Moai on Easter Island

Moai on Easter Island

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Off to Antarctica

So I’m off too Antarctica tomorrow.  Or today or yesterday--depending on when and what part of the world you’re reading this from.  That means a 4:30am pickup from the hotel and hoping to land on the ice around noon-ish.  That is if the weather cooperates and we can fly into McMurdo.  There are two planes going down.  An Airbus-320 that has half the seats and the rest is filled with fuel to make the 4,800-mile round trip journey.  The other is a USAF C-17, which is the second largest cargo plane in the world. 

I’m on the first flight out which is the Airbus.  Our checked bags are on the C-17 (which leaves a few hours after my flight) meaning if the weather turns bad we arrive only with our carry-on and a small checked “boomerang bag.”  This "boomerang bag" is the only one we get back in Christchurch in case the plane has to turn around because of weather on the way down.  The rest remain "palletized" (new word learned today) until planes can leave again.  Meaning we could be without checked bags for days in either McMurdo or Christchurch.  Really not a big deal.  All I really need is my computer, camera and a book.

Mountains on the South Island of New Zealand on the Sydney-Christchurch flight.

I’m really excited for this new adventure in life.  In a way it is the most permanent adventure in awhile since I’ll be in one place for so long (4-5 months).  I have no idea what it will be like on the ice or what my job will be like, but so far I am certainly not against doing this for a few years, despite the craziness up to this point of actually getting down here.

All the people in my department are amazing.  We laugh all the time and are all my kind of people.  It also seems like everyone thinks we have the coolest job.  It is true that most people don’t get to see as many other cool places as we do. I’ve met many other people that are heading down (quite a few Missoula people actually!) and all seem like really good, fun people.  I’m really excited for the people experience down there besides just the fact that I’ll be in Antarctica. 

Awesome mall made entirely of shipping containers.  I kind of want to build a house out of them someday.

The last few days in Christchurch have been an experience in itself.  There have been a few serious earthquakes here in the last few years.   Apparently the Australians are fully to blame for this because it is “their” plate colliding with the “NZ” plate.  New Zealand is by all means a fully developed first world country.  And in so many ways much more progressively developed than the US.  After a few hours spent in the city it is amazing how “far back” total devastation can send a community.  What used to be a pretty marvelous cityscape is now literally in ruins.  Cleaned up vacant lots sit full of weeds and broken concrete where skyscrapers used to rise up.  Piles of rubble are now where buildings used to stand.  It seems as though every church in the city was completely destroyed or seriously damaged.  I guess the republicans weren't around to save them...okay...okay I won't even go there.

I went through such a range of emotions while riding a bus through the city.  Sometimes I felt as though I was in a lesser developed part of Chile.  It will take decades for Christchurch to be “re-built.” It is really humbling to see what nature can do and how slowly humans can get back to their status quo.  Yes, this is a major city so development takes time and the development that was there was far more concentrated than in a more rural area so the affects are much different than the would have been in the countryside. 

Just a glimpse of what has happened to downtown Christchurch.  I don't want to add other photos because they are all similar to this.  You get the idea.  If this photo was taken a few years ago it would like similar to downtown Chicago and you probably wouldn't see the sky due to the buildings...

I think every person should have to-at some point in their life- be a server at a restaurant, but I now also think everyone should see some type of devastation of human development.

My first experience with this was in Chaiten, Chile where a mudslide from the eruption of the Chaiten Volcano took out the town.  I visited there in November 2011 and many of the buildings still stood, evacuated, but buried under anywhere from three to twenty feet of volcanic ash.  Many people still live there.  Only a few business operate there. It will never re-develop like Christchurch will.  I feel like Chaiten will always be touched in a way we will never understand and forever be buried.  Christchurch wasn't buried; it fell down.  Easier to repair? After being in Christchurch, I am furthermore reminded of (despite all our human efforts) the power that nature has over people.  

 On that note—off to Antarctica.
We had a nice walk along the beach in sandals...something that won't happen for awhile.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Another Post from LAX

The daze has already set in and I'm one short flight into this time traveling journey.  I say time travel because Thursday September 27th barely exists for me.  I take off from my favorite airport on earth (ha-LAX) at 10pm on a Wednesday and after a 15 hour flight I land in Sydney at 6am on Friday the 28th.  Time travel is totally possible, because time really doesn't exist.  Argue all you want, but time as we know it only exist because numbers exist and numbers exist only as a way to mark things that regardlessly exist.  On my way back in 6 months I'll get that day back. I'll land in LA many hours before I left Sydney.

Some of the leaves along the Clark Fork River think it's fall.
The company that I work for in Antarctica purchased this ticket for me.  They were really smart about it, because they waited until two days before the flight to get it.  Two days ago I received a ticket with my name spelled wrong.  No good for an international flight.  Late that night they re-ticketed me with the correct name.  Then I promptly got an e-mail saying the first flight wasn't actually ticketed.  Finally, less than 24 hours before I was supposed to leave things were all taken care of.  Until I got to the airport this morning and the flight still wasn't officially ticketed!  After many phone calls things got settled.  It really helped that the flight was delayed an hour.

This photo conveys my emotions of Missoula right now.

Afternoon sun in the Montana summer air.
When I fly I think of the take off and landing process in three different phases.  Different levels of pain or death.  The first phase begins when I board the plane and ends when it picks up speed on the runway and then begins again when the plane starts to really really slow down after landing.  Barring a massive explosion I feel like if the plane was to crash at any moment I probably wouldn't be seriously hurt during phase one.

The second phase begins when the plane starts to pick up some serious speed during take-off and ends soon after the plane is airborne and begins again when the plane is just about to touch back down and ends again when the plane slows enough to enter back into phase one.  This is the scariest of the three phases.  If the plan crashed in this phases you might not die.  Well, not right away.  You'd be seriously injured and then maybe die.

Phase three is the time in between the the periods of phase two; this is really probably the safest many people with every be anywhere.  But also if the plane were to crash in this phase you'd die instantly. Much better than what would happen in phase two.  All this goes through my mind almost every time I'm on the plane-except when I get into my seat and instantly fall asleep and wake up again when the plane is landing.  This is happening more and more and it's great!

(I wrote that last part back in Denver and after this last flight I want to add a phase 2.5.  This is probably my favorite part of the flight.  You're still low enough to the ground that everything you're looking at still seems real and the movement of the plane is more akin to an amusement park ride than the usual stationary floating sensation you feel at cruising altitude.)

Another afternoon sun shot.

I'm feeling pretty darn good after last week's appendectomy. My stomach is a little sore, but I could ask to be feeling much better.  I was extremely lucky to be at home and only about 30 minutes from a hospital.  I had an invite to go up to Glacier National Park.  I also had an idea to fly back to AK because some friends were backpacking in Denali State Park.  Either way I would have been in the backcountry and much further from definitive care.  But worst of all I could have been on the Northern Patagonia Ice Cap.  This blog was originally created because I was going to spend the next year in South America.  But I got screwed over by a company that I used to work for so that meant the whole trip was off.  The Northern Patagonia Ice Cap is one of the more remote places in the world with some of the worst weather anywhere.  This means getting to medical care in a timely manner is almost impossible.  If the Chilean Navy did happen to feel like flying in to get me the weather probably wouldn't have allowed for that.  And then the only real good medical care would have been up in Santiago.  I most certainly would have died.  So I do have to thank my former boss for being a saved my life.

One of the first shots I took with my new Sigma 120-400mm lens!

 I will be in Christchurch for a few days of orientation and "Extreme Cold Weather Clothing" issue.  Once I get some photos from their I'll post my address at McMurdo Station, Antarctica and other random stuff about being down there.  Also, by the time you read this I won't have a cell phone number anymore so don't bother.
Sunrise through the clouds and smoke.

Monday, September 17, 2012

This wasn't supposed to be a part of the preparation

Warning: This is just going to turn into a few paragraphs of bitching and moaning and a photo from inside me.

The last few weeks of my life has been crazy.  All in preparation for spending the next 5 months in Antarctica.  I've done over a hundred pages of paperwork.  Then each page was scanned and e-mailed or faxed in.  Some forms had to be faxed three times because people couldn't seem to keep track of stuff.  Finally I got word that everything was good to go.  Except for a plane ticket.  I asked my boss how that process would work since I was supposed to leave in 4 days.  Her reply was "You'll have a ticket, it just might not be until the night before."

Then my computer screen died with absolutely no way to fix before I hopped on a plane.  Had to get a new one because how else am I going to process the thousands upon thousands of photos I'll take down there and watch all those episodes of Family Guy, Seinfeld and Macgyver I just downloaded.

Just to top it all off I had to have my Appendix taken out yesterday.  I guess it is better that this happened now instead of on a 15 hour plane ride over the the Pacific or at some remote field camp in Antarctica.  After 13 hours of pain I was planning on simply going back to sleep.  But just for the heck of it I called one of my favorite people ever who is in Med School right and and she absolutely insisted that I go to the ER.  A couple of hours later they took it out.  Thanks for Dorothy for making me go in.

They said my Appendix was twice the size of normal.

Its crazy that there is a small chance that I could still fly out of here on Thursday.  I'd rather have a couple more days to recover though.  I'll end up missing a really valuable Search and Rescue training in New Zealand, but hopefully I'll still get to fly onto the Ice on October 1.

I'll keep the updates flowing.  I'll also soon post my address in McMurdo Station.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Leaving the Sierra, for....somewhere

Again sitting in LAX.  I do a lot of sitting in LAX these days.  It is such a terrible airport; there is nothing in here.  And flying in out of here is just such a crazy [terrible] view.

Mono Lake at night
After taking off from Mammoth Lakes today I got a great aerial view of almost every place where I have stepped foot in the last month.  Such a fitting departure for me—all the while having MORE paperwork for Antarctica in my lap.  

I sat in the sun on the porch in June Lake this afternoon thinking about “home.” For the last month this place has felt like home.  I felt a relief every time I’d pull back into the driveway; even if it was only after coming five minutes back from the grocery store. 

Boardwalk down to Mono Lake

Then I started thinking about what home is to me these days.  I always call Missoula home.  But when I go back to Whitehall I call that home.  When I get off Denali I call the Mountain Trip house in Anchorage home.  When I got off the Ice Cap in Patagonia I called the place in Coyhaique home.  Most recently it was this place at the end of Garnet Street in June Lake, CA.

Looking down on our house in June Lake From Carson Peak

It has been three and half years since I have spent more than three months in one place.  I’ve never thought of that as much of a big of a deal, but tonight I put down on paper all the places I’ve been to in the last 4 years. The frequency of travel actually blew me away.  The weight of the question “where are you off to next?” made more sense to me now than ever.  I know I haven’t been able to stay in one place lately (for one reason or another). But I truly just now realized the extent of that.  Wow.  Wow, is really all I can say.
Mono Lake between moonset and sunrise

I’m supposed to spend 4.5 months at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.  What a long amount of time for me to be in one place now.  I will call that town of 1200 people on the Ice my home.  “Home.”

Initially in June Lake I tried to meet some people.  I met some great people, just not my kind of people.  Not the kid of people I know from Montana.  Yes, I know there are different types of people in different places.  I didn’t make any effort at all to build a friendship with anyone that I met though.  After things with Antarctica started working out I knew my time there was limited.  I didn’t want to build relationships that I would only leave yet again.  I really only wanted to leave the mountains behind.

Essentially I turned my time in June Lake into time in any other town I happened to get gas in during my travels. I was just passing through.
Owl in Flight
I have truly enjoyed my last month in California though.  I have seen some places that I’ve always wanted to see and have taken some of the best photos of my life.  I’ve even taken initiative to get these photos out to the world and have gotten some of them published in local CA papers and magazines.  But I guess it is time to board another plane. 

A plane that could go anywhere in the world.  A plane with hundreds of unknown people-all going to the same place, sorta.  But in this case I still have three flights to go before I actually get back to MT.  I could be a world away.  Think of the places that you could go from where you are right now in only three flights.  Really anywhere on earth. Anywhere on earth is only three flights away.

Looking down on Yosemite Valley

view of the Cables of Half Dome

Looking into the Sierra from Carson Peak

June Lake area from just behind my house

Mono Lake

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Lessons from the Stars

The White Mountain Range of California is yet another place that I have always wanted to visit.  These remote desert mountains are home to California's 3rd highest peak and hundreds of acres of Bristlecone Pines-some of the oldest trees on earth. 

The oldest living tree (4850ish years old) is now in the White Mountains.  Until 1964 the oldest tree (4860ish years old) was in Great Basin National Park.  It was cut down by a grad student with the permission  of the USFS.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine trees in the White Mountains

I camped just above 11,000 feet and tried my hand at some night photography.  I've always seen photos of star trails and wanted to try it out.  I learned a lot by just taking a few photos.

16 minute exposure-my first ever star trail shot

It is frustrating to stay up most of the night and only get a few photos.  I would set up a shot and set me alarm to wake up in a few hours to check it out.  It was much colder than I expected up there and the battery in my camera and remote kept dying so none of the multi-hour exposures ever worked out.  

My second attempt with 22 minutes.

Middle of the night-from my sleeping bag

Looking north across the high-arid plateau of the White Mountains to Boundary Peak from White Mountain Peak

Looking back to the 14,000 foot White Mountain.  Yes, there is actually a "road" to the research station on top.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Just Another Pile of Rocks and a Waterfall

Devils Post Pile National Monument seems like a small obscure little park. It’s just about two miles long by a half a mile wide.  It was created to stop a power company from blowing up the ‘post-pile” to dam the river for a hydro-electric plant.  It is kind of out of the way and most people only know about it because it is a national monument.

Devils Post Pile

I have driven by the sign for it many times and I finally had some time to check it out.  If you aren’t camping in the park or if you get there between 7am and 7pm you must take the shuttle bus into and throughout the park.  I really didn’t want to pay the $7 for the shuttle and wanted to have freedom to travel around so I decided to try and get there before 7am.  I rushed out of my house and just past Mammoth Lakes I thought I was getting close to the park and at 6:53am I saw a sign: "Devils Post Pile 13 miles."  Knowing I wasn’t going to make it I pulled over and ate the breakfast that I didn’t get to while rushing out of the house.

44.5% of the columns are 6-sided

 I started driving again and after just a few miles I got to the entrance station at 7:07am. Of course they wouldn’t let me drive in-because there is such a big difference between 7 and 7:07 for driving into a park.  Thank you NPS for truly serving the people of 'merica. 

You can see the scratches (striations) from a glacier on top of the post pile.

More glacial striations.

Having to take the shuttle ended up working out all right.  It allowed me to link up different trailheads to do a loop between Devils Post Pile and Rainbow Falls.  

Rainbow Falls.  I really appreciated this moment because there will be NOTHING like this in Antarctica.
I did completely fail at being in the park for good lighting on the falls and the post pile.  Late afternoon (NOT early morning) would have given me the famed rainbow below Rainbow Falls and more direct lighting on the post pile.  Can’t win every battle.  It was still a nice relaxing day wandering through the woods of the Sierra.

I really tried to not be a creeper while taking this...