"Getting There"

Craig Mundell - December 8, 1994
Passenger Coordinator

    I got up this morning and prepared to go to sea ice training. It was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky. A perfect day to go out onto the sea ice and learn survival skills. I put on my bunny boots, wind pants and the rest of my extreme cold weather (ECW) gear and set off for the BFC where I was to meet the rest of my class for the day.

After meeting up with the other 5 people in my group and meeting our instructor, we went outside and climbed into the Hagglaund. This is a strange little vehicle that looks like two connected boxes on tracks. The ride was about as rough as the vehicle looked. In the back section, where I was sitting with two other people from the group, we got tossed around like dolls every time we hit a large bump or dip in the ice. It was pretty fun, but very bone jarring.

Our first stop was at a fish hut about 1/2 mile from McMurdo on the ice. Once inside, our instructor taught us about the various types of ice that form on the ocean and how to recognize when areas of ice are not safe to walk or drive on. We also learned a little about basic survival in case we got stuck out on the ice. This included tips on how to use the stove in the survival kit, and how to shelter yourself from the wind.

learn how to drill ice to check the depth. First we walked along a suspected crack in the ice using an ice ax handle to check snow depth and the sturdiness of the ice. Once we determined it was safe to walk on, we shoveled the top layer of snow off so that we had clear ice to drill. We needed two people to use the hand-held drills (one to hold the drill and one to crank it), and even like this it got pretty tiring when trying to go through six feet of ice. Once we hit water, we dropped a weighted tape measure into the hole to check the ice depth. Once we decided that the "crack" was safe to drive on, we piled back in the Hagglaund and continued on our journey.

We stopped for lunch about an hour (and a very rough ride) later. We had gotten much closer to land than we were earlier. We were right next to a large ice berg that was slowly edging its way out onto the sea ice. It was an incredible sight! I was amazed to see this huge chunk of ice that was at least 70 feet high with its soft blue color looking so peaceful with Mt. Erebus in the background. What a perfect setting to stop for lunch! As it turned out, the cold meatloaf sandwiches weren't that good, but the view more than made up for it.

After drilling a few more holes in the ice to check the depth, we set off for Cape Royds. The ride was again rough as I had come to expect but the anticipation of seeing the penguin rookery made me enjoy getting bounced all over the back of the vehicle. We stopped just short of the Cape to see two icebergs thrusting out of the ice no more than 200 feet apart. They made a picturesque frame around the mountains on the continent, almost 30 miles across the sea ice. As we stood there taking in this breathtaking sight, a couple of Skuas (a local bird) came soaring effortlessly around the bergs and on towards the land.

couple of minutes and drove on to Cape Royds. As we got out, you could see the anticipation in everybody's faces since this would probably be one of the few opportunities we all had to see penguins up close. We walked twenty or so yards to shore and started up the dusty, snowless hill towards the rookery. As we crested the hill we could see the rookery and the several hundred penguins that called it home. It was really a breathtaking sight. We almost ran down the hill right past Shackleton's hut, which at some other time might have been one of the more interesting things to see on the trip. Everyone pulled out their cameras and headed towards the orange signs that marked the closest points we could go to the penguins. It was really fascinating to watch the little guys cruise around and scurry among the rocks. We kept moving around trying to get to a point that the penguins were really close to the orange signs so that we could get some good pictures. We finally made it up to a small hill with penguins crawling up a ways on the rocks. After sitting watching the penguins move around and play for about half and hour, we decided that we should get going if we were going to make it back to McMurdo for dinner.

On the way back I was able to ride in the front section of the Hagglaund, which was a lot more comfortable, it almost seemed like a real car. We stopped about half way back when we saw a small group of seals lying on the ice next to some pressure ridges by the shore. I was really surprised at how large these animals were. They seemed to just lay there and sleep, only barely acknowledging our presence. There was also a mother there with a small pup. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get very close to them. After only a few minutes, and several pictures, we continued on to the ice caves.

Outside of the ice caves, we spent about thirty minutes learning how to pitch a tent to survive the high winds encountered on the sea ice. It was pretty interesting see how different it is to pitch a tent on open ice compared to in the woods. We had to dig out the snow down to the ice in order to set the tent stakes as they would not hold very well in just snow. Next we used the ice saw to cut out snow blocks in order to build a wall next to the tent for wind protection. After several failed attempts to correctly secure the tent stakes, we tore down the tent, did a quick run through the ice cave and jumped back in the Hagglaund to head home.

Most everybody slept on the way home, despite the rough ride. After we got back to McMurdo and unloaded our gear we all headed back to out rooms, exhausted. It was really a great day and now I could say that I had really seen Antarctica.

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