Category Archives: Flights

End of Winter

So I’m a bit late on this one – It’s been a bit hectic since I’ve been back! 🙂 The spring crew arrived as scheduled on Feb 16, 2017 and our population jumped from 5 to 13. We were pretty toasty and were pretty excited to see new faces. There were a number of returning staff members and turnover training went smoothly and well.

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Team Science!

Unfortunately, just as we were wrapping up and getting prepped for our flight out the weather closed in. A significant storm locked us down for 4 days, delaying our flight back to Iceland. We all kept busy digging out the new drifting, trying to keep our windows open (as they’re our escape hatches), and training up the new crew.

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Window wells capped with thin snow blocks glow from indoor lights

Eventually the weather broke and the two Twin Otters arrived. We loaded up the planes and headed Southeast towards Iceland. I’d been at Summit from August – February, nearly 7 months overall, in roughly 1 square mile. At the end of a deployment, especially a long one, it’s strange to climb into an aircraft and take off…to see the station that has been our whole world shrink to just a speck on the ice. It’s humbling and a little disquieting, though the rest of the world awaits.

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The East coast of Greenland is absolutely amazing. It is some of the most rugged, isolated, and beautiful terrain I’ve ever seen. Shear walls drop from high peaks to deep valleys while glaciers push over mountain passes and to the sea. There is little human habitation here – just a few settlements on the coast. This is polar bear country.

The sun sank below the mountains just as we left Greenland heading out over the ocean. As darkness fell we noticed auroras in the sky around us. A farewell treat as we headed back to civilization and lower latitudes.

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Sunset over Eastern Greenland

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Auroras, Venus, and the Moon

 

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Farewell Reykjavik, Iceland

 

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Winter

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After 4 days of weather delays the final turnover flight made it to Summit on November first. We unloaded several hundred pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables and various other resupply items then refueled the plane and loaded it up again with bags and passengers. The fall crew had finished their tour of duty and were heading home at last. The rest of the afternoon here on station was mostly spent settling into winter rooms and unpacking the fresh food and supplies.

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Freshies!

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The walk in refrigerator, aka “freshie shack,” stocked up for winter with fruits, vegetables, and dairy. It is cooled with outside air and warmed with heat reclaimed from the generators (a little electric heater on the far wall augments heating when temps get super cold)

Fresh food, aka “freshies”, is a big deal in the polar programs. A few stations (such as the South Pole) have green houses and are able to grow some fresh food, but most stations do not have such facilities. As with everything else, freshies must be shipped in from elsewhere. For McMurdo and field camps these come from New Zealand. Here in Greenland it depends on the season – in the summer (Apr-Aug) we get supplies via LC-130s with the NY Air National Guard out of New York state, so food and cargo can be shipped directly from the US. In the winter the hercs are deployed to Antarctica and so for the few crew turnover flights (Oct and Feb) we rely on chartered Twin Otters from Iceland.
Even a few minutes’ exposure to extremely cold temperatures will blacken banana skins and wilt lettuce so freshies from Iceland are sent up in styrofoam boxes to prevent freezing while being transported to and from the plane. We won’t get any flights until February so the freshies we get at the Oct turnover are it – We have to make them last as long as possible. Lettuce goes the fastest and there isn’t much we can do to preserve it so we try to eat that first. Cabbage, carrots, potatoes, beets, onions, and squash can last for months and can also be frozen. Even apples, bananas, and oranges will last weeks to months before we are forced to freeze them.

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Earth’s shadow to the North

Now that turnover is complete the station is relatively calm and quiet. We are stocked up with food and fuel and are looking good for the months ahead. Winter is a drawn out marathon compared to the frenetic summer season – there’s less overall to do, but everything takes longer. We won’t get another plane until late February 2017 so it’s just a matter of keeping ourselves alive, the station functioning, and our year-round scientific instruments, such as NOAA’s observatory and ICECAPS, in working order.

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An almost noon sun behind the Big House

It is now officially winter and it’s starting to feel like it. Today the sun rose at 9:13am and will set at 1:20pm, tomorrow it will be 9:22am and 1:12pm…the last sunrise will be on November 14th (www.timeanddate.com/summit). Temperatures are variable, but they are dropping lower and lower. Current conditions here are publicly available at: summitcamp.org/weather. On Thurs evening we reached a new low this season of -52F and with the cold and the dark come auroras!

Welcome to Winter!

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Fall-Winter Turnover

Schedule a plane and you’ll get a storm…or so it seems more often than not!

Our first flight since mid-August was scheduled for Thursday Oct. 20th, but it was delayed a day due to extremely high winds Wednesday evening and into Thursday. We were hunkered down in Con 1 here (see last post) and made the best of it. On Friday morning I woke early to start weather obs. Because we are not an official airport the station supervisor is required to provide current weather observations in METAR form starting 3 hours prior to take off. The flight was scheduled to take off from Akureyri, Iceland at 9am which meant with the 2-hour time change I had to get up at 3:30am to start obs. We only have a handful of flights so that’s fine with me. Thankfully the winds calmed down significantly and the weather looked good. The obs only take 10 minutes or so every hour so I had plenty of time to make a big breakfast for everyone.

Here are a few sample obs:

M BGSM 200750Z 15006KT 9999 FEW100 M27/M30 2992 RMK CLDS DSNT HGT EST SDG/HDG (a beautiful day with 6kn winds, clear horizon, a few clouds at 10,000ft and -27C)

M BGSM 201150Z 150T31KT 0100 -SN BLSN VV003 M22/M24 A2865 RMK 8sc SDN/HDN (a less beautiful day with 30kn winds, 100ft visibility with falling snow and blowing snow, socked in with only 100ft visible vertically, -22C, and no surface or horizon visible)

In the summer we use LC-130 Hercs – big lumbering beasts that can haul thousands of pounds of cargo and dozens of passengers. In the winter however (Sep-Apr in Greenland), the ski equipped Hercs are put to work down in Antarctica and we rely on Twin Otter planes. They are much smaller than hercs, but they can take off and land without much of a skiway and have no temperature limitations. We use them often in the deep field of Antarctica as they do not need a skiway to land.

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On Oct 21st the Twin Otter took off on time and we got everything here ready – fuel tanks were pre-warmed and staged, the skiway was tracked and the flags cleared of frost, baggage/cargo going out had final weights taken and was staged in the SOB, and I switched on our air to ground radios. The Twin Otter stopped at Constable Pynt (Nerlerit Innat in Greenlandic) on the coast of Greenland to refuel and I got a note from the airport there that they were on their way!

When they were about 15min out I got a call on the radio from the plane asking for current weather conditions, confirming outgoing weights, and requesting fuel. We were ready and waiting with the fuel tanks and snowmobiles with sleds at the flight line. The 6 incoming passengers had just arrived from sea level and would not be used to the 10,500ft elevation or the cold. An hour later the incoming passengers were settling into the Big House and the plane was fueled, loaded,

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Training the new science techs

and on its way back to Iceland.

 

The past week has been a whirlwind of training and turning over duties to the new crew. Half of the incoming winter crew has been here in past seasons so that helps tremendously. The other two have a lot to learn, but they have both worked down in Antarctica so they have a good idea of what to expect and are almost fully up to speed. The new energy and enthusiasm is revitalizing.

 

The second flight of turnover was scheduled for October 28th. Unfortunately, while weather here at Summit has been decent, weather in between Iceland and Greenland has been poor and they have cancelled 4 days in a row now. Weather delays like this are not uncommon, but it’s never easy on morale especially with those pax due to leave. This flight is the last one until crew turnover in February. It’s bringing in fresh food and a few resupply items for the winter season and will take out the

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remaining fall crew. Everyone except me is leaving – I’m here through February.

While I don’t have to do any turnover myself I do have to do weather obs until the flight gets here. Now that daylight savings has ended in Greenland I have to get up at 2:30am to start obs…

The Green House looking intense at night

The Green House looking intense at night

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Early dawn and a partial moon at 7am in late October. The structures are the MSF and 50m tower.

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Ice to Ice

Phase II has come to an end. It was a great season and an especially interesting experience with both summer and winter operations. The new crew arrived right on schedule on October 8th via two Twin Otters from Akureyri, Iceland. The following week was a whirlwind of turnover with the new crew: training them on equipment and procedures, reviewing protocols and paperwork, getting them accustomed to the 10,550ft elevation and -30F temperatures and helping them get settled in with all the various idiosyncrasies that make up Summit Station.

On October 16th we officially handed over the reins. Two Twin Otters were scheduled to land just after noon, but the day had dawned with 20-25 knot winds and a fair bit of blowing snow in the air. Visibility was below their minimums with a worsening forecast. Still, the weather in Akureyri, Iceland and in East Greenland was clear and beautiful and they were going to try. As the day progressed we continued to submit hourly weather reports – the Phase III manager doing the observations. I stood by to answer any questions and assist with preparations for the flight. They had off-decked that morning on time, so while we were mentally prepared for them to cancel we also had to be ready to go. As their ETA drew closer the visibility stayed between 300-400 meters. The SOB was barely visible from the Big House.
The first Twin Otter called on the Air to Ground radio when they were about 15 minutes out asking for a current weather observation and confirming that they would attempt a landing. They could see the skiway markers, it was a localized storm, only a couple hundred meters high, and the wind was coming straight down the skiway. The mechanics pulled the loader and fuel tanks out to the taxiway, turning all their lights on to increase visibility, and the science techs readied their snowmobiles to transport freshies to the Big House and pax bags to the plane. We held our breaths and strained to see the plane in the whiteout as they reported over the radio that they had landed safely…”Norlandair 4 is on deck…but, we’re having a hard time seeing the flags, would it be possible to get a snowmobile escort to the fuel pits?” We escorted them in, began fueling, and unloaded the fresh food for Phase III. The pilots were unfazed and friendly. The second plane landed a few moments later without issue.

The first plane fueling with blue sky above

The first plane fueling with blue sky above

Norlandair!

Norlandair!

When we deployed in June 2015 we flew commercially to Scotia, NY where we boarded Air National Guard LC-130 Hercules planes and flew north to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland via Goose Bay, Canada. After a few days in Kanger we continued onwards up to Summit still on the Hercs. Redeploying now in October the LC-130s have flown South leaving Greenland for a period of maintenance before beginning the main summer season in Antarctica. Travelling to and from Summit then is done via Twin Otter – flying East with a quick stop in Constable Pynt on the rugged and isolated coast to refuel and Southward to Akureyri, Iceland.

I’ve never been East of Summit in Greenland and at first it’s the same flat white. The storm is indeed localized, not 15 minutes away the clouds clear and the sastrugi glitters in the sunlight as we cruise above.

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Fair weather just away from Summit

But then darkness appears on the horizon: mountains. Undulations form on the surface and a slope becomes apparent. I can see the ice flowing together and pulling apart, forming a more defined glacier – crevasses gape, indicating an increase in veloIMG_2677city. There’s no scale to show how huge they are. A nunatak appears, the tip of a mountain peaking above the ice. Then more – the ice lowering gradually, revealing mountains. Soon the ice is flowing between rock. Sheer granite walls rise above massive, epic, classic glaciers. Jagged peaks reach to the sky, dribbling rocks down their flanks to the ice below. Perhaps it is simply because I’ve seen only the flat white since May, but it is stunning and I can’t contain my excitement as I move from window to window. The sun is starting to set and the light is beautiful. It’s an inhospitable land: impossible to traverse. Perhaps some lichen or moss exists here, maybe the occasional bird, but there can’t be much else. Precipitous cliffs press against crevasse riddled ice as far as the eye can see. Further on, liquid water appears and the ends of the glaciers crumble into the dark reaches of the fjord. Icebergs! The sun sinks lower, behind the mountains, bathing the landscape in gold and pastel pinks and blues and we begin our abrupt descent to Constable Pynt. Not much more than a landing strip scraped clear of snow and some fuel tanks, it’s a quick stop and then we’re off over the far North Atlantic, heading south now to Iceland.

Inside the Twin Otter - the pilots up front, then the ferry fuel tank (extra fuel for the long flight) and us in the back.

Inside the Twin Otter – the pilots up front, then the ferry fuel tank (extra fuel for the long flight) and us in the back.

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Crevasses

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Constable Pynt, East Greenland

Refueling in Constable Pynt

Refueling in Constable Pynt

Arctic foxes (one white one brown) at Constable Pynt

Arctic foxes (one white one brown) at Constable Pynt

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It’s dark when we land in Akureyri. The town lights gleam and the air is laden with the smell of fall; the sweetness of decaying leaves, the hint of fresh grass and life, the salt from the sea. It’s windy and we couldn’t be happier. The next morning we fly on to Reykjavik and after a long layover, back to the U.S.

Reykjavik Cathedral

The cathedral in Reykjavik, Iceland Oct 17

It was a record fast turnaround for me this year. Less than 48 hours to unpack and repack, take a bath, enjoy some crisp fruits and veggies, then back to the airport. Greenland to Antarctica in less than a week!
This year I’ll be working as an equipment operator on a small traverse shuttling materials from Byrd camp to WAIS Divide. There are no plans for a camp in the near future at Byrd, so much like last season (Pig Diggers, WAS Recovery) it will be a skeleton crew working to return material back to McMurdo where it can be used for other projects. WAIS Divide is a fairly significant camp as far as deep field camps go – a staff of 15 will support a number of science groups operating out of there. Byrd however, will have a crew of just 4; their primary task being to excavate the cargo stored out there and either return it to WAIS Divide via our traverse or fly it back to McMurdo via LC-130 Herc. As far as traverses go ours will be pretty minimal with just two of us driving Tucker Sno-cats over the 100-mile stretch between the two field camps. In the field, far from the main stations, we will have no internet access though we will be carrying satellite phones and a portable HF radio.

Byrd has a long and varied history – from a year-round station to a summer only field camp. The Antarctic Sun did a nice piece on the history of Byrd history: Antarcticsun.usap.gov

I also reviewed some of it’s history back in 2012-13 when I was working as the equipment operator out there for the summer: antarcticarctic.wordpress.com/byrd-surface-camp-2012-13

So thanks for following along this summer! And stay tuned for the next grand adventure…The West Antarctic Support Traverse 2015-16!

Kiwi graffitti

Kiwi graffiti in Christchurch, New Zealand Oct 22

Welcome to Antarctica!

Welcome to Antarctica! Getting off the C-17 in McMurdo, Antarctica on Oct 23

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Summer’s End

Summit (298 of 7)Winter is coming – temperatures are starting to drop and the nights are almost dark. The final flight period is over and summer has officially come to an end.

It was a full season – raising the TAWO building, supporting a number of interesting research projects both large and small, and sending out a bunch of material no longer needed on site. We had 26 LC-130 Herc flights this summer and now the Guard has returned to New York to prepare for the upcoming Antarctic season./static/images/status/weather/weather-tempout-lastweek.png

Now we have closed for winter and there are just six of us left on station: Manager, Mechanic, Heavy Equipment Operator, and three Science Techs (PFS, NOAA, and ICECAPS). We still have HF radio and a satellite internet connection (though still limited bandwidth so no youtube or skype videos). Our next contact with the outside world will be in mid-October when the next crew arrives on a Twin Otter from Akureyri, Iceland. They’ll care for the instruments and station from October through February.

In the meanwhile we have our work cut out for us to winterize the station. Pallets need to be moved to the berm, buildings need to be dragged out away from the main station to limit drifting, and vehicles need to be winterized and parked away from station as well – and everything needs to be flagged and mapped! The winter drifting is unimaginable – huge pallets and whole buildings can disappear beneath drifts of snow. Come spring there’s too much snow to shovel all by hand so heavy equipment is used, however it’s all too easy to destroy things when you’re not exactly sure where every buried item is! So we must flag everything, photograph everything, map everything and hope that any changes are recorded with as much detail as possible.

It’s almost eerily quiet with everyone gone – 19 people left on the last plane. With no cook we’ll each be taking turns cooking, and travel even on station is more tightly controlled. Everyone carries a radio. It won’t get fully dark until November, after we’re gone, but the sun is setting earlier and earlier: tonight it will set at 9:30pm and rise at 3:51am. A week from now it will set at 8:45pm and rise at 4:24am. There have been some beautiful sunsets so far!

So thank you to everyone who participated this summer season!

The Summit Summer Crew

The Summit Summer Crew

The last plane...

The last plane…

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All quiet in the Big House

All quiet in the Big House

Summit (297 of 7)

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Flight Period 4

Herc!

“Down South” (meaning the USAP and Antarctica) flights happen almost daily through the summer season to field camps and Pole. It’s at a bigger scale, more planes involved, more crews. Up here in Greenland we have Flight Periods during which a few hercs at a time fly up to Greenland and complete missions to Summit. This means that we have a week or so of intense flight activity, one or two flights a day, and then a break of 2-3 weeks without any flights at all.

The arrival of an LC-130 Ski equipped Herc is a significant event at Summit. Most of the fuel on station is brought in via plane, so the morning of a flight requires that the mechanic reconfigures our fuel system to receive fuel. The cargo coordinator is busy prepping and staging cargo. The HEO is involved if we plan to use the cargo sled. The field coordinator is busy gathering loose load, helping with the fuel pit reconfiguration and with last minute cargo issues. As the manager, my role is to provide hourly weather observations, aka wx obs, 3 hours prior to the offdeck (the first ob is usually due at 450am). These are sent to a wide group of folks in the US and around Greenland via email and will determine whether the conditions meet the requirements for the flight. The manager also coordinates with the Air National Guard unit based in Kangerlussuaq regarding manifest or schedule changes and relays this to the team at Summit.

Approachway Flags

Approachway Flags

When a plane is in the air we monitor designated HF and VHF channels in the Big House. Once the plane is approximately 30 minutes out we are able to make contact with our air to ground radio and confirm current weather conditions, estimated fuel amounts, and cargo details.

The herc lines up with the skiway and comes in to land, much like on a tarmac runway except there are large skis that sit below the wheels. These can be raised or lowered so they can take off on the tarmac of Kanger and land on our snow skiway. The skiway at Summit is one of the longest in the world – 3 miles long and lined with rows of black flags. Approach flags extend 2 miles off both ends of the skiway. Near the station are the fuel pits and a groomed area marked off by lesser flags, this is the taxiway where the planes park for fuel and cargo operations.

Looking down the skiway at Byrd surface camp in West Antarctica

Looking down the skiway at Byrd surface camp in West Antarctica

Once the plane has landed and pulls off onto the taxiway, the skis are raised to prevent them from freezing to the snow surface. While the plane is on the ground at a cold remote site such as Summit, field camps, and the South Pole – the propellers are left running to circulate fluid and to avoid potential problems from shutting down and restarting the engines. It makes for a very loud and potentially dangerous environment. The propwash is incredibly strong and the exhaust at any point behind the tips of the wings is overpowering so those working behind the plane in the exhaust plume wear fitted respirator masks. When it gets really cold (below -50F or so) contrails form on the ground limiting visibility and restricting cargo operations.

A skier coming in to land at the South Pole - contrails grow pronounced in the very cold.

A skier coming in to land at the South Pole – contrails grow pronounced in the very cold.

On the ground the loadmaster steps off herding the pax if any, away from the props and around the front of the plane. The flight engineer follows and walks around the wingtip to the fueling port while the rear doors of the plane open and cargo offload begins. Our mechanic hauls out the heavy duty fuel hose just under the wing and works with the flight engineer to pump fuel into our bladders and tanks. This flight period we’ve been averaging about 3000 gallons of fuel per flight. Meanwhile cargo is unloaded and loaded onto the plane with loaders or sleds. The Hercs can fit 6 pallets with no pax.

Kitted out for cargo operations

Kitted out for cargo operations

In the office I relay information over two different radios between the flight crew in the plane and the folks on the ground and back to Kanger as necessary. Often the pilots will want updated wind speeds and altimeter readings or forecasts from Kanger.

“Summit Station, Skier 71”

“Skier 71, Summit, Go ahead”

“Summit, what is your current wind and altimeter please?”

“Skier 71, wind is one eight zero at zero seven knots, altimeter is three

zero zero seven”

“Copy all and can you relay to Sonde our ETD Summit is 1330 zulu?”

“Affirmative”

Loading a LC-130 at Pole

Loading an LC-130 at Pole

I log all operations, communications, fuel numbers, and pallets loaded with their weights and dimensions, watching as I can from the Big House office. The planes are often on the ground for an hour to an hour and a half, though it’s a fast hour.

The Big House office comms suite...

The Big House office comms suite…

Once they depart there’s a weight off of everyone’s shoulders. Folks get busy cleaning up – reconfiguring our fuel system to transfer fuel between tanks and bladders, checking in and delivering cargo, grooming the skiway as needed, delivering baggage, and orienting passengers new to Summit.

The whiteboard of Summit. Flights, projects, to dos, population...

The whiteboard of Summit. Flights, projects, to dos, population…

With cargo and fuel operations completed any departing pax are ushered onto the plane and they prepare to depart. On skiways, especially here at Summit, being at 10,550ft and with summer temperatures as warm as 25F, taking off can be a bit of a challenge. Soft sticky snow, thin air, heavy loads…all of these can result in a futile “slide.” The plan taxis back onto the runway and gives it a good go – engines gunned, props spinning, snow flying up behind the skis…they rush down the runway with all eyes on station watching for the moment they offdeck. Often they just can’t get enough speed and at the end of the skiway they feather the props, slow, and turn around for another go. They gun it again, the sound washing over the station…props spinning, snow flying up in a cloud behind the plane, binoculars are out and folks are pressed against windows and on the decks, holding their breath. This time the front ski lifts…a little more…and the back skies are off the snow – we have an offdeck! Someone shouts over the radio “the skier is offdeck!” and I log it in my records and send out a notice to the wider group that the skier is headed off.

We’ve had good luck this flight period – almost no slides. The most I’ve seen here at Summit is 11 tries…at that point they had unloaded most of the cargo and even taken on some of the fuel they just delivered. The fewer slides the better. The earlier in the day the colder…the better.

Flight days are long and sometimes stressful, but they’re exciting too and it’s always good to see retro cargo leave and to receive mail and freshies! Today’s flight was the last of this flight period. We sent off 19 pax leaving just 11 of us here on station.

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“The PIG Diggers”

Our crew's sticker (a field camp tradition) The WAS Recovery Team has returned victorious and with smiles on our faces yet! To quote our project manager announcing the successes of the season: “…The Pine Island Glacier (PIG) Traverse arrived back at WAIS Divide field camp yesterday afternoon, Sunday January 25th NZDT, completing the full return of ~ 90,000 pounds of camp infrastructure and equipment from the PIG C site. The excavation of the buried equipment and cargo by the 4-person recovery team prior to the arrival of the traverse proved critical to the success of this effort.” We had a great season in the field, making it to all three sites: PIG, WAIS, and Byrd. We had no internet access out there, only an HF radio and two iridium phones. So let me start at the beginning… On November 19, after several weather delays, we finally boarded a LC-130 Herc and departed McMurdo for WAIS Divide. The first day at WAIS was spent digging out the PIG Traverse berm and sorting our cargo into first and second flight loads for the Twin Otter. We put-in at PIG on the 21st with the Twin Otter making two trips – first with some of our cargo and then a second flight with the four of us and more of our survival supplies.

The Twin Otter loaded down with our gear and cargo

The Twin Otter loaded down with our gear and cargo

Coming in for the landing at PIG

Coming in for the landing at PIG

PIG_20141121_15 A deep field put-in requires shelter, comms, and a heat source before the plane is allowed to leave. We had delegated tasking beforehand and the Scott tent was erected right away, McMurdo Operations (MacOps) was called on the Iridium phone, and our little whisper-lite stove was fired up to prove we could melt snow for water.  The Twin Otter pilots said their good byes and headed back to WAIS. Thankfully it was a calm and beautiful evening and we spent the next few hours settling in. I dug an outhouse trench and set up a little tent over it. Andy, our mechanic, got busy digging out and setting up the Nordic diesel drip stove which was wonderfully right at the surface of the snow on the PIG berm. DeVal, our camp manager, and Jen, the field coordinator, quickly excavated some proper floor panels from the berm and began shaving down a level area where we could set up the larger more comfortable Arctic Chief tent. Scott tents are great shelter – they are sturdy, but there isn’t much insulation and they’re quite small for a primary shelter.

Town set up

Town set up

By midnight that first night we had the Scott tent and the Arctic Chief up with the Nordic stove burning and a big pot of snow on top to melt. We sat in a circle and ate our dehydrated dinner packets then rolled out our sleeping bags and slept side by side on the floor. The next day we set up our individual mountain tents (Mountain Hardwear Trango’s) and unpacked and organized the rest of our food and cargo. Then it was time to get down to business…

The berm, buried to the top in places…

The berm, buried to the top in places…

Pine Island Glacier is located near the coast of West Antarctica – from the air you can just see a dark line that is the ocean and on a clear day on the ground you can see two little mountains peaking over the horizon. For the most part though it is flat white with awful weather, even by West Antarctic standards. Being so close to the ocean we were visited by a few South Polar Skuas and Snow Petrels! This area gets significant accumulation and it had been two years since the camp was closed and the cargo bermed. The satellite photo I posted earlier showed the cargo lines fairly clearly which was encouraging and some pallets were quite scoured. The Tucker however, was almost completely gone, with just a few inches showing above the surface!

Andy surveying the Tucker

Andy surveying the Tucker

We marked out the area to be cleared and fired up the chainsaws. The snow there is heavy and hard, more like sandstone than snow at times! Shovels worked great for the first half meter and for cleaning up edges and the bits thrown out by the chainsaws, but the chainsaws were really the star of the show. And the pick axes. The blocks were heavy too, the snow being about 50% water. Blocks were cut, heaved to the lip of the pit, and then loaded onto little sleds and dragged out of the way downwind. We did this in part to keep the working area around the pit clear and also to reduce drifting as we would eventually have to dig up buried items on either side of the Tucker as well. It took 5 days to fully clear the Tucker; to excavate around and under the vehicle, chip out the ice in the tracks, and melt out the engine and cab. And then we connected the battery and…it fired right up without a hitch and I drove it out of the hole! PIG_20141123_47

Making the first ramp cuts

Making the first ramp cuts

Hauling blocks downwind

Prying out blocks and hauling them downwind

It seemed to go a lot quicker once we were working our way down the machine itself!

It seemed to go a lot quicker once we were exposing new parts along the machine itself!

DeVal looking epic

DeVal looking epic

Nearly there!

Nearly there!

On November 28 we celebrated Thanksgiving, sleeping in and indulging in frozen corn and stuffing mix. With perfect timing the weather closed in and for the next two days we were stuck inside as the storm raged – filling in the giant Tucker hole we had just cleared. Then we started digging out the Cat 297 and fuel tank following the same process as the Tucker. 4 days later we drove that out of the ground and got to work digging out the other pallets of cargo. Just a few days after that we were hit again with another storm. And so it went…digging, sawing, and chipping out pallets of cargo, then when we’d reached a good stopping point a storm would roll through and we’d hunker down in the Chief. Old Star Trek movies proved to be a good source of entertainment and conversation.

The 297 almost ready to go

The 297 almost ready to go

Our in-house theater

Our in-house theater

Meanwhile, back at WAIS the PIG Traverse was working hard to get their sleds and tractors together and in working order. This far from McMurdo all fuel is brought in via LC-130s. Delays and cancellations meant that the WAIS Divide camp was low on fuel itself with none to spare for the traverse. So the PIG Traverse had to make a trip out to Byrd to fill their fuel bladders and on December 17th they finally headed our way. It was perfect timing, delays and all – On the 20th we unearthed our final piece, the groomer. We had been dreading this skeleton of metal, which would be rocked in hard with ice and snow. Big square things were easy to pull out, but something with so much open space meant we’d have to clear it out completely.

Digging out empty drums…

Digging out empty drums…

Triwalls to be dug out

Triwalls to be dug out

It was completely buried. If we didn’t have a photo of the berm before they’d left in Jan 2013 we’d never have known it was there at all! Only a flag marking the tip of the hitch was visible. Thankfully with a little help from our friend, the Tucker, and some chainsaw work it came out smooth as butter in just one day! We were done – all cargo excavated, ready and waiting for the Traverse to arrive.

Drilling down to find the groomer…

Drilling down to find the groomer…

The groomer emerging

The groomer emerging

As soon as we were done, with impeccable timing, the biggest storm yet closed in on us. We huddled inside the Chief for nearly 4 days waiting it out as it dumped snow and howled at 25-30kts. We read, and slept, made breakfast for dinner with some dehy hash browns and frozen eggs and watched movies on the little laptop – powering it via a little 1KW generator when the clouds were too thick for the solar panels to work. With the sun up 24/7 we had little need for electricity. A few light weight solar panels charged small electronics like our iridium phones, camera batteries, and kindles, but we had brought along a 1KW portable generator as well.

Stormy day at PIG

PIG Breezy!

A mountain tent nearly gone!

A mountain tent nearly gone!

Cargo drifts

Drifted cargo

The Traverse arrived late in the day on Christmas Eve bearing mail and baked goods from WAIS. The 9 of us crammed into the Arctic Chief for a special Christmas dinner and good times were had by all as we shared stories of the prior month and cracked open a few cans of egg nog.

The PIG Traverse rolling into town

The PIG Traverse rolling into town

Building up the cargo load for the traverse

Building up the cargo load for the traverse

Fueling the traverse tractors

Fueling the traverse tractors

The Traverse double teaming to break the load free

The Traverse double teaming to break the load free

The Chief succumbing to the ice…

After only 6 weeks – The Chief succumbing to the ice…

Andy’s contract was up at the end of December so the Twin Otter picked him up the day after Christmas – and we set to work digging out all the cargo for a second time. That big storm had created whales of drifts that had engulfed not only our tents, but the cargo we had so carefully unearthed. With everyone helping we got the traverse loaded up and on Dec 28th they left PIG with the first load of ~15 pallets. We stayed busy organizing and palletizing the remaining cargo while they drove halfway to WAIS and staged the first load. They returned a few days later and on January 4th with a break in the weather we flew back to WAIS. Job complete.

Welcome to WAIS Divide!

Welcome to WAIS Divide!

The metropolis of WAIS

The metropolis of WAIS

Tent city at WAIS

Tent city at WAIS

We spent a week at WAIS Divide, enjoying the home cooked food and the larger camp facilities like the showers…After 6 weeks at PIG with only baby wipes I didn’t mind shoveling a bunch of snow for a shower! The Twin Otter pilots had taken some photos of the buried Tucker and the folks at WAIS were pretty awed. The next task was to fly out to Byrd camp to repair the Tucker and bring it back to WAIS so it could be utilized at other camps as needed. While we waited for two mechanics from  McMurdo to join us, and then for a flight out to Byrd, we helped around camp. As an operator I mostly groomed and helped with the winter berms. WAIS_20150121_69 On Jan 12th we finally got good weather and permission to fly and it was off to Byrd. The berms at Byrd were the complete opposite from PIG, well scoured, still quite high above grade, and with much softer snow. We set up personal mountain tents to sleep in and opened up the hard sided galley module for cooking and as a DNF (do not freeze…aka heated) space. That week was spent digging out the Tucker, repairing it, verifying the fuel inventory, raising the skiway drags, and putting together a mini-traverse for the drive back to WAIS. Byrd and WAIS are only about 100 miles apart, but both sites are so remote and the environment so inhospitable that it could be very serious should anything go wrong. We loaded a piece of high molecular weight (HMW) plastic with survival supplies, the Scott tent, extra food, twice the amount of fuel they expected to use, backup iridium phones, and various other pieces of cargo to lighten the final Twin Otter flight. This ultra-slick material is the foundation for almost all Antarctic traverses these days. Then, on the morning of Jan 17th, one of the mechanics and our team lead departed Byrd for WAIS Divide. Thankfully the snow conditions were just right and the Tucker had no issues, and they sailed in to WAIS by the end of the day! The following morning the Twin Otter managed to fly out to Byrd and picked up the remaining three of us who had been left behind. We spent the final week at WAIS waiting for a flight to McMurdo and helping out around camp.

Jethro on the the Byrd Berms

Jethro on the the Byrd Berms

Fixing the Tucker

Fixing the Tucker

The mini-Byrd Traverse heading off to WAIS Divide

The mini-Byrd Traverse heading off to WAIS Divide

The Twin Otter loading up our last flight

The Twin Otter loading up our last flight

I’m back in McMurdo now, heading on to New Zealand shortly. The PIG Traverse just made it back to WAIS on Jan 25th successful in their final haul to bring the 90,000lbs of PIG cargo back. WISSARD, Siple, and WAIS Divide are in the process of shutting down. It’s been a great season with a great crew! I want to send a huge Thank You to all the McMurdo field support staff, the PIG Traverse guys, the Twin Otter crew, and the WAIS Divide camp staff!

The Herc at Willy Field, McMurdo

The Herc at Willy Field, McMurdo

Ivan the Terra Bus!

Ivan the Terra Bus!

WAIS Divide camp staff

WAIS Divide camp staff – and the vintage Alp 1 snowmobile

The WAS Recovery Team at PIG

The WAS Recovery Team at PIG (photo courtesy of DeVal)

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Filed under Antarctic, Byrd, Field Camps, Flights, Pine Island Glacier, Traverse, WAIS Divide

Aliens

After 7 months of being sequestered away – isolated from the rest of the physical world – we welcomed our first planes yesterday. Two Kenn Borek Twin Otters arrived from Rothera on their way to McMurdo! They travel in pairs for SAR purposes. It was strange to hear their voices over the radio, sounding so close, and so…Canadian. Winterovers drifted out to watch – standing on roofs, out on the snow, on the decks, and stairs watching and waving – and then when they had landed we all scuttled to our rooms and at lunch filled one long table in the galley, sitting close and trying not to stare. I wonder what they see in us – with our pale skin, wide eyes, and overgrown facial hair (on the guys at least). It’s beyond strange to see a figure and not be able to immediately identify them by how they are moving alone.

No matter how strange it may be, they have more than made themselves welcome with a bag of freshies! Apples, bananas, and kiwis! Enough for half a piece per person. I stood in line (yes, there was a line in the galley!) and found myself just staring at the kiwis, they were so luminous, so succulent looking, so perfectly real. I have been dreaming of apples though, so I picked one of the halved granny smiths. Perhaps the best apple I have ever tasted. There’s nothing quite like not being able to have something to make it so much more desirable.

They’ll refuel, rest, and wait for the weather in Mac Town to clear then they’ll head onwards. Meanwhile, the atmosphere is crackling with energy reminiscent of a Christmas morning. Still a month to go – but a month filled with changes, flights, and preparations for the summer crew. This is the beginning of the end.

The first Twin Otter touches down on October 5, 2013. -43F and little wind.

The first Twin Otter touches down on October 5, 2013. -43F and little wind.

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As for the Government shut down – we’re business as usual for now, we’ve been assured that we won’t be stranded. Some impact might be felt next season however, as per this article: www.nature.com/news/us-antarctic-research-season-is-in-jeopardy

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Filed under Antarctic, Flights, South Pole, Winter

South Pole Winter 2013: Intro

February 14, 2013 The air is almost painfully cold as I inhale – even through my thick fleece neck gaiter pulled up high over my nose. I squint out at the bright white, blinking heavily, my eyelashes weighed down with clumpy mascara-like beads of ice. The edge of my vision between gaiter and hat is framed in thick white ice too. I close my eyes and my lashes freeze in place, I slip off my glove and pinch them between my warm fingers to melt them free. The bundled bodies around me let out regular gushes of breath, opaque clouds in the cold. People stomp, the dry snow crunching loudly. We stand there in our poufy Big Reds or thick carhartt jackets, defiant of the cold. We’re the Winterovers, we can’t get cold yet. It’s going to get a whole lot colder than the -50F it is today before we’re done!

The Herc has loaded the last of the passengers and is preparing to taxi. They drag the fuel line back and close the door. People are snapping pictures, moving around, keeping the blood flowing. Everyone has come out to send off the last Herc. The last plane to McMurdo. Two Twin Otters are still here; they’ll leave in a few days heading to Rothera station.

The last LC-130 Herc

The last LC-130 Herc

A close-up of the contrails - as the temperature nears -50C contrails form on the ground behind the engines. As you can see operating equipment to load/unload cargo can be extremely difficult.

A close-up of the contrails – as the temperature nears -50C contrails form on the ground behind the engines. As you can see operating equipment to load/unload cargo can be extremely difficult.

Once the cargo is loaded, the transfer of fuel is done, and the pax are on board the plane revs it’s engines and inches away on it’s big hydraulic skis. It feels like we’ve been out here for hours…this last day of summer simultaneously stretching on forever and going by so quickly I feel like I can’t keep up – Not ready to close, not ready to take over all the waste management, not ready to commit to 9 months at the bottom of the world, not ready for the deepness of a Pole winter. Yet I’m vibrating with energy – we all are. The winterover crew of 44 is fairly young. There are a lot of newbies (myself included, having not wintered before). The excitement is tangible. Nervous laugher, shutter clicks, the creak and crunch of snow, exhalations. The Herc is lost in it’s own ground level contrails, but then it appears, off the deck rising into the sky. They swing out past IceCube and loop back towards us. The plane gets bigger and bigger, until they’re directly above us and so fast I nearly miss it they’re off, carrying away the last of the summer folk – some of whom will return in November to open the station for another year. I stand for a while, watching the plane shrink to a speck in the wide blue. I don’t know what I feel exactly: scared, excited, happy, nervous, grateful…I feel like I’ve had one too many cups of coffee, I can hear my heart beating in my ears. It’s like the beginning of any big adventure – an enormous build-up, an emotional send off, and then everything slowing down and the future opening up wider than you could have imagined with possibilities perhaps good and bad. Like being dropped off at school, or arriving in a foreign country with a one-way ticket, or moving out for the first time – in the final moment of separation it’s somehow both exhilarating and slightly anticlimactic. Well, time for dinner…

After a while I feel the cold seeping through the soles of my boots, realize my hands are cold even though they’re balled into fists inside my thick insulated leather gloves. I look around and see Big Reds shuffling towards the station. All covered up, frosted up glasses and goggles pulled off, the only part visible are the eyes. Thick creases betray a wide grin, though some are wide, a little afraid, uncertain. Someone gives me a high five. “Happy Winter! Now Get To Work!” Laughter. This is it.

Winterovers head back inside after seeing the last plane off.

Winterovers head back inside after seeing the last plane off.

The next day is my birthday. There’s no big party, no fancy gifts, but the first day of my first winter is a milestone in and of itself. That night, as per tradition, we set up the gym and have a showing of all 3 versions of  the classic polar horror film “The THING.” Crazy as it is there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

February 18, 2013 The last Twin Otter left today. We all went out to see them off, but it feels less significant than the last Herc. We left the dock on the 14th and this is just the pilot boat returning to shore.

The last Twin Otter takes off from the South Pole...if all goes to plan this will be the last plane until station opening in early November 2013.

The last Twin Otter takes off from the South Pole…if all goes to plan this will be the last plane until station opening in early November 2013.

44 Winterovers. 8 and a half months more or less. One sunset, one sunrise. About 4 months of darkness and some of the coldest temps on earth. Winter at the South Pole. They’ve done mid-winter airdrops before, and even a few medevacs by Twin Otter, but this is pretty much it. It would take 3-4 weeks for any sort of rescue plane to make it down here once we’d determined it was needed. We’re here for better or worse, until they open again in late October/early November…About as isolated as one can get without going into space.

February 24, 2013 “Is it dark yet?” I’ve been asked this a few times already by people back home. Even though I knew better, I half expected it to get cold and dark all of a sudden, as soon as station closed. It’s not. It got down to -60F one day last week, but the sun is still shining and it’s a balmy -49F today. -50F is the limit for Hercs – the oil and hydraulics begin to congeal and the contrails get so bad it’s dangerous. Those temps don’t slow down the station much though. We have time to clean up the station, learn our roles, and get everything staged for the darkness.

Howard Hawks' The THING 1951

Howard Hawks’ 1951 The THING in the Arctic

How does one prepare for this? I know a number of people who have wintered at the South Pole, some more than once, and they all say how special it is, how transformative, how challenging and rewarding, how simply beautiful it is. I have also been told how potentially awful (or fascinating) it can be from a sociological/psychological point of view. We’ve all undergone, and passed, a fairly intensive psychological exam, but that doesn’t stop people from loosing it in “Angry August” when someone sits in “their” chair or takes the last of the ice cream…

The station is great and sure, we’re stuck here with the same people for 9 months, our rooms are tiny, there’s not much fresh food, we only get two 2-min showers and one load of laundry a week…but compared to Byrd it’s luxurious: A population of 44 rather than 4; my own warm, quiet, dark room rather than a flapping, bright yellow, unheated tent; professional cooks; hot showers and washing machines rather than tin pails of snow melted and warmed on little diesel burning stoves…I’m grateful for my time at Byrd, it was a solid experience, but it feels like a step up coming to Pole.

The 2011 The Thing - a prequel to the 1982 version

The 2011 The Thing – a prequel to the 1982 version

As the one and only “Wastie” I work with everyone and no one – coordinating with all the work centers and yet working alone for the most of the day. I’ll be one of the few who gets to (has to?) go outside almost every day, whether it’s -60F or -100F in the darkest of months. Dressed properly and with plenty of snacks and warm up breaks it’s fine working outside. I enjoy it.

Some people will never leave the station. They’ll sleep, eat, work, and socialize inside all winter. Maybe they want that. Everything is harder in the cold, but leaving the station is refreshing, cleansing. It dissolves away the claustrophobic stuffiness of being inside all day. It helps to keep things in perspective.

1982 John Carpenter's The THING

1982 John Carpenter’s The THING

We’ll work 6 days a week, 9 hours a day. Cleaning and dish duty (“housemouse”) assigned at regular intervals. The schedule is fairly regimented, like those on ships, submarines, or in space…it’s important to maintain a routine on such a long haul. It’s day 10 (of ~250) and we’re all pretty excited to be here, optimistic about the season ahead. Laughing hard at jokes, setting ambitious goals to learn languages, new skills, fitness goals, thinking up pranks and games and already teasing each other mercilessly.

The sun won’t set until the Equinox on March 21, and then it will be twilight for a while before it gets full on dark. But the sun is definitely lower than it was mid-summer! It looks like late afternoon all the time…our shadows growing longer, the snow picking up subtle hues of pink, blue, yellow, purple, the relief of the sastrugi growing more defined. We had a few cloudy days this past week and I realized my sunglasses were nearly too dark. Winter is coming…

Lengthening shadows

Lengthening shadows

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Filed under Antarctic, Flights, South Pole, Winter

A season at Byrd

Byrd Angels

Byrd Angels2

The Antarctic summer is winding down and the stations are all preparing for winter. The 5 deep field camps (Siple, PIG, WAIS, WISSARD, and Byrd) have been closed  and everyone is back in McMurdo, off travelling the world, or on their way home. It was a challenging season at Byrd, but overall a very good experience. After a beautiful and rejuvenating week of R&R in New Zealand I returned to the ice and spent a week in McMurdo working with the hazardous waste group there (All the Wasties rock – Haz and Solid!). On Februay 11th, after several weather delays, I flew down to the South Pole. We closed for the winter on Valentines day with 44 souls on station.

A few months ago on November 2, 2012, 6 of us squeezed onto a Kenn Borek Air Basler crammed with food, gear, and a snowmobile and left McMurdo crossing 1,400km into the heart of Marie Byrd Land – Byrd Surface Camp (80°S, 119°W). A C-130 (aka Herc, short for Hercules) with the rest of our supplies and crew was scheduled for the next day, though due to weather, mechanical, and priority changes it was a full 10 days before they left McMurdo.

The satellite picture we saw before heading out (uploaded in a prior post) showed significant drifting along the winter berm, but while there were huge drifts downwind, the upwind side was fairly scoured. Very little was completely buried! We set up our tents just behind the only hard-sided building and got to work. After starting the generator and getting the “galley mod” heated the first big job was digging out the equipment and then I went to work grooming the skiway.

The 6 person put-in crew!

The “put-in” crew!

KBA Basler

KBA Basler

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It was about a 3hr flight to Byrd, crammed in along with a snowmobile, food, and extra gear

Our initial "tent town" on the backside of the berms

Our initial “tent town” on the backside of the berms – Arctic Ovens. The conical thing to the right is the outhouse.

The galley mod with the 50KW generator and mobile fueling tank

The galley mod with the 50KW generator and mobile fueling tank. This was after we’d cleared the drifts from around it in preparation for towing it down into town

A buried Challenger 55 - not as bad as it might have been!

A buried Challenger 55 – not as bad as it might have been!

Melting out the 2010 Tucker

Melting out the 2010 Tucker

I spent many hours driving this road...smoothing out the dips and rises, compacting the snow to make a landing strip for the LC-130 Hercs, Baslers, and Twin Otters.

I spent many hours driving this road…smoothing out the dips and rises, compacting the snow to make a landing strip for the LC-130 Hercs, Baslers, and Twin Otters.

The next 10 days were taxing. Working 7am-midnight, getting used to sleeping in a tent at -20F, lots of digging…we would all crowd into the galley mod for meals, fill some buckets of snow to melt for water, and crash at the end of the day to sleep a few hours before doing it all over again. Once the Herc came the population rose to 20 with the carpenters (carps) and the PIG Traverse crew, and we got busy setting up the rest of camp and getting the traverse ready to go.

The traverse didn’t leave until November 28th so everyone was there for Thanks Giving. We took the day off, rearranged the galley to make one huge table, and had quite the feast. Tara did most of the cooking throughout the season, but for the big meal we had a lot of volunteers. Even without freshies (all our food was either frozen or canned) we put together a delicious and impressive spread. Two turkeys, stuffing, rosemary mashed potatoes, yams with caramelized pecans, green beans with almond bĂ©chamel, chipotle-jack cornbread, spiced cranberry sauce, and honey-soy tofu. There were several bottles of wine and delicious dark chocolate pecan, strawberry-rhubarb, and pumpkin pies for dessert.

Thanks Giving at Byrd! With the PIGs, Carps, and Byrds...

Thanks Giving at Byrd! With the PIGs, Carps, and Byrds…(Photo by Abby)

Fresh homemade cherry, chocolate pecan, and pumpkin pies! (with hard-sauce and meringue kisses...)

Fresh homemade strawberry-rhubarb, chocolate pecan, and pumpkin pies! (with hard-sauce and meringue kisses…)

IMG_7363

Abby and Tara enjoying a break from cooking

While they were at Byrd the carp crew was kept busy setting up the sleds and structures for the PIG Traverse and the large tents for Byrd Camp: a Jamesway for the mechanics, a smaller “Rac-tent” (kind of a modern Jamesway) for science/rec, a 40ft of Rac-tent extension on the Galley, a little blue “polar haven” tent, and 3 outhouses.

The galley mod with the 40ft RAC-tent extension

Putting finishing touches on the galley mod extension as the winds picked up

On November 28th the PIG Traverse left for WAIS Divide, taking the carps with them. Then there were four: Abby, Tara, the mechanic Toby, and myself.

The PIG traverse and their carp pax

The PIG traverse and their carp pax

And then they were off...heading to WAIS and onto PIG - leaving just four of us behind.

And then they were off…heading to WAIS and onto PIG – leaving just four of us behind.

As the Heavy Equipment Operator I worked at keeping the skiway groomed and got lots of practice pushing snow with the 931 bucket. Both Abby and Tara got in the equipment to help groom and Tara even got some experience pushing snow.

The good old CAT 931 "Happy Camper" which we dubbed "Leo" - when I wasn't grooming the skiway I was likely pushing snow with this guy...

The good old CAT 931 “Happy Camper” which we dubbed “Leo” – when I wasn’t grooming the skiway I was pushing snow with this guy…

Pushing snow with Leo

Me clearing some of the drifts around the galley with Leo (Photo by our mechanic Nate)

Our CAT Challenger 55 "Drag Queen" she was great for grooming, until the transmission completely seized....

Our CAT Challenger 55 “Drag Queen” grooming the skiway

The 1990 Sno-cat Tucker sounds like an airplane, and while it's top speed was ~5 mph it felt like 20 mph!

The 1990 Sno-cat Tucker “Jethro” with it’s sweet old Detroit engine sounds a bit like an airplane

Jethro at work

Jethro at work

Several big storms from mid November to mid December left us well buried with monster drifts nearly as large as the Jamesways! On November 20th we had sustained wind speeds of 30 knots, with a peak gust of 36kt! I spent days on end after each storm pushing snow away from camp. On the polar plateau there is little to slow or stop the constant wind. There were a few calm days, but for the most part it stayed around 10-20 knots. MUCH more wind and drifting than at the South Pole!  The temps however were remarkably warm. For a few weeks in mid-summer it was averaging 10-20F! Our warmest day was 28F (-2C!) while our coldest was -34F (-29C)…

The flag line to Tent City...the tents barely visible

West Antarctic storm – The flag line to Tent City…the closest tents barely visible (my tent was to the left, past the dark box that was the outhouse)

The science tent and the galley

The science tent and the galley

Climbing the drift between the Science tent and the Galley...note the drift is as high as the galley roof

Climbing the drift to get to the Galley after two days of storm…note the drift is as high as the galley roof

Finally the winds let up and the sun broke through to show the extent of the drifting

Finally the winds let up and the sun broke through to show the extent of the drifting. At it’s worst we couldn’t see more than 10 ft so we set up rope lines to follow

We had a few Hercs in December, one to bring in a carpenter and another mechanic to help with some big projects. A week later a Twin Otter came in to pull them and our original mechanic Toby back to McMurdo for Christmas. For a full 3 hours it was just the three of us girls – Tara, Abby, and I – before a second Twin Otter flew in to bring us our second main mechanic, Nate.

Loading up the first Twin Otter

Loading up the first Twin Otter – Kenn Borek Air

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) Twin Otter that brought Nate

The second Twin Otter, of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS)

A pretty sweet plane

A pretty sweet plane

The next three weeks were quiet. We groomed the skiway, pushed snow, watched movies in the Science/Rec tent, cooked, and went through the pallets of material that had accumulated over the past several years. We built and sent out 29 pallets back to McMurdo over the entire season.

Mail!

Mail! and ziplocks and new gloves…

Loading a Herc with Leo (Photo by Denene)

Me loading a Herc with Leo (Photo by Denene)

The skiway

The skiway freshly groomed

Life at Byrd was calm. Our primary purpose was to maintain camp as a back-up refueling stop for Hercs flying to PIG and wait until the grantee group arrived, scheduled to arrive on January 9th. While on some level it was quite a modern camp – with Iridium satellite phones, modern industrial kitchen set-up, weather monitoring equipment, and heavy equipment to work with, at other times it felt like Little House on the Prairie…or Little Camp on the Flat White.

Abby calling a Herc about an hour away on the HF radio

Abby calling a Herc about an hour away on the HF radio

Tara making raising the skiway flags look easy...

Tara making the arduous task of raising the skiway flags look easy…

Our first load of freshies in 3 weeks! There is nothing better for morale in Antarctica than freshies and mail.

One of our few deliveries of freshies! There is nothing better for morale in Antarctica than freshies and mail.

Calm or storm we had to shovel all our water by hand - filling these large buckets with snow and melting them inside

Calm or storm all our water was shoveled by hand, carried inside, melted with electric heating elements, and stored in a large reservoir tank.

Rising sourdough

Rising sourdough next to the AN-8 burning KUMA stoves

Fresh sour dough bread

Fresh sour dough bread!

Laundry!

Laundry! We washed our clothes by hand in the tin pails shown. It would take only a few hours to melt and warm a pail of snow on the stove.

Bath time

Bathing in a new fuel containment berm with a scoop and a bucket of warm water. When it was just the four of us we set up a solar shower in the “Science” tent which we filled with water warmed on the KUMA stove. The bathing process was fairly time intensive even after we got it dialed…we all bathed once a week or two, the good part being there really isn’t any dirt out there and little cause to sweat.

My lil' Arctic Oven tent...home sweet home.

Home sweet home. We each got our own Arctic Oven tent to sleep in for the season. While they were unheated, during the warmer days it got above freezing inside from solar insolation. Not too bad until the wind picked up.

Everything at Byrd ran on AN-8 jet fuel – the equipment, generators, Hercs, Twin Otters, Baslers, and heating stoves. Twice a week we would hook up the ~220gal fuel tank, top it off from one of the four 10,000gal bladders, and fill the smaller tanks at each building.

Tara fueling the 20K generator on a blustery day

Tara fueling the 20K generator on a blustery day

Finally, after more weather delays, on January 16th the Grantees arrived! Our population jumped from 4 to 21 overnight and we switched from quietly maintaining, to a full on camp with science, flights, cargo, big projects and small. It was a challenging transition, and hard for me to stay present with R&R dates changing and the Pole winter looming nearer.

The GIMBLE group's Basler

The GIMBLE group’s Basler

Inside the Basler - packed with geophysical equipment

Inside the Basler – packed with geophysical equipment

With the larger population we were able to get some big projects done – such as digging out and tearing down two of our four fuel bladders to be returned to McMurdo and taking apart our Challenger Drag Queen, as the transmission had seized in late December.

Many hands make light work shoveling out bladders!

Many hands make light work shoveling out bladders!

Once the bladder was clear of snow we folded it up and packaged it onto a pallet

Once the bladder was clear of snow we folded it up and packaged it onto a pallet

Drag Queen on her way out

Drag Queen ready to return to McMurdo

Loading the Challenger onto the Herc

Loading the Challenger onto the Herc

Finally on January 25th, after 85 days at Byrd, I loaded the herc – parked the 931 loader, jumped out, hugged Abby and Tara goodbye and ran to the plane! The crew was very nice and they waved me up to the cockpit for the ride back to McMurdo – even letting me call back to Byrd on their radio to say good bye and report the condition of the skiway and some damaged markers. I was a little sad to leave early (they didn’t close camp fully until the first week of February), but also very excited about everything to come – a week of R&R in New Zealand and South Pole winter 2013…

Oh give me a wildness whose glance no civilization can endure…” Thoreau

Yonder all before us lie deserts of vast eternity.” Edward Abby

For a while again, I remember the health of self-forgetfulness, looking out into the sky. Black woods wintry on the hill. And I know, this is one of those moments between heaven and earth, from which even I can step forth and from myself, be free.”

Some outhouse graffiti

Some of my favorite, and classier, outhouse graffiti

Town proper from atop the berms - the skiway/bladders are off to the left, tent city is on the right

Town proper from atop the berms – the skiway/bladders are off to the left, tent city is on the right. You can just make out the three yellow Arctic Oven tents for Myself, Tara, and Abby.

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Filed under Antarctic, Byrd, Field Camps, Flights, Traverse