Happy Camper, tractor pulls and Pressure ridges

Trip Start Oct 16, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Antarctica  ,
Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hello all, before I forget, I wanted to share with you my mailing address.  I have had lots of request for it but keep forgetting to post it.  So if you want to send a post card or maybe a letter the old fashioned way I would love it.  As of now I have had just one piece of mail. I know, it's my own fault for not sharing this information earlier.  So here it is.  Just remember, this isn't good forever.  Just until mid February.

Sean Sullivan, RPSC
McMurdo Station
PSC 469 Box 700
APO AP 96599-1035

So it's been great weather here in Antarctica.  Just as I had predicted, the Austral summer here is much easier to take than a winter in Michigan.  It's been SUNNY, SUNNY, SUNNY and maintaining around +35F - +40F.  The snow is melting off the hillsides and the runoff is incredible.  You can see, first hand how glaciation forms the countryside.  Melting snow leaves huge deposits of dirt.  While the running water is carving out mini canyons in the hilsides.  Pretty cool.  Water falls near the transition to the Ice shelf.  The transition is where the road meets the ice.  It's been treaturous lately with all the melting snow and ice. Huge potholes and even some of our biggest vehicles with giant snow tires get stuck sometimes. 

The Runway has been moved to Willy field and Pegasus field on the Ice shelf, and glacial ice, respectively. So there is no threat of falling through the Sea ice and into the Ross Sea anymore (not that there was much of a threat before, they keep a close eye on the ice depth). But I have heard some horror stories about something called trap door ice.  Apparently back in the early years at Mc Murdo, back in the late 50's and early 60s, someone was driving a vehicle on the ice one moment and then the next moment they were simply gone.  The ice gives way and flips over completely, like a trap door might, sealing the hole up again and leaving the landscape much the same as it looked before.   The C-17's land on Pegasus field, while Willy field is reserved for the C-130's and smaller aircraft. 

My schedule has been switched to nights now. 6pm to 6am.  Which really doesn't make a difference to me.  Actually I think I will get more sleep now, because there are less distractions (people) around during the night.  We were given two days off to make our transition.  Staying up all night takes some effort with out the aid of a good party and loud music, so we had to come up with some entertaining ways of doing it. 

Saturday night.  Started out with the 12th annual Women's Soiree.  A fund raiser for charity that's become a McMurdo tradition.  This year it was for the Kiwi Family Trust.  The show consisted of Musical act's, Poems, and dance troups including one by the girls from Shuttles who recreated the dance number from Napoleon Dynamite and a Belly dance finale.  

I evenly divide my evening by going to the White trash party.  AKA the Men's Soiree, a testoserone filled retaliation party, to counter act all the estrogen given off earlier in the night.  This was a drunk fest in one of the dorms.   They had their annual underground tractor pull races.  Which entails Two people wearing a harness with a thick rope coming off the back about 20 feet standing side by side in the hallway of the dorm. Behind the pullers are the pullee's (or Weights) a person sitting on a food tray holding on to said rope.   Which for me was a cute petite beaker (Scientist) who studies seals down here at McMurdo.  She had done this before and was ready to take the title.  I was new, and nervous.  Didn't want to fail the fans from Cargo that were anxiously watching.  So when the flag drops the two tractors pulled their weights down the hallway to a predesignated finish line.  I took off and my beaker was hanging on tight behind me.  I was surprised as to how quickly I took the lead, almost a whole rope length ahead of my competator.  When suddenly my rope went tight and I came to a stop.  My beaker had fallen off as she was passing the other runner on her food tray, and got caught up in his feet.  Not only did she fall off the tray but she got a good rug burn on her elbow, ripped her toenail back a little and banged her head on a doorjam.  "oooh", the crowd gasped.  I turned around and couldn't believe my eyes as the beaker jumped back on the tray, ready to win.  Which we proudly did without any further incidents, thankfully.  Afterwards she laughed and she acted as if it was nothing. "Get me another drink, it won't hurt until morning", she said bravely.  I tried consoling her and tending to her wounds. (Mwaaaha haaaa!)  But she was a tough girl and wouldn't have any of it. (foiled again) She proudly wore her battle scars.  Within minutes she was the tractor pulling a man near 200 pounds  on a food tray behind her, racing down the hallway.

 Later on the same evening I went on a tour of the pressure ridges over near Scott base (the Kiwi's scientific base nearby) .  The pressure ridges are where the Sea ice meets the Ross Ice shelf and it collides, slowly forming ridges and bumps.  The Sea Ice eventually looses and breaks into beautiful formations and crevasses.  The Pressure ridges are usually off limits to the Americans.  The NSF has made them off limits in an effort to preserve our health and safety.  Ha ha.  Always doing what is best for us.  The truth I heard about it was.  One time a few years ago someone was cross-country skiing over there, and they poked at a seal with their ski pole, which is against the Antarctic treaty.  Damn fools! It takes  just one idiot to ruin it for everyone.  Anyway, lucky for us, the beaurocracy took a break, and  we were offered tours of the pressure ridges through our Recreation dept.   Albeit a guided tour and with someone who had special emergency, sea ice training, and an ice pick to lead the way.  It was a midnight tour.  We were hoping for good lighting for photos, but it was kinda overcast.  I still took a bunch through.  The ridges are beautiful and mysterious. You just want to climb them and explore the cracks.  Some of the melt pools have holes in the bottom of them where the seals can get up and on to the ice for a rest.  The whole tour lasted about 2 hours.  Our guide was a good one, but lots of people were a little upset with him.  They felt like we were being treated like children as he would remind us where we could and couldn't walk.  "Thats far enough!" he would say as you were backing up to take a photo.  I didn't mind so much, as I know what it can be like to be in charge of the safety of others.  Yes, it probably is safe, but it's a privelage to be there in the first place, repect that, and respect the risk.

Later after the tours we tried to stay up even later by watching some Christmas movies at  the coffee house, which was officially closed, but we had the key and special permission to be there.  We started the night out with National lampoons Christmas Vacation, then on to Merry Christmas Charlie Brown, and finally Sometime around 0530 am A Christmas Story.  I was asleep half way through Christmas vacation.  So my first night of transitioning to nights didn't go so well.

The next night, Sunday worked out better for me I didn't watch movies, in a dark room.  Ha ha.  We ended up playing games, and taking a hike up Observation hill.  Where I found myself writing out postcards to Aunt Marlene, Uncle Jim, and Aunt Diane.  By this time it was 0700 , and I was starting to nod off as I was thinking about what to write.  I made it later than the previous night at least.  It sucks to have to hike down 700 feet when your ready for bed though.  When I finished the hike I tried to do some yoga in the Chapel.  The Chapel is always open for use and the Yoga classes are held there because all the chairs can be moved for room on the floor.  I almost fell asleep in one of the poses on the floor so I felt it was time for bed at 0930.  That's better. Almost transitioned.

Finally on Monday night I got it.  I did some computer work until 0130, then started a 7 mile hike at 0200.  JonO and I went to Castle rock.  It's one of the predominant landmarks on Hut point penninsula.  About 3.6 miles one way.  It's a good hike, where the distances are deceivingly far.  One of those where you can see your destination for a long time but it seems like you've been walking forever and it's not getting any closer.  In the beginning of the hike the road was a hard go.  Because of all the warm days and cool nights there has been a thawing and freezing cycle that has left the trail ice covered and dangerous.  Making the journey slow going.  Then once we reached the top of the hill we can see Castle Rock which is still 2 miles away.  It looks like and easy stretch as it's a long straight away going down a long slow slope and up another long slow slope.  This is the deceiving part.  Once you get in the middle there are no hills for cover from the wind, which by this time is blowing hard and cold.  It was a little daunting, being I could've been a little better prepared.  When we left McMurdo it was warm but now out in the wide open, it's getting colder.  Luckily the trail planners have installed warm up shacks, called red apples, along the way. This is a small red ball structure that you can duck into and warm up, or  take cover in to get out of weather if needed.  Inside we found an outdoor emergency medical book, some sleeping bags, a stove and fuel, as well as a telephone to call for help in case assistance was needed.  Man, they think of everything here.   Don't worry Ma, I'd have to be a pretty stupid person to die here, as the NSF makes it almost impossible to make any fatal mis-judgements.  When we reached Castle Rock we took a few photos and explored the base of the rock, saving the climb for another day with less cold wind and more time.  The views were well appreciated.  We could see the open water out on the horizon, beyond the ice shelf, better than ever. There was an Ice berg way out there and of course Mt. Erebus, which can be seen from any position on the island, except in town.  We could see Cape Evans and the Happy Camper Snow school camp.  After about 15 or 20 minutes, it was time to head back home if we wanted to make it in time for our meal.  So we pulled out our Blue food tray/sleds and found our sweet spot on the hill side.  Zooming back down to the flat part of the trail.  I did two runs just for the fun of it.

   Snow School, or Happy Camper as it's known around here, is a cold weather survival course that everyone on the station must attend.  It's a good ole time.  You start in the class room, going over the dangers of cold weather, and cold weather injuries.  Learning what hypothermia is and the signs and symptoms, and looking at gross slides of people who have suffered from frostbite. 
   After that we all pile into the Delta for a trip out to Happy camper, camp site.  We have a couple of other classes out there on how to use a whisper lite camp stove , prominant land marks, where the dirctions are, and where the weather usually comes from.  Then we eat lunch and pack up our cold weather sleeping bags and then head out into the cold. 
   When we arrive it's right to work.  We now have to construct our shelters and create a campsite.  We start by erecting our Scott tent. The largest of our tent structures and our  immediate shelter needed to take cover if the weather should turn sour.  It's easy enough to put up with so many people.  Not to mention the weather was cooperating greatly.  Next we built our quinsy, I think that's how it's spelled.  It's a snow fort essentially.  We start by burying all our bags in snow, and creating a big domed structure, pack it down firmly, then wait two hours for it to re-freeze.  In the mean time we set up our small mountain tents. and start building a wind wall out of block of snow that we cut with a hand saw. The tents are placed behind the wall and it creates a nice barrrier as well as prevents your tent from getting burried by drifting snow.  Then back to the quinsy.  On one side we have two people digging out the entrance, while on the opposite side another two people cut a hole in the side and create a construction entrance to pull out the  bags that we buried earlier.  Once all the bags are out then we dig down about another foot and a half and take off some of the excess snow on the walls making the structure bigger inside.  The final step is to dig a hole on down through the floor to meet up with the people who have been digging the entrance on the outside.  So when you actually enter from the outside you will go down under the wall and then back up into the quinsy.  This helps keep the wind out and keep it warm in there.  The construction entrance is then closed up with more snow bricks.  Like the ones previously used on the wind wall. 
   It was a great piece of snow archetecture.  I ended up sleeping in it as well as Andrew, one of the guys who helped me build the quinsy.  The other two guys who dug the doorway entrance, Eric, and Matt, slept in a different quinsy that was built by a previous Happy Camper class.  
   By the end of the day we were all whooped, after so much digging and being out in the elements.  I slept for about 9 hours total in there. One of the longest sleeps I've had here.   When morning came, the camp leader poked his head in wondering if we were alright.  We hadn't even budged.  With only a half hour to pack up our stuff and get breakfast we struggled, half asleep to make it in time for our mock "airplane pick up" time. 
  It was a great experience to spend the night out under the midnight sun here in Antarctica.  One I had been looking forward to since I've been here. 

Well everyone, I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy new year.  Make it a great year and make it your best one yet. 

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theskinners on

Great Job on the TravelPod
Thanks for your mailing address. Kim and I will send you a post card from Jolly old England. I will date it so you can see how long it takes for it to get to you. When you get it in the mail, you do the same. I love getting your updates to see what life is like there. Your writing style is great and very entertaining. After reading your previous entry telling about how long it takes to download email I hesitated in sending you anything, however I figured this was the best place to send it. We have recently been getting into Skype (webcam chatting online) and wish this was something we could do with you. When I talk to the gang they all ask about you and I have forward your travelpod link on to several people. Kim and I are going to spend a some time in Belgium after Christmas (a quick stop in Zeeland, southern Netherlands).
We hope you have a great Christmas and New Year.
Be safe
Much Love, Kim and Steve

realkeith on

Santa is coming
Hello Sean,
Steve sent me a link to your pod, great stuff. Winter and I went from start to finish. Winter loves the penguin vids and pictures. The whole idea that someone she knows is in such a foriegn place makes her very happy.
Merry Christmas! Get drunk sing some carols and say some inapproiate things to the ladies for me.


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