Terry's Field Journal: (c) Terry Trimingham April 3-April 8, 1995
Monday after work the weather was calm, so we decided to go for a walk. It was wonderful to see the sunset and the stars coming out! I almost felt like I could take off my coat it seemed so nice! (Of course, we were hoofing it pretty good which helped to keep us warm). Afterwards we went to wish a friend happy birthday at the bar. In the summer we had 2 bars (the Erebus, and Southern Exposure) and a coffee house. The Erebus is the biggest bar: it has a pool table, shuffle board game, a dance floor, and a food counter where you can get burgers and french fries 3 times a week. Southern Exposure is non-smoking, and quite a bit smaller, but does have a tiny dance floor, a dart board, and a shuffle board game.
Since winter started, the coffee house was moved into the building that used to house the Southern Exposure bar. The coffee house serves liqueurs in coffee, but no alcohol aside from that. So now, the Erebus is the only bar, and it goes to non-smoking on M,W,F when the burger bar is open. We had a nice time sitting around telling birthday stories of exotic places we had been on our birthdays. The Erebus Club was one of the most exotic!
Tuesday it was another wonderful day out there! The sun is rising later and later each day, and so when I go to work in the morning it is pre-dawn with just one or two bright stars in the ultra-marine sky. There are dark silhouettes of the hillside behind McMurdo etched with the coming daylight behind...very pretty. After I get to work I try to go out and monitor the sunrise action. The Royal Society Mountains across McMurdo Sound (on the continent) are white ghosts in this misty blue, and you can watch the pink of the rising sun light them up and it is NEAT! It is like watching a paintbrush, because the sun is at such a low angle now that the light sweeps across diagonally as it swaths the mountains in that pink glow. I will HAVE to get my camera out there!
Wednesday dawned even more spectacularly than the day before. Other folks that have been here tell me that as the sun gets lower the shows get better. It reminded me of being in Nepal last Spring and watching the mighty frozen Himalayas at sunrise. It was very cold before the sun came up (about -20F). There was thick frost on all the railings outside buildings, everything looked very white! They had been adjusting the atmosphere of my dorm and I wasn't having an easy time sleeping. I think the humidifiers that had been installed in the dorm (but never been used) had been turned on for a trial run. The reason the system was never used is that water is "boiled" by electricity so that it will get in the air. The water we have always had was made from flash evaporation, and was too pure to use. Last winter Reverse Osmosis units were installed to make water. The water now has more electrolytes in it, and will conduct electricity, so the humidifiers can be used. I noticed my window has a thick coat of ICE around the panes now, and my room seems really HOT...too warm for comfortable sleep. After speaking with a Utilities Technician I am assured that things will be back to "normal" soon. The humidification system is missing a part that is needed, so it will be shut off.
Friday the Fuels person asked me to join him for the day. I got all my survival gear ready and we took off at 8:30am in a spryte (a tracked vehicle). Our project was to pull the blue flags that mark the fuel line running between Ross Island and Willy Field. McMurdo is on Ross Island, and Willy is out on the Ross Ice Shelf. There are fuel hoses laid for five miles between the two to provide fuel for the aircraft when the runway is moved to Willy in December. After the summer there are no aircraft, and they roll up the fuel hoses. The hose had been taken up, but the flags marking it were still there.
There are two people that work Fuels in the winter, but many more in the summer. There are 8 million gallons of fuel in McMurdo when the tanks are filled in late January, and the Fuels department is responsible for managing it all. Sixteen large tanks hold the fuel: one is VERY large (capacity 2.2 million gallons), the majority hold 500,000 gallons, and there are 3 "small" tanks that hold 250,000 gallons each. Only 5 buildings in McMurdo receive fuel via hard pipe; the rest of them have to be filled by pumping fuel from a tank truck (commonly known as "the Fuel Mule"). Hard pipe also sends fuel to the helo hangar, and to the edge of Ross Island as I mentioned above. Fuels also makes sure that the "gas station" has gas flowing so people can fill up their vehicles.
We drove out to Williams Field first and I was able to see that half of the town is now gone! Willy was almost a little "town" once upon a time, but it is now in the process of being closed down. Kind of sad to me since it was my home in the summer of '92/93. The ride out was really nice; the sun was just trying to creep up over Mt. Terror (which is next to Mt. Erebus). There were some clouds right on the flank of the mountain and the sun turned them to fire. It was beautiful to see the yellow-orange burst of light from the sun surrounded by blood-red clouds in that one spot. I had my camera, but the spryte is very noisy and jiggly to ride in, so it just wasn't convenient to take a photo. Now thinking back, I wish I would have stopped for the photo.
Removing flags is a lot harder than putting them in. Flags are actually pieces of cloth tied on to bamboo poles. To get them out of the snow, we hit the top of the pole with a rubber mallet. The idea is that driving the bamboo pole down will push the "joint" of the bamboo down. (The snow around the pole has melted and frozen over the summer forming ice around the bamboo, and it usually hangs up on one of the joints). Most of the time that worked.... I gave the pole a good sound bash a few times and could then grab it and yank. I had quite a few just come right out. However, some others were really frozen in there, and I had to wail on them!
A few flags had been knocked over when the fuel line had been reeled in, and they were split. We had to cut these off.
Eventually we got all the flags, and I had a good time. The scenery was gorgeous with Mt. Erebus and the Royal Societies out there. Another pink sunrise on the white-blue mountains. There was no wind, but it had to be about -20F or so, very very cold! My companion had a white mustache in no time, and I had big iceballs hanging off my eyelashes! I got to learn how to drive the spryte, and would hop in and out to move it as we went along. It is great to be outside in this beautiful place.
Copyright (c)1995 Terry Trimingham. This information may be redistributed online for education projects as long as this copyright notice is included. Permission to use this material in print or for commercial purposes must be obtained in writing prior to use from the author.