Journey to the End of the World: the Commute

Hello to everyone from the South Pole!!  After 10 days of delayed flights we finally arrived on November 28th, with plenty of work to catch up on over the past 3 weeks.  It’s been a while since my first post so there’s a fair bit to cover.  First things first, the commute!

What was supposed to be 2 nights in Christchurch quickly turned into 6, with our scheduled flight being cancelled each day due to bad weather at McMurdo station.  We still had to be up at 5am each morning just in case, and as a result I think we visited almost every coffee shop in Christchurch!  Our favourite haunt was a cafe called C1 Espresso, where you can get curly fries delivered straight to you table via pneumatic tubes in the ceiling.  We even managed to squeeze in a couple of quick hikes, before finally the day came that our flight was ready to depart.

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By this point there was a huge backlog of people waiting to fly out to Antartica.  To help get everyone onto the ice, we ended up on a 757 flight operated by the Royal New Zealand Air Force.  I was even able to head up to the flight deck for a chat with the pilots during the flight!

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McMurdo station is the largest base on the continent, with a population of around 850 during our stay.  Soon after arriving at McMurdo we had to ‘bag drag’, where you check in your luggage for the flight the next day. Unfortunately this leaves you with just your carry-on bag, even if the flight is cancelled.  Not knowing that our expected 1 night at McMurdo would eventually turn into 5, I learnt the hard way that I should have held onto some extra clothes… oops.

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As the weather can be so unpredictable, flights usually get delayed in small 2-hour blocks.  This means lots of hanging around and watching the ‘scroll’ (information TV’s around McMurdo), just in case the flight is about to leave.  Quite a few times our check-in time got to within 30 minutes, only to be pushed back at the last minute.  Our stay at McMurdo coincided with American Thanksgiving (no flights over holiday weekends), giving us the chance unwind and do some exploring on trails around the station.

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After an long but enjoyable 5 days of hanging around waiting, we shuttled out to the airfield and boarded the LC-130 aircraft that would take us on to the South Pole.  I was excited to finally be on our way again, but will definitely miss the 24-hour hot pizza from the McMurdo galley.

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For the LC-130 flight our seating was just red netting along the sides of the plane, but we were free to walk around a peer out the portholes as we crossed the Antarctic continent.  The South Pole is on an ice plateau almost 3km thick, so it was incredible to see huge mountain ranges shrink as they become buried under the ice.

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We arrived at the South Pole late on November 28th, with the sun still high in the sky (it never sets during the summer!).  First off we were shown a quick orientation video and given tips by the station doctor, with each tip being DRINK LOTS OF WATER. Thanks to the high altitude and extremely low humidity, dehydration is a major risk while you acclimatise.  Even after drinking multiple litres of water, I spent the first day in bed with a splitting headache that even painkillers couldn’t fix.  While some people fair better than others, it took almost a week before I felt like I wasn’t on the verge of a serious hangover.

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Since arriving we’ve been hard at work on upgrading some major components of the SPT-3G camera.  Just this weekend we hit a large milestone in the upgrade and maintenance work, leaving me some spare time to write up a couple of blog posts!

 

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Until next time,

– Matt

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