Saturday, October 29, 2016

Exploring McMurdo

Date:  Sunday October 30, 2016
Time: Around 11AM NZDT
Temp: -4F (-20C)
Windchill: -26F (-32C)

One of the things you learn about the Antarctic program down here is that you have to be patient and make the best of the current situation.  In particular, you never know when your plans will change.  Actually, your plans are more likely to change than stay the same!  That being said, I was scheduled to arrive at the South Pole yesterday, but due to some aircraft issues we have been delayed.  There are definitely worse places to be delayed, though.

There are tons of things to do around McMurdo if you are willing to explore.  One of my favorites this time around has been the touch tank. There are a bunch of small aquatic animals you can pick up and look at and hold.  Some look kinda freaky. 

If you are big into outdoor activities there are lots of things to do in your off time.  There are a few places to hike or ski.  Before you can do that, though, you have to go through some training.  This basically consists of watching a 20 min video about how not to do stupid things and then a power point presentation with some details about who you have to notify if you go to certain places and such.  Antarctica is a dangerous place, and there isn't a huge medical facility here.  So if you get hurt or wonder off into a protected area or even fall into a crevasse you could be in serious trouble.  But that doesn't mean you can't do anything challenging or adventurous.  There is a big hill near by that I went up yesterday called Observation Hill or Ob Hill for short.  If you can get to the top, you are rewarded with an amazing view, but it is one of those places that can be very dangerous so you have to be careful.

The view of the hill from the ground

There were a few people on the way down before we started up


 The view of McMurdo from the top!

There is a memorial for Scott and his men who died after they journeyed to the South Pole

Hut Point from Ob Hill (more pictures of Hut Point hopefully coming soon!)

Mt Erebus in the distance

There are a couple other places that I visited last time I was here, and I am hoping to be able to get over and see them again, but I tried to walk over a little bit ago, and the wind had picked up so that might have to wait a bit.  To be honest, the cold isn't that bad.  The wind is what is really uncomfortable.

I will be adding more pictures as I am able.  Usually, I like to get a few pics up that I am actually in, but I have been going out with other people who have cameras, and I end up having them take pictures of me with their camera.  As soon as we can all get together and share our pics, I will have more, but that may have to wait until we start getting settled at the South Pole.  In the mean time, I am going to try to get a few more around McMurdo so keep watching for more!  I am also creating albums and linking to them in the sidebar on the right.  There are more pictures there, and those albums will be growing or increasing in number anyway.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

McMurdo, Antarctica!

I finally made it to McMurdo, Antarctica!  The internet is limited here, so pictures will be up later.  In the mean time, I posted an album from my time in Christchurch, NZ here! I had a blast while I was there and visited the botanical gardens.  I took a ton of pics, mostly of flowers and such.  I had to take as many as possible as I won't be seeing any more flowers or trees for a while!

One of the most common questions I get asked about my last trip to Antarctica is "how do you get there?"  As it turns out there are a few ways to get to Antarctica, depending on where specifically you are going.  Many countries have established stations on the continent of Antarctica, but people involved with the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) generally end up in one of three main stations: Palmer, McMurdo, or Amundsen-Scott Station (The South Pole).  McMurdo is by far the largest and is actually the hub for many smaller base camps. It is also the first stop for those of us going to the South Pole.  As I am heading to the South Pole, I will detail that route of travel.

The first step is to fly to Christchurch, New Zealand.  There are two main routes that I am aware of from the United States. There are other routes if you are going through Europe or Asia, but I am not familiar with these at all, so I can't give any details for them.  The first route is to fly from Dallas, TX to Sydney, Australia and then from Sydney to Christchurch.  This was the route I took last time, and it is takes roughly 15 hours if I remember correctly to get to Sydney from Dallas.  It is a LONG flight, not to mention you still have to take another flight after that from Sydney to finally end up in Christchurch.  Similarly, the second route is from Los Angeles, CA to Auckland, New Zealand and then from Auckland to Christchurch.  I took this route this time.  This should take about 13 hours from LA to Auckland, but as it turns out, it took us a little longer.  We were stuck on the ground for about 2 hours before we could take off due to some maintenance issues.  So that flight took around 15 hours in the end, and again, it was followed by another albeit shorter flight from Auckland to Christchurch.

After you get to Christchurch, you are met by representatives of USAP (the United States Antarctic Program).  They get you to your hotel and help you with a few things here and there at the airport with scheduling and such.  Within a day or two, you meet them again to get your ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear from the CDC (not that CDC, the Clothing Distribution Center!).  As it turns out, most of the really heavy duty cold weather gear is provided for you at this point.  You still have to bring some cold weather clothing, but the really expensive stuff is provided for you to use while you are on the ice by USAP.  While you are there, they check your computers to make sure they are compliant and up to date to be on the USAP networks.  They also check a couple medical things and give you a flu shot if you haven't had one for the season.  They basically make sure you are all ready to go and then they ship you off an the next available opportunity!

The next step is the flight to Antarctica.  This is not a normal flight.  It is operated by one of the military branches.  The first time I made this flight it was on an LC-130.  This time it was on a C-17.  The flight on the C-17 is a faster trip taking only about 5 hours vs the 8 or so hours on the LC-130.  Because the weather in McMurdo can be unpredictable, you are never quite sure when you will be flying out.  In our case, we were scheduled to leave on Wednesday, but the weather was bad so we didn't actually get out until Thursday.  Sometimes it can take even more time.  There are even cases when people get on the plane and fly almost all the way to McMurdo and have to turn around and go all the way back to Christchurch if the weather gets bad during flight.  Thankfully, this didn't happen with us!  The shuttle picked us up at 5:15 AM and after checking in, breakfast, and some video briefings where we told about how to protect the environment of Antarctica while we are there, we hopped on the plane and flew out about 9:15 AM.  Five hours later we arrived in Antarctica! Overall it takes several days to get here from the United States. 

So the short version for this trip was:

Denver, CO --> Los Angeles ~2.5 hours + 5 hour layover
Los Angeles --> Auckland, NZ ~15 hours + 2 hours layover
Auckland, NZ --> Christchurch, NZ ~1.5 hours
~2.5 to 3 days in Christchurch for prep
Christchurch, NZ --> McMurdo, Antarctica ~5 hours

The next step will be to get to pole, and I will detail that in a future post!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Finishing up our training in Denver!

We finished our training in Denver a few days ago.  It was a ton of fun!  As I stated in a previous post, there are two parts to our training for those of us spending the winter at the South Pole.  The first part was mostly team building and I wrote a little about that here: Post Team Building Thoughts.  The second part of my training was Fire training at the City of Aurora Public Training Center (CAPSTC). (Sorry I couldn't find a better link!)

Fire training is mostly learning about emergency techniques to fight fires or at least mitigate the loss due to fires at the South Pole.  The great thing about the trainers was that they were so willing to work with us and customize the training to meet our needs.  The first day we got fitted for some bunker gear for the week, and spent a little time getting used to it.  The rest of the week we had classes about every thing from fire behavior to search and rescue.  After the classes, we would go out in the after noon and actually put out fires using equipment similar to what we will actually have at the South Pole. 

This was a class on fire behavior so we have a better idea of how to put fires out.

This is a picture of me in the bunker gear. 

As part of our training we actually went into the training buildings in full SCBA gear (breathing equipment) where we put out some of fires.  At one point they had a fire going in a room where we got to experience temperatures of around 600F to 700F in our gear.  It was a very controlled situation, but was still very eye opening. We had a wonderful set of instructors who helped us prepare for terrible situations that I honestly hope I never have to face.  Having been through this limited amount of training, I have a much greater respect for the firefighters out there.  The trainers never pushed us too far out of our comfort zones, but it was close enough that I am happy there are men and women out there willing to work in such a dangerous job day in and day out.  I can't imagine how taxing that must be physically and emotionally.  So, thank you to all those firefighters out there!

After all of the training was done, we had a small celebration and some cake, and  I even got a certificate!  

After we get to pole, we are going to be divided up into groups.  Not everyone will be directly involved in the fire brigade, but all of us will have our part. After things settle down, I will post more about the other responsibilities and groups that will be operating down there to keep everyone safe.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Post Team Building Thoughts

The past week has been amazing!  I remember hearing about all the "team building" we would be doing up here in Colorado, and I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical.  The truth is, however, that I think it was probably well worth it.  I was able to meet a large number of the people I will be living with over the next year, and I really think it is a great group so far.

We had a couple of people come in from Adventure Associates to facilitate the process, and I use that word purposely.  They talked at the very beginning about helping us work out the ideas and methods that would help us resolve conflict among ourselves.  Obviously, it was very guided, but I think it was useful.  On top of that, it gave many of us the chance just to get to know each other in a safe environment, and I think that may help over the winter when things can be less than ideal.

One challenge we did as a group that I was particularly fond of was on the last day.  Basically, we had to  do a big scavenger hunt, but with several limitations.  We were given limited GPSes and a list of targets with puzzles we had to solve and some other rules about what we could and could not do.  Without going into all the details, suffice it to say that we had to work together and coordinate our efforts as a group, and I am very happy at the outcome.  Keep in mind, this is on a huge YMCA campus at around 8,000ft in the mountains of Colorado.  We came together and approached the problem in a new way (which seemed to be a theme over the week) and were able to do what needed to be done.  We weren't perfect, but no group ever has been, and we were able to work together and complete the challenge together.

There were other things we did over the course of the week, both in the actually team building and afterwards in the evenings that I think will help us live and work together.  I know there will still be conflict, but think we will be able to get through it without too much trouble.

Lastly, I have to say that I was very inspired by the view in the region.   Below are some pictures I took that really don't do justice, but may give you an idea of how amazingly beautiful it was.

This is the view from the administration building at the YMCA.  We saw this every day when we went to eat.

I couldn't pass this one up.  I think it is the most American picture I have ever taken!

A few of us went on a hike Saturday after all the official team building was done. I saw this road leading up through the mountains and decided I had to have a picture.

We saw some deer on the way back after the hike.  They pretty much just tried to ignore us.

This is one of my favorite pics I took.  I went out just as it was getting dark and realized I had a great opportunity to catch the moonrise over the mountains.  I had to sit and wait a bit, but it was totally worth it.  On a side note, after I took this pic I went back inside to see how some of the pics turned out.  Afterwards, I decided to head back out for a few more shots.  My trip back out was cut short when I saw a bear walking around in the parking lot!  I pretty much decided I was done wondering around in the dark after that.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Denver Training Begins!

As I stated before, some of my training is in Denver.  This stage of training actually has two parts.  The first part is a team building training.  This is somewhat important as I am starting to meet several of the people I will be living with over the next year.  There will only be about 45 to 50 of us that stay through the winter, so it is important that we can learn to live and work together.

I arrived in Denver last night over the past day or so I have been able to meet with and interact with most of the people. I had actually met a few of them before when we all did our psychological evaluations.  So far it looks like a great group and I am really excited to be a part of it. We will spend the next couple of days getting to know each other better and hanging out. We are actually meeting at a small YMCA outside of Denver and the trip here had some amazing views.  Sadly, the weather is a little overcast and rainy now, so I haven't had the opportunity to get many pictures, but I will post some as soon as I can.

The second part of our training has us split into two smaller groups.  One group will do trauma training, while the other group does fire training.  Many of the people I talked to said that fire training was a blast and told me I should do that, and that is what I signed up for.  It doesn't hurt that I am not a huge fan of blood and such. I don't think I would have liked the trauma training, though I could do it if I had to.  Apparently in the fire training you get to learn how to put out fires and rescue people caught in a fire and stuff like that. There is, sadly, one big downside.  I am going to have to shave my beard!  It turns out that in order go through the training you can't have a beard.  It has something to do with the masks they use.  I could keep a mustache, but I will probably just go clean shaven for a while.  Otherwise, I am really looking forward to next week when that all starts.  In the mean time, I am going to be enjoying our time up in the mountains of Colorado where the view is spectacular!