October 17, 2004
8:30 am McMurdo time
What a trip! This is my second season coming to Antarctica, and I am really enjoying having another chance to see again the places I visited last year. I took off from Portland, Maine on Tuesday afternoon (October 12), and on Tuesday night, I boarded a flight in Los Angeles to carry me to New Zealand. Because this flight crosses the international date line, I arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand at about 10 am on Thursday, October 14.
My first stop was at the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) for the U.S. Antarctic Program. Here is where they give you all the clothing you will ever need to survive in a cold environment. I got my big red parka, lots of long underwear, fleece bottoms and tops, and great snowbibs, socks and boots which I will be living in for a month when we set up our field camps in November. The CDC is a lot of fun, because if you want any item of clothing (within reason), you just ask for it and they give it to you. It's like going to a clothing store, but at the end you pay no money. My kind of shopping! Of course at the end of the season I will give it all back, but for the next few months I have all the gear I could possibly want.
After I picked out my gear, I sorted my bags into checked luggage, which I left at the CDC, and a carry on bag (including Extreme Cold Weather gear - ECW - in case an emergency landing is necessary over Antarctica) which I kept with me for the night in Christchurch. Then I headed into town for the afternoon.
I love Christchurch! It is a beautiful city (dubbed appropriately the Garden City), and the people are as friendly as any I have ever met. I checked in at the Windsor hotel and headed out for a brief stroll around Cathedral Square (see photos). A little later I met up with Mike Waskiewicz (one of the two drilling specialists this season, who will be running the ice core drills we use for our project) and we went out and had a light dinner before I returned to the hotel and was asleep by around 7:30 pm! (I was a teeny bit tired after more than 24 hours of solid travel). Unfortunately, I did not have time to get back to the Botanical Gardens this year, but I include a photo from last season because this is another of my favorite Christchurch attractions.
The next morning, I awoke to my alarm clock at 4:20, because I had to be back at the Antarctic Program airport at 5:15. Oy! Not so much sleep for starting off this trip! There, after a short film about safety in cold environments, it was time to get on buses to take us out to the runway and our plane. We flew on a C-17, which is a VERY big air force cargo plane, to get down to McMurdo station. I don't know if the photo of the back of the plane demonstrates this, but these planes are big enough to carry construction trucks (last year, there was one on our flight). It's pretty impressive. We collected our paper bag full of food for the flight and got on board. We each found a seat along the outside of the hull, put in our earplugs - these planes are loud! - and settled in for the flight. In the photos here, you can see the storage containers in the center of the plane. These containers make up most of the contents of the plane; the passengers are secondary!
The flight to McMurdo takes about 5 hours on a C-17 (8 hours on the smaller LC-130s that are also sometimes used). About three hours into the flight, the pilot announced that we were over land, and the next photo is taken through a porthole in the plane upon that announcement. It was a beautiful day to fly into Antarctica. Two hours later, we landed on the "ice runway" at McMurdo right on time. This runway speaks for itself. The plane lands on an airstrip that has been smoothed out from the sea ice around it. About 3 meters (~10 feet) below the surface is the water of McMurdo sound. It seems very strange to land airplanes as big as these on frozen ocean water, but that's how it's done. In the background behind the plane in this photo, you can also see Mt. Erebus, a nearby active volcano that scientists at McMurdo are studying and monitoring extensively.
Finally, it was time to get on to "Ivan The Terra Bus" and head into McMurdo. This short trip was made particularly memorable this year because the loudspeakers in the bus were playing "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" by Mister Rogers and "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" by Monty Python to welcome us to Antarctica. With the sun shining brightly, these songs were a perfect balance to the strong breeze and -10º F (-23º C) temperatures that greeted us on the runway.
Since arriving, I have been sleeping for the past day or so to catch up, and am now going to start the business of sorting the tents, stoves, scientific equipment, etc. which will make our research possible. Next time I'll send some photos of McMurdo station and describe life here in town on the edge of The Ice. Til then,