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!