How to get to Antarctica, the easy way…?

So despite a very nearly successful attempt to do something different this year – the ice sirens would not go unheard. This time I am heading to the “Deep Field”of Byrd Field Camp as the Heavy Equipment Operator (HEO)!

At 80°S, 119°W, and 1553 m elevation Byrd is in the heart of Marie Byrd Land, named for the wife of Admiral Byrd, the first man to fly over the South Pole in 1929. Established in 1956 by the US Navy it was in continual year-round use until 1972 when it became a summer-only field camp. After being abandoned in 2005 it was reopened and now operates as a support station for activity in West Antarctica. This year there will only be 3 of us running the camp – the Camp Manager, a Field Support Coordinator, and Heavy Equipment Operator. Both the manager and coordinator are women – which for now at least makes us the only all-women camp 🙂

It will be much smaller than in previous years, but the website gives a comprehensive picture of the facilities and camp life during previous austral summers. The Antarctic Sun did a story a few years back on Byrd – some interesting tidbits and a good map:

Though there will only be the three of us there for the full season we will rarely be alone. In addition to fuelies*, carps*, and flight crews, Byrd will be the home base for the Pine Island Glacier (PIG) Traverse, some excursions to the nearby WAIS Divide camp, and also a science group coming out for several weeks to do aerial surveys in the area via Bassler plane.

(Positions in the Fuels and Waste department are affectionately and all but formally referred to on-ice as “Fuelies” and “Wasties.” “Carps” refers to carpenters. More terminology and explanation for slang and acronyms can be found on the Acronyms page at the top of this blog)

Wikipedia has a good summary of the Byrd field camp history:

With the Raytheon to Lockheed transition there are lots of changes underway in the organization and operation of the US Antarctic Program. I’ve heard quite a lot of frustration from friends getting ready to deploy this year. Perhaps the key is to just wait till the VERY last minute to get hired…I went from getting an offer to getting my tickets (to training in Denver at least) in 3 days. I’m sure this was not very nice for the folks in Denver, but it’s all moved quite smoothly on my end. Still, it takes some flexibility to undertake the acrobatics required to make it through each one of the flaming hoops of paperwork joy. I have spent hours printing, signing, initialing, filling in, scanning, organizing/renaming, attaching, and emailing the dozens forms…acknowledging risks and hazards, agreeing to appropriate behavior and conduct, signing away my life…

I am also hoping to winter this year at the South Pole, so the next two weeks are chock full of training for OSHA, fire fighting, emergency medicine, stress management, and the multitude of appointments to complete the PQ process to be medically cleared to deploy.

I won’t lie – getting a job in Antarctica can be hard, but getting cleared to actually do it is even harder. If you can make it to the ice you can make it through the season 🙂


Filed under Antarctic, Field Camps, History

2 responses to “How to get to Antarctica, the easy way…?

  1. Stress management needed just to fill out the paperwork I bet! Glad to see you are back online looking forward to following another season

  2. Bonnie Foz

    Marie, I am DELIGHTED for you! If it took you only 3 days to get it together, it must have taken less than 3 Seconds for you to decide! How thrilling, and a hearty CONGRATULATIONS for being offered the job. I have no doubt you’ll pass the rigorous requirements. Looking forward to your followup emails. Love, Bonnie

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