Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thankfulness at the South Pole

This Thanksgiving, I find myself in a place that I never thought I'd be again, and I'm so thankful for the opportunity to live through another adventure that will later not seem real. I'm extra thankful for the support of my friends and family back home. For without it, things would not be the same. And I'm thankful that some Thanksgiving traditions at the South Pole do not change. The chefs and galley staff here did an excellent job cooking us up a delicious dinner and transforming the galley into a cozy dining hall, making the night special. The meal and leisurely two day weekend were enjoyed by all.

Empty plates ready and waiting

My favorite pic of the night with everyone in good spirits

Eating as much whipped cream, a rare treat here, as possible while sitting with my friend and colleague from Portland, Kris

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Saturday Night Power Plant Emergency

Before starting this story, I feel I should explain that Sundays are the best day of the week here at the South Pole. With working 6 days a week, 9 hours a day, they are our only day off and our only morning to sleep in. As such, Saturday nights have a an awesome joyous feel about them with lots of happy Polies around station.

This story begins when we were halfway through Saturday night dinner, feeling relaxed and happy. Unexpectedly, as these things generally are, the fire alarm sounded from the power plant. Not on a response team, my friends and I stayed in the galley (our muster point for emergencies), listening on our radios for details. Smoke was reported from the scene and we were soon asked to start powering down all non-essential items. Being in IT, my colleagues and I knew we had a lot that could be turned off. We hurried away from the dinner table and I set about shutting down half of the datacenter here in the station and even some equipment in our remote facility (RF). While doing this, more information was coming in. A piece broke off of a generator, glycol spilled everywhere. No fire, the smoke was actually vapors from glycol landing on hot generators in its liquid form. We all breathed a sigh of relief.

The power plant operators and response teams got everything under control and a request soon came in for volunteers to help with clean-up. The South Pole IT team and the community really came together as several us went to help. Hours after the alarm sounded, we all reconvened in the galley for a whiskey toast to celebrate and start relaxing for Sunday all over again.

Our LMR's (land mobile radios), lined up in a row with volumes turned up to hear communications between response teams

Putting in ear plugs before entering the very loud power plant with 2x2 hands of blue

Rhiannon soaking up glycol that will be seeping out of the bottom of the generator for days

The floor of the power plant looks spic and span but hours before, pink glycol was everywhere, including dripping from the ceiling

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Settling Into Station Life

I've been on station for over a week now and am starting to feel more and more at home here. I've adjusted to the high altitude, work is taking off at a good pace with good projects and routines are starting to form. My post-work social is quite busy with activities like yoga, swing dancing lessons, volleyball, Sunday science lectures and random game nights. I also work at the station store on Wednesdays and am hosting a viewing of Firefly on Mondays. Alone time here is a precious commodity! Fortunately, I'm surrounded by awesome and capable colleagues and people who are turning into good friends. And though I often lament the fact that there are no avocados and that a lot of food is expired, the chefs do an excellent job and I'm never lacking for something yummy to eat. Even the 2 minute showers don't seem so bad! All in all, I'm finding my way here at the South Pole and am happy.

The bottom of our planet is vast

After about a week on station, I made it out to the official South Pole

Often my job requires that I visit buildings away from station.
The ball on the right is the dome housing one of our satellites.

But in -40 degree weather, bundling up in ECW gear is essential when snowmobilling about

Sometimes we venture out as a team and work on things together
In this instance, we're looking at a wireless issue at our passenger terminal by the runway (no Starbucks here)

Open mic is just one of the many events hosted on station
There are a so many talented musicians here

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Return to the Ice

Several years ago in 2007, I ventured to Antarctica for two seasonal contracts, a summer at the South Pole and then a winter at Palmer Station. Once those and a few months of travel were complete, I returned to Portland and not sure where my life was taking me, I got a job and a home and basically grew some roots.

Then this February, an email from a close friend changed my path as it prompted me to apply for at a contract at the South Pole again. It's the 100 year anniversary of when humans first stepped foot on the bottom of the globe after all, sure to be an epic season. Without actually believing it would happen, I ended up getting the contract, and I'm now writing this blog from my room in the elevated station at the South Pole.

It was harder to leave Portland this time as I love almost everything about my life there, but adventure called and I couldn't resist. I'm supposed to be related to Daniel Boone, so perhaps I have some of his wanderlust in my blood.

Regardless, I left the States one Thursday and arrived at the South Pole the next. Below is a pictorial timeline of the journey south from Christchurch.

A room full of Antarcticans in ECW gear, a requirement on to board the plane, waiting to depart Christchurch

Rhiannon and Jeremy boarding our C17 that would fly us to McMurdo, our layover for the South Pole

It's a surreal feeling to ride in a plane without windows

A different sort of flight attendant and a different sort of oxygen mask if we lose pressure. Hope I could work one of those if I had to.

Understandably so, no flight to Antarctica is complete without cargo loaded in the back

My favorite part of the flight, going up to the flight deck to look at the instrumentation and take in the scenery

5 hours later we land on not land, but a sea ice runway at McMurdo

My first steps on the Ice! Those are called bunny boots by the way and were originally developed by the military

Ivan the Terra Bus, our transport to and from the sea ice runway to McMurdo Station proper

A very quick turn around, we boarded an LC-130 (often referred to as a herc, short for hercules) around 12 hours later for our flight to the South Pole. Only aircraft with skis can land at the Pole as it does not have a hard surfaced runway

The LC-130 is way smaller and less comfortable than a C17. Those are our carry-on bags in between our rows of seats.

3 hours we land at my new, albeit temporary, home! It was a cold (almost -40C with -50C windchill), white, no-horizon and windy day at the South Pole

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Adventure Day in New Zealand

For the past 2 days, I've been getting a call around 5 a.m. saying that my flight to the ice was on a 24 hour delay due to weather at McMurdo. Rather than stay in town for a 2nd day in a row, my friends and I decided to use a rental truck to take ourselves on an adventure for the day. Our destination: Arthur's Pass National Park. This mountainous region is a couple hours drive outside of the city, taking us longer since we stopped along the way to take pictures and explore. On the way home, we picked up a hitchhiker (a common practice in NZ) and drove her back to her place of work. As a thank you, this cool Canadian chick took us on a tour of the farm, giving us the chance to gush over baby animals. Simply said, it was a fun and random day.

The forecast in McMurdo looks good for tomorrow, and we're all preparing to fly south early in the morning.

Driving west

Playing around on railroad tracks

Self-portrait, courtesy of Rhiannon, next to a rushing and astoundingly blue river

Waterfall with the clearest of pools

The Kea, a mountain parrot that unfortunately loses favor once you get to know them

A Kea trying to eat parts off of our rental car

Beautiful backdrop



Baby cows

Three peas in a pod happy they went on an adventure