Snowboarding in Antarctica!

Well, I’ve snowboarded on the harshest continent in the world.  Something not many people get to do.  I was very happy and excited to do it, but it’s not like snowboarding on the deep soft fresh snow we have at home in Colorado.  The snow here is sastrugi and is basically like icy drifts that set up like concrete.  It’s so hard that it breaks many of our snowmobiles.

The only decent area to snowboard here is about a 9.5 mile walk round trip and as a result it deters many from trying it.  Because of that my coworker  Dave and I wanted to get people out there without all the hassle and risk.  A proposal was sent in to station management and the NSF to use a Pisten Bully to shuttle people out there and also to use to get them up the hill.  We were really excited when it was approved, but it happened right before Dave left the ice so I led all of the trips while he was surfing on some tropical island.  I led about a dozen snowboard trips during both day and night (the sun was up 24hrs a day) so that everyone who wanted could go.  It was really awesome when people said that they had their best day on ice during one of my trips!

A self portrait outside the Pisten Bully.  As you can see the visibility is terrible... the snow is also not like home.  We have sastrugi snow here in Antarctica.  Basically it means that the snow blows into very hard drifts and sets up like concrete.  I used the Pisten Bully to drive over it repeatedly to soften it up a little.

A self portrait outside the Pisten Bully. As you can see the visibility is terrible… the snow is also not like home. We have sastrugi snow here in Antarctica. Basically it means that the snow blows into very hard drifts and sets up like concrete. I used the Pisten Bully to drive over it repeatedly to soften it up a little.

Leaving the station in our trusty Pisten Bully.  I had to stop to see the icebergs floating by and check for Orcas.  I have seen quite a few whales in this area.  You can get really close to shore and the whales will swim right by you.  I'll have a post on whales coming up.

Leaving the station in our trusty Pisten Bully. I had to stop to see the icebergs floating by and check for Orcas. I have seen quite a few whales in this area. You can get really close to shore and the whales will swim right by you. I’ll have a post on whales coming up.

Standing on Castle Rock enjoying the views of the ridge and a smoking Mt. Erebus in the distance.  The frozen Ross Sea is in the middle of the picture.  You don't want to fall off this part of Castle Rock as there are big crevasses between the rocks and the bottom.

Standing on Castle Rock enjoying the views of the ridge and a smoking Mt. Erebus in the distance. The frozen Ross Sea is in the middle of the picture. You don’t want to fall off this part of Castle Rock as there are big crevasses between the rocks and the bottom.

Dave and I making our way down.  Very flat light made it really hard to see.  You could barely tell what was ground vs what was sky!

Dave and I making our way down. Very flat light made it really hard to see. You could barely tell what was ground vs what was sky!

Looking along the ridge towards Mt. Erebus.  We snowboard down the right side of the ridge as the left has big crevasses to fall into.

Looking along the ridge towards Mt. Erebus. We snowboard down the right side of the ridge as the left has big crevasses to fall into.

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Leading trips to “Room with a View”

It takes a lot of people to keep McMurdo Station running.  Everyone’s job is critical in this process, no matter what they do.  Humans are not meant to survive in this place so we need shelter, special clothing, power, drinkable water, reliable transportation, etc.  We rely on each other to keep things working and to stay alive.  A lot of these jobs are not glamorous, yet they are done by really awesome people.  They say McMurdo has more graduate students doing dishes than any place on earth.  Where am I going with this you ask?  Well, most people never get to leave McMurdo in the course of their jobs… in fact some never leave their building!  The NSF and station management have outings or “morale trips” to ensure people get a chance to get out and see something off the station.

One of these trips is via snowmobiles to a place called “Room with a View” which is located on the flank of Mt Erebus.  Since I am the Snowmobile Instructor, I had the pleasure of leading these trips and training the other guides.  This is something I take very seriously as Antarctica can be extremely dangerous and conditions can change in a moments.  Whiteouts can blind you and you can’t even tell which way is up. Crevasses can swallow you.  Temperatures can cause frostbite, hypothermia, and death very quickly if you can’t seek shelter.  Normally we don’t go outside if conditions are really bad, but sometimes weather moves in before you can get back to station.  Because of that we keep “survival bags” with us at all times when off base.  We also have very strict checkout procedures so that a search team can be called upon even if someone misses a check-in by a few minutes.  I’m happy to say that I kept all my students safe all season.

Looking down the Erebus Glacier Tongue in the frozen Ross Sea.  The glacier tongue is where the glacier leaves land and is literally floating in the sea.  The tongue floats out into the Ross Sea about 7+ miles.  A couple years ago a 2 mile section of the tongue broke off and floated away when the annual ice melted.  In the background you can see the Royal Society Mountain Range.  The islands are Tent Island and Razorback from left to right.

Looking down the Erebus Glacier Tongue in the frozen Ross Sea. The glacier tongue is where the glacier leaves land and is literally floating in the sea. The tongue floats out into the Ross Sea about 7+ miles. A couple years ago a 2 mile section of the tongue broke off and floated away when the annual ice melted. In the background you can see the Royal Society Mountain Range. The islands are Tent Island and Razorback from left to right.

This picture is looking down the peninsula with Mt. Discovery in the left background.  The US Antarctic base McMurdo Station, and the New Zealand Scott Base are located at the end of the peninsula.   On the left side of the peninsula is the Ross Ice Shelf, and on the right side is the Ross Sea.  This is one of the most southern areas accessible by ship which is why Robert Falcon Scott chose this location for his Discovery Hut.

This picture is looking down the peninsula with Mt. Discovery in the left background. The US Antarctic base McMurdo Station, and the New Zealand Scott Base are located at the end of the peninsula. On the left side of the peninsula is the Ross Ice Shelf, and on the right side is the Ross Sea. This is one of the most southern areas accessible by ship which is why Robert Falcon Scott chose this location for his Discovery Hut.

Cracks and crevasses in the snow on the side of Mt Erebus.  These cracks are deceiving... they are actually large enough to swallow a house... and who knows how deep.  The are opened up by snow/glaciers moving down Erebus and flowing over the uneven terrain below.

Cracks and crevasses in the snow on the side of Mt Erebus. These cracks are deceiving… they are actually large enough to swallow a house… and who knows how deep. The are opened up by snow/glaciers moving down Erebus and flowing over the uneven terrain below.

More crevasses in the side of Mt. Erebus.  This side of Erebus is very deadly and not safe to travel on.  The safer route up the volcano is on the opposite side.

More crevasses in the side of Mt. Erebus. This side of Erebus is very deadly and not safe to travel on. The safer route up the volcano is on the opposite side.

Looking across the Ross Ice Shelf near Windless Bight.  It's definitely not windless though... The winds can actually blow at hurricane forces out here.  Antarctica is the windiest, coldest, driest, and highest mean elevation continent on Earth.  The snow/ice just keeps going and going and going.  Distances are very deceiving and are actually much further than they appear.   This part of the ice shelf moves up to 400 ft per year.

Looking across the Ross Ice Shelf near Windless Bight. It’s definitely not windless though… The winds can actually blow at hurricane forces out here. Antarctica is the windiest, coldest, driest, and highest mean elevation continent on Earth. The snow/ice just keeps going and going and going. Distances are very deceiving and are actually much further than they appear. This part of the ice shelf moves up to 400 ft per year.

A storm moving in quickly on Room with a View.  When it hit you couldn't see more than a few feet in any direction.

A storm moving in quickly on Room with a View. When it hit you couldn’t see more than a few feet in any direction.

A group cartwheel session on the route to "Room With A View".  I am on the far right in the blue jacket.  This pic was taken on my birthday which is why I'm wearing the Birthday Boy cape!

A group cartwheel session on the route to “Room With A View”. I am on the far right in the blue jacket. This pic was taken on my birthday which is why I’m wearing the Birthday Boy cape!

Me in my birthday cape.  I tried to fly, but it didn't work.

Me in my birthday cape. I tried to fly, but it didn’t work.

Cape Royds – Penguin Rookery and Shackelton’s Hut

A while back I had the opportunity to visit Cape Royds.  This is where Shackleton’s Hut is located.  It was built for the 1907-1909 British Antarctic Expedition led by Shackleton who sailed down on the Nimrod.  Robert Falcon Scott lost a little respect for Shackleton during their Discovery Expedition partly because Shackleton became very ill with scurvy.  Shackleton had asked Scott if he could use the Discovery Hut for his expedition and Scott said no as he was planning on using it for another expedition of his own.  This forced Shackleton to build his own hut at Cape Royds.  During this expedition, Shackleton and his men were the first to make it to the South Magnetic Pole and they were a mere 97 miles from making it to the South Geographic Pole!  They were also the first to climb Mt. Erebus, the Southernmost active volcano in the world.  Erebus rises right out of the Ross Sea to an altitude of 12,448 feet and is covered in dangerous glaciers and deep crevasses.  In addition to Shackleton’s hut, there is an Adelie Penguin rookery at this spot.  During the time I visited, the Adelies had young chicks.  Cape Royds has a lot of volcanic features such as a black sand beach, and ventifacts which are rocks that have been sculpted into cool shapes by thousands of years of wind.

A selfie of me at Cape Royds, Antarctica.  This pic was taken overlooking the Adelie Penguin rookery.  There were up to 4000 penguins here nesting and hatching their young chicks.  In the background is the Ross Sea with the ice breaking up.  The penguins like to hang out on the ice floes and are amazing swimmers.  They are like little torpedos shooting through the water and leaping into the air and landing back on the ice.

A selfie of me at Cape Royds, Antarctica. This pic was taken overlooking the Adelie Penguin rookery. There were up to 4000 penguins here nesting and hatching their young chicks. In the background is the Ross Sea with the ice breaking up. The penguins like to hang out on the ice floes and are amazing swimmers. They are like little torpedos shooting through the water and leaping into the air and landing back on the ice.

This was my ride out to Cape Evans... A Bell 212 helicopter!!  It was so fun!!!  It makes me want to be a pilot.  : )

This was my ride out to Cape Evans… A Bell 212 helicopter!! It was so fun!!! It makes me want to be a pilot. : )

Me inside Shackleton's Cape Royds hut pretending to warm myself over the stove.  The great men that occupied this hut were truly amazing and to experience and feel the history of this place cannot be put into words.  I have read of many of the hardships and have experienced Antarctica personally, but to actually do it they way they did, without modern technology and communications, is mind boggling.  These men were hearty souls who experienced great hardships for little or no glory.  Any of the stories of these men, such as "Shackleton's Forgotten Men" or "Endurance" or the story of RF Scott are well worth the read.

Me inside Shackleton’s Cape Royds hut pretending to warm myself over the stove. The great men that occupied this hut were truly amazing and to experience and feel the history of this place cannot be put into words. I have read of many of the hardships and have experienced Antarctica personally, but to actually do it they way they did, without modern technology and communications, is mind boggling. These men were hearty souls who experienced great hardships for little or no glory. Any of the stories of these men, such as “Shackleton’s Forgotten Men” or “Endurance” or the story of RF Scott are well worth the read.

The inside of Shackleton's Hut at Cape Royds, Antarctica.  This was Shackleton's base during his British Antarctic Expedition of 1907-1909.  Of the three huts I have been to (Scott's Discovery, Scott's Cape Evans, and Shackleton's Cape Royds) this one was the nicest by far.  It' is also the least visited.  I was very lucky and fortunate to be a hut guide and have access to these amazing historical places.  I enjoyed sharing them with others.  This was also the hut where they found Shackleton's lost whiskey which has been duplicated by a modern distiller.  I had some of his whiskey poured atop a chunk of iceberg that was broken off a glacier.  The ice was pure and actually hissed in the glass due to the ice being compressed over thousands of years.

The inside of Shackleton’s Hut at Cape Royds, Antarctica. This was Shackleton’s base during his British Antarctic Expedition of 1907-1909. Of the three huts I have been to (Scott’s Discovery, Scott’s Cape Evans, and Shackleton’s Cape Royds) this one was the nicest by far. It’ is also the least visited. I was very lucky and fortunate to be a hut guide and have access to these amazing historical places. I enjoyed sharing them with others. This was also the hut where they found Shackleton’s lost whiskey which has been duplicated by a modern distiller. I had some of his whiskey poured atop a chunk of iceberg that was broken off a glacier. The ice was pure and actually hissed in the glass due to the ice being compressed over thousands of years.

An Adelie penguin walking towards me at Cape Royds, Antarctica.  There is an Adelie penguin rookery at this spot, and they lay their eggs here.  During the time I was there, the Adelies had young chicks.  They are so cute and curious.

An Adelie penguin walking towards me at Cape Royds, Antarctica. There is an Adelie penguin rookery at this spot, and they lay their eggs here. During the time I was there, the Adelies had young chicks. They are so cute and curious.

I took this picture from a beautiful black sand beach at Cape Royds, Antarctica.  I love the little Adelie penguins and especially this one because of it's movements and the contrast between its black color and the surrounding ice.

I took this picture from a beautiful black sand beach at Cape Royds, Antarctica. I love the little Adelie penguins and especially this one because of it’s movements and the contrast between its black color and the surrounding ice.

The Barne glacier flowing down to the Ross Sea from the side of Mt. Erebus.  The picture is deceiving but believe it or not, this glacier is huge!  The face of it is 100-200 ft high and is massive!  This picture was taken out the window of the helicopter I rode in to Cape Royds.

The Barne glacier flowing down to the Ross Sea from the side of Mt. Erebus. The picture is deceiving but believe it or not, this glacier is huge! The face of it is 100-200 ft high and is massive! This picture was taken out the window of the helicopter I rode in to Cape Royds.

The Ross Sea ice breaking up with the Royal Society range in the background.  The Royal Society mountains are part of the Trans-Antarctic mountain range.  I have painted them more than a few times this season.  I never get sick of looking at them especially as the light and shadows change.  The best was during the mornings of "Winfly" where the alpenglow made them pink and purple.

The Ross Sea ice breaking up with the Royal Society range in the background. The Royal Society mountains are part of the Trans-Antarctic mountain range. I have painted them more than a few times this season. I never get sick of looking at them especially as the light and shadows change. The best was during the mornings of “Winfly” where the alpenglow made them pink and purple.

 

The icebreaker USCGC Polar Star

Recently we had the USCGC Polar Star in and around McMurdo Station, Antarctica.  It is one of the largest icebreakers in the world, and I believe is the largest US icebreaker.  I was told it can break ice up to 18 feet thick!  It came down here to break up the Ross Sea ice so our fuel tanker and cargo ship could bring supplies.  It was delayed slightly because it was sent out to rescue the ships stranded in the ice down here that were making a lot of headlines in the news.  Once it broke out our ice we immediately started seeing a lot of wildlife appear.  Pods of Minke whales, Orca (killer) whales, more seals and penguins, but still no snow yeti’s yet.  Ha ha.  We also started seeing some other ships in the sea near us… one belonged to an Australian billionaire, and other research and adventure cruise ships.  When the icebreaker was done with it’s tasking we had the chance to tour the ship.

The USCGC Polar Star.  One of the largest icebreakers in the world.  USCGC stands for United States Coast Guard Cutter.  Here the ship is docked at the floating ice pier at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.  Hut Point is in the background which is where Scott's Discovery Hut is located.  The week earlier the ship broke out the ice in the Ross Sea and the winds and currents quickly carried it out to sea.  It was amazing how fast it all left.  I was in the birds nest at the top of the ship!!

The USCGC Polar Star. One of the largest icebreakers in the world. USCGC stands for United States Coast Guard Cutter. Here the ship is docked at the floating ice pier at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Hut Point is in the background which is where Scott’s Discovery Hut is located. The week earlier the ship broke out the ice in the Ross Sea and the winds and currents quickly carried it out to sea. It was amazing how fast it all left. I was in the birds nest at the top of the ship!!

The engineering room of the USCGC Polar Star.  This is where everything is monitored and controlled.

The engineering room of the USCGC Polar Star. This is where everything is monitored and controlled.

This is one of the turbine engines powering the ship.  It's really huge!  I think there were three, along with several diesel/electric engines also.  The picture is from behind a sealed door so it's not very clear.  When the ship is breaking ice, all of the engines are at max power and the whole ship makes lots of really loud noises.  The engineer told me they could break ice up to 18 ft thick.  Don't quote me though.

This is one of the turbine engines powering the ship. It’s really huge! I think there were three, along with several diesel/electric engines also. The picture is from behind a sealed door so it’s not very clear. When the ship is breaking ice, all of the engines are at max power and the whole ship makes lots of really loud noises. The engineer told me they could break ice up to 18 ft thick. Don’t quote me though.

This is the bridge of the ship.  I am at the wheel yelling into the tube for the crew to swab the poop deck.  : )  The special red bat phone there on the dash in front of me rang while I was at the wheel.  It was probably the President calling.  LOL

This is the bridge of the ship. I am at the wheel yelling into the tube for the crew to swab the poop deck. : ) The special red bat phone there on the dash in front of me rang while I was at the wheel. It was probably the President calling. LOL

Me in the bird's nest of the USCGC Polar Star icebreaker.  To get here I had to climb up many ladders in a narrow tube.  I can't imagine what it would have been like to do that while the ship is rolling on the sea.  The top would sway much more than at lower places on the ship.  This tower is used for spotting during ship operations.  Behind me you can see our ice pier floating in the water next to the ship, and Hut Point in the background.  I'm not sure if we were supposed to go up there.  I heard our tour guide may have been in some hot water for letting a few of us climb up there.  It was cool!

Me in the bird’s nest of the USCGC Polar Star icebreaker. To get here I had to climb up many ladders in a narrow tube. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to do that while the ship is rolling on the sea. The top would sway much more than at lower places on the ship. This tower is used for spotting during ship operations. Behind me you can see our ice pier floating in the water next to the ship, and Hut Point in the background. I’m not sure if we were supposed to go up there. I heard our tour guide may have been in some hot water for letting a few of us climb up there. It was cool!

Looking up towards the "bird's nest" from the top deck of the USCGC Polar Star icebreaker.  When I took this picture I was already about 6 stories up off the water or more.

Looking up towards the “bird’s nest” from the top deck of the USCGC Polar Star icebreaker. When I took this picture I was already about 6 stories up off the water or more.

The ship's map of the Ross Sea region where McMurdo Station is located.  I believe the lines drawn are the ship lanes or the route they broke the ice.

The ship’s map of the Ross Sea region where McMurdo Station is located. I believe the lines drawn are the ship lanes or the route they broke the ice.