Antarctica

Week 14 NPX WO's on R&R - The Big Smoke

16th January - 23rd January 2000

Monday - I'm on vacation to the big smoke, McMurdo. We deployed string 5 for the season on Sunday. I finished work at around 1:30am after what felt the most tiring deployment of the season. This is obviously an indication of how tired I am, and in need of a rest. By the time I've packed and organised a few things, it's breakfast, and then it doesn't seem worth going to bed for an 11am flight. Plus we have the 9am departure meeting where we a warned about all the things that we are not to do or the wrath of God will be upon us. We promise not to get up to anything funny over our holidays and spend much time in the Chapel.

The flight was almost as bad as I remembered. At least the Herc was empty of cargo and there weren't many PAX. I was able to spend a fair amount of time looking out the window at the mountains. Some of the glaciers are incredible, with great flow lines created by lateral morains, and huge fields of churned up ice. Like a frozen swirling sea.

In Mac Town we are taken to our rooms. I'm sharing with 3 other Polies in a corridor which is being refurbished in building 155. 155 is the large central building that contains the galley, shop, Antarctic Sun office, and a number of other offices like this. Our room has cable hanging down from the ceiling, ceiling tiles missing, and no one in the rooms around us. Above us is the TV lounge, and our nearesr neighours are Kiwi cargo down the corridore. We are in the Polies ghetto. As far away from everyone as they can put us. Good idea. On the first night there is quite a noisy party in our room. But I'm so tired I sleep right through it despite the noise.

Our first day is to be a boondoggle (here is a new word for me - translation jolly) for Cheryl and me called "Room with a View". The people from the Berg Field Center have a trip organised to go a short distance up the base of Mount Erebus. We are taken out to the sea ice in a Delta to where the Snow Mobiles are kept. There are 12 people on the trip - two of us Polies, the rest locals. It is led by Bob from the Field Center, and he was helped by one of the WO SAR team. We have 5 snow mobiles, and 2 sleds. One of the sleds is full of bags with SAR gear just in case. This sled has an interesting design with shock absorbers, and a litle platform on the back so that it can be riden like a dog sled. The idea is that a patient can be transported on it, and someone can ride on it to mintor them. But for me with some rearanging of orange bags is was a traveling arm chair with good suspension.

On the way out we stop at a number of interesting locations, and a few other times just to warm up. The first is Silver City, a hut were people skiing the Castle Rock circuit can stop and warm up. In the winter it can be used for over night stays. the next is the Kiwi Instructors hut. This place is real nice. It is an A frame design with with 2 levels. The upper level is a sleeping area, while the lower level has lounges, beds, kitchen area and table. Sitting at the table the window has a great view of Erebus. I wonder if I'd have a chance at becoming a Kiwi instructor? We were warned not to expect too much in the way of infrastructure at our destination. And at one Polar Pyrimid it was a fair description. But the views were breathtaking. The sky was mostly blue expect for some amazing lenticular clouds coused by the mountains. They kept changing shape, looking like a huge jelly fish. The dominat view was of course Erebus, and along the chain Mounts Terra Nova and Terror. In the other direction is White Island, White Strait, Minna Bluff, Black Island, Mount Discovery, and then the Range. The Hut Point Peninsula is spread out below us, with McmUrdo hidden by Observation Hill and Arrival Heights. To the right is the Erebus Ice Tounge and Tent, Razor Back, and Islands. Just behind Turks Head at the base of Erebus is Cape Evens. We stop and eat lunch and take in the view and quiteness.

Because the weather is so good we head back along the soine of Hut Point Peninsula. But we did notice some clouds forming around the low peaks. When we get to the first it is quite blowy, with mist forming around us. But we are in the lee of the hills and so a bit shelted. At Ford we stop and go a bum slide down the blizz tail out behind the peak. From here it was quite exposed and it had become very clouded over, so we headed fairly directly back. We made had a quick rest stop at the Kiwi dwon hill skiign slop. They have a old rope tow set up on a small slope going down onot the sea ice. I rode on the little platform on the back of the sled from Ford. It is a great sled.

A bit of history. Erebus was first climbed by 3 Aussies, Douglas Mawson, Edgeworth David, and Mackay, on 19??. Erebus and Terror are named after the ships of Weddel.

There are many places and things of significant historal interest arounf McMurdo. Being very interested in the history of Antarctic, these were very high on my list of things to do and see. I think the three most important are Scotts Discovery hut, the cross at the top of Observation Hill, and the TAE (Trans-Antarctic Expedition) Hut at Scott Station. There are many less significant things such as the bust of Admiral Bird, and the memorial to Williams. But having read many of the books from the early expeditions to this region, almost everywhere has some history. The names say it all - Pram Point, Arrival Hights, etc.

It's not easy finding out how to be allowed into the historic huts. The Discovery Hut being an easy stroll away means it gets many visitors every day. It's understandable why it has to locked up for it's preservation. But I was luck and Chaplain Dave took a few people to look through it on Saturday afternoon. The hut is made of Australian Jarra, and the design is based on buildings of the outback - I'm told. The outside is in very good shape. It is looked after by the New Zealnd . Inside not a huge amount remains. Because it was not used for living in for long periods of time, it does not have that same feeling of people in it like the Cape Evans hut. But there are many boxes that contained food and supplies. The cooking area has the stove and food everywhere. There is also a pile of seal blubber which was used for fuel.

From the modern era of Antarcitc histroy is the TAE hut at Scott Station. There were four huts originally built at Scott Station to support the Trans-Antarctic Expedition. They had the great names A, B, C, and D. Hut A, which contained the kitchen comms, and the office has been turned in to a type of museum. It is full of the gear and furntiure of the time the hut was used, but is also used as a quite area by staff of present day Scott. It is a really well preserved building and is a great asset for the station. The walls have great photos documenting the history of New Zealanders in Antarctica.

the TAE was the first time that Antarctic was crossed from one side to the other. It was also the beginning of the modern era of transport, with numerous types of vehicles, and air support used. The expedition was led by the englishman Fuchs from one side of the continent. On the other side Ed Hillary was in charge of laying supply depots for the main party for once they got past the pole. The most amazing thing about Hillary's efforts is that their main form of transport was Massey Ferguson tractors with tracks on the wheels. Also Hillary's group was much faster than the englishman. Once they had all the depots layed they decided they may as we just drive those tractors all the way to the Pole, beating the main party there.

Mac Town is very different to the Pole in more than the obvious things such as temperature and size. The activity at Pole only slighly eases off at night. While Mac Town fairly well shuts down for the night. People get up at a leisurely hour and stroll to work at 7:30am. In the early hours of the morning there is no one in the galley, and there isn't the air of constant work or tension of the pole.

The ice edge is still some distance away from MacMurdo. From the top of Ob Hill it can just be seen in the distance. To let the fuel tanker and resupply vessel in a US Coast Guard ice breaker has cut a channel which is keeps open. During the week the fuel tanker was in port, unloading 4 million gallons of fuel. Next week the resupply vessel will be in. Whales come in along the channel, and we saw a few only a few tens of meters behind the tanker.

NPX WO's on R&R means South Pole Winter-Overs on Rest and Relaxation.

To be continued .......

Note after leaving the ice:

I found out early on Tuesday morning that Grandma had died. It is all I can do to stop myself from getting on a plane and leaving this place. After this I don't really feel like doing much. People dragged me around to do things. I slept very very badly and did not get the relaxation the trip was intended to give me.

The above email was written on my return to pole. It was never sent out. There are many things missing which I just didn't feel like writing about, but I thought I should for completeness (like going 10 pin bowling - meeting up with Mark - watching the running race (Gary from pole came in second)). Well It's too late now. I didn't want to send out such an incomplete story and didn't know what to say about this week in general. But now all I can say is - this is it.

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