Monday, November 05, 2007

Back to the ice

Who's getting the big hug? Actually, it's a dummy at the Antarctic Center museum. On the morning of our flight to Antarctica, we arrive early and put on all of our Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear prior to the flight. We then have a little break to get some breakfast or write a few last emails before we leave. The terminal is located just a few steps from the Antarctic Center, which is a local tourist attraction. The dummies in the picture are dressed up in their own ECW gear, but it's much more fun for the tourists to see a bunch of actual Antarctic workers and scientists gather for the flight down. Especially if the weather is warm in Christchurch, we look pretty silly in our giant red parkas and heavy white boots. Silly or not, the process gets you geared up for cold weather and also, for me, jumpstarts my sense of excitement.

The flight to McMurdo base takes about five hours, on a military C17 cargo plane. The last time I took this trip, the plane was fitted with many rows of seats to accomodate large numbers of passengers to the ice. This time, we numbered few enough that the seats along the wall were sufficient and all of the interior space was used for cargo. The picture below is just at the moment of lift-off, headed to the ice. Most of the people in the shot are new to the USAP and they are all doing a good job of looking cool, even though they are starting on such an unusual trip.

Because it's early in the season, we landed on the ice runway at McMurdo. There are three runways usually used, and I have now been through all of them. This one is constructed right out on the sea ice in the bay. Last year, I came through later in the season when this very ice was being broken apart to make way for the massive supply ship that makes an annual visit. Below you can see the C17 after landing. You can also see a group of Kiwis bound for the New Zealand station, Scott Base. All of their clothing and gear is in soft colors of blue and green, while the US participants are always somewhat jarring in our bright reds and oranges.

A short walk from the airplane, "Ivan the Terra Bus" awaits us, to give us a ride back to "town". The last picture below is a shot that I took out of Ivan's window. The sky was absolutely beautiful and I was once again overwhelmed by the experience of being on the ice.