

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The wall surrounding Old Town Chiang Mai. It’s also engulfed by a moat. There are over 30 temples in Old Town.

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Enjoying the lively and beautiful night market.

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It was suffocatingly crowded though. Janae doesn’t do all that well in crowds…

While in Chiang Mai, we took a trip out of town to stay at the Elephant Nature Park overnight to volunteer. The ENP was set up to take in working elephants who had suffered different injuries typically from cruelty dealt to them by their mahouts. Some have been blinded, some have broken hips, some are perfectly fine and have recovered from previous injuries – all of them have suffered at the hands of men. We were shocked at the level of cruelty it takes to ‘train’ the elephants. They’re used in everything from begging for money in the streets to taking tourists on rides. ENP purchases them from these awful situations and rehabilitates them. All of them seemed to be very happy and are definitely well taken care of at the ENP. We fed and bathed elephants, enjoyed an amazing dinner while watching a traditional dance performance by some local school children, and fell asleep to the beautiful sound of 500 howling dogs. The founder, Lek, has taken in hundreds of animals (elephants, water buffalo, dogs, cats, etc.) from the streets of Bangkok and cares for them. There are six full time vets on hand at the park and a slew of volunteers. We adopted an elephant to help support the organization; if you’re interested in donating money, supplies or adopting an animal please do so! It’s an amazing cause!

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Dave feeding an elephant a piece of watermelon.

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Giving the elephants a bath.

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Feeding time.

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See the little baby between them? Her name is Dok Mai. She was born in the park. They were incredibly protective of her.

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Nothing like a dirt bath after a wet bath.

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Dok Mai’s favorite game was to run up to people and knock them over, so we were always on alert – because her mother and ‘nanny’ would also come running after you to make sure she was safe. Having one of the full grown elephants charge at you (which happened only once) wasn’t something we wanted to experience over and over.

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Thai dance put on by students at the nearby school.

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We left the ENP and got a ride back to Chiang Mai for a night before heading back out of town to the Pasak Raebang Tree House. This place is amazing. The owner, Lee, built a single tree house for his family, and it caught on. There are now 7 houses of different heights and sizes and all of them are incredibly intricate and beautiful. We spent two nights, each in a different house and while there went on bike rides and hikes. We explored a couple small caves and hiked to a waterfall where there were little fish that nibbled on our feet.

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The first treehouse we stayed in. Awesome.

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There were chickens, roosters, chicks and cats all over the property. As is the case with most of Thailand.

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On one of our bike rides, we stumbled across a funeral pyre. It was used to cremate the body of a local monk. The locals built an ornate wooden temple decorated with flowers and colored ribbons, solely to immediately burn down.

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Another bike ride!

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Another bike ride!

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Another bike ride! We came across a red sand jungle.

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We rode the bikes to a few caves in the area. Here, Dave is looking at a stalactite covered in calcite crystals.

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This ride took us to a walk through a swamp.

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This picture does no justice to the phenomenal spring we went to.

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We made friends with two Americans who were also staying there. In the picture above, is Will. He builds tree houses as a profession in the States and came to Thailand to see if he could learn new things. We spent an evening climbing this big ‘ol tree with him!

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Then, back to Chiang Mai for a night to once again leave the next day to stay in Mae On for a week so we could climb Crazy Horse. Probably one of the most fun climbing spots we’ve ever been to. We stayed at a home stay and walked miles everyday to get to the climbing spot, to get food, to get to everything. We wished we had stayed longer.

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The morning walk to go climbing.

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Dave’s ego shot. We got to climb inside this cave.

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Wait, wait! Here’s Janae’s ego shot!

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San Kamphaeng Hot Springs park we visited.

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See the eggs? Doesn’t make much sense. It didn’t to us, either. Until we figured out why everything was about eggs…

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See, you buy a basket of quail eggs…

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Then you boil them in the hot spring..

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And eat them! They were wonderful!

Next stop, Vietnam! We got our visas all lined up and had our photos taken and booked a flight to Hanoi.

Vietnam was a completely different experience than Thailand. The tempo of the culture is much faster, the locals are more focused on what they are doing and good luck crossing the street. Seriously. At first is seems like there is no rhyme or reason to the traffic patterns in Hanoi but after a while, you realize that everyone is completely focused on what they are doing, not to mention what everyone around them is doing. So when you cross the street, just cross. Do not pay attention to the five lanes of scooters that are barreling down at you. Just calmly start walking across the street and everyone will go right around you. Sound crazy? Well it is. Traffic lights mean absolutely nothing. Green means go, so does yellow and red. If you hire a taxi, that means they will cruise through every intersection honking and flashing their lights to get you where you need to in the least possible time.

It’s heavily French-influenced in Vietnam, so the architecture and food is a cross between Asian and French. Hanoi, while grey and gloomy, was breathtaking. The coffee and baked goods were wonderful, though some of the traditional Northern Vietnamese cuisine we had was questionable. Questionable, as in, we weren’t sure what kind of animal was just thrown into our dish.

We walked all over Hanoi. We explored Hoa Lo prison, where Senator McCain was held captive during the Vietnam War (or as they call it over there, the American War). We saw some local pagodas and other landmarks, like Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

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A little Vietnamese lady pretty much forced this on my shoulders so we could take a picture…

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Then on Dave’s shoulders for another photo op…then demanded 200,000 Dong – the Dong is Vietnamese currency. The exchange rate to dollar is approximately 21,276 Dong to 1 US Dollar. It took some getting used to dealing with financial transactions in such high numbers. Sometimes we’d fork out millions of Dong and felt like high rollers! Anyway, we paid the lady $10 US…we got taken. She did however give us some pineapple and mango which was unbelievably delicious.

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One Pillar Pagoda.

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Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. We didn’t go inside. Strangely, we didn’t feel the urge to see his embalmed body. The Vietnamese are gaga over this guy.

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Hoan Kiem Lake with its famous red bridge.

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Yes, that is a cobra inside this bottle of liquor.

After we had our fill of Hanoi, we went to Cat Ba Island. This involved taking a bus to a ferry to another bus. It ended up being a miracle that we actually made it there. Dear god, the effort was worth it. Cat Ba Island ended up being AMAZING. Janae considers it to be the one of the most beautiful places she’s ever seen. The town of Cat Ba itself has been, unfortunately, completely developed and sold out to tourism. The remainder of the island, however, remained fantastic and nearly half of it is national park. The island has everything, jungle, beaches, limestone karsts, mangroves, swamps, caves, and climbing. We rented a scooter for a couple days and cruised on every single road the island had to offer, we couldn’t get enough of it. We also spent a day climbing, however didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as we had Mae On. Way too many ants.

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Scooter ride!

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One of the famous floating villages of Vietnam.

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During the wars in Vietnam, the locals built a hospital inside one of the larger cave systems on the island. This was the eery entrance to it.

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The stairs up to Hospital Cave.

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We spent a day hiking through some of the trails in the national park.

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We hiked to the peak of one of the karsts. It gave one hell of a view of the island.

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Ride after we took this picture, we hiked back down and entered a wall of mosquitos. Nothing in the Bahamas or the Florida Keys could come close to the volume of mosquitos we encountered. One of them gave Janae another nasty virus (Janae spent a week curled in the fetal position).

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We checked out Cannon Fort. This was a strategic defensive fort used during the Vietnam War, which received heavy artillery from the US Navy sitting out in the Gulf of Tonkan – presumably not firing the first shot.

We made it back to Bangkok and went immediately back up to Chiang Mai for our mediation course. We signed up to stay at Wat Phra That temple on Doi Suthep for a week for silent mediation. We slept in separate mens and women’s quarters and were not aloud any physical contact. We spent the entire week in silence, in mediation and in class with a monk (who was such a warm and silly guy).  The food was incredibly meager (usually just rice or noodles) but we had access to showers and had our own private rooms. Overall, we are grateful for the experience but I’m not sure we’d be tripping over ourselves to sign up again anytime soon.

We had originally intended on also going to Cambodia and Laos, but were feeling financially wrung out and exhausted from moving to a new place nearly every night. We figured, instead, we head back to Thailand and enjoy the Thai New Year’s celebration – a week long water fight. It’s a way to wash away the old and start new, fresh. It’s also a ton of fun.

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This finished up our trip to Thailand and Vietnam.  We then flew from Bangkok back to Christchurch via Sydney to pick up all of our cold weather clothes from the Antarctic Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) and then two days later boarded a plane to go from Christchurch to Flagstaff via Sydney, LA and Phoenix.  Before we knew it we were back home and wondering what day it was.

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!

From a Remote Cabin in the Cascades of Washington to the Pacific Coastal Highway.

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.

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!

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.

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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