Moai on Easter Island

Moai on Easter Island

Friday, June 28, 2013

I've Made it Halfway Through The Antarctic Winter!

Each day is slowly getting a little bit brighter.  Last weekend was the annual midwinter celebration at Scott Base and McMurdo.  The weekend started out at Scott Base with one of the best meals that I have ever eaten.  I lost count, but I believe that there were 7 or 8 courses.  Each course was small (by American standards), but eating that many courses throughout a three hour dinner left everyone feeling extremely satisfied.

One of the main courses at Scott Base's Midwinter dinner.  Thank you Meghan Brown for these two photos.
Just one of the desserts served at Scott Base during Midwinter dinner.

Midwinter dinner at McMurdo was the next day's feast.  Many hours were spent reorganizing and decorating the galley into a travel-themed dining room and dance floor.  Maps and scenes of the world adorned the walls and a model airliner, complete with contrails, streaked above the dining tables.

Since the theme was travel a couple of us decided to dress up like American tourists complete with fanny packs, sandals with socks, lonely planet guidebooks and name tags for our tour group: Antarctic Scenic Services or A.S.S.

We dressed as American tourists as per the travel theme.  Thanks to Deven Stross for the photo.
Each winter base in Antarctica sends out a midwinter greeting to all the other bases on the continent.  Many are further north along the coast of the continent and sent greeting with group photos of the winter-over personnel during a sunset.  McMurdo sent out a generic photo of the station with an invitation to anyone who wanted to bring in fresh salad saying that we'd provide the dressing.  It is sad that an American "research" station in Antarctica won't fund or even allow a greenhouse to be run by volunteers in the winter to provide real food to its residents.

Besides more amazing food and good company my favorite part of the night was taking photos at our little "studio corner" in the back of the galley.  One of my coworkers set up his lights and put up a perfect black backdrop.  I've never been that great at taking people photos so this was a great learning experience for me.  I had a blast taking pictures of everyone and am pleasantly happy with the way the photos turned out.  I'm not as opposed anymore to possibly doing more portrait work in the future.

This is the guy who provided the lighting and set up the photo area.  Thanks Deven.

The weather forecaster and observer for the winter hard at work predicting the weather.

The super moon topped off the weekend.  I know the moon would end up right behind Observation Hill and I've seen photos with the moon silhouetted behind the cross at the top.  I am certainly not religious, but it seemed like a pretty neat photo.  It was cold and windy and I really had no desire to stand outside and take photos, but I walked outside after a meal and the moon was almost in position.  I slowly walked back to my room and took my time getting camera gear ready hoping that the moon would be in the wrong position for this shot.  I walked outside and the moon was in perfect position and I ended up really happy I actually got out and took some photos of this.

The classic Ob Hill full moon photo.

The super moon illuminating the darkest day of the year. 

Every week or so there is a beautiful calm day in McMurdo.  I try to go for a run every time it is calm enough to do so.  This week is the first time that McMurdo has felt like a mountain town to me.  It had been calm all day with low clouds and the weather drew me to free myself from the indoors and go for a run around McMurdo.  The low clouds blocked out the sky and dropped ice crystals all over town as if all the stars had fallen and stuck to the cold ground.  They sparkled just as brightly leaving the same feeling that you get when you look up at a sky full of stars.  

My run took me part way up Ob Hill overlooking McMurdo and I could here the dull roar of the town. It was the same dull roar that any town puts off at night.  The lights of town cast an orange glow on the lower hanging clouds and I momentarily felt at home.  I felt like this was a place, seemingly forgotten at the bottom of the earth, that I might be able to spend some time in.  There have been a few moments in my last nine months there that I've felt this way.

On that note I can't wait for the sun to come up.  Only 52 more days until that happens.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The coolest ATV ever: The Hagglund

One of the first things that I noticed when I got off the plane in Antarctica was all the strange vehicles around.  Some of them were modified versions of vehicles that many people would see every day such as a Ford F-350 or a passenger bus, but here the F-350 has tracks and the bus has tires as tall as I am.  Others were new to me like the Tucker Sno-cat, Pisten Bully and Hagglund.  Here are two more recent articles by some of my coworkers about the vehicles of Antarctica and Ivan the Terra Bus.

Hagglund 007, also called Moonraker, parked near the wind turbines between McMurdo and Scott Base.

At first I saw the Hagglund as one of the least appealing looking vehicles around.  I saw it as a pretty boring box with tracks.  Unfortunately, sometimes it is hard to be happy with what you have, but I had always wanted to drive all the other types of vehicles that were cruising around town and out on the sea ice.

After a full summer of driving the Hagglund a few times a week, it quickly grew on me.  After driving them all around McMurdo Sound and Ross Island I learned about all the gnarly terrain that these vehicles can cover.  They are supposed to be able to traverse a 30 degree slope before they flip over, but the pucker factor starts just after 10 degrees.   They are also supposed to be amphibious, but the bilge pumps in ours don't work and it really wouldn't make that much of a difference anyway because none of the doors fully seal.  Back on that topic of always wanting more: the Kiwi Hagglund has all of it's working parts AND they have carpeted ceiling!

Hagglund 007 during SAR training on the McMurdo Ice Shelf during a mid-day sunset.

They Hagglund was put into production in 1980 after a couple of prototypes were tested.  This might explain why it looks like a box with a set of tracks.  They are used all over the world primarily for military, search and rescue and firefighting use.  But they seem to be becoming more popular as a recreational vehicle.  If you are so inclined you can purchase one here.

A few other people helped me love the Hagglund even more.  One woman on a recreational trip last summer had worked in McMurdo for a few years and one of the things on her Antarctic bucket list was to ride in a Hagglund.  She was super excited to just sit in the cab and get a few pictures taken, let alone zoom across the bare sea ice at around 20 mph in it.  They are reported to top out at 34mph; I think I've hit 25 or 26mph going downhill.  Stats also say that it can hold 17 people, but with all of our search and rescue gear we can barely fit our whole SAR team of 10 people in it.

During the second medevac this winter the crew from the C-17 took more photos of the Hagglund than anything else at the airfield--granted it was dark and there wasn't much else to see.  I've definitely come to love the Hagglund over the last eight months down here.  One of my favorite parts about the Hagglund is sitting in the backseat with a pair of earmuffs (since the engine is right in the center between the seats) and being lulled to sleep by the smooth rough sound and vibration of the vehicle.  If I don't get to drive any other type of vehicle in Antarctica I'll be pretty happy with the Hagglund.

Even the penguins love the Hagglund.  Penguins waddle and slide up to anything that is new in the environment.  This led to some amazing encounters this summer, but here these penguins soon lost interest in us and headed toward Hagglund 120, otherwise known as Hansel.  Hagglund 121, Gretel, spent most of the summer in the shop.