Journal report from Terry Trimingham December 24-26, 1994

I am half-way through the two weeks of midnight shift; I can't believe how fast the days fly by! This has been an especially eventful week for me Partially because of all the holiday activities, but also because I was trying to change my sleep pattern; that left me pretty "raw" emotionally, so things seemed a bigger deal than normal I think...

Last Sunday my roommate and I took out the tree I had found in the skua pile and set it up in the evening. It is really cute, about 12" high, with a slight pine scent! The branches aren't shiny plastic either, it almost looks real! It had little red bows on some of the branches, and was missing a couple of "feet" on the stand that holds it up, but we fashioned some cardboard to fix that. I had found some green felt in the skua pile too, so we put that around the base, and then piled some rocks around just to make sure it wouldn't fall over! We then took our earrings and hung them on it to make it look festive! Little by little during the course of the week I found bits and pieces of shiny things to add to the tree, and by Christmas it looked pretty good! We also put all the Christmas cards we'd received up on the wall behind the tree, so it seemed fairly festive. My roommate's mother sent a string of Christmas lights, and we have them around our bathroom door, the soft color of the lights brings good memories of the holidays and it was nice to have them!

My first night of midnight work was a little rough. I drank coffee I found down the hall that Mac Center had made; they are the Navy air traffic control here. It tasted like it had been made about 3pm, and I had it at 3am! I now try to get off work in the morning and go straight to bed, so I can get up at 5:30pm when everyone else is getting off work.

Monday I went over to a friends room. She and I had invited a scientist over for some tea. I didn't really feel like eating cookies for breakfast, but the tea was nice. We had a nice visit.

Tuesday I met another friend for coffee at the coffee house. A few years ago there used to be four bars in McMurdo, two for the enlisted men, one for the chiefs, and one for the officers. Now one of the enlisted bars has been made into an aerobics work-out room, the chiefs club is for everyone, and the officers bar is the coffee house. They have one of those press-here-for-cappuccino machines, it just dispenses hot water and some kind of powdered coffee (about the same grade as coffee machine stuff). It is a nice quiet place, lots of folks go there to write letters or talk (the bars tend to be noisy). It was pleasant to have a nice chat. I drank coffee too as I had just awakened...usually I don't drink coffee after noon, so this worked out well!

Wednesday my hiking buddy and I climbed Ob Hill. I hadn't been up there for a few weeks, and most of the ice and snow are gone now. The view from up top is really good of McMurdo and the ice runway (the runway is no longer out on the ice - it moved to Willy Field last weekend, so it was strange to see the ice empty). I made curtains for the play set last week, and Wednesday. my roommate and I went over to the set to put up the curtain rod. After that she told me of a Christmas party being put on in the Captain's Hut by the science lab, so I went to that. In days of old, the head of the Navy at McMurdo would live in the Captain's Hut, and once in a while there would be parties in there. It is amazing, a real little house. There is nice furniture, windows and pretty curtains, nice hutches with crystal and china, a kitchen, bath, and a few bedrooms. Last winter they turned one of the lounges in one of the dorms into a suite for the Captain, and he relinquished his hut. Now if you reserve in advance, anyone can have parties in there. The party was very nice, but I wasn't really "all there" - it is hard to wake up and plunge right into a social situation like that. After the party I went for a walk to Scott Base. I realized I hadn't been getting any exercise, and maybe that is why I was having a hard time sleeping. It was a nice long walk, although the wind was cold. I'm glad I did it.

Friday was the Christmas party for my department (info systems). They had reserved the Captain's Hut too, so it was my second night in there. I like all the people in info sys; they are a great bunch. One guy had brought some memory chips that were from a computer and hung them on the Xmas tree there for decoration...you had to be there to appreciate it! They were BBQing outside (much to the interest of a few skuas!) and I had a BBQ tenderloin steak for my breakfast, with a few deep-fried cheese-filled jalapenos...wow! I was just getting into having a good time when I looked at my watch. I had been chosen to go on a very special event the next day, and so ran up to the mailroom to help sort mail and packages. There had been a flight with 3 pallets of mail...I don't know how many thousands of pounds! It was fun helping, and I got a couple packages myself! After that I ran back to the Captain's Hut and helped clean up the party until midnight when I had to go to work.

The special event I participated in was the Santa helo flight. Every year Santa flies to all the field camps and takes the scientists their mail and some Christmas goodies from the galley. When I finished work in the morning, I went home and packed my survival bag and got ready for the flight. At about 9am the helo took off. There was Santa (Dwight Fisher, the NSF representative here) and four "elves"...(me, the helo coordinator, a lady in personnel, and someone from the Chalet, our administrative office for ASA). Everybody had red Santa hats and our red issue down coats looking pretty Christmassy...it was GREAT!!!! First off we went over to the Dry Valleys, and three of us elves were dropped off at Lake Bonney. The helo proceeded on to McMurdo Dome (up on the polar plateau where the elevation demands they not carry so much weight in the helo). The helo coordinator works very closely with the helo-supported camps and so she and Santa went on.

At Lake Bonney I was happy to meet folks I had talked to a lot on the radio. There were two scientists there (getting ready to close down camp) and they gave us the royal tour, including taking us on an ATV over the lake! There are three big lakes in the Taylor Valley and each one has camps. Scientists study the lakes, which have pretty thick ice on the top, and liquid underneath. We were able to go see the upper lobe of the lake with the HUGE Taylor Glacier at the end of it sporting "blood falls" (red color in the ice due to iron oxide). We also were shown a dead seal that had wandered up into that valley and died a LONG time ago. The Dry Valleys are unique as they are so wind-scoured that no snow sticks on the ground, so no ice cover. The dead seal didn't decompose, but the wind had driven sand and pebbles into it, and it was half "eaten away". It still had fur on the lee side, its teeth were intact, but the windward side had been worn down to the bare white bones! Very bizarre to see!

The scientists gave us coffee (I needed it!) and then the helo returned and took us to Lake Hoare, down the valley. There is a Long Term Ecological Research project going on there, and quite a camp. Everyone sleeps in tents, but there is a common area with a kitchen in a little hut, and three laboratory buildings, so it seems pretty developed. We had more coffee there and a quick tour. We learned all about how they use a propane burning outhouse to turn human waste into ashes and thus have a fraction of the original mass to ship out. We also saw their "gray water" (i.e. dishwater, shower water) evaporator and solar panels for power...it was very interesting, but we weren't there long enough for me to really understand how it all worked.

After that we went to Marble Point, a refueling station for the helos. I was thrilled as I talk to them every day and I have had friends there over the past couple of years, but didn't have a clue what it was like. It is a very pretty setting, flat, but near a glacier. By then I was pretty hungry and they fed us pizza for lunch. I had MORE coffee too! After lunch I kind of went into a bit of a trance with all of the food in my tummy and the lack of sleep...but I was still awake! We flew to the Upper Victoria Valley to visit two scientists at their tent camp. They were camped on a HUGE river delta (from years ago, no river there now) very flat and open. The tall mountains and glaciers all around were spectacular! They were staying in Scott tents and their camp looked so tiny compared to the scenery. What a grand place! I thought it would be amazing to be able to do what they were doing! It was pretty windy there and we all felt the cold as we stood around. Next was the Mackay Glacier...what an AMAZING place!!!!!!! It was BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!!!! A HUGE glacier, with crevasses so big you could almost fly a helo into one! The helo pilots told us it was one of the places where the Imax film on Antarctica had been filmed, and let me tell you, it was a thrill to experience it! The camp itself was on the sea ice where the glacier spilled into the sea. By contrast with the valley we were just at, there was NO wind. I had to take off my coat I was so warm! I just can't describe how amazing that place is! I think I was so dumbfounded I didn't take pictures (DARN). I did get my photo taken with Santa in front of the glacier though! There was a lot of freshly fallen snow from the day before on the ground, and it was like shuffling through crystal sand.

of the sea ice. At the edge of the sea ice is where the open water is...quite often there are lots of penguins that jump up and out to take a rest along the edge, and if you are really lucky you can see whales cruising up and down. That day we didn't have very good luck; the ice that had been breaking off of the edge had all been blown up against the edge, and so there wasn't a lot of open water, just a lot of brash ice. We set down and watched a group of Adelie penguins swimming and jumping in and out of the water, but didn't get close to any emperor penguins (they are my favorite). We didn't see whales either. It was very surreal looking out at all the broken up ice out there and knowing we were on the edge!

The last place we visited was Explorers Cove, kind of at the mouth of Taylor Valley where we had started out in the morning. I was definitely fading at that point, and was quite grateful for a small swallow of coffee. We were out of time as the helo had to be back to McMurdo so the maintenance crew could tune it up and then take off for Christmas Eve, so the visit was very short! I wasn't supposed to take the coffee, but I NEEDED it! We arrived in McMurdo feeling really happy. It had been a VERY nice day, and that is something I will always remember as long as I live!

I went to dinner, and then took a shower and got ready for the big Christmas Eve party. Every year ASA cleans out the big garage where heavy machinery is maintained (the "heavy shop") and invites the entire station to come to a party. We all receive personally addressed invitations! People try to dress up (the invitation says "attire: the best you can do"!) and it is very nice. They have eggnog and champagne, a huge buffet, and I think almost everyone tried to show up for a little while. This year five people in the Navy formed a brass quintet, and they came and played Christmas carols, so that was a special touch. I like that party as it is not loud or obnoxious; you can carry on a conversation. It was amazing to see a lot of faces I hadn't seen before, and there were too many people there I wanted to talk to! At about 10:30pm I finally realized that I was conked out, it had been over 30 hours since I had had any sleep! What a way to make the BEST of the time here; I really had a FULL day on Christmas Eve!

Today (Christmas) was my day off, and I am glad, otherwise I would have had to go to work at midnight again last night! I got up at 9:30 and called my current ski partner. He brought coffee up to me, and I woke up eventually. We got ready and set out to ski the Castle Rock Loop at 11am. It was an overcast day, and no one was out and about (guess too many people had had too much eggnog the night before!). The snow was great, about 3-5" deep with a delicate crust on top. When we got up to Castle Rock we were in the middle of a cloud which was very quiet and mysterious, reminding us of home. The definitions were terrible, everything was white. You couldn't see bumps, inclines or holes. It made for some floundering in the deep snow. It was fun though! At the bottom of the hill we found a friend who had watched our comedy of errors all the way down the hill, how embarrassing! The ski on the flats back was good too, but I was feeling very tired and HUNGRY, so keeping up wasn't easy. We walked the road back exercise!

When I got home there wasn't much time as we had a 4pm reservation for eating the Big Meal. It was wonderful and I was starving! I had turkey, FRESH cod, mashed potatoes, stuffing, asparagus in hollandaise, green salad with avocados and bell peppers, and some fudge! I found out there were no midrats (midnight rations), so I took some fruit salad, a prime rib sandwich and some cookies for later in the night when I had to go to work. I had a chance to take a couple of hours to nap, and now I am back at work again. Everyone in McMurdo will get today off too, but I feel like I have had an outstanding holiday and don't mind coming in to work at all.