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.

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Yippee I’m still here

I have survived the Government shutdown! During the shutdown we were preparing McMurdo Station for “Caretaker Status”. This meant the station was not doing any science projects for the National Science Foundation and was basically shutting down. The only project was going to be the South Pole Traverse (because the South Pole Station needed food and fuel). Only staff essential to maintaining the station would have stayed. I was scheduled to depart McMurdo and go back to Christchurch, New Zealand on October 18th. I can’t say how sad I was to leave and not complete a full season. I had packed and was ready to depart on a C17 flight when the government finally started up again. The National Science Foundation was able to securing funding to keep the science projects going and I was saved. I am condensing this story a lot and can’t explain how difficult this roller coaster of emotions was as I was told numerous times that I was both staying and then leaving. When the science season was finally saved I felt like I was in an old western movie hanging from a noose when Clint Eastwood rides in and shoots the rope and I fall to the ground just before dying! LOL.

Anyway, now that the NSF has funding for the projects, we are continuing at a very fast pace…. and it’s awesome to be here! Below are a few pics from around McMurdo Station and some sunsets. During September and early October we had the most amazing sunsets that lasted 4 or more hours. The sun would just duck behind the mountains and then follow the horizon for hours. Totally gorgeous! The last picture is of a small watercolor painting I did.

Sunset over Mt. Discovery Antarctica

Sunset over Mt. Discovery Antarctica

Panorama picture of a sunset over Winter Quarters Bay, McMurdo Station, and Hut Point in Antarctica.

Panorama picture of a sunset over Winter Quarters Bay, McMurdo Station, and Hut Point in Antarctica.

A small watercolor painting I did of a sunset at Hut Point, Antarctica.

A small watercolor painting I did of a sunset at Hut Point, Antarctica.

Flight to Antarctica

Glacier & crevasses in Antarctica

Glacier & crevasses in Antarctica

Mountains & glaciers of Antarctica

Mountains & glaciers of Antarctica

View of Antarctica from the cockpit.

View of Antarctica from the cockpit.

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Glaciers in Antarctica from above

Glaciers in Antarctica from above

My flight to Antarctica was probably the most incredible experience I will ever have in a plane! I had the opportunity to sit in the cockpit for about half an hour as we first flew over the continent of Antarctica! This time of year the sun is positioned so that it creates very dramatic and beautiful shadows of the mountains. As we approach Antarctica’s summer months the sun is always straight up which makes no long shadows. All you could see were mountains, glaciers flowing into one another, and giant crevasses. Upon landing in McMurdo Station on the Pegasus Ice Runway, we soon experienced “Condition 2” weather. The temp was around -50 degrees with high winds, making the windchill well below -100F. In these temps your eyelids almost freeze shut when you blink and frostbite can occur in just a couple minutes!