Tag Archives: LC-130

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…


All quiet in the Big House

All quiet in the Big House

Summit (297 of 7)


Filed under Arctic, Flights, Greenland, Summit Station, Winter

Flight Period 4


“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?”


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.


Filed under Arctic, Flights, Greenland, Summit Station

Welcome to Summit!

Welcome to Summit Station!
72°35’46.4″N 38°25’19.1″W, 10,530 ftSummit_2015(18)

The sky is a crisp blue, the snow a brilliant white. The drifting is impressive; some buildings are still buried to the roof. The air is thin. It’s barely cold and all is well.

We assembled in Schenectady, New York. Early the next morning, the sky still dark, a bus picks us up in front of the hotel. Bags are thrown in the back of a pick-up and we ride to the Air National Guard base where the C-130 hercs await.
Loaded into the planes, earplugs in, big coats tucked under arms, we settle into the cargo net seats. A quick stop in Goose Bay Canada to refuel; the view from the tarmac is bleak…hinting a sense of the arctic with spindly trees and a briskness to the air. We wait in the small passenger area and admire the full wall world map. The spot marking Goose Bay is rubbed blank. Then it’s onward to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.

Boarding the Herc in Scotia, NY

Boarding the Herc in Scotia, NY

Kanger. Wide bare hills without anything for scale stretch along the silty fjord. The glacier is farther inland – just in view from the top of the hills. We have an extra day and I rode one of the bikes up Black Hill, overlooking town and the fjord. There are satellite dishes and radio antennas, but beyond those is the wide-open rolling land, ground down by the ebb and flow of the glaciers. A muskox picks its way through the tundra, stopping to graze. I sit in the lee of a boulder and soak it in – my last view of this alive world.

The KISS (Kangerlussaq International Science Support) buildings.

The KISS (Kangerlussaq International Science Support) buildings.

Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.

Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.

Sondrestrom Fjord

Sondrestrom Fjord

Boarding the

The “Drift Buster” herc that brought us to Summit

Long hours spent on Hercs...

Long hours on Hercs…

The first week was spent turning over with the Phase I crew. They’ve been here since February and were keen to go home. Summit is in the full swing of summer. Herc flights, Twin Otters, a remote camp, long-term research projects and short-term campaigns. There’s a lot to take in, but there are a lot of familiar faces – people I’ve worked with in West Antarctica, at the South Pole, or here at Summit in previous years. It’s good to be back and should be an interesting season!

Today is June 21 – the Solstice: the longest day of the year, Mid-winter for those in the Antarctic, mid-summer for those of us here. At 72° North we’re above the Arctic circle, the sun spiraling around above the horizon 24 hours a day now, but unlike the South Pole where they only have one sunrise and one sunset a year, here the sun moves gradually through the sky. The last sunset was on May 5, 2015. The next sunset will be on August 7, 2015! Check this page out for more solar/lunar data. (http://www.timeanddate.com/sun/greenland/summit-camp)



Filed under Arctic, Greenland, Kangerlussuaq, Summit Station

Summit Station – Phase II

Once again I am returning to the ice; North again to Summit Station (72°35’46.4″N 38°25’19.1″W) in the heart of the Greenland ice sheet. My post from last July (here) gives a more thorough background and history.


The CH2M Hill Polar Services website gives a good outline of their main sites in Greenland: Thule, Kangerlussuaq, Raven, and Summit.

I started at Summit as a field coordinator before I began working in Antarctica. This time however, I’ll be in the role of Summit Station Site Supervisor, aka Camp Manager, from June-October. It will be an interesting season as we will arrive in mid summer – with maximum population, flights, and research in full swing. By August though, things should start settling down as we prepare to close for winter. In late August the last herc will depart leaving just 5 of us as a skeleton crew to maintain the station and the year round projects until mid-October when we turn over to the next crew.

The seasons and turnover at Summit is a little more complicated than at the South Pole. The core crew is comprised of a Manager, Mechanic, and three Science Technicians. These positions work three seasons, or “phases.” Phase I from Feb-Jun, Phase II Jun-Oct, and Phase III Oct-Feb. During the busy summer from April through August the camp staff is augmented with a Cook, Medic, Heavy Equipment Operator, Cargo Coordinator, and Field Coordinator. Construction crews generally come up for two roughly 6-week seasons at the beginning and end of summer.

Tower Rescue training at Polar Field Services HQ in Colorado

Tower Rescue training at Polar Field Services HQ in Colorado

Training began a few weeks ago with Tower Rescue and Wilderness First Responder certifications. As there isn’t a medic on site from August through April everyone is required to have some medical background.

And so begins deployment…from the NY Air National Guard base in Scotia, NY on a 6-7 hour LC-130 Herc flight to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. We’ll have a few days in “Kanger” for some additional training and then it’s onward on another 2-3 hour Herc flight to Summit  Station!


Filed under Arctic, Greenland, Summit Station

The End of Summer

The summer season at Summit Station has come to a close and they have now begun the first phase of winter. Unlike the South Pole; the winter crew is comprised of only five staff (manager, mechanic, and three science technicians) and they’ll swap out crews in October and again in February. And while there will be plenty of darkness, they aren’t at the Pole itself so the sun will keep rising and setting for a while yet – each night growing a little longer than the last.

August was a busy month and I was kept occupied with moving material to the winter berm, carefully organizing it for (hopefully) easy access during the winter and with the intent to minimize drifting as much as possible. We also created a detailed map itemizing pallets and locations with lots of photographs. Come April and opening, the berm will inevitably be buried under snow. The goal is to know what is there and where it all is so it doesn’t get lost and forgotten. During the final week we took down tent city, organized extra bamboo flags, cleaned up all the summer projects and generally tidied camp up for winter. The last few flights brought in extra food to last until April. The Hercs will return to NY for maintenance before heading down South to begin the Antarctic season from Oct-Mar. The winter flights will all be via Twin Otter.

This was a short season for me, and I’m back stateside to enjoy the tail end of summer here. Thanks for following! ‘Till next time…

Tent city all cleaned up

Tent city all cleaned up

A setting sun

The sun setting over the fuel pits and new drifts

The shop looking nice with the setting sun

The shop

The Greenhouse in the golden light of the arctic midnight sun

The Greenhouse in the golden light of the arctic midnight sun

Farewell Big House!

Farewell Big House!

The summer crew leaving Summit

The summer crew leaving Summit

The final herc that took us home

The final herc that took us home

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Filed under Arctic, Greenland, Summit Station

The End of Winter

The first Herc - officially ending Winter.

The first Herc – officially ending Winter.

November 1, 2013 – The weather is clear, just warm enough (above -50C), and calm. After two hours of mechanical delays the radio in comms crackles “Skier 51 is offdeck enroute to Pole.” The first LC-130 Herc is on it’s way. Touching down at just after 3:40pm Winter is officially over. They brought in 32 members of the summer crew and over 2000lbs of “freshies.”

It’s with mixed feelings that we transition to summer. There’s  a part of me that thinks “That’s my table! My chair!” frustrated at the line for food in the galley. I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge a new sense of camaraderie between my fellow winterovers.  It’s hard to describe. Hard to answer the question “How was winter?” It’s almost sad to know that it’s over now, like finishing an engrossing novel…not necessarily good or bad, just all consuming. Now, the station feels crowded, a bit like my place is gone.

It’s somewhat disconcerting to not recognize everyone’s walk and laugh. Not to know without a doubt who’s hat you glimpsed as they went around a corner. Not to know who it is just by the sound of their footsteps in the hall. But there’s also an almost tangible sense of relief. People laughing and smiling. We won’t be here forever, it’s alright if we’re tired, help has arrived. It’s good to see familiar happy faces, their enthusiasm and opptimism rubbing off just a little on our jaded selves. They’re just starting, all tan and rested and raring to go. Well, I’m happy to turn things over to them. And I know Cheech (Christchurch, NZ) is waiting, with it’s bright green grass and decadent flowers, it’s salty ocean breeze and cool wet sand, it’s fresh food and no reason to get up early except to watch the sun rise.


Filed under Antarctic, 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


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 béchamel, 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…)


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! 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! 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.


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

Goodbye Summer. Hello Winter.

I will write more later, post something about my season at Byrd and much more about the Pole, winter, and what I’m doing here, but for now this is a brief note to say that I have made it to the South Pole and we have officially closed for winter! I will be working as the one and only “wastie” or “waste management specialist” managing everything being thrown away. We recycle over 70% of our waste. Everything, save the sewage/greywater from the station, gets packaged up and flown or shipped back to the states in the summer.

The last plane left today, closing the station with 49 people. This is including 5 Twin Otter crew members who will leave sometime next week. The next plane to arrive isn’t due until late October or early November depending on temperatures and weather. 9 months. No planes. No mail. No freshies other than those we grow in the greenhouse. And no people other than the 44 of us “winter-overs.”  The sun will set on the March equinox and it will grow very cold, and very dark, until the September equinox when it will rise again, and we will prepare for the summer crew to arrive around Nov 1.

It’s been a hectic past few weeks as I transitioned from Byrd to McMurdo, had a week of R&R in beautiful New Zealand, and then came back south for training in McMurdo and turnover at the South Pole. The next few weeks will be a rush to get everything wrapped up and staged for winter and then we tuck in and try to stay warm.

It’s currently -54F and the sun is shining brightly 24/7.  Good bye Summer. Hello Winter.

A sign in front of the South Pole Station

The United States Antarctic Program welcomes you to Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station – 90° South – Established 1957

The last LC-130 Herc for the 2012-13 summer season

The last LC-130 Herc for the 2012-13 summer season – note the contrails behind the plane

Winter-overs head back into the warm station after seeing the last plane depart.

Winter-overs head back into the warm station after seeing the last plane depart.


Filed under Antarctic, Flights, South Pole

A Day in the Life on Swing Shift

The Ceremonial South Pole Marker and the South Pole Station

The South Pole can potentially get flights all day from 10 in the morning to midnight. For one shift that makes for an extremely long day so Cargo runs a Day and a Swing shift. The day shift works from 730am to 530pm, while swing works 300pm to 100am. We generally switch halfway through the season and for the first half at least, I’m on swing.

Self portrait at the Pole

It’s day all the time here, the sun being up 24/7, so it doesn’t really matter when we work; the station operates 24 hours with day, swing, and night shifts. Waking up around 11am I get a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee and sit with friends while they eat lunch. Since we don’t start work for a few hours I have some free time to write or try to catch the internet if the satellite is up. At a quarter to 3pm I put on my gear and head out to the Cargo office. The day shift is in full swing. Christine sits down with Zondra, the other load planner, and starts working on the paperwork for the upcoming flights.

We gather in the office first for a quick summary of the day then head over to the DNF for a half hour of stretching. This is built into the schedule for everyone down here; stretching regularly significantly reduces the number of strains and sprains caused by physical labor in the cold and altitude. It’s also a lovely way to fully wake up and figure out the plan for the day. Then it’s to work.

If there are no imminent flights we start either organizing and building pallets of material to go out or tearing down recently received pallets. If it’s windy and there’s a lot of drifting we might pull up the rows of dunnage (4”x4”x6’ long pieces of wood that pallets sit on) so Equipment Ops can groom. Or we might lay down the rows of dunnage on a freshly groomed line.

Jeremy helping me lay out dunnage for pallets in the Cargo Yard after grooming

The Cargo Yard as seen from atop a mountain of snow – created by the heavy equipment operators as they clear the drifts from around the station

As the day shift winds down we pick up where they left off. At around 1800 (6pm) we head in for lunch. It’s a little weird being 6hrs off from everyone else, having lunch and getting ready to head back to work as everyone else finishes dinner and settles in for the night, but I like the quiet and calm of swing. There are no, or very few, deliveries to be made as most folks work days. We can just focus on building pallets and working the flights.

This week it’s Thanksgiving so we don’t have many flights at all, last week however we were getting flights at 1900, 2000, and 2200 which made for a quick and busy shift.
At 1930 we collect and make a pallet of any baggage for pax going out the next day and mail from the Post Office on Sundays and Wednesdays.

With little or no flights we’ve been focusing on waste pallets. Over 60% of the waste generated on USAP stations is recycled. Here at Pole we have to ship everything out to McMurdo in 100 cube “triwalls” (or the biggest burliest cardboard boxes you’ve ever seen). I’ve gotten used to it by now, but it can be a daunting process to throw out a piece of trash! Is it metal? Is it ferrous or non-ferrous, light or heavy metal? Is a cracker box bandable lightweight Non-R (non-recyclable) aka Paper Towels or is it mixed paper or cardboard? How about a piece of plastic? With a recyclable triangle mark it goes in plastic, otherwise Paper Towels. The “Wasties” are always happy to answer a quick radio call asking where something goes.

Some waste bins in the Cargo Office

The waste room in the station

A sign for Non-R with common ok and not-ok items

The triwalls for waste at DZ – the station has two main entrances “Destination Alpha” and “Destination Zulu” (aka DZ)

Good clothing and other reusable items are put in “Skua.” A skua is an Antarctic coastal bird that is like a really big, mean, vicious seagull. They are notorious in McMurdo for swooping down and snatching up anything food related or really just anything that catches their eye. Nothing is safe – a cookie in hand from the galley is particularly risky. So Skua has become a verb and a noun. “I just skua’d these awesome shoes!” or “Try checking Skua for a new fleece…” With baggage fees nowadays and lots of people coming and going there are often good finds.

Back to our tasking…the Wasties collect the triwalls of waste and we use the CAT 950 (aka Big Foot) to stack them on the pallets, fitting cargo nets neat and tight around the pallet (easier said than done). Averaging 88” they’re well over my head and it can be challenging to reach the side straps of the higher straps of the topnet. After they’re all built up we weigh and measure them and put them on the line to ship out on the next plane. It’s an ongoing process and with some music and good humor can even be fun. Right now we’re all working on waste to catch up from winter and to get set for when we have lots of flights again.

"Big Foot" and waste pallets

A good waste pallet – square triwalls, even tight nets, no twists…

Some of the pallets we’ve made this week ready to go on the next flight

At midnight we start cleaning up. It takes a while to fuel the equipment and put them to bed. The diesel engines need to run for a while after being worked, so we let them idle at a low rpm as we chip off the built up snow and ice from the tracks and moving parts. It’s cold work – holding the freezing heavy metal pry bars used to chip off the ice.

After filling in our time cards it’s time to head inside for Midrats – the meal served from midnight to 0130. The station is quiet and the sun is shining into the galley. It’s a nice time to chat and laugh about the flights and drama of the shift. Then the walk back to Summer Camp and sleep.

An empty galley after Midrats

The walk back to Summer Camp from DZ

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Filed under Antarctic, South Pole

Air Transportation Specialist I (aka Cargo)

Myself sitting in the 953 loader “Sundog” waiting for a plane to land. Photo taken by Genevieve (Her blog can be found at: http://icewishes.wordpress.com/)

This season I’m working as an “Air Transportation Specialist” or ATS-1 in Cargo. Pretty much everything here at Pole arrives via the C-130 Hercs. It’s our job to unload the pallets of material from the plane using a CAT 953 or 950 loader (be it food, welding equipment, toilet paper, or science gear), disassemble or “tear down” the pallets, and deliver the goods to the appropriate place. The other side of our job is to collect any material leaving Pole, package it on pallets and send it out. The pallets we use are generic US Air Force pallets. Special nets hook onto D-rings along the edge of the pallet and drape over the cargo to secure it as well as chains and ratcheting cargo straps if necessary.

A stack of “US Air Force 463L Pallets.” With an aluminum exterior and a balsawood core they are each 88”x108” and 290lbs.

Cargo side and top nets hook together and cinch down to secure material to the pallets.

Cargo straps are used all the time for securing odd loads. There is a huge box of straps in the DNF building and there are always straps to be rolled.

We get anywhere from 2-7 Hercs a day depending on weather, mechanical issues, and demand. This is my first year working in cargo and we’ve spent most of the time so far training and leaving the actual flight operations to the returnees, but last week was the first time I worked a flight. Over the past two years I’ve worked quite a bit with the Hercs at Summit Station in Greenland so it was not as intimidating as it might have been otherwise. Nevertheless, it’s always a rush and this was my first time operating heavy equipment in close proximity to the very expensive airplane.

About half an hour before the flight arrived we gathered in the heated break room/office to figure out what exactly was coming off the plane and in what order. All the necessary details are written each morning on a white board by the Load Planners.

The Cargo Office and break room. Our equipment is plugged in around the edge of the building – equipment here have little heaters that keep the fluids and engines from freezing up when not running.

The necessary details for each flight. Each individual plane has a unique tail number, Herc flights to Pole are numbered sequentially so as of this picture we’ve had 39 flights so far this season, the estimated and actual times leaving McMurdo and ETA at Pole, cargo specs for incoming and outgoing cargo, and whether or not there are any passengers (aka pax) going out and the number of bags.

Geneieve and myself were working the plane. Depending on how many pallets are coming it takes one or two loaders and an “ATS-2” or a cargo senior to work a flight. The senior stands at the very back of the plane when the ramp is open coordinating between the flight crew and the cargo folks, helping the loadmaster inside the plane push pallets out onto the forks, and marshalling us in if we can’t see the loadmaster.

Around 20 minuets out Comms announced on the radio the new ETA for the plane. Communications, or Comms, here at Pole is 911, 411, and basically, as the name implies, the hub of all information and communications. That’s our signal to get ready. Bundled up, we head out to the flight line. In addition to our ECW I’m wearing a giant respirator to help protect against the nasty Herc exhaust, it’s not great stuff to breathe in and while the respirators work well my clothing smells like Herc for days. I also have on a large radio headset that blocks out the noise of the plane while enabling us to communicate and hear what’s going on between all the teams involved with a flight.

Wearing my respirator and radio headset - All senses secure and ready to go.

A flight involves cargo, “fuelies” who either take or give fuel to the planes, and a team of firefighters standing by in case of an emergency. Most of our night flights are “tankers” that bring in one or two pallets and several thousand gallons of fuel. It takes all summer to get enough fuel for the winter. On Tuesday we had 6 tanker flights that brought in over 18,000 gallons of fuel!

The runway here at the South Pole is a 3 mile long stretch of ultra compacted, groomed snow bordered by large black flags. At Summit we often have issues with the runway being too soft, but here it’s cold enough, and there’s enough traffic that it stays hard enough. Towards the station there is a wide groomed and flagged pull-out called the taxi-way. The planes turn off the skiway and taxi up to the fuel pits where we’re waiting with the loaders. The plane is now about 10 minutes out. Genevieve and I get our loaders into position, backing just out of the way of the plane. Whoever sees the plane first radios Comms:

“Comms, Comms, Flight Deck. Herc in Sight! Herc in Sight.”
(or “Cargo has visual of the aircraft” if we’re feeling particularly competitive with Fuels)

Everyone on the flight deck looks towards the approaching aircraft. Genevieve and I adjust our respirators and gloves and take a deep breath. The Herc seems to hover in the distance. Slowly it grows larger and the gap between it and the ground narrows…

“Comms, Comms, Flight Deck. Skier is on deck.”
“Copy that. Skier is on Deck.”

The plane which was just a slight speck in the sky, the exhaust plume more visible than the plane itself, is suddenly very close. A billow of snow and exhaust rise up behind it as it slows and then turns to glide onto the taxi way.

“Comms, Comms, Flight Deck. Skier is clear of skiway.”

Waiting in the loader as the Herc approaches. Photo by Genevieve.

As the plane approaches the roar of the engines builds. It’s loud. Crossing in front of us close enough to hit with a snowball, it continues moving forward towards the fuelie who is marshalling it in. I can see the pilot and co-pilot in the cockpit.

The pitch deepens as the prop blades change angle and the plane comes to a stop next to the fuel hose. The back of the plane opens and it’s our signal to pull forward. The pilots raise the skis, lowering the plane onto the wheels. The skis are warm from friction and will freeze in place to the taxiway if left down. There are three pallets coming off this flight. A half sized “speed pallet”, an awkward pallet loaded with two snowmobiles, and a load of pax bags and other DNF material. DNF, or “Do Not Freeze,” is placed in one of Cargo’s two buildings which we call simply… “DNF” – a long jamesway with double doors on either end and rollers installed on the floor inside. We can store up to 5 pallets inside to keep whatever it is from freezing: Batteries, mail, pax bags, and freshies.

I roll forward into line with the back of the plane. The respirator is working well and while I can see the brown exhaust and blown snow rushing past the cab I can’t smell a thing. The headset is working well too; the roar of the plane is audible, but not deafening. I can hear the fuelies talking about which valves to open and which tanks to fill. I raise my forks and continue moving towards the black gapping hole that’s opened in the back of the Herc. Breath. Move slow.

The view from my loader as I approached the aircraft to receive the first pallet. Usually we wait for a minute or two in line behind the aircraft while they adjust the ramp, before the loadmaster signals us forward.

Slowly I roll forward, as we move beneath the tail of the plane the loadmaster takes over and my focus shifts from the big picture to the loadmaster and the movement signals he’s giving. Photo by Genevieve.

I focus on lining up as precisely as possible with the rollers in the plane’s floor and glance at Sean (the ATS-2 for this flight) to see if he has any directions to give. With the sun shining bright off the white snow it’s hard to see inside the dark plane. As I get close to the tail of the plane I can see the loadmaster step into view. He steps out to the back end of the ramp and waves his arms marshalling me towards him. I focus on him – so close to the plane we must follow his hand signals without fail. Sometimes it can be difficult not to anticipate what they’ll need, to give up fully and trust him or her, but it’s crucial that we follow the signals slowly and reliably.

I move forward until the tips of my forks are inside the plane, the loadmaster is to my left now, still on the ramp. He lines up the forks and gives me the signal to lower the boom so the tips rest on the edge of the ramp. I comply, inching slowly downward. Sometimes they can seem impatient, as Genevieve said “Yelling at us with their hands!” But it’s better to go too slow than too fast.

Tips resting on the ramp of the plane the loadmaster checks inside to make sure everything is perfect. Sean stands to the side ready to help or relay signals if needed. This close I’m almost out of the rush of exhaust and prop wash, it’s quieter. Photo by Genevieve.

A picture I took of a different flight with Genevieve in the loader.

When the forks are in just the right spot the loadmaster closes his raised fist or crosses his wrists above his head – Stop. I nod and raise my hands from the controls, glancing again at Sean. He’s on the ramp now too and helps the loadmaster push the pallet off onto my forks. I can feel the sudden weight jerk the loader slightly. The loadmaster steps to the side again where I can see him and signals me to raise the boom and then back away from the plane. I move slowly and when the tail of the Herc comes into view he gives me a thumbs up and a wave away. “It’s all yours!”

Slowly backing away from the plane with the pallet on my forks I move out from under the tail and out of the way of cargo being uploaded. Photo by Genevieve.

Taking the pallet to the cargo yard or DNF. Photo by Genevieve.

I back slowly away from the plane swinging towards the cargo yard and out of the way of Genevieve who will repeat the process and set the little speed pallet on some wood on the side of the taxi way. It’s not DNF so it will sit there until we have time to bring it into the cargo yard and take it apart. The pallet off my forks I back up further and get in line for the third pallet. Genevieve plucks off the second pallet and very slowly drives it into the cargo yard. I move forward again for the final pick.

Lowering a pallet onto 4x4 pieces of wood (aka “dunnage”) in the cargo yard. Photo by Genevieve.

It’s the same deal, roll forward, follow the loadmaster’s signals, and get the pallet. This one’s DNF so as soon as he waves me off I bring it straight to the DNF building. Another one of the cargo folk is standing by to open the doors and marshal me in. The building isn’t huge and there’s no more than a few inches on either side of the pallet as it moves through the doors. I lower my fork tips and the boom so the pallet rests on the tracks and rolls forward on the rollers.

Placing a pallet into Cargo’s DNF Building. There are only a few inches on either side between the pallet’s edge and the door frame.

Inside the DNF – it’s crowded, but there’s room for 5 full pallets.

I back up and park the loader, coming inside to get a sip of water and put away my respirator and headset. Now that I’m done I can feel my heart beating through my body, the adrenaline rushing, my peripheral vision returning. I take a deep breath and can’t hold back a grin as Genevieve gives me a huge smile and an exuberant high five.

We get enough flights that I’ve since worked at least one a day, but it never gets old.

Sean walks back to cargo after loading the last pallet.

My cubby in the Cargo Office with little thermos, water bottle, sharpies, and respirator.

Genevieve has spent a number of summers and winters here in Antarctica. This is her second summer in cargo here at Pole. Her blog, with some awesome links and references, can be found at: http://icewishes.wordpress.com/

The photos within this post are not necessarily from the described flight. All photos on this blog have been taken by myself unless otherwise cited.


Filed under Antarctic, Flights, South Pole