Crosscountry skiing! on Christmas Day

My roommate Andy and I took the day off to do some touring of Ross Island. Turns out this island is a lot bigger than it first appears. We planned a day of hiking and cross country skiing, and we did a whole day! So now, crosscountry has had one more cross country experience – not that I was good at it, not by any means. Man that is tough. And I picked the longest, steepest, most difficult trail to learn on!

The day started out like many Christmas Days did: with sleeping in. And it was nice. After a late breakfast Andy and I suited up, checked out with the firehouse, and were on our way – the wrong way. I had asked for directions, and Andy referred to a map, but nevertheless we found ourselves on the wrong path. We were next to the giant golf ball – a place we weren’t supposed to be. After climbing the wrong mountain we were able to see the trail we should have taken and made our way over to there. At least the view wasn’t bad.

Andy resting before we even got started.

McMurdo from above. Observation Hill, the tallest thing on station, doesn’t look so big from up here. About here is when I remembered that most of my photos wouldn’t show what I saw. This is a big bummer, but through my sunglasses I was able to capture more contrast and definition, although some were out of focus. Then, with Photoshop I can correct for color some, although some of the tinted shots turned out nicely. I’ll get to those.

Here is one of them. After turning around and putting skis on we started uphill again, albeit much less steep. This is what we saw.

The second is blurry, but you can see another golf ball thing, and behind it is one of the nicer views of the trans Antarctic mountains. These things are stunning. Thankfully I took a lot of photos so some could turn out nicely.

We were going uphill, on my first skiing adventure, and it was slow going. Andy paused for me to catch up and catch a breath. We kept shooting pictures though. Another closer version from earlier

Then some action shots

This last one is of an “apple”. It was put up there to help stranded hikers in a storm. Inside you’ll find blankets, cots, sleeping bags, stove and fuel, plus emergency rations. There was even a phone! Saving people here isn’t like doing so in the States, especially in bad weather.

After this break we crested the hill and saw the most beautiful view: the one we worked for. Between us and Mt. Erebus was Castle Rock, the destination and namesake of our trail. I’ll let the picture speak for itself.

I took a LOT of those, almost none came out right. This is what I was fighting with.

Castle Rock is pretty neat itself. It’s volcanic, just like the rest of the island, and it contains several types of rock. It stands at the peak of our trail, we were sweating from the workout, and we wanted to climb it. Just for the view of course 😀

First we had to get there. Another group caught up to us, they were hiking and supposed to be slower. Oh well, I was learning. Also we had a nice view of Williams Field where a lot of our work takes place. It is on Ross Ice Shelf just south of McMurdo Station. Planes with skis are allowed to fly there. Just wait till I show you pictures of a C130 with snow skis taking off! And lastly was the second Apple, aptly double in size to the first one.

Castle Rock turned out to be pretty big, and even the snow hike to get to its base was pretty steep. You can see the Kiwi PistenBull sloping on the hill. Seems they wanted to do some climbing and skiing too.

Here are some pictures of Andy and Castle Rock and then one of me. You can’t tell, but Erebus is behind me some tens of miles.

Again, we were surrounded by beauty. With Erebus to our North, the Ice shelf to our South and east, and the Trans Antarctics to the west with a frozen sea between us, we had no bad views. These mountains capture my attention every time I see them. I wish the were easier to photograph

The trip back was slightly more eventful. It was downhill for the most part and, again, very steep. I was afraid to ski on that steep slope. Even earlier I had lost a ski on a slight decline and it got ahead of me by about 50 yards. So while Andy slalomed back and forth I sat on my skis and slid feet first down the hill. And it was fun. With my YEE HAW I barreled down the hill. Eventually the skis got away and left me on the hill. They kept going. This time wasn’t so bad, so I tried again, but after my Yee Haw and eventual fall the ski didn’t stop. It kept going down the hill, farther and farther away. Besides going the wrong way to start off this was the longest delay in our return. It took me a long time to find that ski – I bet it traveled almost half of a mile downhill, and it wasn’t on the path either, which worried me cause we’re not supposed to leave the path for danger of crevasses. I got it back and we continued down hill. At one point it was too steep, and we were close enough to the bottom to lose the skis, so Andy and I sledded down on our butts again. That was pretty fun.

Finally at the bottom we were on level ground. Where the path meets the ice shelf the Kiwis have made a nice ski slope. We stopped to admire their ability and grab a quick breather. It was a hot day, and we ended up taking off all but the last layer of clothes. Maybe it wasn’t actually hot, but with no wind, lots of sun, thermal clothes, and exercise it sure can fell that way.


I really like this photo. It’s a combination of the sunglasses and photoshop, so the color is a little off, but everything is just right for it to be cool.

And a couple of the Kiwis.

You can kind of see what I’m talking about with the processing. The second almost looks like a sunset.

We were tired by this point and trudged on. At least the ice was flat, but now it was too slippery and proper skiing was not as easy. I ended up just pushing with my arms and poles for some of the time. Finally after a 1.5 mile hike we were back on station. I don’t know the final distance, but it was approximately 10 miles with the middle 7 on skis (either on my feet or under my butt)

Before Checking in and heading to the Christmas Dinner, one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time!!!, Andy and I stopped for a couple photos. It was a great day, and I finally got to do some recreation/exercise. As tired as I was it was quite refreshing.

And lastly, the link to all the photos. This time there were a lot I didn’t put in, but they are nice.

Hmmmm

I’ve gotten behind.  But, the good news is that we’re finishing up a big phase of our project tonight and installing it tomorrow. That means I can get something typed up for you tomorrow evening!  There are plenty of pictures, so no worries – except of course that some are over exposed or out of focus (through the sunglasses).

Keep your eyes open, it’ll be soon. 😀

Ice Camping

Wow. So it’s been a couple of days. What has happened huh? I’ve had some pretty neat experiences since last posting. First off I want to apologize for not posting pictures, I think I mentioned before that most of my pictures were lost due to a bad (new) memory card. This tells us something about testing equipment before taking it into the field!

I think you’ll find it was worth the wait; so, without further ado something special: Every first year person down here has to go through what they call a camp they like to call “Happy Camper”. It is really a survival/emergency training that takes us from the very basic things to the more advanced blizzard training. I wouldn’t say that now I’m qualified to be some Antarctic guide, but at least given a survival kit and some tools I could manage a for a bit while awaiting a rescue – not that I’ll be in a position to be rescued.

First is some class room time where they introduce us to the equipment: tent, shovel, yada, yada, ice pick, snow saw, emergency rations… Things you’ll need in the deep field. The class was a combination of survival training and that for camping in Antarctica. Pretty soon we were in a “Delta” headed down to the sea ice. This vehicle is a beast; even the wheels are almost as tall as I am. From the drop off point it was a hike to our I-hut, or information hut, where we were briefed on what was coming up. Our guide/instructor was quite good with a wealth of information. I learned plenty from him, and I realized there were others basically starting from scratch, so it was great for everyone.

Here is some of the group, unloading, and Dylan, our leader.

Our I-Hut and learning the MSR stoves.

After an introduction to our equipment the “Ski-130” dropped off our field equipment like we might do for a real trip, and we were off making camp. First were the big Scott tents, big 4 sided pyramids. Second was the mountain tents, stuff like most of us have used before, and then we did some snow sculpting. That included cutting snow blocks to make a wall and then shelters.

Plus there was always time for scenery. This picture below is of Mt. Erebus, the southernmost active volcano in the world. Erebus is on the same island as McMurdo, where we are doing our research, and our camp was near the base of the mountain where it meets the “water”. This photo isn’t the best, not even close, but sequentially it fits.

It is a beautiful sight, and only visible when you leave McMurdo. I took a lot of photographs of it, but only some turned out okay. It turns out that snow is a VERY bright reflector and there is no contrast on top of overexposing everything.

I tried to take pictures of the walls, caves, and miscellaneous things we built from the snow blocks, but the images didn’t turn out. In this one there is a 3 foot wall midway between the flags and the tents. It’s part of photography down here. The second picture has both a kitchen and an emergency shelter, a trench, but it’s not really possible to see what I’m talking about. Plus our instructor is there being fearless or something. In the third picture there is evidence of a wall only because the guy on the right has no legs.

I tried to get a couple of Black Mountain, the prettiest seen from McMurdo. I have a better one around somewhere. It’s a nice sight though.

And again with Mt. Erebus. I got the idea of taking a photo through my sunglasses when I took them off and was blinded. It’s bright here even at midnight. You can see me and some of the volcano.

And then was dinner. One of the guys made a picnic table for us. It was nice that we could all sit around and talk. Dinner was freezed dried black bean chili or something alfredo. Neither were 5 star meals, but we ate plenty. Also we had hot chocolate or tea, plus plenty of candy bars and things to keep us going. During dinner we got a buzz from the friendly neighborhood helicopter pilot who likes to play jokes on the “newbies”.

I caught some photos again of the scenery. It didn’t change much – we were there for 24 hours, but the sun never got lower, just went around us – so the shadows were the only difference throughout the day.

Here’s some of our group in front of Erebus, a big and quickly moving glacier, and sea ice as far as you can see.

Right after dinner it got real windy, and that wind takes away your heat fast. Everyone went to bed within a few minutes. I had chosen to sleep in a trench. It was comfortable but not spacious. I stayed plenty warm, and it was darker inside than any of the tents or many other shelters. In front of the glacier in the above picture you can see a small dome. This is a shelter where some people slept. Mine didn’t show on the surface that much, but it was quite deep. There was just a hole to enter though.

It wasn’t snowing actually, but the wind was very strong which made it seem so. After going to bed I found my new bedroom quite nice. Thankfully I did two things though. One was I put a snow door over the hole, and 2 was I left a shovel outside the entrance. Since I was below ground and it was windy, the entrance filled with snow. In the morning I awoke to this.

The door and bag blocked most of the snow from coming in, although not all of it. Also the shovel marked the entrance. This was nice because my buddy Ben was able to find me. According to him, only the end of handle was sticking above the snow. He used that as a guide to dig me out!

Then this morning after breakfast and breaking down camp we did some more survival training. First was a scenario where we our plane blew up and we were left with 10 people and only enough equipment for 2. What could we do? Well, we made a small camp and then shelter for everyone. We did have a radio, so that was good. It was pretty neat using the HF radio. From here we could reach operators at the South Pole nearly 1000 miles away. And lastly, to simulate a white out blizzard, some of us were asked to put white buckets on our heads and perform a search and rescue of 2 lonely souls. Eventually we found them, but not before some hilarity.


Yes, he is actually throwing snowballs at their bucket-heads.

We all made it back a little more prepared for the worst. Of course I’ll never see the worst, but the experience was a lot of fun overall and quite educational. More soon I promise. I’ve actually got some pictures ready to upload.

And lastly the entire album of photos. Most are here though.

Antarctica!!!

We arrived safely on Friday to McMurdo Station on Ross Island.  It is a beautiful place, and there is no lack of ice.  I want to save most of the description until I can post pictures, but among the most remarkable things is Mt. Erebus smoking silently in the background.  On the opposite side, South, there are about 30 miles of perfectly flat sea-ice followed by the Trans-Antarctic mountains.  These majestic beauties are something to behold, and I will never get tired of staring at them.   The sights here are stunning.

Something else that catches your attention immediately is that the sun moves very slowly around a big circle in the sky.  It never sets, and this time of year it almost doesn’t even change height.  Since temperatures are only a little below freezing this gives me the feeling of a permanent Texas Winter morning with bright sun, visible breath, and crisp air.  It’s actually really dry here, and staying hydrated is only a little more important than not being sunburned.  The food is bountyful and good.  In fact with the computer access, telephones, store, and more, there is very little here that could be called “roughing it.”  I haven’t left McMurdo much yet though, so things will chance, especially when I have to sleep in the snow for survival training.  That starts Tuesday.
Oh, and believe it or not staying warm is NOT one a problem.  For this location I definitely brought way too much warm clothing.  In fact staying cool is more difficult since all of the buildings are heated.  I find a wind breaker over a long t-shirt is plenty.  Even my 10 pairs of wool socks are overkill.  Sunglasses are a must, it’s bright, really bright – all day long.  Even after midnight they’re important.  Sleeping hasn’t been too bad, but I wear those eye covers they give you in airplanes to keep the light down.  Last night was Saturday night, and there were a few partys.  It is odd to see everyone “going out” when the sun is so high in the sky.  I’ve heard that upon returning to a more normal latitude it will be odd for me to re adjust to the dark, and trees, and animals, and people, and …

I hope to upload the pictures sometime soon.  They still need to be sorted and uploaded.  One problem is that the light is so bright taking photos is problematic, I have to put sunglasses over my camera lens.  And I want to show the best ones since the scenery won’t change much for a while – can’t have you thinking I take bad pictures or that there is nothing to see here – it is definitely beautiful.  Ok, back to work.

ChristChurch, New Zealand

This is a lovely town. The people are very friendly and helpful, the food is delicious, the weather – at least today – is beautiful, and there are parks everywhere. It’s not a big town with less than 100k, I hear, and you can really tell. There is never a lot of traffic, and it doesn’t take long to get from one place to another even by walking. There are still things to do though with several brew pubs and lots of arts/crafts. Christchurch is definitely a worth destination for any vacationer. You’ve already seen the business part of the trip with clothes selection, so how about some pictures of the scenery?

First some sights around town. One of the gardens and of the Cathedral and down town. It’s all very pretty.

Two days ago Jamin took me around to some neat places. We went shopping for last minute things and dodged rain drops. I found a place to rent a motorcycle for when I get back and a travel agent to maybe book a flight to Sydney. We stopped by a brew pub famous around here called Dux Delux. The fish is great, and the beer is better. Of course we were so tired it only took one beer before it was time to call it quits. That night was cloudy so there were no stars to see.

I almost forgot the coolest bookstore ever. Jamin showed it to me, and he was right to take me there. The store had been on the same street since 1840 and in the same building since the 1940s. It was quite unique. I loved the old, worn books, ladders, and decorations. The owners were very friendly and told us the story of the store. Very nice.

They even had three stuffed Kiwi Birds. The birds are protected now, but these stuffings have been around for a long time. Two of the three species and a Kiwi Crossing sign.

Yesterday the two of us and Scott got together for some souvenir shopping plus more walking around town. Of course beer and food, fish and chips this time, were important, and later we relaxed before the evening. Last time Jamin was here he became friends with the Bed and Breakfast owners, so again this year he stayed there. They invited us to join them for dinner in Lyttelton which is across the mountains and on a harbor. It’s a neat/funky town. The mountains, if you can call them that, are volcanic, so of course our restaurant is called “The Volcano”. Food was good albeit a little slow, but we enjoyed each other’s company and the nice setting inside.

Here are some views of the mountains and then the city.


And some more of the restaurant inside and out. It was a neat place.

I had Lamb Rack with mint jelly, asparagus, carrots,and potatoes. Dinner was delicious and our table had a blast.

Later we stopped by a bar/club with live music. The band was three piece: guitar, violin, and 5 string banjo. They were great! I bought a cd to listen to later on. The place is called Wunderbar, kind of like the bar on campus in Stuttgart, but instead of being beneath a building, it was on the top floor with a great view. From there I got my first view of the stars. In the photo you can see brighter Venus above and to the right of Jupiter. If this looks awful strange, that’s cause it’s reversed. I knew that before coming down, but it didn’t settle in until I saw Orion upside down. That was a sight! Sirius was almost directly overhead, and I just couldn’t figure out what it could be – so bright and overhead. Well, things are different down here. Still no sighting of the southern cross or either of the Magellanic Clouds, maybe tonight or in January.

We didn’t get back to the hotel till after 11:30, and I still had to pack. Our pickup time was 4:30, and that came too early. Tomorrow is the same. After sitting on the runway for several hours, even deboarding and reboarding once, they sent us home. I’m back at the hotel in a t-shirt with the windows open rather than wearing that winter gear you see below. I’m exhausted, and we have to do the same procedure again tomorrow.

Here are a couple of the C17 we’re taking down there. It’s a BIG plane and full of cargo. Tomorrow there will be more people too, if we get to go.

Oh, by the way, Christchurch in Cadbury County – you know the place where they make the eggs? Well, the chocolate is fantastic, and I’ve enjoyed sampling a little at a time. 😀 Right now I’m savoring a chocolate covered peppermint chew. It looks like a candy bar but is chewy.

And all the photos to look at.

Flight to New Zealand

We made it here safely with some good news. We’ll have an extra day in Christchurch before heading down to McMurdo. This is nice because, as you can imagine, we’re pretty exhausted from traveling. The flight was uneventful except for my hand carry, the gravitymeter. Security personel don’t like to see large metal boxes with batteries and cables all around it. But it went smoothly.

The trip took a long time, and upon arriving in New Zealand I had hoped to see some of the countryside from above, but alas -it’s raining here. This is all I’ve seen of the country besides the city streets (which are gorgeous)

And here is Jamin, Scott, and I with all of our luggage. As you can see we carried a lot.

Lastly we tried on clothes. See if you can find me in this picture.

And lastly, as always, all the photos in a link.

I’m leaving for the airport soon, but I have enough time and want to take the opportunity to express my excitement. Traveling is no stranger to me, and it’s always new and exciting now matter where I go, but this is something different. This time I’m going farther away to a more alien place than I’ve ever known. Beside that one thing sets this trip apart from all the others: this one is for work. I have tasks to perform and a goal to reach. This is no tour although there will be time to relax and take it all in.

Normally when I set out for several weeks or months I get two responses: be careful, and have a good time. I heard those things this time, but far more often I heard, “take lots of pictures,” and, “don’t die!” I see your priorities are on the pictures, if I come home that’s good too. 😀

Below you can read about this massive list of things I had to do. And as time got closer that list actually got longer. Thanks to my mom insisting we go shopping last week and a fortunate delay in my departure, I was able to get everything done. Today was just packing, but the last 4 days were pretty rough with final exams to take and getting all the equipment ready to take down there not to forget my normal duties. There is even enough time to write this post.

Normally I write about fun things, and hopefully the tone of my posts is more upbeat. I guess today it takes on more of a somber tone. Don’t worry, this is no change, I’m just trying to get it all out clearly. One thing that’s nice about making a pre-trip post is that I get to go back and read it afterward to enjoy and reflect.

So how excited am I? If you didn’t know already I’m expounding with excitement! All week I’ve laid in bed thinking how cool this is. Even faced with being tired all day I’ve spent probably a good 1o hours just laying there in the dark smiling and imagining what I’m going to see.

In case you don’t know already here is my itinerary: Leave December 7th at 1PM. Fly to Dallas then Los Angeles today. Tonight I’ll get on the plane to New Zealand where I’ll land on December 9th in the morning. It takes a little over 27 hours to get there counting all the lay overs and customs and the like. Since they’re 16 hours ahead, I’ll land almost 2 days after leaving Austin. Once in Christ Church I’ll immediately pick up my Antarctic gear including warm jackets, boots, thermal underwear, and more. Normally we’d plan for some time in CHC, but because of my delay (good here, bad there) I’ll only have part of a day to get things in order. We leave there at 5AM the next day barring any weather delays. So December 10th I should arrive “on the ice” as they say. Dec 10th is my “ice date.”

The first couple days will be learning my way around and unpacking all of our equipment. Then it’s 2 days of survival training where I learn to live outside should anything bad happen. I think they give you a shovel to make an ice shelter. Then it’s work, lots of work. We’ll work till Christmas Eve when hopefully the plane will be ready to fly. Between then and January 4th or so we plan to take test flights with the equipment fully setup. This gives us time to make sure things are functioning before the real science begins. I hope to be on a couple of those flights. Then on January 6th, while several guys take the plane across the continent to Australia’s base, Casey, I fly back to New Zealand where I begin vacation. I’ll share time between there riding Motorcycles and possibly in Australia where I have friends. Then approximately January 20th I come home. This is the plan, but my flights are flexible, so we’ll see how much energy and money I have at that point.

Who all is going on this trip? From the University of Texas there are two Primary Investigators: Don Blankenship and Jack Holt made all this happen. These two are my advisers. Also there are two support staff, I say support, but these guys (along with Tom Richter who is not going this year) make everything happen. Scott Kempf is in charge of anything computer related, and “Gonzo.” I can’t for the life of me remember his last name. He’s the packing guru and along with me will do a lot of physical labor. Then there are three students going: Jamin Greenbaum, Dusty Schroeder, and myself. We are hear working on research for our Doctorates.   And lastly there are two guys from the University of Edinbourough in Scottland. I know very little of them, but their names are Martin Seigert and Andy. Martin is the British counterpart of Don and has graciously funded a large portion of the project. Andy is doing a post-doc under Martin.

Wow, this got a lot longer than I planned. Very soon I hope to put pictures that we will all enjoy.