Journal report from Terry Trimingham January 22 through January 29, 1994

It is the last weekend in January already! Only a few more weeks and I will be leaving McMurdo.

January 22 was the last time I had a Sunday off. I had planned to go skiing with my roommate, but she had strained her knees by helping dismantle buildings out at Willy Field and didn't want to go out skiing. They are stripping the buildings out there and plan to get them all ready to drag into McMurdo. I am not sure how many are going to be taken and how many are going to stay, but it won't be the same anymore. Many of the buildings are modular, and they are knocking out the bolts that hold them together so that the individual units can be hauled away. I had a bit of a last-minute scramble to find someone, but ended up going with a friend from two years ago. He had skating skis and so we decided to walk to Castle Rock together and then I skied down the hill while he walked, and then we skied the flats out to Scott Base. The weather was pretty good, and we got very WARM from working so hard to post-hole our way up the hill to Castle Rock. The going was a little slow and very energy-consuming! It was nice and sunny though, and believe it or not we had the whole place to ourselves! The reason was that day was the annual Scott's Hut Race in McMurdo, and I think all the athletic types were back in town participating (it is about a 5-7 mile fun-run).

Monday it was REALLY hard to drag out of bed in the morning! I was VERY relaxed from all the exercise the day before! In the afternoon I went to the greenhouse and met the new winter-over manager for the place. He showed me how to pack planters and start new seeds. The squash is producing now, and there were also green beans in evidence on the vines - it is always nice to go in there and see what is happening.

Tuesday I decided to go for a walk, and went to the top of Ob Hill. It was pretty breezy, but I enjoyed the exercise. You could see the open water at the Dellbridge Islands, which is not far at all...about eight miles? At the bottom of Ob Hill I decided to walk out to Cape Armitage and see if I could see any whales. There is a large area of open water there that has melted out, and often minke whales will spout there. I remember watching them from the top of Ob Hill last year, and one of my friends told me he had seen them again this year. There were no whales in evidence, but I had a nice walk. It was breezy and cold, but pretty. The ground was volcanic out there and very striking...four distinct colors. I took a tiny piece of each kind and have since shown them to a geologist. There are two kinds of lava (black and red, the red has more Fe+3 in it and is oxidized); there is also a volcanic kind of rock that is beige in color, and an unidentified gray rock. I also saw bits and pieces of animal bones bleached white.

When I went to have dinner that night, voile, there was the tanker sitting at the ice pier, along with the icebreaker Polar Sea. After work it was snowing a little, and it is really obvious that the sun is lower in the sky at "night" now. The shadows are longer. Wednesday I went for a little walk and decided to stop in the admin building for VXE6 (commonly called the "Puzzle Palace"). I have never been in that building, and so it was nice to see what is in there. It is old, but very military feeling on the inside. Most of the furniture looks institutional, and the floors are POLISHED, everything is very much in order. There are two floors: the upper one is full of administrative offices, and the lower one has the parachute-rigging shop, and a shop that provides support to the hercs (orders and tracks all the parts, etc). It was very impressive, especially the parachute shop. There were big sewing machines in there, a LONG counter for spreading out the parachutes and checking them, all kinds of equipment. The entire place was SPOTLESS and very professional-looking! It was nice after being at McMurdo for 3 years to go in there and see what there was! I guess I just ASSUMED that someone charges up the radios and checks the parachutes, but didn't think who did it or where it happened! On the way back, I went down to the aquarium to see if there were still fish around. There are still some of the big Antarctic cod to look at, and a number of tanks with smaller fish, sea urchins, sponges, nudibranchs, and assorted other things. This was the first time I had seen clams! There were quite a few small clams in there that looked like what I call a "horse clam", slightly oblong with a thick "neck" protruding. It is always interesting to see what shows up in the tanks!

Thursday I got on a "space available" to go on a one-day snowcraft course. This trip goes to "Room With A View", a site on the lower flank of Mt. Erebus. It is mainly a modified course for people staying the winter (you learn how to set up a radio, light a stove, set up a tent, etc) but it includes learning to travel with snowmobiles. We had about 14 people, and loaded 2 old Nansen sleds (the same kind that the old polar explorers used to use...they are made of wood and lashed together for flexibility in the cold weather) with all kinds of gear. It was snowing and blowing, cold and nasty-looking. The sleds were hooked to snowmobiles and pulled along. Each sled had three passengers and another person in the back to help lean and to apply the brake when stopping. There were four snowmobiles, two towing the sleds, and each one had two people on it. I got to drive one that pulled a sled! It was fun, but VERY cold! We went about 3/4 mile to Silver City, and stopped to get out of the weather. It was then we decided that it was too nasty outside to proceed to Room With a View - you couldn't see ANYTHING, and we would have gotten awfully cold. We ate lunch, learned about radios and stoves, and then came back to McMurdo. Of course, about the time we got back into town the weather started clearing up. I had a good time back in the room knitting on the hat I am making. It is evolving as I go along, and it is kind of fun to see it slowly grow out of the knitting needles. I don't have a pattern or anything, and so it is pretty spontaneous!

Friday I got up early and went to visit the Polar Sea with a friend of mine. He wanted to go buy some T-shirts at the ship store. The ice pier had been off-limits while the tanker was off-loading, but we could see that all the fuel hoses were flat and in the process of being rolled up, and the tanker was sitting very high in the water. We had to cross over the tanker to get to the Polar Sea tied on the outside of the tanker. I had been on the Polar Sea last year when it was here, and sort of remembered the layout. My friend works with the meteorology folks here in McMurdo and their computer system called "Terra-Scan" that pulls down satellite images. While we were on board we were able to meet the meteorologists and see their Terra-Scan and set up. It was very interesting. I saw images of Antarctica and the McMurdo region in specific as seen from the satellite. It was neat to get a birds-eye-view of the sea ice and see how close the open water is from here. They also have it interfaced with GPS (Global Positioning System) and can make maps that track their trips. They showed us the route they took to go to the North Pole last summer in the northern hemisphere as well as the route they took recently to get to McMurdo. I also ran into one of the radiomen that I had met a day or two earlier while he was visiting McMurdo. He gave me a tour of the radio room and it was very impressive too! There was all kinds of equipment, some very old, and some VERY modern! Lots of panels and wires! It was very exciting to see it! Before we left we were able to get up to the bridge and have a look. There are huge windows and a wonderful view from up there. I imagine being out at sea on that ship would be wonderful! They have some mechanical problem at the moment and are awaiting parts. They are unable to break ice, and so are not able to do much. The Polar Star is hovering out in the area too. Its computer system is messed up, and it is not operating at full capacity...unable to break ice either. There is a lot of ice in the harbor still, and it should be gone. Normally the icebreaker is here crunching circles around the harbor for days, and eventually the wind pushes everything out. Last year at this time I remember staring out over McMurdo Sound and watching the orca and minke whales spouting. This year there is only that melt hole I spoke of at Cape Armitage, the rest of the sound is solid-looking and white. There is a cruise ship in the area that is supposed to call in tomorrow (a Russian vessel) but I don't know if they will be able to get in, there is only a narrow channel cut out, and our tanker has to leave. This delay may also cause McMurdo station to close later than normal (we need to have the resupply vessel call in, and it is incapable of breaking out ice on its own).

January 28 was my day off, and I invited a friend to go around the Castle Rock loop. Thank heavens she was psyched to go. The weather looked gray and windy in town; when we got out on the snow and ice it was very cold and there was a lot of blowing snow. We didn't have much of a view, but it wasn't too cold to keep going. At the top of the trail by Castle Rock I was bent over re-tying my boot laces when I heard "oh NO!" and looked up to see one of her skis sliding down the trail. She chased it until it took a turn and went out across an area we know is riddled with crevasses. It came to a stop about 500 yards off the flagged route, but I knew it was too dangerous to try to go get it. Talk about frustrating! Poor thing! She had to walk back down the hill. I put both my skis and her one on my pack and we walked back. It had been snowing when we were up at Castle Rock, but had stopped and the wind is not bad down there on the flats. We stopped at Silver City to have some snacks and then walked back to McMurdo. The last 15 minutes of walking there was a cutting icy tailwind that was VERY biting and it numbed both our backsides!

Today wouldn't you know the weather dawned beautiful and clear, but I have to be in the radio room for 12 hours. I like the weekend shifts as I have the radio room to myself. I have asked to put my name in for a lottery to leave McMurdo on the Greenwave (our resupply vessel). Four ASA folks will be chosen. You have to have been on the ice for 18 months or more. I don't have any expectations on a chance of really doing that...but it is fun to at least try!