Antarctica in Pictures, Part 2: Getting Ready in McMurdo

We spent the next nine days preparing our equipment in McMurdo Station.  Here, Observation Hill stands above town.  Out the Galley's window is the Welding Shop, the Science Support Building, and Medical.  This is the view from the Galley in Building 155.  Navy terminology, including its love for acronyms, exists throughout the USAP (see?), from an earlier era when the Navy provided all the logistical support.  Now a contractor company maintains the station and the program for the National Science Foundation.  
Here are the residencies that house most of the station personnel.  Station staff and resident researchers sleep two to a room; transient personnel going to field camps or the South Pole have three per room.  Bathrooms either adjoin two resident room or a bathroom is centrally located in the hall.  In a lot of ways, its like living in a college dorm all over again.

Seth and Claire heading to a meeting at the Chalet, where the station manager and NSF representative are officed.  Their residencies are in the building immediately to the left.  The Crary Lab is just off frame to the right.  And to the left...

...is Phase 1 of the Science Support Building.  Right now the Mechanical Equipment Center (MEC) is downstairs - they maintain all the small equipment, including snowmobiles, tracked vehicles, generators, and solar power systems.  Upstairs is the Field Safety and Training Program (F-STP, or F-Stop), which teaches snow survival courses and sends out mountain guides for short-duration field assignments with science parties.  Teams that need mountain guides for longer stretches of time bring their own - like me. 

This is Derelict Junction, an open lot located between the resident halls (off frame to the right) and Building 155 (off frame to the left).  On the far left is the Crary Lab, where most science teams have at least offices, if not labratory space.  The dark brown building straight ahead is the Gerbil (aerobics) Gym.  Behind it is Building 165, home to Operations, including Field Communications, Flight-Ops, and the field headquarters for the New York Air National Guard's 109th Squadron, which flys the ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules.

Before we could start packing, we had some training to do.  It had been more than five years since Claire, Greg and I had been to McMurdo; for Kat, Seth, and Mike it was their first time.  So all six of us needed to go to Antarctic Survival Training, aka "Happy Camper School".  After morning discussions regarding clothing and environmental medical concerns like frostbite and hypothermia, we drove out to the Happy Camper School, where we'll spend the night.

Claire was kinda jazzed to be there.

The underlined objective is to teach everyone who leaves the station - even just driving out to the runways - how to survive using the material in the survival bag.  But there are a few extras too - like Scott tents.  These tents, originally designed by Sir Scott himself, are still used by field parties.  In fact, we'll have three on our trip.

But most teams, and all survival bags, use the same 4-season mountain tents that you would by from a climbing shop.  After setting up camp and making sure we were starting to boil water with the camp stoves, our FSTP instructors left us to our own designs until morning.

The weather turned fouler, so after dinner we crawled into our tents for the night.

Seth, Jeremy and I shared one of the Scott tents.  Jeremy works for UNAVCO, a sub-contractor that specializes in GPS technology for science and engineering applications.  UNAVCO issued the advanced GPS equipment we used in the
field. | photo Seth Campbell

All fingers, toes, bits and bobs accounted for.  In the morning we were reunited with our instructors, who reviewed the night with us.  These courses can have a wide diversity of military, scientist, and station personnel - but our course was almost completely scientists, except for one lone McMurdo worker.

We finished the course with a couple of group dynamic exercises.  In this one, we all had to wear white-out storm simulators (aka white buckets) to search for Bryan, who was lost outside in the storm.  The point was to demonstrate necessary communication and organization in an emergency, not to find Bryan.

In McMurdo, we enjoyed some incredibly cooked meals from the Galley, especially given the circumstances and limitations.  The pastry and desert cooks were especially amazing.

We had a dozen things we needed to juggle and keep in the air while we prepared to leave.  Greg was an excellent note taker.  As I joked in an earlier email, he would keep lots of lists and check them more often than Santa!

We took an afternoon to have our mandatory smowmobile orientation and driving course.  We were taking four snowmobiles for the six of us, and they were driven almost every day.  Looking up at town you can see the Comms Shack (where field radio equipment is maintained and issued), the Crary Lab, and the Helo (helicopter) Barn - the big green building.

Greg and Claire in the MEC, with a chainsaw and a generator at their feet.  We needed electric power to recharge the batteries of the satellite phones, the VHF radios, the HF radio, and the radar.  The generator was a backup in case the solar power system malfunctioned.  The chainsaw was in hope that we would be able to find a bare-ice section of one of the glaciers with erratic rocks still buried in it.  That never occured, and the saw spent the trip cached at Neptune.

An MEC staffer showing us the inside of our solar power system...

...and how the panel assembles.
Food!  We took enough food for the six of us to last 40 days, not including a weeks worth of emergency freeze dried meals.  We weren't getting any resupply for the entire duration. | photo Seth Campbell

photo Seth Campbell

We met with Liz, the Fixed-Wing Operations coordinator, multiple times.  Here she and Greg are reviewing what the Guard squadron has entered in the system regarding our flights.

We double checked all of the tents before sending them to the Cargo Yard to be palletized.

Kat and I spent a morning in the Cargo Yard learning how to assemble and strap down pallets for C-130 flights.  This was essential:  a month later we would be responsible for palleting all of our equipment for the return.

I still found time to goof off.

A briefing with Field Comms gave us a better understanding of the uses and limitation of our communication equipment.  We would need to check in with McMurdo Operations (McOps), daily with either the HF radio or the satellite phone.

McMurdo sits below Mt Erebus.  Its a shield volcano, similar to Mt Rainier, although it has an open lava pool in the crater! | photo Seth Campbell

We took a day to head back out to the Happy Camper site to practice glacier travel and crevasse rescue
skills. | photo Seth Campbell

"LOOK!!" Seth was worried we wouldn't notice Mt Erebus. | photo Claire Todd

Self-arrest practice:  plant the axe...

...and SNAP over!

Self-arrest practice was followed up with crampons. | photo Claire Todd

And a working lunch.  The "green apple" behind Seth is an emergency shelter situated along one of the recreational routes near the stations. | photo Greg Balco

photo Greg Balco

Discussing and demonstrating the finer points of glacier travel, in preparation to climb up and through the FSTP Icefall behind us. | photo Claire Todd

Then a couple of hours wandering around the FSTP Icefalls. | photo Seth Campbell

photo Seth Campbell

photo Seth Campbell

photo Greg Balco

photo Clair Todd

photo Claire Todd

photo Kat Huybers, Claire Todd collection

photo Claire Todd

We took a food and water break at the top of the falls, enjoyed the view, looked into a couple of "gapers" and then headed back down. | photo Greg Balco

photo Greg Balco

photo Seth Campbell

photo Greg Balco

photo Greg Balco

Then we took a short walk over to the crevasse simulator, a 6m / 20' deep trench, to practice crevasse rescue and ascending.

We had gone over these skills first indoors, learning the knots and the procedure, before coming out here to actually try to apply it. | photo Seth Campbell
photo Seth Campbell

photo Seth Campbell

photo Greg Balco

photo Greg Balco

photo Claire Todd

Kat connects the rope to the anchor using a friction hitch, while Claire holds Henry (a wighted backpack).

Kat and I discuss her next step. | photo Claire Todd

(L-R) Mike, Greg, Kat, Me, Claire, Seth.
A skua.  These scavenger birds used to be much more common at McMrudo Station when the waste was openly dumped instead of binned and shipped back.  In fact, "skua" is a slang word used in the USAP to mean "scavenged" or "recycled," as in, "I went to Skua Central and skua'ed these sweet boots!"  The recycling effort is huge in the program, and people take a perverse pride in how much stuff they can re-use and re-purpose. | photo Seth Campbell

Events like a crafts sale, which typically features a lot of photography and knitting, helps build community.

Quite possibly my favorite tracked vehicle for the simply "cool" factor, the Tucker Snowcat.  Rumor has it these things spend more time getting repaired or preventative maintenance than they do driving, but its still cheaper than replacing them!  The majority of the small tracked vehicle fleet are modern Piston-Bullies.

Sunday R&R - slacklining.

After eleven days, we were all set.  All of our cargo was palletized and ready to be loaded onto an aircraft.  We took the weekend off, and waited for good weather.