After over 20 hours of flying we finally arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand. There were a good 15 or 20 “ice people” on my flight and representatives of the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) were there to meet us at the airport. The weather was cool, grey, and raining and we quickly piled in shuttles that whisked us away to our hotels. Despite having slept quite a bit on the 14hr flight from San Francisco to Sydney I was exhausted and slept most of the night. The shuttles picked us up at 9 in the morning and we were off to the CDC or Clothing Distribution Center.
The CDC is located near the airport in a complex that is the hub for most USAP activity. Palmer station on the Antarctic Peninsula is the primary exception; their operations and logistics based out of Punta Arenas, Chile. After a short video covering the fragility of the Antarctic environment and the risk of “packing a pest” we were issued our two orange bags of Extreme Cold Weather gear, affectionately referred to as simply ECW. Really, there are a ridiculous number of acronyms…I’ll refer you to the tab labelled “Acronyms” at the top of this page.
The rest of the morning was spent trying on all the pieces of issued ECW and making sure everything is accounted for, fits, and works properly. This is the one chance to exchange anything. McMurdo and Pole have small caches of replacement pieces of ECW, but it’s best to go down with the right stuff. Make sure the boots fit with your socks, double check zippers, jump around, make sure things are loose enough to work in and to wear with layers, but not too lose that they will catch on things…Try on EVERYTHING. It might not be the very best or the most expensive gear, and often has seen a season or two of use, but honestly if you were to lose all your luggage, you’d be alright with the gear they issue. Many people, myself included, bring their own base layers: nice long underwear, liner gloves, a special hat, sunglasses, and a fleece jacket or thin down coat. It’s also “normal” room temperature inside the buildings, so having some regular street clothes is a good idea. The big-ticket items are the iconic “Big Red”, “Bunny Boots” or now FDX boots, and the Carhartt overalls.
Big Red is a monstrous bright red down coat that engulfs me even with a small. It’s warm, too warm for summer, and hangs almost to my knees making it impractical for any physical work. Nonetheless it’s required and will be good during winter!
Bunny Boots are thick rubber boots that are warm, but breathe less than plastic trash bags…if your feet sweat you’ll risk trench foot. The alternative is the FDX or “Blue boots” – these have a thick platform-like sole, which takes a bit of getting used to, but the leather and cloth breathe.
Everyone is also issued thick insulated Carhartt overalls and jacket. Big Red has our nametag velcroed to the front, the only distinguishing feature – covered from head to toe with balaclava, goggles, and gloves everyone looks about the same. This is my 3rd time deploying to Antarctica and still I get excited seeing my name on the front – it’s really happening!
The rest of the day was spent in orientation and safety training. After dinner I walked down along Hagley Park. It was quickly growing dark as I walked along the edge of the botanic gardens passing through swarms of little insects and active singing birds catching their dinner, along the stream that winds through Christchurch. It’s spring here in the southern hemisphere and little white and yellow daffodils grew between the reeds and grass. Rhododendrons in pink, white, yellow, and red clouds peer over fences and along side the roads. Everything shimmers with the vibrantly alive green of new growth. I might get a week of R&R in NZ before winter, but there’s a chance that I could just get a week off in McMurdo. Tonight could potentially be the last time I see trees, grass, streams, rain, hear song birds, and see children…for over a year. I didn’t wander too long though; the shuttles are picking us up at 230am for the early morning C-17 flight to McMurdo.