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May. 23rd, 2019 @ 04:40 pm Welcome

Welcome to my journal! Please feel free to post comments or add me to your friends list!

I have pretty much stopped adding people to my Friends List since I got down to Antarctica. I simply don't have the time to keep up with existing people on my FL. But that doesn't mean you can't add me. Please go right ahead!

I will be working at McMurdo Station, on Ross Island in Antarctica from 9/08-10/09 and 1/10-9/10.




Click for McMurdo, Antarctica Forecast





How to send me mail in Antarctica
How I got this job


web tracker
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south pole
Mar. 22nd, 2013 @ 10:30 pm Victory Monument
I watched as a group of 5 young Indian males entered the tall, phallic shaped, Victory monument within the walls of the Chittor fort. Standing over 9 stories tall you can climb to the top of the monument, up an internal series of narrow and winding stairs. After waiting a few minutes, to give the group in front of me a chance to do their thing away from me I took off my shoes, showed my ticket to the guard and with an admonishment to "mind my head" I entered and climbed.

The monument itself is exquisite. All the walls are filled with carvings and statues. Presumably it was built to commemorate some battle or something. I have no idea. There was a plaque but I forget the details. I also have no idea what any of the carvings meant. I knew they looked pretty, as I looked at them with my head stooped over, glancing, while walking, my eyes darting to the ground in front to the wall on the side. And using the same criteria I use when I am in art museum, I knew I could never produce something similar so was impressed.


It's a tight squeeze as you make your way up. The stairs were not designed for tour groups and it all gets a bit claustrophobic at times. But it is atmospheric. The only light is what comes through the scattered windows. I had a feeling that this what what it must have been like to climb the Washington Monument when that was allowed. Minus the hindu inscriptions, of course.

A few minutes in, and only a few stories high, I came across the group of 5 males on a staircase. They were bounding down it, leaping the last few steps with a nervous laughter. Something had spooked them. Noting this and figuring they were afraid of the dark or just playing with each other I pushed past and made my way up the stairs to the next level.

With the low ceiling and the dark passage I climbed the stairs ladder style. Hands on the step in front of me and my feet tentatively looking for purchase below me. Ever cautious about rolling an ankle or falling down the stairs I moved slowly, hunched, so that when I came to the next landing I wasn't in the best position. As the ceiling grew I started to stand up, facing a large window, with some loosely spaced bars, only a feet from where I was. There in the window stood a giant macaque monkey.

It glared at me. It's barred teeth daring me to attempt to pass by him. I did some math in my head and quickly came to the conclusion that the bars in the window would be insufficient to keep it from grasping me. Looking both ways down the corridor I realized there was no way I could continue with out passing very close to the monkey.

There are thoughts that run through your head at a moment like this, ranging from pride to practicalism. A part of you thinks this is ridiculous, you are the dominate primate. No way should you allow a silly little monkey to affect your plans. But then you start to think about bites, and the availability of clean water to clear out the wound for 15 minutes. And then you wonder what the medical options are in this quaint, small, town you are visiting. And do you really want to work a rabies vaccination cycle into your itinerary. And so as those thoughts rage in your head you find yourself downgrading your expectations. You tell yourself, "maybe you don't need to walk all the way to the top of the monument, maybe half way is fine. Besides it's just a view up there. You have seen views before".

While I make these mental calculations, carrying the remainders, adding in decimals, wondering which direction to round, the monkey, which has shown no sign of moving, stares at me one more time and shows it's teeth. It's big, white teeth. In my head they are glistening, a mixture of saliva and tourist blood dripping off them. I do the only sensible thing and retreat down the steps to the previous level.

The 5 Indians are there when I get down. One of them looks at me and with a questioning smile asks "Monkey?". And I swallow my pride, look him in the eye mumble something about big teeth and push past. I linger for a bit, admiring the carvings, wondering what I am missing on the higher levels. Wondering if the monkey is still there.

The Indians saunter over to me and ask if I will pose for pictures with them. One by one they all sidle up next to me as their friends snap the pictures. We don't talk about the monkey. I wonder, briefly, if when they show these pictures to friends and family if it will start with "and this is the foreigner who was scared of a monkey". I wonder if the retelling will also include their large group bounding down the stairs, equally afraid of the monkey.

After pictures there is an awkward moment as we all stand around. You can tell we are all lingering to see if the monkey will leave. You can tell we are all waiting for the other person to check it out. Eventually we run out of carvings and one of the Indians cautiously goes up the steps. He returns a few seconds later with good news "No monkey"

We all moved up. A hollow victory.
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south pole
Mar. 17th, 2013 @ 08:57 am Into the Thar desert
We drove 40 minutes north of Jaisalmer. The sandstone city turned to scrubgrass turned to dirt turned to sand turned to a nothinginess broken only by the black strip of asphalt we were traveling down. Our driver came to a stop and myself and the group of too young german tourists chance threw together with me exited the vehicle, to the waiting hoofs of camels and a night under the stars.

There was no ceremony. No instructions, no tutorial of how to ride the camels, how to sit on the camels or how to keep yourself from falling off. Our driver waved goodbye, promising to see us in the morning and we were left with the camels and a guide whose name I never caught. I was assigned a camel, an indifferent beast who would just esaily carry a basket of rocks as it would me. At the sound of the guide the camel rose up off the ground, it's legs bending unnaturelyt, it's body first leaning far forward then leaning far back. Grasping for a handhold and leaning back as far as I could I was almost thrown immediately, before we had even moved a foot.

Camel riding didn't come naturaly to me. After 4 hours of it I feel myself expert enough to announce that I will never be an accomplished camel rider. Never shall I grace the polo fields or gallop proudly through the desert, living through some Arabian Nights fantasy while screaming "Indy!". I felt a certain sense of akwardness being so high off the ground and feared with each step being thrown off or losing my balance. It's a long way to the ground from the top of a camel.

We moved on, away from the road, away from cars, from traffic and headed into the desert. Our small caravan of 5 camels traveled for almost two hours, at a leisurely pace, a walking pace. My camel soon fell far behind from the others -- our caravan was in danger of falling apart and I would be easy prey for Pakastani marauders. It was a lazy camel, refusing to be led to be forced at a speed faster than it wanted to go. Occasionally, in frustration my guide would tell me to kick it and and I would and for a minute or so we would go a bit faster. Perhaps even galloping before I would have to call it all off, the bouncing becoming a bit too much for my nerves and the wodden saddle being a bit too much for my backside.

Eventually we made our way to some massive sand dunes and set up a simple campsite in the hollow. The guide set to work prepping our dinner and I set to work watching the sky change, watching the sun set, the sky turn pink, then orange, then black. One by one, then ten by ten, then thousand by thousands the stars came out and I found myself feeling like I was cheating on Antarctica, for I haven't seen so many stars since my Antarctic winters. Some fell, some shot, some twinkled and in the darkness we ate a simple dinner before making our beds under the nighttime sky of the Thar desert.

I'd like to say that my last thought before falling into a blissful sleep was of wonder at my life, of the things that have took me to this moment but that would be lie. My sleep wasn't blissful and my thoughts would turn alternately from the cold wind blowing over us and a rememberance of all the dung beetles I had seen scurrying around the desert. Sleep came, and then it didn't and then it did again and so it went.

Morning announced itself with a cool breeze and a hint of color in the eastern sky. The evening before reversed itself, camp was struck, the camels were loaded and relucantly I climbed aboard my beast for the 2 hour trot back to our pickup point. Unlike the day before I was already sore. Each footfall hurt. Each stumble traveled up the camel leg and directly into my ass. When we finally came to the end and the camel knelt down for me to get off I was barely able to walk. Almost two days later and I am still a bit sore. But getting better.

Glad I checked that experience off the list but will never go on a camel again. I feel sorry for the folks that signup for the 3, 7 or 30 day camel treks. Masochists all!
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south pole
Mar. 10th, 2013 @ 07:14 pm not as I planned
My arrival was not really as I expected it to be. Rather it was all uneventful -- there were no lines for immigration, the flight was short, the airport was tame. From what I had read I expected walking out of the secure area of the Delhi airport to be akin to jumping into a maelstrom. I saw hoards of taxidrivers, with rupee signs in their eyes extending claw like hands, ready to fleece the latest foreigners fresh off the plane. But there was none of that.

Instead I just found the guy from my hotel, with my name on a sign and he walked me to his car. 45 minutes later I was checking in and hurrying off to bed, fearful of what my body was starting to tell me.

I have been sick off an on since leaving the ice about a week ago. I had a fever for the two days I was in Sydney but it cleared when I got to Bangkok. About midway through my stay in BKK though I had some ice in my soda at a KFC (foolish, I know) and it was all down hill from there.

I arrived in Delhi already with a case of Delhi belly! And so I have spent the past 3 days in bed, battling a fever that ranged from minor to rather high while spending some quality time in the bathroom (conveniently only 4 ft from my bed).

I am better now, I think. Or at least I am getting better. My fever has subsided, my stomach is starting to settle but this extra time in Delhi has caused some problems with my initial itinerary. I have had to postpone visiting the Taj Mahal for a month which is sad. On the day I was supposed to be watching the sunrise at the TM I was lying in bed watching The Majestic on TV. A good movie but no TM.

My encounters with "india" have been so limited so far, I have walked along 2 roads and one alley. I have eaten exclusively at one restaurant, shopped at two convenience stalls so I hate to make generalizations but... I like it so far. I love the smells, the incense mixing with burning trash, the stray dogs lounging in the street, the outrageous displays of color and shades on the people, watching minor traffic jams develop on streets too narrow when a bicycle rickshaw stops to unload his passengers, oblivious to what is behind him (though I could do with out the cacophony of horns).

So.... not how I planned my first week to be. But, it is what it is. Tomorrow I am off to Jaipur for 2 nights.
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south pole
Mar. 6th, 2013 @ 08:11 pm Bangkok, for a moment
For a city I have never expressed any interest in visiting I find myself in Bangkok for the second time in my life. Funny how that works out. I still don't have any interest in visiting it though it has been nice for what I needed: a cheap place to stay for a few days, some shopping venues and all of the western chain restaurants I can eat my way through. My last morning I am chilling in the hotel restaurant biding my time before I need to leave to the airport. I had an itineray planned out for this morning, a walking visit to temples and buddhas but I can't be bothered.

I really shouldn't beat up on Bangkok but for some reason it has never appealed. It is as if every travel cliche that has ever been written or noted can be footnoted to Bangkok, to Thailand. All of the suspects are here: the drunk spring breaker, the pretty young girl who spends entirely too much time making herself up, the gracelessly aging hippie or the dazed over look of one seeking enlightenment but finding only neon.

I won't say any of that is a terribly bad thing. It's just a wearying thing. I am too jaded, too old a backpacker to feign excitement over questions of "where are you from" or "what do you do". I have become my own cliche, of course.

This visit has been a layover, a 4 day break in my journey to India which commences tonight. India snuck up on me. Up until just a few months ago I had told myself I had no interest in visiting, in dealing with the hassles. My assumption that India is a place you enjoy after the fact, after you have survived the daily onslaughts seemed born out the more and more I spoke to people who had been.

But then I found myself booking a ticket, planning a route, setting aside 2 months to make my way through this massive, intimidating and overwhelming country. I enter with a belief that I am going into battle and maybe that is the wrong frame of mind. But I am expecting the worst and hoping to be pleasantly surprised by the reality. Or I will spend the next 2 months dodging touts as I race to the nearest toilet. We shall see....India will be good for me, I think.

Don't know if I will be regularly on LJ but I have been missing the venue to write, to put words to a screen. I also have some other adventures planned:

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And, sweet jesus, when did the backpackers get so young?
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south pole
Jun. 7th, 2012 @ 07:10 pm a shameless plug....
A friend of mine has spent the past 10 years developing and creating a movie about living and working at McMurdo/Antarctica. It's a full length documentary with some stunning photography and lots of footage of Antarctica during the winter, a season that isn't often depicted in films.

He is looking for funding help and has setup a website, along with a trailer, here:
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/antz/antarctica-a-year-on-ice-documentary-feature-film

Please check it out. The trailer is pretty cool. The voice over at the end is a friend of mine who I have worked with for the past 4 years. If you can spare some money I invite you to check out the variety of funding options he has in place.

Please feel free to share this link wide and far!

Plus I have a bit role in it! :)
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south pole
May. 10th, 2012 @ 09:32 pm what remains
We lost the sun a few weeks ago. It did its little bow, winked as it passed to do it's snowbird thing. It's return is expected in August. We hope. But we still have some light in the sky, some brilliant hours of twilight and if you happen to be in the right spot and the conditions are just right this lighting is what fantasies are made of. You can get lost in the colors, in the shades, in the blue that starts with the ice and ends in the sky.

I spent a few hours outside yesterday taking some pictures. The conditions were perfect: clear skies, a bright moon, positive F temps and little wind. What follows are some of the highlights. With the exception of the moon picture these are all HDR photos, built from a 5 photo sequence.

This might be the best photo I have ever taken:
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south pole
Apr. 27th, 2012 @ 07:40 pm aurora australis
I have enjoyed viewing the Aurora Australis for the past few years but something I have never been able to do is photograph it. My camera has never been powerful enough to capture the spectral lights. Until this year.... Thanks in part to a new camera, but mainly thanks to installing CHDK (this program is amazing and has added so many capabilities to my standard P&S) on my new camera last night I was able to capture my first photograph of the aurora. I am very excited about this and look forward to tweaking my settings as the season progresses. It was also a pretty amazing aurora. I had been outside for about 30 minutes taking pictures of stars when my batteries died. I was about to head back inside when I noticed the faintest glimmer of an aurora starting to form. I ran inside, swapped out my batteries and went back outside. And waited. Sure enough the beginnings I had seen started to grow and grow and grow. Eventually a river of light was flooding it's way from horizon to horizon. It moved, it danced, it twinkled. It lit up the sky with an eerie green that I have come to love.

These were shot with a 62 sec exposure and at 100ISO.


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south pole
Apr. 26th, 2012 @ 07:11 am final sunrise/sunset
Two days ago we had the final sunrise/sunset of the season. The sun will next rise on August 19th and the intervening months darkness will rule the land. We drove out on to the ice shelf, to the wreckage of a plane that crashed here many years ago to view the sunrise and sunset. 4 years later I still find it beautiful.


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I took this picture out of the half opened window of a moving vehicle. I am shocked it came out so good!

I recently installed CHDK on my canon point and shoot and have been playing with all the new exciting features. One of which is bracketing which I have been experimenting with. The following photos are a composite of 5 different pictures, each at a slightly different exposure level.

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south pole
Mar. 29th, 2012 @ 07:11 am 100 years later
‎100 years ago today Sir Robert Scott penned his last journal entry and died, alone, somewhere on the polar plateau. Tonight, 100 years later, myself and 20 other people honor his memory with a climb up ob hill to visit his memorial cross and have a moment of silence. The cross reads: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

A few scott inspired videos:

One that I made for the winter film festival last year:


A music video for the song Terra Nova by the British band Iliketrains:
(it won't allow embedding)
http://youtu.be/hoHloQFJNvs

A drunk history of the South Pole. This was created at McMurdo this past summer season and though it is 17 minutes long it is pretty hilarious.
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south pole
Mar. 11th, 2012 @ 09:52 am Adrenaline Day
When I was visiting Victoria Falls this past December I spent a day jumping into the gorge. This was by far one of the most exciting things I have done and quite terrifying. I make it look easy in the video but I can assure you each jump was petrifying. Even watching the video now I still get an uneasy feeling throughout my body....

This was a full day trip but I put together a short highlight reel.... great fun!

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south pole
Dec. 28th, 2011 @ 01:37 pm Devil's Pool
I don't know what I am going to do with this blog. I haven't been active in awhile and, worse yet, I really haven't felt compelled to write. My last login was about 2 months ago before I started traveling. Maybe I will take it up again when I get back to Antarctica in 3 weeks.

But... I spent the past 2 months in Africa. It was an amazing time. I saw and experienced some amazing stuff. If I start blogging again I will share some of it but until then, I will give you a video I made of my visit to Devil's Pool at the top of Victoria Falls.

Devil's Pool is a small pool at the upper edge of Victoria Falls, on the Zambia side. Thanks to a hidden rock wall you are able to get in the water and swim to the edge before peering over. Think of it as a national infinity pool. It was a pretty awesome experience. Terrifying, yes. But amazing.

Enjoy (before youtube pulls the video for copyright infringement)!

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south pole
Sep. 8th, 2011 @ 10:31 pm This not so dead place

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A few days ago I was asked to drive someone out to our airfield to board one of the last scheduled flights of the "winfly" season. This person hadn't planned on leaving, in fact they had just arrived a week or so earlier but something happened (that I won't get into) that required them to leave station. They may or may not return in a few weeks when the main season gets fully into swing. This is just trivia though, facts random.

We left town early to make sure we met the plane as it arrived but it turned out we left a bit too early. We made excellent time, traveling in a van we found the 14 mile long road, really a trail of heavily packed snow, to be in good condition. There were few drifts and for the most part we lightly bounced along as if we were on a paved road back in the states. We beat the plane to the airfield. And we waited for a lot of cargo to be offloaded before my passenger could board.

I didn't know this person though I had seen them around town both this season and the end of the last season. We had some time to chat. We talked about our backgrounds, our experiences on the ice and why they were leaving. Through this the desperation behind their words became apparent, of how deeply they didn't want to leave the ice. How strongly they wanted to stay and would have stayed if they could.

This is powerful.

And it isn't unique to this person. So many of the people that come down here do so out of great personal sacrifice. We say goodbye to our loved ones in the states, we trade the security (?) and comforts of the "modern" world for some town carved out on the edge of the world whose very existence is ludicrus. I have known people to work through harrowing injuries, gritting their teeth, working through pain that would send someone in the US back to bed, calling in sick, because they didn't want to be marked as a slacker or sent home early. There is a desperation in all of this, a need to belong. A need to be here.

After almost three years I still don't understand what "here" means. I just know that it is special.

In a strange coincidence on this same morning, hours before I was asked to drive out to the airfield, a link to a story started appearing on the FB pages of many people at McM. It was about how HBO was developing a new TV series based on the book Big Dead Place, which tells the tale/adventures of someone who worked down here for a bunch of years in the early to mid 2000's. I am torn by this news. On the one hand I have long thought that life down here would make for a rather interesting TV show but on the other hand I don't feel comfortable about BDP being the inspiration for our life in pictures.

Some of you might have read this book. It's probably the most popular book about working in Antarctica and specifically for the US program. I read the book before I came down here for my first season and it almost made me not come. There is hilarity in this book but there are also moments that paint an unfair picture of the program, of this place, of this community. Sure parts of it are true but at the same time the book focuses a lot on the negative dramatic moments. I distinctly remember sitting in a bookstore reading this book and thinking to myself "do I really want to join THIS community?"*

I had my doubts.

Luckily I still came down and quickly discovered that everyone's experience down here is unique. Those depicted in BDP have no more meaning than I choose to give them.

It's a place those who stay come to love. It's a family, a community, carved into the most extreme enviornment in the world. And I hope this is something that comes across in this TV show if it ever gets made. Sure we have some silly things that go on and yes we have lot's of bureaucracy. But once the allure of "antarctica" fades after your first season there is a reason people keep coming back. There is something real here, something permanent in this transient community of ours. It's not something that is easily portrayed for TV and it is my fear that this won't translate well.

I hope it does. I hope it captures the desperation to be here. I hope people watching this show get to see the same things I see, get to see how strongly people want to be here, how leaving fills one with sadness. I hope it shows that when you strip away the bureaucracy, the corporate culture that tends to pop up more and more you still find something real. It might not make for good TV but it makes for good life.

For this is what makes this place special. This is why I return. This is why Antarctica is Home. For me and many many others.


*After reading the book I had assumed that the author had long since stopped coming down. I was rather surprised to find him still working here when I came down for my first season.
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south pole
Aug. 16th, 2011 @ 09:32 pm Africa...
Well, I am going to do it. I have been thinking about it for years but this year it's going to happen. I am going to Africa when I leave Antarctica. Just for a short trip, not to stay or anything! :)

I leave McMurdo on 10/7 and on 10/17 I board a plane in NY that will fly me to Kenya where I will begin a 2 month tour through SE Africa! On Dec 13 I fly out of Johannesburg and have a layover in Istanbul. For no additional cost I was able to extend this layover for 10 days so after overlanding through Africa I will spend 10 days exploring Istanbul and a bit of Turkey.

I am doing something for this trip that I have never done before and it's making me a bit nervous: I am taking a 54 day "package" tour. I have always traveled independently, preferring the joys and stresses that come from doing it on your own. And, oh yes, the cost savings.

The tour is an overland trip which will basically consist of 24 people loaded up in a specially converted truck and slowly driving through 8 countries in Africa stopping off in many places along the way, including 7+ game parks. Each night we will camp and prepare a communal dinner dish. This lack of luxury keeps the costs down (which, even doing it on the cheap is not cheap compared to my previous trips) and adds a bit to the adventure. I hope.

Throwing together a group this large, randomly, and then tossing them on a bus for hours each day is a bit of a gamble. This could be the greatest travel experience I have ever had or the worst. I don't know. This was and is my major concern with this trip. It's not like it is only for a few days and then I can my own way. It's 54 days, together. While there will be a somewhat varied age bracket the trip mainly caters to Brits, Aussies and Kiwis.

Logistically I think this is the best thing for me. The thought of planning this trip on my own is rather daunting especially given where I am right now. There would be just so much involved. And while it's true that planning is often really fun for me it is very time consuming. There is also the issue of traveling alone in africa, not from a safety standpoint, but of actually getting to and from the game parks. I don't want to drive overseas so it really limits me and since I am traveling alone it's hard to absorb costs etc.

Part of me does feel like I am cheating a bit by doing this. But I think my previous experiences have earned me a bit of backpacker cred (South and Central America on my own, Egpyt on my own and China on my own!! :) ) so I hope they don't take away my membership card.

So I am doing a package tour. I hope it is good. I think it will. The one thing I have realized as I have traveled more is that my best experiences involve other people. I never knew how lonely I was until I started traveling with others!

This is the company and tour I am taking:
http://www.absoluteafrica.com/summary.lasso?trip_code=WW55

And let's not forget Turkey, though I know I will! I have wanted to visit Turkey since 2005 when I was camping in SD and had a dream that I was in Istanbul.

Well... I can't say my life is boring! :)
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south pole
Jul. 7th, 2011 @ 08:05 am celestial happenings
or, Pictures I Didn't take.


While compared to last winter there have been few auroras on display the ones that I have seen have been pretty much amazing. One night in particular I could swore I was heaven, as green streamed across the sky, a wayward river tumbling across the darkened sky.


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Me posing with an Aurora. Photo by Neil Mainwaring

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From the same night. This and the next photo by S Brown

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next photo is amazing but of a larger size that will muck up your friends listCollapse )
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south pole
Jul. 1st, 2011 @ 09:44 am photos from the nighttime medevac flight
Most of these are pretty self explanatory. They aren't the best photos because of the darkness, the constant movement and my hands freezing.



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south pole
Jun. 30th, 2011 @ 04:53 pm The winter medevac, pt 2
(read the previous entry first to better understand this one)

We live in a bubble during the winter. Days become routine, nights become days become nights until its all one long long night. You don't expect too much change so when something unexpected does happen it quickly becomes the talk of the town. This isn't always a malicious thing -- it's just a natural outcome when people get bored.

Of course this has been the talk of the town. In the days leading up to it the speculation grew and grew: "would it happen?" "If the plane comes, who is going to quit so they can leave?" "who is going to be fired?" "Will we be getting package mail?" "will they bring down the emperor penguin who got lost and ended up in NZ?" Hours were spent in these idle, speculative, discussions. Endless scenarios were discussed and discarded. But as that talk grows it becomes easy to lose track of the reason the flight would be happening.

And that's where it gets a bit awkward. No one here wants someone to get hurt or ill. No one here wants there to be a winter medevac. Everyone recognizes how rare they are. They represent a reaction to something that is considered so severe that death or permanent damage can occur. They are undertaken with considerable cost and risk. We know this.

But at the same time they are exciting. They are new. They represent contact with the outside world, delivery of mail that has been sitting in Christchurch and more fresh food than we have seen in months. As this became more and more likely rumors of how much mail would be coming trickled out and people began to imagine what might be waiting for them. People started tasting the fresh fruit, imagining the juice running down their chin, their neck and of licking it off their fingers. Even I, no fan of fruit, started to get pretty excited.

This becomes a dilemna. Most conversations have been beginnig with "I don't want X to be sick, and I hope they get better soon but if it has to happen...." and then their eyes gleam up a bit as they start to think about the fruit. or the mail. or the idea of seeing a plane streak across the sky. But at the same time there is a bit of guilt, you don't want to be looking forward to the flight but you suddenly find yourself doing just that.

For me the situation is simply weird. I am not entirely sure what to think. Of course I will be thrilled to get some mail and I will enjoy some of the fresh food but the flight, this contact, seems so foreign. I feel as if this plane is puncturing my winter bubble. Which isn't OK because there won't be another plane until the end of August. My season is nowhere near over and yet I find myself thinking of planes, of flight, of leaving, of travel and it's barely even July.
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south pole
Jun. 30th, 2011 @ 04:52 pm The winter medevac, pt 1
Your winter season is only as good as the people who are spending the season with you. During a summer season, where people are constantly coming and going, a strong sense of community never entirely develops. You don't have the same sense of identity, the feeling that we are all in this together, for better or for worse, that comes from doing a winter.

Winters are different. Winters are closed, the same people you start the season with are the same ones that end it with you. Everyone has a vital role to play in station life and you know everyone. You come to depend upon each other, whether something as basic as a work task or a friend at the bar. Everything that happens down here affects everyone else. If someone is in a bad mood that is telegraphed to everyone. Alternately if someone is jubliant it can be infectious.

Which is why it's hard when someone gets sick or is injured. Even if you aren't good friends with the person their illness is shared by the community. Their absence in work and social settings is noticed and felt. You feel a genuine sense of concern, in those minutes, hours, days that follow before you know just how sick/injured they are. You want them to get better, you want things to be back the way they were before.

We had some medical situations develop in the past few weeks, that I won't talk about (don't ask), and when it became apparent that one case was serious we began to worry. We have the best medical facility in Antarctica but it's not designed for serious longterm care. So it's in sickness that our isolation is brought into focus, it's in illness that you feel the thousands of miles that separate us from civilization. But it's also in those moments of despair that the community, our band of motley vagabonds, can prove itself.

5 days ago we started prepping for a medical evacuation flight.

While these can occur frequently during the summer they are rare for the winter. In the past 10 years there have only been two at McMurdo. Those both occured early in the winter season, in April, before darkness had fully engulfed the station. A medevac in early July is unheard of in part because of the inherent risks involved. While no flight to Antarctica is routine a winter landing is made all the more challenging because of the darkness. It's true that recent technology has made this a bit easier you can't change the fact that you are landing a plane, on ice, in Antarctica, in -40F, in total darkness. Pilots are now equipped with night vision goggles and we have special equipment, stored away for this very purpose, that we setup on the runway.

But the runway has been closed since March. All of the buildings, generators, fuel pits -- basically everything you need for an airfield -- has been in storage since then, not planned on being used until our regular flights resume in August. Before a plane can even consider landing here there is a lot of work, from people all of the world, that has to be done (yet another reason why getting sick in the winter is so risky -- help is still a few days away).

We went to 24 hr shifts and we got it done (and I feel I am being too generous with the use of the word "we" -- while everyone played a small role, fewer people played much larger roles).

It's pretty amazing when you think about it. It makes me proud to be a member of this community. It makes me proud to work for an organization that cares enough about it's people to stop everything, and at considerable cost (my unofficial estimates run in the 6 or 7 figure range), to get this done when one of our own is threatened. In 5 days we went from skipping along, content in our midwinter worlds, to building a runway and setting up a fully operational airfield. A plane was dispatched from the US. Countless people whose names I don't know, working in agencies I have never heard of, have all played a role in this.

Today the darkness of winter was pierced by a light in the sky as a C-17 plane drew near and members of the US military landed it on our patch of ice. The plane left with two members of our community who will be missed.

Standing at the airfield, my hands frozen solid, watching the plane depart I was reminded once again that it's through rescues that our humanity truly shines.
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south pole
Jun. 12th, 2011 @ 01:18 pm the past and present
I spent 9 years of my life working for Borders Books & Music. It was my first real job out of HS, it was where I sought refuge when I dropped out of college and it was where I found friends who continue with me today. In short, it was where I lived my life; it defined my 20s and much of who I am today, of what I have done, was born out of those experiences. This is nothing special, this is not unique. Any place that you spend so much time at is bound to leave it's mark on you, to affect you in some profound way (if it doesn't than wow, what a waste).

I left there almost 4 years ago but friends remain and my curiousity, my interest, is always a bit tweaked to news of Borders. So I was a bit sad a few months ago when I heard that the company was filing for Chap 11 bankruptcy protection. This wasn't a surprise, it was something I had been expecting for years, having followed the tales of mass layoffs, but still it was a bit of a shock. When a giant list of stores that would soon be closed came out I parsed through it, noting stores where I worked, where friends still worked and the store that I spent most of my time at. The store that was mine for 9 years. It wasn't on the list.

Yesterday I heard that the store I worked at is going to close. I was at that store from the day it was born. I helped put it together. The first layout of the bargain book section was all mine. The genre and reference books got on the shelf because of my work, my hands. My blood and sweat were in that store from the day it opened until the day I left. I am sorry for my friends that are still there who will be losing their jobs.

I think back on that store, of my time there, with a wistful sense of nostalgia. There is no loss in my memory, no deep regret for what was nor a longing to go back. It's remarkable to me that I don't feel more. It's remarkable that something, someplace, that was once so important to me can get archived into the back of my mind, lumped into the mess of memories that have come to be known simply as my 20s.

---
This posting does not mark my triumphant return to LJ. It's been months since I have last posted an entry. While it's true that I haven't felt "inspired" to write the larger issue is that I am coming to think I might be over this whole blogging thing.

In some ways this has been a hard season on the ice for me. Physically I find myself exhausted. I haven't been sleeping well for the past few months. I have gotten into the habit of waking up, exactly, at 3am no matter what time i fall asleep. Once up I am rarely able to get back into a restful sleep and so spend my days chugging along on a few hours of sleep, pushing my sleep deficit into the future hoping that I will catch up before it catches up to me.

There have been petty dramas, minor annoyances compounding into major events, playing out around the station that have made me question the main reason I enjoy being down here: the community. The issue of my last entry, indeed the thread of so many entries of the past few years, finally resolved itself out of mind a few months ago. I don't know that I will return again. i am leaving the option open but realize i probably shouldn't come back. You can only hide from the world in Antarctica for so long.

Otherwise not much is new down here. The ice continues as it has. The exciting has become the mundane.
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south pole
Mar. 21st, 2011 @ 06:58 am Operation Bacon
We have seen our share of hardships and obstacles this season. From the earthquake in Christchurch, the Norwegian sailboat sinking (and the subsequent rescue of two people on land), our road sinking into the water we have had some challenges to work through. None however compare to the challenge and crisis that developed over the past two weeks.

We ran out of bacon.

I rarely eat bacon, and never eat it down here, so I didn't even know it was an issue until I started hearing grumblings of it in the galley, not so hushed voices in the hallway or violent fistfights breaking out over the status of the bacon. OK, that last bit is a lie.

But we are Americans and we love our bacon. It's practically apple pie.... only better. When our neighboring station offered to give us some of their extra bacon we ate through it in a weekend. Our appetite for bacon knows no limit.

Except for when we run out, then it does know a limit. That hollow place in our stomach knows the limit. That ache that grows when you sit down for breakfast knows the limit. This had developed into a real, real crisis. How to last until August, AUGUST, with no bacon?

Ahh but there are tragedies and there are tragedies diverted and this story, dear reader, has a happy ending. A delicious, happy ending. For, as it turned out, there was some bacon remaining on station. An entire wooden crate worth of bacon. The only problem was that it was buried at the back of our food warehouse, behind 125 crates of other food items.

Last week we unloaded all of the crates and liberated the crate of bacon. It probably won't last the whole season but managed carefully it will get us through most of it.

I did some time lapse photography of th event, my first time playing with this medium and ended up taking almost 5000 pictures. It has since been turned into a 5 minute video:


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south pole
Mar. 6th, 2011 @ 12:43 pm Writer's Block: Dear LiveJournal

How long have you been on Livejournal? What major life changes has LiveJournal witnessed?

First question listed was submitted by badass_tiger . (Follow-up questions, if any, may have been added by LiveJournal.)

View 1542 Answers



An intriguing question. I started using LJ in Feb of 2005. I had just completed a cross country train trip that, though I didn't know it at the time, would ignite within me a travel bug that I have been fighting to squash ever since.
Major changes:

quit working for Borders, which had pretty much defined my working life.
visited 25 countries, including a 6 month backpacking trip through south and central america
met people from all over the world
started living and working in Antarctica which has offered me some of the most amazing and unique experiences I can hope to have. Got to stand at the geographic south pole.

There has been little change in my personal life though. No major relationships. No children, no long term career prospects. No closer to figuring out my "passion" (but closer to realizing that passion isn't some x variable that is waiting to be solved).
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south pole
Mar. 6th, 2011 @ 09:38 am the continuing story of the ice
There is something disconcerting about driving a 30,000lb vehicle, loaded with passengers, on a road that is supposed to be built on permanent ice and looking out the window to see the edge of the road heaving up and down about 6 inches. We've known for about a week now that the road we take to the runway has been getting ready to calve off and drift away into the sea. Cracks and fissures have been appearing in spots but up until recently they weren't on the road. SUre they ran close and sure there were spots where you could see the cracks forming and easily imagine how the calving would happen but up until yesterday I hadn't seen that process beginning to happen.

Over the course of a few hours the cracks began to widen. Driving out to the airfield I passed over three cracks that crisscrossed the road. When we returned those cracks were one inch wide. There are a number of outcomes to this ranging from "a great story" to death. I think everyone who drive yesterday thought about, if only for a second, what would happen if they were on the section of ice as it calved off. I have seen how fast it can happen. Or worse yet, be passing over the crack as it starts to happen -- nothing but miles of freezing cold ocean will cushion that fall.

Thankfully everyone made it back in to town OK. The road is now closed and probably won't last a week. The plane came and went. Winter has officially begun. No one gets in or out until August.

Fun!

I have some pictures of the ice breaking out over at Scott Base and of the adelie penguins that have been hanging out near the station. And video of some adelies fighting.




Read more...Collapse )
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south pole
Mar. 5th, 2011 @ 07:08 am the ice, the ice, the ice....
For all the sadness of my last post this has really been a pretty amazing week at McMurdo. Each year we have an ice breaker come in to cut a path into our harbor. It's a contract boat and rarely spends any time breaking up the ice outside of the main shipping lane. What this has meant in the past is that we don't get a lot of open water here. Sure the lane they cut widens with the tide and sure some of the ice blows out but it is rarely that big of deal.

Not so this year.

For reasons partly unknown we have been treated to an amazing amount of open water. After a slow start in which it looked like we would have no open water we all began to watch with amazement as it slowly started to creep around Observation Hill. Ob Hill is the border to our little town and while it often gets some melt pools it's really rare to theoretically be able to swim from one edge of town to the other edge. There was amazement when this happened, amazement that only increased as it began to round Ob Hill, fully encircling it with water.

Surely we thought, this will be the best it gets.

But then a storm moved in, a storm that many consider to be one of the biggest storms in this area of the world in over 20 years. This is the same storm that sunk the Berserk sailboat, taking 3 of it's crew into the cold, cold, deep. The same storm that brought 180knot winds and 10 meter waves to the area, that repelled a NZ warship. When it finally lifted and the clouds cleared out of the bay what remained was nothing short of amazing. A huge channel of water had been cut all the way to within a few hundred feet of Scott Base, the new zealand station. It's almost 2 miles away.

I paid a visit to Scott Base shortly after this happened to see the view from that angle. It was amazing: huge icebergs, having been calved off the permanent ice shelf, were floating around. The ice that approached the shore could be seen to rise and sink with the tide, each passage up and down marked by the eerie sound of ice scrapping against each other, against land. A sound as beautiful as it was foreign.

But surely we thought, that was the best we were going to get. Open water within 200 feet of Scott Base. Pretty remarkable, to be sure.

You know where this is going. Lots of days of strong winds and wave action have continued this cycle and the ice breakup moved forward, moved inward, getting closer and closer to the ice that is never supposed to leave, the ice that is hundreds of feet thick, the ice that supports our main road and our airfield.

The alarm rang through the station, like any other rumor, and it was met with disbelief. The water had been sighted within a football field distance of our road. Satellite imagery revealed how close it was getting and also revealed massive, massive chunks of floating ice, ice that had calved from the permanent ice shelf. This has become an historic breakout.

Each day we would watch this stuff get blown past McMurdo, out to the sea. On calm days you could just see water from here to the mountains, over 25 miles away. The water invaded Scott Base, dragging away the ice that scrapped and made such sweet sounds. The water rounded Scott base and started to tear away at the pressure ridges -- an area of immense beauty, where the permanent ice meets the temporary ice, a courtship that creates these beautiful upheavals of ice that twist as they reach toward the sky and bend as the wind carves into them. A sight so beautiful it could only been created by all the forces of nature. That is all gone now. One by one those pressure ridges broke, ruptured, split and dove into the deep, bobbing their way across our bay.

Scott Base is fully surrounded by water now, which is something that hasn't happened in over 20 years. It's something that I am honored to have gotten a chance to witness. It's one of the things I love about being down here -- no season is the same and rarely can weather have such a profound and visible effect on the scenery, on the conditions.

This open water has not gone unnoticed by the penguins. For a season that has already seen a lot of penguins the word spread fast when a few days ago hundreds of emperor penguins showed up at Scott Base. Many of us have gone over there with smiles plastered on our faces as we watched these meter tall penguins play and swim in the water. We usually see emperors only when they are molting, when they are at their least playful. For the past few days we have watched them leaping from the water, launching themselves up and onto the ice shelf. At a distance of more than 5 ft it's pretty impressive to watch. And pretty spectacular when they miss, hit the wall and then fall back into the sea. They seem to be OK though. And eventually they all make it on.

Two days ago a bunch of guys who had been working on the airfield were traveling back to town. he road leads to an area known as the transition, where the ice (now, not so permanent) meets the volcanic island that McMyuro and SB sit on. It passes by SB, right near where the penguins had been hanging out. When they got there they discovered all of the penguins hanging out on the road. They were forced to stop and someone uttered one of my favorite radio calls of the season when they alerted the firehouse that they would miss their checkin because of penguin traffic on the road. The pictures from this event are remarkable (and no, I don't have any of them).

Today is our last flight and it looks like the road is going to hold up until we no longer need it. There are all sorts of mysteries right now as we begin to wonder how long it will take for the water to ice over. We wonder when the emperors are going to leave (part of me hopes that the ice breakup has washed away their tradtional mating ground and they have to winter with us). We wonder the affect this breakout will have on permament ice condititions. Is is something that will reoccur more freuquently now? Who knows...

It has been fun to speculate though. And I am glad to have been able to experience it just as I will be glad to wave goodbye to the last plane this afternoon and finally officially start winter.

For the first time this season I can say I am really, really, excited for this winter.

Let's get it going.
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south pole
Feb. 23rd, 2011 @ 09:08 pm the dark clouds over mcmurdo
(a lot has been happening, this is one of the most emotional weeks I have had down here)

About 36 hrs ago I awoke to snow blowing around town and soon discovered that it was the start of what was to be a two day storm. With a week of flights scheduled to get the remaining summer crew out of here everyone started thinking about how the weather was going to muck up the flight schedule. Roads were shut, the weather forecaster was going into overtime with predictions, flight schedules were posted tentatively. No one expected the flights schedule for today, wed, to actually make it in. The weather was just too bad.

What no one expected, what no one planned for, was a massive, devastating earthquake to strike in Christchurch New Zealand. All of our operations for the continent are based out of CHC. It's the city we all fly in and out of on our way to McMurdo. It's a city that I have come to love these past few years. Those sentiments are shared by many and so when news of the quake hit, when the gravity of the damage to life and property became apparent work around station came to a halt as people turned towards live coverage on the TVs and the news updates. We all have deep connections to this city.

The pictures and first hand reports were horrifying. There are currently over 500 people affiliated with the program in CHC right now, having reached the end of their season. Monday I said goodbye to a flight carrying over 100 passengers, many of whom I consider friends, some dear, dear friends. With each report of the damage, with each mention of the devastation in the city center my heart sank lower and lower. All of the hotels we use are based in the center.

It's a terrible feeling of powerlessness that one feels being down here. We have all the benefits of the news society we live in but that just makes it worse. Nothing makes you feel more helpless than knowing but not being able to do anything. We can just wait and hope for good news. It's interesting when stuff like this happens, when real life invades our bubble existence down here. I find that it hits me pretty hard, I find myself getting really emotional as I am reminded about all the things and people I love back in the "real" world.

But I am also reminded how much I love being a part of this Antarctic community and how proud I am of it when I see the care and concern folks in the program have exhibited. Within hours of the quake someone had set up a facebook group for people from down here to check in, to let the world (and us, us, us, trapped on the ice) know they were OK. 12 hours later there were almost 500 members, people with some connection to this program. Spreadsheets were developed to track everyone who has reported in so we can all know immediately if someone was OK.

There were a few harrowing hours last night that I spent on the computer constantly refreshing facebook waiting for news of friends. By this morning just about everyone I know has been accounted for (a pretty impressive accomplishment given how we ice people like to scatter as soon was we leave here). But safe doesn't mean sound.

By all accounts Christchurch is a warzone. Many of the hotels we use have been completely destroyed. Friends of mine have lost all of their luggage, their money, their passports. With no place to go they have been turning up at the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC), which is the building that stores all of the cold weather gear we use and is also the terminal we use to fly to McMurdo. It's about 30 minutes by car from the center. People have been walking there, some without shoes. There are over 100 people there right now, living on cots, stranded until flights start happening. No one knows when that will happen.

Things down here are anything but normal. The whole end of the season has been thrown into disarray. The flight schedule is scrapped. There is talk of the summer season (which was supposed to end on Mar 5th) being scrapped and ending early with 2 back to back flights this weekend. The flights will be taking people to Auckland so they can avoid Christchurch. The weather continues to be bad: high winds, white out snow and drifts up to your waist. The open water, which has been so beautiful this past week, continues to expand and is feared to be getting closer to the roads we use to get to our airfield. If the roads wash out we could have problems.

The open water has also started attracting boats to the area. A few days ago the New Zealand warship Wellington was spotted in the "harbor" right outside of town. That was quite a sight. I watched them for a bit and watched the landing ship they launched head towards hut point, where members of the New Zealand Scott Base Station were waiting. More tragically, for the past week or so a sailboat has been hanging around the waters, about 20 miles from town. It was a Norwegian vessel. Yesterday afternoon we picked up a distress signal from the boat. By the time the Wellington was able to arrive at their last reported location there was no sign of the sailboat. The beacon had stopped and we lost contact. The boat is presumed lost with 3 souls on board. More troubling, we believe the boat landed 2 people on the continent who were attempting to setup caches for an overland traverse to the South Pole. Basically there are two people with limited, to no, provisions wandering around the area during a massive storm. This makes me angry beyond belief: they have no business being here so ill prepared.
http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-world/antarctic-yachts-distress-beacon-stops-20110223-1b55m.html

There are things to be happy for. I am thrilled that all of my friends are safe and accounted for. I am thrilled that the only impact down here will be delays. I am thrilled to be a part of this community. We have problems right now but we will get through them like we always do.

But for now, the storm still lingers, a fog hangs over the water/ice shelf outside of the station and the white of the freshly fallen snow contrasts greatly with the dark, dark clouds in the sky. and in my heart.
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south pole
Feb. 18th, 2011 @ 09:47 pm video: orca and waves


Some bad video I shot of Orca's playing out in the water in front of the station.




Some waves crashing at Hut Point. Waves aren't a big deal in most places but this is Antarctica, at McMurdo. This is extremely rare!
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south pole
Feb. 18th, 2011 @ 06:45 am Open water, orcas and seals!
A few nights ago we had a big wind storm tear through town. The wind stirred all evening, into the night and come morning we awoke to discover that the wind had blown all of the pack ice out of the water in front of the station. What was once a collection of cracked ice had suddenly become a sheet of shimmering water, as far as the eye could see. We had a lot of open water last year but this is more than we have had for decades (short history: we used to get a lot of open water here but about 10 years ago a massive iceberg (b15) broke off from the shelf and clogged the passage).

All of this openwater has not gone unnoticed by the local wildlife. Last night while hiking I spent about 30 minutes watching a pod of orcas (killer whales) playing in the distance (you could tell what they were by their behavior and dorsal fin shape). They eventually found a group of about 30 penguins hanging out near the ice edge and spent some time checking them out. Every few minutes I would watch a giant head pop up out the water, right in front of the penguins, and stare. Luckily for the penguins they weren't close to the edge.

There was also a seal swimming in the shallows near our shoreline. I noticed it as I hiked right by it, probabl like 15 feet from it. I have never been that close to a seal down here before. I think it was most likely a weddell but it might have been a leopard seal.


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In the center, you can see three dorsal fins. On my copy I can zoom and make out the fins.

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south pole