Sunday, August 22, 2010

Getting here is half the fun!

So, the first questions that people usually ask (after what the heck are you doing there?) is how do you get there? How long does it take?

First a little geography - McMurdo Station is located on Ross Island (almost 78 S and 166.5 E). This is on the New Zealand and Australia side of the continent, not on the South American side. So, getting here first involves a trip to New Zealand, where the US has maintained a logistics center since the 1950s. On this trip we flew from Denver to Los Angeles; LA to Auckland, New Zealand (north island) and then Auckland to Christchurch (south island). Yes, it's a long trip - about 24 hours or so, airport to airport. But, the good news is that the LA to Auckland flight left LA at about midnight, so we got plenty of sleep during the trip.

Once in Christchurch, you usually have a day or two of activity. We arrived on Wed, 18 August and checked into a nice B&B that the US Antarctic Program (USAP) uses regularly. On Thursday, we (and a lot of our fellow travelers) had an appointment at the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) to get our Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear. That is about 35 lbs of clothing designed to protect you from the elements and make living and working here comfortable and safe. It is generally an amusing experience to try on all of these clothes and to realize that most of the time you're going to feel like the Michelin man (or the little brother from the movie A Christmas Story). This year, we also were all given flu shots at the CDC. Apparently there was a pretty serious outbreak of flu a couple of seasons ago and they are trying to prevent a repeat.

On Friday, 20 August, we all got up around 3 am and took shuttle buses back to the CDC (which is located near Christchurch airport). We repacked bags and got into our ECW gear for the flight (it's required to wear it). The CDC personnel had arranged for a mobile coffee cart to come around 4 am (seriously, the guy had an whole coffee bar in the back of a van!), which was really helpful! Caffeinated and bundled up, we all checked in our luggage, got boarding cards and eventually went through security - just like a normal flight. Then onto more buses and off to the airplane. The USAP contracts with the US Air Force to fly C-17 transports to Antarctica now - it's a pretty nice way to go. There was so much cargo in the plane, though, that I couldn't get a good picture of the interior. We were all seated along the side walls and the center was filled with materials, crates, gas cylinders, luggage, food, etc..

Outside the passenger terminal, 5 am

Passenger seating in the C-17

One great thing about this trip was that the weather was perfect! It was so nice, in fact, that the flight crew invited us up onto the flight deck (2 at a time) to see the view. I couldn't photograph from up there very well, but here are some images taken out one of the side ports. Be sure to look at the shadows - the sun was really far north!

A break in the sea ice (called a "lead")
Looking north - look at those shadows!

First few of the Trans-Antarctic Mountains

Then, 5 hours after we left Christchurch, we landed at the Pegasus runway (a permanent runway on the Ross Ice Shelf). It was about noon local time and really quite warm (maybe -30 C, warm for this time of year!). It then takes about 45 minutes to get to McMurdo by bus... more on McMurdo itself in another post!

Folks arriving off the C-17

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