Katy's South Pole Journal 25 January, 1995
Whew, what a week!
I just returned from my "vacation"! Each of the South Pole winterovers enjoys a week of "Rest and Relaxation" in McMurdo before our long winter begins. As it turned out, the folks in McMurdo arranged so many neat "boondoggles" for us, we didn't have much time to rest or relax!
Last Tuesday I waved goodbye to my friends at the South Pole and boarded a northbound LC-130. Five of us were vacationing together, and we were all anxious to see DIRT and BIRDS, BIG PUFFY CLOUDS, and "LIQUID ICE"... all of which are pretty rare at the South Pole.
We arrived in McMurdo pretty late-- about 11:30 pm-- so there wasn't much going on "in town". We went to the housing office to pick up our keys for our rooms, which were like dormitory rooms only smaller. I shared my room with Eileen, the South Pole winterover Doctor. She has a lot of connections in McMurdo, and I think she arranged most of our adventures!
On Wednesday my friends went to "survival school training", and then on Thursday they went on a two-day camping trip. They built a sort of igloo by making a big pile of backpacks, etc., then packing snow over the top, then dragging the bags out through a hole. The snow in McMurdo can get pretty wet and sticky, so it's better for snowballs and igloos than the snow at the Pole, which is more like tiny sand.
I had to stay in McMurdo because the fourth broadcast of Live tapes of the first three shows and wandered around the Crary Laboratory, and caught up with some old friends.
It was snowing when I woke up on Thursday morning. Big Fluffy Flakes!! I was excited about the snow until I realized it might interfere with the helicopter trip I was supposed to take! No worries: the helicopter pilots were undaunted and the flight was only delayed one hour. It only took three trips in a "helo" to transport all of the television equipment, the two cameramen, the three technicians, and me out to the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter POLAR STAR. I got to sit in the co-pilot's seat as we flew out over the ice!
There was already a wide channel between McMurdo and the open water. The channel was filled with broken-up ice, and where there were spots of open water we could see Orcas and Minke whales. There were penguins all over the ice, too, and they scurried away or dove into the water when the helicopter went by.
Instead of landing on the ship, the helicopter landed on the ice next to the ship. The crew of the Polar Star had lowered a diving platform onto the ice, so we stepped onto the platform, and they raised us up onto the ship using a big crane. I'm glad I'm not so afraid of heights, or I would have been terrified! Instead, I enjoyed the view, and wondered what it would be like to work on an icebreaker.
We were invited to the crew's mess for lunch, then we spent the afternoon setting up equipment for the LFA broadcast. Actually, I didn't do much setting-up: I just looked for whales and penguins. Chuck, Bill, Scott, Rex and Steve hooked up the connections we'd need for the broadcast.
The Polar Star crunched through the ice all night, and if the booms and crashes of breaking ice didn't wake you up, the ship's shuddering would for sure. I guess the ship shakes whenever ice is being crunched up in the propellers, which is pretty much all the time! I was sleeping in "officer country", which is on an upper deck and removed from most of the noise, but the crew sleeps on a lower deck, where it sounds as though a train is crashing right through the ship. I guess it's like sleeping in a blender, or on top of a washing machine with an unbalanced load! I sure had some weird dreams...
Friday morning we had to wake up at 0400 to get ready for the 0700 broadcast. I got a little nervous when 0700 came along and we still didn't have an audio connection with the United States, but Captain Parsons was standing next to me and telling me jokes so I wouldn't think too much about goofing up. Captain Parsons is the Commanding Officer of the Polar Star, and it was a real honor to be his guest, and to "share the spotlight" with him on the flying bridge of the Polar Star!
After the LFA broadcast, the Polar Star pulled alongside the ice pier at McMurdo and we unloaded all of the equipment. I felt kind of melancholy because the LFA broadcast was over so quickly, and I was wondering how the show turned out. So I went for a long walk around McMurdo and over to Scott Base, where I ran into Sean, who runs the shop there and recognized me from my visit two years ago. He invited us over for tea on Monday!
On Saturday I did some work and walked around some more, waiting for my friends to get back from their camping trip. On Sunday we took a long ride on some snowmobiles to a camp called "A Room With A View", where we did some skiing and snowboarding, using the snowmobiles for a ski-lift. What a great day! Behind each snowmobile we towed a Nansen sled full of equipment, so we took turns driving the snowmobile, riding on the sled, or standing on the back of the sled and operating the brake. That part got pretty scary on the steep hills.
On Monday I did some more work, then we went to Scott Base for tea (dinner) and a tour. We would have liked to stay longer but we had to report for "bag-drag" at 9:30 pm. Bag drag is when you pack all of your bags and dress up in your cold weather gear so VXE-6 can weigh you and figure out how much cargo they can take on the flight. After bag-drag we sat around for a while and said goodbye to the new friends we had made in McMurdo.
This morning I wrapped-up the work I had to do (I had to ship some snow samples to the University of Arizona, and as you can imagine it'll take some effort to keep them frozen!) and then we flew back "home" to the Pole.
This past week has been a whirlwind of a vacation but I'm ready to get back to work tomorrow! I'll tell you about that in a few days... Cheers! Katy McNitt LTJG, NOAA NSF S-257 Monitoring Climatic Change Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station