Well, it’s been a long couple of weeks since I’ve last written, but it’s been quite eventful. I think I last said that I was about to go to the McMurdo station bar, and celebrate my 28th birthday. Well, I did, and I had a blast! I’ve known most of these people for only a few days, but that didn’t matter at all. There is a bond between ice people that’s amazing. A few of the polies got together to get me a card, and a bunch of little presents that really meant a lot. Once we were at the bar, and people found out that it was my birthday; shots just started appearing in front of me left and right. Even in Austin, I don’t think I’ve had that many strangers buy me drinks.
Surprisingly, I felt awesome the next day, and I ended up taking about a two and a half mile hike to the New Zealand base. Kat and I got there about 30 minutes after the store there closed, but it was an awesome hike over the sea-ice. McMurdo is at the base of an active volcano, Mt. Erebus, but there is a hill blocking the view of it until you get right outside of the base. It was beautiful, with a cloud of steam and smoke rising from the top, blending into the deepest blue sky I’ve ever seen.
I spent the next few days doing a combination of work and play. I got to know all the McMurdo IT guys, but they were all so busy doing their own projects that I ended up just getting in their way. That meant that I had about a week to explore the area. I went to an outdoor training lecture, got certified in the rock climbing gym, worked out a few times, and took several trips off base.
The most amazing of these trips was going out to see Cape Evans, and the nearby ice caves. The main attraction of Cape Evans is a 90 year old wooden structure that several of the early polar explorers used as staging camps during the initial exploration of the continent. The air here is so cold and dry that the huts are exactly the way they were left. There are even perfectly preserved penguin carcasses, and piles of 90 year old seal blubber that they used for heating and cooking. After we spent an hour poking around the hut, we went to some ice caves that had formed in a nearby glacier. I wish I had the soul of a poet so that I could describe just how beautiful the formations were inside.
Later on that week, Kat and I borrowed cross country skis, and skied the two miles to Scott Base (the NZ base). Thursday nights they open their bar to Americans, and we took full advantage of this! Another planeload of polies had just arrived from Christchurch, and a good many of them were there. Needless to say, we ended up taking the shuttle back, instead of skiing the way we came.
Daylight is now 24 hours. It was weird the first couple of days, but you quickly adjust. In fact, it seems so normal to have the sun shining all the time, that memories of going out at night start to seem strange. I’ll be curious to see how I feel in six months, when the sun never rises, and we have 24 hour darkness.
We were supposed to leave for the Pole on the 22nd, but due to weather and mechanical problems, we didn’t actually depart till yesterday, the 24th. I was lucky enough to be on the first plane down here, and that was quite an experience. We were the first people that the current winter-over population has seen in nearly 7 months. They are acting a little odd towards us, but it’s nothing hostile.It’s got to be weird to have your cozy society disturbed by the arrival of so many people. With the first three planes, we’ve quadrupled the station population!Â I’ll be in their shoes in a year from now, so I can’t be critical at all.
Adjusting to this environment has been quite a challenge. When we got off the plane, we immediately went from sea level to 10,000 feet. We also went from the plane’s temperature of 65 degrees to a -53 degrees! Trying to drag my luggage about 500 feet from the plane to the entrance of the base felt like I was running a marathon. Luckily the polies took pity on us, and had motorized sleds to carry our baggage. They remember what it was like for them a year ago!
Most of us felt lousy all day yesterday. We had headaches, shortness of breath, and mild to severe nausea. Today I feel a whole lot better, and they tell us that we’ll be fully acclimated after about 10 days, with about 90% acclimatization happening after 3 or 4.
I don’t know how I lucked out here, but I’ve got an awesome room. Of the station population of about 175, only 27 get to live in the dome. Since my position involves rapid response in an emergency, I got one of those rooms. My room is small, but it’s mine. It’s about 9.5 by 4.5 feet, and one of the previous occupants made a full size bed, instead of the standard twin. I’ve got posters up, a Texas Tech flag hanging on my wall, and all my books and movies fitting nicely on a shelf. I even have a phone, and internet connection in the room. Compare this to the Jamesway’s, which are Korean War era canvas and wood tents out in the snow about 700 feet from the dome. They’re cold, have no bathrooms, and only canvas curtains for walls. I really appreciate how this has worked out, and I’m trying not to brag about it too much.
Speaking of bragging, be sure to take a good look at the photo at the top of this post. I know that I’ve been accused of having a big ego by some of you before, but I finally have proof that the world really does revolve around me!