You say you want an Evolution

You say you want an Evolution

I don’t have any photos for this entry.  Actually I have 8 gazillion photos for this entry, but I am in my snug dorm room and they are stashed on hard drives in our lab or still waiting on the SD cards in the cameras in same lab because we brought the bags inside in the cold and one does not open the bags immediately lest everything fog up and one’s camera has to deal with a very bad thing called condensation.

(Later: added a few photos; above, Artists on the Ice Pier)

This will be a miscellaneous entry before I get to the next Big Thing, which was our helo trip to the McMurdo Dry Valleys (and yeah I cried again on the helicopter because of the absolutely insane beauty of this place, and valleys, a place I had fantasized about seeing and thought, no–so few people get to go there I will never–but it happened).  What was this planet like before we crawled all over it and built big belching things and sucked rock oil out of its guts and dug giant scars out of its flesh to run the big belching things and slaughtered so many of its beasts to maintain our insatiable selves?  Depends on where and when you ask that question.  I am torn here because the human culture of McMurdo and its satellites is so fascinating, and the people so good, so full of life, so wonderfully strange, and all humans are culpable in the brutal beating of our earth, and yet Antarctica could get along just fine without us, thank you.  We really don’t matter here, and that somehow makes the human bonds matter even more here. But one is daily humbled by the non-human scale of things, by the clear pure air (my god, the air here, it is cold but I want to eat great gulpfuls of it), by the play of light on the mountains and the movements of the ice.  A big chunk of the Ross Ice Shelf apparently broke off a couple of days ago and opened up a 3-mile gash.  I’m not sure if this qualifies as what Dr. Ainley told us were “polynyas,” a word of Russian origin that refers to openings in the sea ice that penguins prefer as a habitat. But my point here is the scale.  Thunk, just like that a 3-mile gap opens up.

Back to the title:  the Evolution.  The Evolution is when the resupply ship, followed by the fuel ship, comes, its way broken by the Polar Star.  The resupply ship been anchored at the ice pier for several days now, and the Evolution is the process of off-loading a year’s worth of supplies for McMurdo as well as Pole and some special goodies like new vehicles and scientific gizmos (everything here is in a way a scientific gizmo). The Evolution includes the re-loading of the ship, this year the Ocean Giant, with McMurdo’s trash and scientific stuff–specimens and the like–for shipping back to the US.  During the Evolution special rules obtain.  Overnight lots of bright orange net fences went up and pedestrians and “taxis” are not allowed in those, and this is because heavy equipment is moving lets of containers in and out, 24/7.  Town is dry for a spell: the bars are closed and the store stops selling alcohol.  Everyone attends one of 2 Evolution safety briefings before it all happens.  We must all be On Our Toes.  Now, you think you would notice a giant forklift bearing forth a giant shipping container coming down your street when you were trying to cross, but when there is so much of it and the wind is whipping and you are wearing a hat covered by a hood and dark glasses and the sun is trained right in your face, and you are in a hurry to get across to your lab or to dinner, well…. Ergo the orange nets. And we all Evolve.

I can look out my window and see the ship.  2 hills run down to it (and these roads are absolutely closed to pedestrians during Evolution).  Flatbed trucks go up and down all day, ferrying stuff in and out.  The trucks have names.  Our favorite is “Shag Nasty.” We first heard it on our radio which we got to listen and talk to the Tower of Power (command central for the Evolution) so that we could be taken (never walk, not allowed) down the road to the wharf and shoot video of the off and on-loading and one special scene with the boss of the whole process.  Two times, including yesterday, we have been permitted to walk over the bridge from the wharf to the pier and film.  On radio and at Tower, we are known as “Artists.”  A radio dialogue goes like this:  “Tower, Tower, this is Artists.”  “Go ahead Artists.”  “Request permission to cross the bridge.” “Go ahead Artists.” (We skedaddle, two puffy red jacketed hard-hatted ants laden with photographic gear). On our last bridge crossing it was “Go ahead Artists, we are stopping traffic for you.”  When does that ever happen anywhere else?  Stopping traffic for the artists.  We did our best not to get in the way of anything or be annoying, and I think we must have succeeded.

Yesterday we celebrated what I hope is our last shoot down at the wharf.  It’s interesting to watch, and the people are lovely, and there is a warming hut supplied with all kind of hot beverages and snacks (and even a barbecue where one day, bizarrely, a worker was standing there flipping bratwurst like we were having a backyard party).  But it’s cold down there and things happen very slowly of necessity–there are very heavy and very dangerous doings involved in loading and unloading via the ships’ 3 cranes–and I’ve had enough of that scene for now.

What really exhausted me down there was the wait for Delta Liz.  The Deltas are personnel transport vehicles with the biggest darn tires I have ever seen.  I’ll add a photo later. McMurdo has an aging fleet of these, and Ocean Giant was bringing a brand new one, a source of much excitement particularly among the “fuelies.” Ponting’s film includes footage of the offloading of the Terra nova including a shot of a pony being craned out and onto the ice, and we wanted the analogous shot of Delta Liz.

Ponting’s 90° South on YouTube.  If I’ve done this right it should be cued to the scene of the ship offloading. If not, it starts at about 20:43: 

And yes, lest we glamorize Terra Nova overly, they did name their cat that.  There are other things that are a bit hard to take in this film, but if you watch it all (and we screened it in the McMurdo galley the other night) you won’t need me to point them out.  Those frisky cute rolling ponies?  Eventually worked to death and shot.

Katy kept track of when the Delta was due to be unloaded (she knows everyone and knows how to access information–she’s just a darn miracle) so we knew that it would be about 4 PM a couple of days ago.  With her help we got our radio and introductions to the Tower of Power and permission to stand where we needed to stand and got our ride down there at 2 PM so we’d be sure to be set up in time (it takes a lot longer to do anything down here).  And stand, and stand, and stand, and stand.  Delta Liz could not be craned out because while it was OK to have a slight angle that meant banging a container a bit into another on the way out, banging the Delta into something would not do.  So more things had to be taken out first.  More cans, more tanks of helium, more cans, more tanks, and then there was a mandatory meal break and then a shift change, and more standing and standing, and even Liz for whom the Delta was named went back up to camp because this was clearly going to take a very long time.

The other (and “real”) film crew gave up (more about them later) and somewhere in there Vince and I went back up to camp and he had a nap while I stared into space in our lab for an hour, and finally around 3 AM I was sweeping the warming hut to stay awake and suddenly we needed to vault out and into position because out she was coming.  So when the sun was in exactly the wrong position Delta Liz was plucked by a crane from the bowels of the ship, set down on the ice pier, and driven off proudly by the fuels manager.  And we got our shot–such as it was.  My camera froze up, and I was working with a fixed lens that fell out of focus when we moved, and the light moved at just the right moment to make my shot crap, but Vince’s is much better.


Delta Liz at last!

Through all of this we are ourselves evolving. The staccato rhythms of camp life feel more familiar. Our camera settings are settling down.  We’ve gotten enough good footage to be confident we can get more and get this project on its legs when we get back.  Our roommates have left, and even though I quite liked mine, her hours were a poor mesh with mine and I am enjoying having control over the window now (which she kept tightly covered all the time, so it felt like living in a cave). I fished an electric kettle out of Skua and can now have a cuppa in my jammies in the morning while looking out over the sound to the mountains (and it looks different by the hour). This means also time to reflect, alone time to think and write, and I seem to need that almost as much as I need to breathe. I’ve evolved that into my days, somehow–though not all of them, and that’s probably good for me. Antarctica will never feel like “home,” but our relationship with it is evolving.

Next up:  Dry Valleys


Ice ice baby

Ice ice baby

We’d had a few frustrating days.  The Cape Royds penguin trip hadn’t yet happened and we were in limbo over it; we’d spent entirely too much time mucking around on the Sony website trying to get software that should have come pre-installed on the pretty pretty A7sIIs to download and install, and believe me, trying to do much on the internet at the end of the world is difficultly time-consuming and irritating (I am in Antarctica; I do not want to be waiting for Sony’s website to respond).  (By the by, later on we made our own creative non-electronic hack by re-conceiving some things without said software and it’s better this way anyway–art and reenactment being once again all about how you use the limitations.)  We had seemed to expend a terrific amount of energy planning X Y or Z only to have it moved or postponed or cancelled.  The evil beachball on the screen of my world seemed to be churning, churning.  We have a good long time down here, but we have an ambitious project, and I wanted to get more done, more quickly.  Also it is light all the time, and the light seems to say, hey, you could get much busier.

That kind of approach doesn’t work down here too well.  One has to slow down, to (ahem) chill.  And one must cover the window occasionally and sleep.  The weather does dictate a lot (like the 6 day delay we had in Christchurch) and there isn’t a dang thing you can do about that, so chill.  And use that chill time to do things like figure out how to make a McMurdo latte (coffee from the urn with a dollop of the famous Frosty Boy on top.  It grows on one). Or amble downstairs to the library (there is a LIBRARY DOWNSTAIRS in my dorm!) and find a lovely monograph on Frank Hurley, photographer for Shackleton’s Endurance expedition and notorious Photoshopper avant-la-lettre.

So when we heard the Transition (from land to ice, over which vehicles need to move) was all melty and messy and we couldn’t get over it to go scout our soccer game location, we figured the game would get canceled too.  More life beachball spinning.  Ponting’s film The Great White Silence, and the later sound version, 90° South, feature a soccer game the Terra nova crew play on the sea ice.  We wanted badly to remake this scene with GoPros.  We met with the kindly folks in the Recreation Department (a good part staffed by likable volunteers).  We identified a great place out by Willy field with Erebus in the background and a structure that would stand in for the hut the fellas in the Ponting film emerge from to play.  We were all set to go scout, and then the Transition went mucky on us. Since our game date was the next day–Saturday after supper, and it was the last night the bars would be open before the Evolution (which I will explain later–and yes, the names of things sound like we are in some kind of allegorical drama all the time down here), and the Transition was iffy, and the soccer players were mostly contract workers who work really hard and long hours down here with Sunday their only day off, we figured the game would not happen.  Maybe 2 people would show and we’d have to bag the whole thing, and there was no way we could do it during the Evolution, so it would be more than a week to reschedule… and then people would be leaving for the winter… dang it.  We stuffed some GoPros and batteries into bags and shuffled out, already dejected.

But! The Transition improved, and ten of the loveliest, most fun, goofy, lovely young soccer players showed up at the prearranged meeting place (the bus stop known as DJ or Derelict Junction) and off we went in a van to play soccer on the ice.  It was just brilliant.  The most gorgeous setting for a soccer game ever in the history of the world, I think.  And some pretty darn good players among the folks who came out for the shoot.  They played a real game, a joyful game.

A few days later I was on that same ice clinging for dear life to the back of a complete stranger, a man from Idaho who was driving us on a snowmobile it seemed very fast toward Erebus.  I had been one of the lucky winners of the “Room with a View” outing that morning (Vince won the afternoon trip).  I have no pictures or video except from the destination where we stopped for the view for a half hour–I’ll dig one up and add it later–because I was mostly hanging on for dear life.  I elected not to drive (I do not go fast, I’d probably still be out there puttering back) but I do think it was harder to hold on in the back.  I hope the nice guy from Idaho’s bruises from where I clenched him are healing.  I now have a personal relationship with sastrugi.  Exhilarating, to put it mildly.  But the ride got a lot easier when I quit fighting it.  I’m in Antarctica! Wheeeeee!

There’s a moral lurking here, entirely too obvious.  Chill.

Antarctic soccer then and now

pontsoccer     IMG_2719

Thanks Danny and team!


Pygoscelis adeliae and fingy-ness

Pygoscelis adeliae and fingy-ness

We spied our first Adélies from Hut Point the evening we did our first (and so far only) stint as hut guides.  We were more like apprentices, helping out 2 more seasoned guides. There was a goodly crowd: 43 total souls visited the hut in the 2-hour open house that night, most from the Polar Star, and since only 6 or 7 may enter at once, I got to hang outside and tell stories.  I am rusty on some names and particulars, but I have accumulated quite a lot of material on the huts by reading about the expeditions obsessively and by making a performance also called Beyond the Utmost Bound in 2010.  Anyway at one point Vince wandered up toward Vince’s cross (no relation–the cross is for George Vince who fell from a cliff during a blizzard and died on the Discovery expedition).  He came back to report there was a penguin standing on the sea ice on the other side of the point. The penguin was just standing there, staring down.  But later 5 or 6 others came wobbling up to join him, and they all started diving and popping up out of the water onto the ice.  The sudden popping up is my favorite penguin gesture.  It looks so effortless.  It worked out rather well because folks waiting to get into the hut could go look at the penguins.

This turned out to be but a warm up for us, penguin-wise.  We had a planned trip with famous penguin scientist and environmentalist David Ainley (; to the Cape Royds Adélie colony but he was being kind of ambiguous about it.  He stopped by our lab in Crary and we showed him Ponting’s photos made 100+ years ago in that same colony and explained our project.  He stared at the one photo we liked most and said, “I recognize that rock,” which to me was the least interesting thing in the photo, “but that ridge is different now.” and then let us know the photo was taken at a different time of year.  The adults, he said, were mostly off feeding because the chicks were now grown enough, so mostly we would see chicks.  That was OK with us.  Ponting was here for a lot longer than we are, and we couldn’t possibly match up seasons on everything.  There are for instance some wonderful photos Ponty did in winter using lights, but wintering here could never have been on the agenda.

At some point in the next day or two it became apparent that Dr. Ainley wanted to go to Cape Crozier to that colony.  And I would love to go there–that’s where Cherry, Bowers, and Wilson went for their winter journey–but we do not have permits to go there, so we can’t.  At one point we thought we were going to Royds within the hour so we scrambled around getting together our ECW gear and camera bags configured and to BFC for pee bottles and hand warmers and so on, running around like madmen, but then that didn’t happen.  We waited until 9 PM that evening when the next day’s helo schedule is posted to see if we were going the next day as had been the original plan, but it wasn’t listed.  So we went to the Coffee House and then I stayed up too late writing a (now destroyed) blog post that was about how this place is a strange mix of meticulous planning and sudden changes.  Some of that is the weather.  And some of it in this case was the Ainley factor.  He has a lot of well-earned clout.

And then suddenly it was the next morning (which looks and that morning still felt a lot like night) and Vince was banging on my door saying, hurry, we’re going, we have to be at helo ops in an hour, and right after that Katy was calling my room saying the same thing.  Thanks goodness we had not unpacked the pee bottles and water bottles and ECW, but it was still a rush to get down to the helicopter pad in time–and we were complete novices at this whole process of weighing and getting helmets and this is when you wish you had been more awake at the safety orientation. And whoa, I had never considered if going up in a little whirlybird in the cold and wind might not just be a bit scary.  No time to think of that.  I hadn’t had coffee.  What was I doing?

heloNone of this mattered as we took off.  It was like leaving all the fretting below.  A view of McMurdo as we rose, then up and out over the ice and the beauty that is Ross Island and the Ice Shelf and the sea ice.  I cried a little into my helmet.  I find the beauty of Antarctica hard to talk about.  Town shields one from its full force, but away from town, this place just hits me in the solar plexus.

I fully expected to be trying to photograph Dr. Ainley in the colony from too far away, but he had chicks to catch and weigh, and several helpers along, and we were permitted right in among the penguins.  We were warned to keep some distance and the oft-repeated maxim about the wildlife here:  if they react to your presence, you are too close (unless of course you have a sanctioned research project).  We got the video portrait of Dr. Ainley right away, as he had work to do.  And there was that rock, the ridge, the chicks.  A few nights later we heard his lecture “Adelie Penguins Adapt to a Changing Ross Sea Climate and Food Web” at the Science Lecture (one of the things I really enjoy about McMurdo–and a tradition that connects directly back to the Terra Nova expedition). It was witty and engrossing.  There are so many factors that affect Adelie populations–on the ebb (dramatically) on the peninsula side, but on the rise on the Ross Sea side.

Back at the colony: we were then free to photograph and video the penguins.  Vince spent most of that time making images of Dr. Ainley at work in slow motion, and some of it looks really great.  I shot penguins, but I was overwhelmed by being right down amid them, and I was having a lot of trouble seeing in my viewfinder.  My dark glasses–a necessity much of the time–wipe out alot, but without them the glare is worse to contend with.  And we are learning that Antarctica is full of lens and sensor hazards because of the wind that whips up lava dust and grit and in this case, dried penguin guano. (It did not smell very bad there at all.  I think it was cold and windy enough–but oh boy, when the penguin researchers come back into Crary, we know it).  Add to this the dreaded bunny boots we are required to wear on helo trips.  Vince actually kind of likes his, but he is used to ski boots. I despise them.  They do provide a lot of warmth if you are standing on ice, but mine are a little too big for me, and they are big to begin with, and they feel like weighted clown feet.  I’m not exactly graceful, but they seem to exaggerate every bit of clumsy I can be–and in big red I am as well a puffy version of myself.  I have to measure every step; every limb movement feels more effortful.  Ah well, it’s a harsh continent. And re-enactment means that your body learns things efficiently.


The penguins were as promised mostly chicks, past the tiny furball stage and now looking like little people in capes.  I know I shouldn’t anthropomorphize, but penguins make it very difficult not to.  One group of chicks huddled together seemed to be guarded by a few adults, and one adult was really letting them have it, as if scolding them.  It looked like primary school.  There was the bad kid getting bawled out by teacher.

One horrible thing happened while we were there-all part of the cycles of life, and as we say here about every difficulty large and small, “it’s a harsh continent”–skua gulls killed and ate a chick, and then later when we were down at the hut 2 more, just kind of casually.  On nature documentaries I had always seen the lone skua threatening the eggs or chicks, but they actually hunt in pairs or groups–or at least they were here. It seemed so unfair.

Katy and Vince and I went back near the helo landing site to Shackleton’s Nimrod hut and took some video and still images.  It’s a lovely hut inside, spacious and high-ceilinged and clean, the inverse of the blubber-blackened Discovery hut.  I wouldn’t have minded staying there (of course that is out of the question).  There are lots of food tins and boxes with funny labels. Back in Christchurch Dr. Fyfe had told us what a treat this hut was.  The conservation here must have been a treasure hunt in some ways.  I think I would have left the canned mutton too.  This is where the Antarctic scotch whiskey was found (and returned:  Yes, I could stay at this hut.  But that’s unthinkable.  The first rule of being a hut guide:  nobody touches anything.

On the way back to McMurdo, we made an unscheduled stop at a beach–I’m not quite sure exactly where we were–because Dr. Ainley wanted to check on some penguins he thought he had seen there.  It was pretty surprising.  But we all got out and walked a small way toward the beach where there was a Weddell seal lolling, and another bobbing around in the water.  Those big eyes.

Thus ended our first helo trip.  I felt like the bunny-booted fingy (in McMurdo-speak, FNG or expletive New Guy) I am much of the trip, but I don’t care much.  I lucked into an extraordinary day at Cape Royds.  And Vince got our remake image.  This is Ponting among the penguins. Note the rock at upper right.


Next up: Ross Ice Shelf excursions for soccer and snowmobiling



Polar Star

Polar Star


The Coast Guard ice breaker has arrived and is anchored at the McMurdo ice pier.  This event heralds the imminent arrival of the resupply vessel that will bring all kinds of things to Town and take all manner of things away (a lot of trash, for one).  I am constantly amazed by how “right there” the human history of this place is.  The ice pier is Right There where Scott’s Discovery was tied up for the winter of 1902, hence “Winter Quarter’s Bay” in McMurdo Sound. Pictured here in the same location as the photo above are Discovery and her relief ships, the Morning and the Terra Nova, in 1904.  The row of dark brown buildings marching up the hill in the background–those are dorms.  The second from the right is mine.  Observation Hill is in the far background.  Right There.

As part of what is evidently the annual ritual, McMurdites (McMurdians?) are invited to tour the ice breaker, and along with others I made my way down the road that runs along to Hut Point with a fork down to the pier for a look. Our guide seemed impossibly young but very pleasant,  We went all over the ship except down into the engine room–about which I was curious–and the crew quarters (not so curious–could well imagine).  It’s astounding to me that the US has only one ice breaker in service, and it’s 40 years old.  Of course the Coast Guard had her looking shipshape, but that 40 years has got to hurt.  She has a flat bottom and, our guide told us, she bobs like a cork.  I was very glad the Southern Ocean was good to them on the way here from Tasmania.

I had imagined an ice breaker making a straight path, but in fact they spent several days in McMurdo Sound carving a giant “O” or turning basin (looking to us on shore like they were driving around in circles) so the supply ship can make the turn into and out of the pier. There will actually be 2 ships: one carrying supplies and food and equipment needed to keep the base running, and the other a fuel tanker.

Here’s the nasty bit: Winter Quarters Bay is pretty darn contaminated.  We used to just dump all kinds of junk into the ocean.  Vehicle no good? Drive it onto the sea ice and let it sink when the ice went out.  Raw sewage was pumped into the bay from McMurdo until 2003. It’s a mess down there. And there are folks who have been here enough seasons to remember this.

Nowadays all our garbage is shipped off site.  The resupply vessel will desupply our waste and take it back to LA.  Who knows from there.  We sort waste into recyclable, non-recyclable, food waste, biological (hazard) waste, toxic waste like batteries and aerosols…I fee I am forgetting a category, but you get the point.  With the sorting very present, one does one’s best–at least I do and I witness this in others–not to produce so much waste.  You can have as much food as you want in the galley, but when you have to scrape anything you did not eat into a “food waste” container you think twice about wasting food.  You take less, eat it, and if you are still hungry, you can go get seconds. I find this very civilized. I don’t know exactly what more large scale or infrastructural measures to produce less waste have been implemented, but I’m learning more about them, looking about to see how it is done.  McMurdo is at once a relic of times when we were pretty darn careless with our world, and a model of what caring more could do–but only because we have agreed to Cool It here. Greenpeace had a base here in the 80s, I believe, and exerted a lot of pressure to change–not just McMurdo.  Hard won treaties and international agreements have also had affects, of course.  I’d like to read up on these, but the internet is not cooperating just now.

So much is happening on this journey, I find it hard to find blocks of time to reflect and write.  We have trained and become guides for the Discovery Hut at Hut Point, and did our first shift during an open house, mostly crew from the Polar Star venturing up to see the place.  Some of my hut stories are rusty–I’m re-reading Kelly Tyler Lewis’s The Lost Men about the fate of the lesser known half of Shackleton’s Endurance expedition, the men from the Aurora who laid depots on the Ross Ice Shelf all the way to the Beardmore Glacier–depots that of course the transantarctic party never made it to.  The hut has been conserved and restored to look about like it did in 1917 when the “lost men” recovered–sort of–from their horrific depot journey.  In happier times, the hut was once upon a time used as a theatre, “Terror Theatre” after Mt. Terror (after the ship Terror) on Discovery who built it but used it primarily for storage.  So many stories.

And on that note, we met a journalist who came into town, a rare non-official visitor. He is traveling with the Polar Star and collecting her stories. In some ways, our projects are related, or at least our curiosities about what makes people travel to extremes are similar.  So we had a great talk about that at the Coffee House, our preferred (mellower) tavern just across the street.  The Polar Star leaves today to go escort the resupply. Godspeed Polar Star.

Brandon Reynolds’ blog on KQED:

And I saw my first penguins (at Hut Point), and it has been snowing.  I haven’t even touched on the shots we’ve made thus far, nor the launch of the LDB.  Weather depending, we are about to go on some trips into the field:  Cape Royds for portraits of penguin science and the penguins themselves, and Shackleton’s hut; the McMurdo Dry Valleys for more scientist portraits and the amazing landscapes.  Much to do to prepare.




Opposite the bear

Opposite the bear

Photo by Vince.  I’m next to Discovery Hut at Hut Point, with Mt. Discovery in the background and some Weddell seals in the midground.

It’s been awhile.  Internet is even rougher here than I thought, but that’s not all there is to it. A couple of nights ago at an event in Gallagher’s. one of McMurdo’s three taverns, Vince remarked that nobody there seemed to be talking about the Outside World.  True. Very quickly, and even though there are many reminders of it daily, one seems to fall into the culture of McMurdo. There’s not enough bandwidth here for social media. The social media here is non-electronic stuff I am old enough to remember, and expending too much digital effort seems to take one away from this place. I’d rather poke around Crary Lab and see what people are doing, or, like yesterday, practice setting up a shot in the dining room in 155 and have all kinds of people come by to ask what we were doing. THAT is social media.

Our flight here FINALLY happened on . . . I have to go look; one consequence of 24-hour daylight is that time seems so arbitrary unless it has a specific function attached to it, like we have a meeting or a meal.  OK, here it is, we flew in on Wednesday Jan 13 NZ time, which is largely the day before back home.  So we’ve been here 4 “nights.”

The flight was easier than I thought it would be.  We got a shuttle at 5:45 from our hotel, and then it all seemed to be fast.  Get into your ECW, push your luggage out to a check in line, get your boarding pass (a dog tag kinda thing) and then take your carry-on through security.  The one huge difference:  you all look like giant red sta-puff marshmallow men, and you get weighed with all your gear on (and your pockets stuffed full of things you want on the flight, like your water bottle and your book or your ipad or whatever).  Somewhere between those there was a video we had to watch about flying on this kind of aircraft.  When it came on we both laughed because it looked a little retro.  No time for coffee that day, but one of the National Guard who fly these missions gave me a bit of the crew’s coffee.

We were on a LC-130 Hercules, a big lumbering loud plane, seated bench style along the sides.  It wasn’t too full, so we didn’t have to use the middle and sit like a human zipper.  I tried to read but the cumulative sleeplessness of the last week caught up with me and mainly I just kept nodding off, waking up, nodding off, waking up.  All in all it was a pretty smooth ride, albeit loud and rumbling, the nature of the plane.  A very smooth landing, on skis.

And then you’re out in …. another world.  Mt. Erebus seemed so close, everything so white and crisp and sunny out there on the airfield.  We staggered onto Ivan the TerraBus–or at least the red sta-puff and bunny-boot combo made me feel like it was a stagger. We had to drop off a couple of people at Scott Base, the neighboring NZ base first, so we got a nice driving tour of our little corner of Ross Island.  Lots of Weddell seals basking on the sea ice.  Katy our ASP (and we are SO LUCKY to have her guidance and support–she’s amazing) told me the seals had recently had their pups, also pointed out the Royal Society Range and other landmarks.  She took the photo of me staggering off the plane (if I can get it to load).

Eventually we got to the NSF Chalet at McMurdo for the first of many “trainings” and welcome.  Somewhere in there we got our dorm and lab keys and pager(s).  We actually only got one pager but because I was so tired I thought I had been given one too, and when I couldn’t find it I turned my room over looking.  There are quirks like the pagers (hello, 1980?) that turn out to be the best way to let you know you are needed somewhere.  Technology and furniture and durable goods seem to last much longer down here–kind of like in public universities. Money isn’t the only thing that limits resources; distance and difficulty in getting things here means that things get used more, repurposed.  There is a certain charm to aspects of this. Our lab in Crary is the darkroom, and it would have been a great darkroom for film processing with its two long sink tables.  There is still a safelight in one of the rooms.

I’ll write more soon.  Settling in, finally getting through most of our “trainings” which took lots of our time thus far.  Finally getting some shots made.  We’ve met a ton of people, and everyone has been supportive and helpful. It is a strange place, but I’m enjoying even the hard parts. The Discovery Hut is right there to remind me of what “hard” really means. I think of Cherry holed up in there alone, unable to get to Cape Evans while the sea ice was out, kind of losing his mind.  Or of the Aurora half of Shackleton’s Endurance expedition-gone-wrong.

Off to 155 for supper.

en route on the Herc
en route on the Herc

…and waiting, also Lyttelton Port

…and waiting, also Lyttelton Port

Photo of Lyttelton Port with Discovery expedition berthed, from

 We’ve been “extended” several times now. It’s our third day of extension, Monday 1/11/16 in NZ and we were supposed to get on the airport shuttle at 5:45. That was extended 4 hours so we did a repeat of Saturday, back to sleep then out for a good breakfast at Hummingbird in the Container mall, where we are now recognized (and where they have really good coffee, baked goods, and yogurt). During breakfast we were extended another 2 hours, which meant we would need to check out of our hotel then possibly check back in if we were extended again or if our airport shuttle “boomerangs”–we fully expect not to go today. We’ve been weather watching and they are in a Condition 2 right now @ McMurdo. That could change. I would rather not go today than get partway there and get boomeranged back. 

There’s absolutely nothing one can do about this; it happens. We heard about a group that was stuck in our hotel for 2 weeks. But that was for a Winfly (winter) mission, and timing those must be very tricky indeed. No matter what though I need to get to the CDC today and swap out some dirty clothes for clean, also get my camera backpack. My deepest regret was leaving that because I would like to be practicing shots with the new Sony A7sii while on the endless Christchurch walks we’ve been taking. I have only my phone. Rookie tip #1: keep your work equipment at your hotel no matter if you think you’re leaving right away.

Saturday we went up in the Mt. Cavendish gondola and had a nice view over Christchurch as well as down to the port of Lyttelton. This was the port that Scott’s Discovery and Terra Nova as well as Shackleton’s Nimrod in between used as NZ base. Scott had a cousin in Christchurch teaching at the University of Canterbury, and the expeditions made use of the magnetic observatory there. According to Professor Fyfe they also consulted other resources in the Canterbury museum. I’ve been reading a paper by Fiona Wills about the museum’s collections of Antarctic artifacts that says its first exhibition on Antarctica was in 1904.  Here is her work, a great resource:

Shuttle should leave in an hour–fingers crossed–so I’ll try to upload some photos and sign off for awhile.

Lyttelton Port now, from Mt. Cavendish. It was badly damaged in the quake; see


Statue of Captain James Cook in Victoria Park, Christchurch. Commissioned to resolve the question of the existence of a southern continent on his second voyage (1772-1775) he famously said that if it existed,  “I make bold to declare that the world will derive no benefit from it.” Wrongo.


Later: extended till Tuesday AM. After a round of sink laundry, I’m headed to the CDC for my camera. To save a few bucks, this will entail a trip on a free International Antarctic Centre bus with penguin manikins on top of it. I make bold to declare that we will get to the southern continent eventually, Captain Cook.

Suiting up and waiting, and waiting….

Suiting up and waiting, and waiting….

 Yesterday was our day-before-flight (but not really) date with ASC Christchurch for check-in, laptop security scan, an orientation (3 videos), quick temperature check, ECW clothes issue and try on, trade in anything that did not fit or had a dodgy zipper, repack (again) and sort into checked bags, boomerang bag, carry on, weighing and rearranging everything.

Of course I got confused. I was mighty sick of toting all the stuff I have so I left most of it there, thinking (stupidly, blithely) all I needed was stuff for the night. I was thankfully careful with the medications and have a week supply on me, but no change of clothes. In part I was worried about time and did not wish to disrupt my careful packing to ferret out a shirt and pants, because I had to go find a MacBook Pro Ethernet cable (using buses, no car) because the computer guy kindly told me I would need one (this was news or I would have had one). Otherwise this blog would shut down a couple of months. It will certainly slow down, due to the limited bandwidth on base but also I intend to be busy.

But all the scurry was unnecessary, because my flight got moved 3 hours ahead and then 24 hours, and Vince’s an additional 48. Who knows why we were separated but we were, and apparently once a manifest is populated it’s nearly impossible to change.

After a day at the beach just learned that I am now moved to Vince’s flight which means another day here–good we are traveling together–but also I pretty much need to go buy a shirt. I did not really pack much for warm weather, and today it was lovely, sunny, and even hot for awhile.

ECW clothing is fussy. There is a lot of it. The “bunny” boots weigh 7 pounds each and it feels like a workout just walking across the carpeted changing room floor in them.  It’s crucial to one’s comfort for the next many weeks that the gear fits and is free of problems that may seem small now but could develop into profound discomfort later. One of my mittens though brand new had a gash in it, so back it went. The advice is to take everything if it’s your first time because everyone works out what and how they wear it in combination with their own stuff individually. But it’s mandatory to wear much of it on the flight and to have much of it with you when you are out and about.

   I will admit to feeling a little giddy trying on “big red.” The iconic red NSF parka. Some gals dream of wearing Chanel. I dreamt of wearing big red. And there it was, on me.

Later we went to the International Antarctic Center ( across the way from CDC. Lots of good info and fun interactive (inter-reenactive?) things to do here. We did not go into the simulated blizzard room (having already been splashed and shook and spat at by 3D seals in the “4D theatre”), but we watched a lot of people take part through the big viewing window. It may seem rather obvious, but people do tend to huddle together in the cold. As the temperature dropped in the room one could see this begin to happen, and when the wind hit and the room darkened it was really noticeable–the smaller clumps of family and friends began to meld into a large clump of everyone. I felt like I was watching a demonstration of  environmental effects on cultural proxemics. For me the best part of the Center was the giant HD film featuring a helicopter flight that included the Dry Valleys. Just, wow. And that, if luck holds, was a pre-enactment.

On the way out, I stopped for a chat with Scott.