Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Harbor

Yesterday a teammate and I made a loop where we hiked out to New Harbor Camp, and then hiked out to the gage at Commonwealth Stream.  It was an awesome hike.  We got to cover quite a bit of new terrain and caught some great views along the way.  Neither of us had hiked this route before, so it was pretty fun walking in a general direction and not knowing exactly where to go.

As the name implies, New Harbor Camp is situated on the coast.  The camp itself was pretty awesome.  I think it houses a lot of divers so there was a bunch of great writing and random stuff hung up on the walls that had to do with diving.  We tagged the signature wall with our stream team alias, The Asgard Rangers.  This name is borrowed from our kiwi predecessors.  They gaged many of the streams that we now gage, and called themselves the Asgard Rangers after the Mountain Range that defines the Northern border of our valley.  Here is the front door to New Harbor, as you can see in the windows, the interior decorating of these camps is second to none.

When we were walking around the camp we saw some of the first signs that we were not alone.  Unfortunately, we never saw the culprit who left these prints.

We hiked along the beach for about a mile up to the mouth of Commonwealth stream.  The beach was amazing, with signs of life everywhere!  There were clam shells stuck in the sand, and the place actually smelled like a beach.  We were greeted by two curious skuas (burly seagulls)  that were not shy in the least bit.  They flew to within about 4 feet of our heads, but they surprisingly weren't aggressive.


There was a small moat of water between the shoreline and the sea ice, and the sea ice was extremely rough.  The melting sea ice really made some amazing sculptures that I tried to capture with my camera, but as with most things the pictures don't seem to do them justice.  Speaking of that, as Natalie mentioned in one of her comments, from New Harbor you can see Ross Island, where McMurdo is located.  Here are a couple pictures where I tried to capture Mt. Erebus, and you can faintly make it out in the background.

We took our time exploring up the beach until we hit Commonwealth.  From here we had to head up stream to near the source at Commonwealth Glacier, where we have a gage box.  This stretch of the hike was another great change of scenery.  There was a pretty cool canyon that was formed by the stream as it cut through the buried ice and sediment.  The canyon exposed layers of buried ice that began to form what are called thermokarst features.  A thermokarst feature is any change in topography caused by the thawing of permafrost or subterranean ice.  Here is a photo of the canyon.

I have realized that I keep referencing these places, but I haven't provided a map.  Here is one I grabbed and added the camps, and location of blood falls.  It doesn't have stream names, but if you are curious and google maps of taylor valley there are some good maps with stream names.

We finally made it up to our gage box and collected the samples and the data we needed to.  Then we began the 2 hour hike home.  When we arrived home we were greeted by a new teammate, and some dinner.  We processed the samples we took during the day, and then crashed.

I almost forgot.  Tonight is New Years Eve here.  Happy New Years everybody!!!

Monday, December 29, 2014

First Flow on Von Guerard

Today a teammate and I were planning on hiking down to a stream on the other side of the Valley and then heading over to a camp called New Harbor which is situated on the coast of the McMurdo sound.  We were going to fly to this stream in a couple of days, but if we could knock it out today we would reduce our helo hours and then we would be able to visit New Harbor, which we both want to check out.

We were getting packed up to leave on our trek, when someone ran inside and notified us that the stream next to our camp had just started to run.  This is the first time that this stream, Von Guerard, has seen flow all season which was pretty cool.  We quickly collected samples of the stream.  The initial pulse is of interest to scientists because they want to know how the chemistry of the initial pulse compares to the chemistry of the flow during the rest of the season.  Finally the stream team's camp had a stream!  It was about time.

This changed our plans, because we had agreed to install someone's stage and electrical conductivity loggers into the stream once we saw flow.  So instead of a hike across the valley, and down to the sound we hiked up the drainage of Von Guerard.

This was a pretty fun trip.  We installed the loggers every 0.75 km and there was about 5 km of stream.  There was a bunch of awesome views and cool stuff to check out on the way.  We both agreed that these days were hard to beat.  Hike a little, work a little, eat a little, and repeat.  We actually traced the stream all the way up to its origins at the glacier.  It is cool to see the progression from the origins of the water all the way to it's final destination.  We also drank a little bit from the stream high up near the glacier.  The water was extremely refreshing, and it was just a cool experience. Here is Von Guerard Stream, and then the Glacier that feeds it.


Below is a cool picture of Lake Frixell.  On the left (west) of the photo is Canada Glacier, on the right (east) is Commonwealth Glacier.  Between these two glaciers is lake Frixell where our camp F6 is located.  You can also faintly make out the route of the stream that we followed all day.

This adventure took up the majority of our day.  When we got back we got a call from one of the helicopters and they had some packages to drop off.  These packages just so happened to be the beer I had ordered from town.  Christmas had come a few days late, and santa may have flown in on a helicopter but he came through for me!

Tomorrow we are expecting a new team member to arrive.  We are still planning on doing the loop that got canceled today.  Hopefully the weather is nice so we get some good views out into the sound.  I think I will go enjoy one of my new cold beverages, goodnight!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Post Christmas Blues

No, I'm not feeling down, or suffering from seasonal affective disorder like those of you in the Northern Hemisphere.  The "Post Christmas Blues" is in reference to the water in the Dry Valleys rapidly undergoing the conversion from the usual solid white state to the liquid blue state.  I know, it's cheesy but I needed a title...

Yesterday we left the comforts of the Lake Hoare camp and flew up Taylor Valley for Blood Falls again.  The flow was higher on the streams in this area than they were when we visited a week ago on my first day in the field.  After we collected what we needed for these streams we headed down the valley to Bohner (pronouced Bahn - er, the helo pilots get a kick out of mispronouncing this stream...) and Priscu streams.  We took the helo back to Lake Hoare to pick up some bacon and other tasty treats and we flew them back to our home at F6.  We will be eating well!

When we got back someone had to hike back up to Canada Glacier to pick up our ATV that we left up there when we originally hiked up to Lake Hoare.  This is only about an hour hike from F6 and I volunteered for the job to walk off some of the Christmas calories I consumed over the past couple of days.  The weather was beautiful, around 32 deg F, and not much wind.  This was my solo first hike, and some of the first alone time I have had in the Valleys and it was spectacular.  I noticed a lot of things when I was out hiking alone.  The first thing I noticed was the lack of noise.  It was just complete silence, which of course I had to interrupt with a couple of shouts that made their way back to me after a couple of seconds.  Needless to say the silence was pretty awesome.  Here is a picture I took on my hike.

Another thing that began to sink in was the magnitude of this landscape.  I could see the glacier I was headed for from my camp.  It looked as if I could make it there in about half an hour, but it took twice the time.  Also, there is no movement here at all.  There is not a single animal, aside from the rarely seen occasional skua, to catch your eye.  The simplicity and peaceful nature of this place is a unique experience for me and quite amazing.  However, the complete desolation of the landscape reminds me that we are out of our element here.

Anyways, I got to our ATV after about an hour of hiking and I struggled to find a place to cross the melting moat.  I tried a few spots, but the ice was too soft.  I finally found a rock where I could get out a couple feet from the shoreline, then I quickly shuffled across the thin ice.  Don't worry the depth around the moats is never more than a foot or two, but wet boots are no fun.  I grabbed the ATV and decided to pick up some glacier berries while I was down by the glacier.  Glacier berries is a new term to me, and they are the chunks of glaciers that break apart when a large chunk of the glacier calves and hits the ground, or lake ice.  We melt these "berries" for our drinking water which is pretty cool.  Someone told me these glaciers are around 2000 years old, so we are apparently drinking water that was frozen around the time Jesus was around which is really interesting to think about.  This pile of berries was  on the lake ice so I drove up to them, harvested my berries, threw them in the back of the ATV and headed on home.  It is funny because you do have to "pick" the berries because they thaw a bit and freeze to the lake ice so it takes some effort to dislodge them.  They are pretty big too, I'd say the average one I grabbed was about 30 lbs.

I booked it back to Camp F6 on the ATV and apparently my "NSF approved" driving busted up some of the berries on the way home... oops.  I headed in and helped one of my teammates process the stream samples we had taken.  This consists various filtering and sub-sampling of the samples to send them off to McMurdo for further processing.  It is amazing the amount of precautions we use when handling these samples, so not to contaminate them.  I have never had any experience with water chemistry sampling so although this stuff is tedious it is good experience.

Today we had a full day measuring flow and sampling all of the streams flowing into Lake Frixell which is the lake our home base, F6, is located on.  We traveled around on the ATV to get from stream to stream.  Out of the 12 streams we visited, there were 7 flowing which will likely continue to increase as the summer progresses.  Here is a picture of Canada Stream which was flowing pretty good today.

It was a full day today.  We hit the lake at about 10:00 am to start sampling, and we made it back to F6 at around 6:00 pm.  Nothing extremely notable happened today, other than the fact that I stepped through the moat in about a foot of water and soaked my boots.  I should have tested the ice, but it was the same location that I used to get off of the lake no more than an hour before.  I hopped on, and boom one foot went through, and I used the other one to push me back to shore, which went in as well.  Luckily I had wool socks on.  As far as I am concerned wool socks are the greatest thing that has ever happened to footwear.  My feet were completely soaked, but warm for the rest of the day.

Just a random cool photo I found that I took today of the Canada Glacier.

Another notable thing was we saw the great Kiwi t-bone.  It is a t-bone left over from a steak that the Kiwi's had left from a camp many many years ago.  It is funny because it is still well preserved and you can still see some residue of some fat on it.  

We just processed samples, and ate dinner tonight.  I have a feeling flows are going to be low tomorrow, and thus there won't be much to do.  There is a huge mass of clouds to the west, up the valley, and that is the stretch of sky the sun occupies during the "night" here.  If the sun stays covered up all night, the lack of solar radiation heating up the ground and the glaciers will shut the majority of our streams off.  The direct influence of the sun on the hydrology here is really unique and very interesting to observe.

I am going to go read a bit, then hit my -40 degrees rated sleeping bag.  I will likely post tomorrow if these clouds don't disperse.  Good night!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Day

Where do I start.  Yesterday was Christmas here and it was about as great as Christmas can be when you are at the bottom of the globe with a bunch of new people!

The day started with some work.  One of the researchers here has a knee that was bothering him because he has gone around and walked over 190 miles (no exaggeration)  of ground penetrating radar transects in the past three weeks.  This distance is only measured while the instrument is on, and doesn't include the hiking to get to these areas.  Needless to say the two guys on this project are animals.  Anyways, his knee was bothering him so he asked if I would be willing to take his place and help out his teammate, and I said yes.  We hopped on the ATV and headed up to the end of Lake Hoare to the Suess Glacier (surprisingly not named after Dr. Suess).  Here we hiked up to a bench on the side of the mountain next to the glacier located about 900m above the valley bottom.  The hike was much tougher than I expected.  The slope we hiked up was extremely steep, and the ground is loose rocks, and sand.  I figured I am 24, I have done some hiking in the Rockies, I should be able to keep up with this 43 year old man.  Not the case.  This guy is a mountain goat, he told us the name for mountain goat in Swedish (his native language) but I forgot.  I asked if he hiked or ran a lot back home, and surprisingly he didn't do anything.  I was amazed, but he has been hiking all over the Dry Valleys for a couple of weeks so I guess he has had time to get in shape.  After the climb we set up his equipment and ran a couple of transects zig-zaging across this bench.  He showed me the results of our scan and it was really interesting.  The point of the ground penetrating radar is to see if there is any massive ice buried.  Sure enough there was a thick sheet of ice ranging from 5-10m buried 25m below the ground surface.  We wrapped up the scans, then hiked back down which may have been even more difficult on the loose stuff.  We passed a mummified penguin and a couple of seals which was fun to see.  I was pretty beat from the hike so I took a lazy photo of the penguin that didn't turn out very well.

We got back to the Lake Hoare Camp and everything had changed inside.  Everyone was inside decorating an elaborate gingerbread house and decorating cookies with Christmas music on.  It was great!  We snacked on some smoked salmon and a bunch of treats all afternoon while we decorated and watched the grinch.  Then it was dinner time.  We began by taking black fabric and blacking out all of the windows to make it dark inside.  Candles were lit and dinner was served, it was an amazing meal.  We had ham, and a couple side dishes.  Needless to say we were spoiled.  After dinner Rae made some amazing drinks called Greenland Coffee.  These were coffee mixed with a bunch of booze, and then she did something crazy with some cream and alcohol by heating it up over the stove top in a ladel and then setting it on fire.  It is difficult to describe when I am this tired, but regardless it was delicious and quite strong!

Next was the gift exchange.  This was a white elephant type exchange where you pick a gift, then people can steal it, you know the drill.  It was pretty great there were some awesome gifts.  Some of the ones I remember: a whittled penguin figurine, two beers disguised in a scotch sleeve and some brownies (mine), a handmade slingshot, a handmade field toilet for number 2, a beautiful drawing of Canada Glacier, a hand knit hat,  some mad libs, a bucket full of coffee with a coffee mug, some coffee syrup (which I still don't know what this is), I think I am forgetting some but oh well.  The game was fun.  I picked the coffee syrup right away so nobody traded with me for a while, but the rule was you can only trade for the same gift twice, so when options started running low, I got into the trading game.  At the end of it all, I ended up with the whittled penguin figurine which I was pumped about!

Then the dance party started.  We put on some music, moved all of the tables and chairs, kept the windows blacked out, and danced the night away.  It was a blast and a Christmas that I won't soon forget!

Oh I forgot to mention.  On Christmas Eve, the weather was amazing.  Almost no wind, and probably close to 40 degrees.  We walked out to what is called the beach.  This is a sand dune out on the lake ice that is located up against the Canada Glacier.  It was amazing and felt just like a beach.  We kicked off our hiking boots and played frisbee barefoot for a couple of hours.  Such a weird, fun experience on a beautiful Christmas Eve.

Today we lounged around, snacked, watched movies, and recovered from the festivities the previous night.  Christmas day, and the day after (today here) are no fly days so we didn't have any work.  Tomorrow we fly out at 1:00 pm.  We will go up the valley and sample what streams we can.  Unfortunately, the past two days the clouds have been covering the valleys, so there likely won't be much for flow to measure.  I am getting tired and should probably get some sleep.  I hope everyone back home had a wonderful Christmas!!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Eve Part 2

I am writing again today.  As I mentioned before I have some down time today that I am trying to kill.  My brownies turned out pretty good, so I think they should be a good addition to my beers for an x-mas gift.  I just used a box, but I added some broken up oreos to make them a little bit more original.

I also got the courage up to go for a run here.  The wind really wasn't too bad after I warmed up.  The hardest part about running here isn't the wind or the cold, it is the soil here.  The soil is just loose sand and gravel, and if you have ever ran on sand you know what I am talking about.  I was concerned about sweating, however the cold, and the wind kept me cool, and the air is so dry here that the sweat evaporates before it becomes a problem.  I feel great and I am glad I got my lazy ass in gear so I can begin running routinely down here.

Me and one of my teammates went out to do some exploring and break up the monotony of sitting inside.  We set out on the ATV for the camp across the lake.  You can see the camp from our camp, and it would be a quick drive if you could shoot right across the lake.  However, this is not the case.  I may have mentioned earlier that in an ATV you have to hug the lakeshore because this is where the seasonal ice is, which is also the smoothest ice on the lake.  The middle of the lake has ice that has been melted, carved by wind, and blasted by sediment for a long time which makes it extremely rough, and unnavigable by ATV.  We drove to the other camp and checked things out.  No one was there at the moment, so we rummaged around in the food and snacks, but didn't find anything worth our time.  We then went to go check out the dead leopard seal that was discovered a few years ago here.  It looks pretty cool, and pretty recent compared to other dead seals that we have seen.  The skin looks so fresh that you feel as if it could jump up and chase you.

We hopped back on the ATV and headed back to F6 to get some lunch and prepare for our trip to Lake Hoare.  I really enjoy the fact that our ATVs are Polaris Sportsman 500s like the ones we have at home.  It just reminds me that anything tough enough for a Minnesota winter wont flinch down here haha.  Here is a picture from the back of the ATV that may remind you of Minnesota aside from the topographic relief...

It is still unclear whether we will get a helo flight or not to Lake Hoare, but I am learning that we live on a different schedule down here.  The weather dictates whether you can travel or do your job any given day, and if you can't do what was planned, well you just wait and blog to your friends and family.

Christmas Eve

Last night was beautiful.  I fell asleep with the door to my tent open, there was no wind and the sun really warms the tents up nicely.  This morning we got up early to get rolling, but we learned that some people from McMurdo were going to fly out on a helicopter to tour the Dry Valleys.  We were a stop along the tour and were asked to be at the camp at 2:30 pm so by the time we got everything together and arrived out at the spot we had to be for the day we would have had to turn right around.  Instead we took the day to clean up around camp, make Christmas gifts, and prepare for our visitors.

We learned at about 10:00 am that the weather in McMurdo was too bad so they wouldn't be coming out.  So, we will have to eat the cookies we baked that were intended for our visitors.  I took my kite out for further test flights.  I was finally making some progress when all of a sudden the thing dive bombed and broke.  I am retiring the kite, and pursuing other options for gifts.  I have an empty scotch bottle sleeve that I am going to put two beers in for part of my gift.  I also am going to give brownies, and some stationary with stamps.  I think it should be sufficient, however not as much fun as a kite.

We are all just doing our own thing here at F6, mainly working on crafts and projects to pass the time today. It is extremely windy out right now otherwise I would consider going for a run.  Maybe I will just suck it up and go anyways.  Honestly, the biggest factor keeping me from running is that my nearest shower is over a week away.

Needless to say, I have some free time today, and I finally am getting settled in here.  Everything has been moving so fast this trip and there has been so much to do it has been hard to take a second to take everything in. Now I finally am getting a chance to look around and realize where I am and what I am doing.  The view from our little hut at F6 is just spectacular.  The photos with my cheap camera don't quite seem to do it justice.

Tonight, weather permitting, we will fly to Lake Hoare for Christmas Eve celebrations and Christmas festivities tomorrow.  If we don't get a flight, we will walk, which isn't too bad only about 3 hours.  I am going to try to find something productive to do.  Hope everyone back home is having a great week leading up to X-mas!

No Good Idea for a Title

I am really tired right now, so apologies if this isn't up to par.  We just got done cleaning up after eating some awesome pizza made by one of my teammates.

Today we went up to F9 which is a gage station on Green Creek.  This took us about 20 minutes on the ATV.  The ATVs are only allowed to be driven on the lake ice so they don't leave tracks on the land.  The lake ice is interesting because near the middle it can be as thick as 9m, or so I have been told.  However during the summer, moats of open water open up around the shoreline.  This is because the exposed ground heats up from solar radiation, then the water in the shallows is warmed and the ice near the edge is thawed.  This makes for interesting travels.  Today we had to lay a ladder across from the shoreline to the good lake ice.  It is funny because a lot of the things that I do here remind me of Minnesota.

The goal of the trip up to F9 was to repair the leaking control for the gage.  The control is a mound, or dam of rock and sediment that is about 60ft long 4ft wide and 2ft tall.  This dam has a channel through the middle where the river would normally flow.  The dam is also wrapped in a water proof tarp to prevent leaking.  The point of this structure is to ensure a consistent channel at which a depth can be measured using a pressure transducer.  Knowing the depth a discharge can be inferred.  However, the validity of all of the measurements depends on the unchanging nature of the channel at the gage.  Anyways, the old dam was leaking, so it was our job to fix it.

Six hours later we had it repaired and back in action.  I also am trying to construct a kite for a Christmas gift exchange.  I went with a kite because of the unrelenting wind in the valleys.  I constructed a pretty decent kite, but the problem is I can't rig it right so that it is properly balanced and the thing swerves around like it has a mind of its own.  I may have to build or find another gift, because I don't want to be liable when this thing kills someone.

It is already Dec. 23 here, which means tomorrow is Christmas Eve.  It is just now hitting me that I won't be home for the holidays.  It's a bit of a bummer thinking of all my friends and family back home, but I'll survive and I hope they can too without me haha.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Arrival in the Dry Valleys

Today is my third day in the Dry Valleys.  I landed here on a Bell 212 Helicopter.  I flew in on Saturday and landed at about 9:30 am at F6 which is a field camp in Taylor Valley.  The helo flight was insane.  This was my first time ever flying in a helicopter.  We flew over the McMurdo Sound from Ross Island, which is where McMurdo is located, to the mainland of the continent.  The flight over the ice was fun, but visually uninteresting.  Once we entered the dry valleys the scenery was spectacular.  We flew over mountains, lakes, glaciers, and stunning terrain.  When we landed at F6 we dropped a couple of my bags off and hopped back on to fly up the valley to do some work with the stream team. 

We landed at blood falls (shown below) which is a really interesting spectacle.  This is a glacier (Taylor glacier I believe) that has this red discharge shown in the picture.  I am not sure of the entire explanation for this, and I’m not sure anyone does because they are currently studying it.  But I am pretty sure it has something to do with iron oxidization due to some bacteria.  Either way, it is amazing to look at and one of my favorite places I have visited so far.

We (the stream team) went straight to work.  I could introduce everyone and talk about the great people I work with, but in the interest of privacy and other blogs offending people I will do my best not to mention any names and not to talk about others.  Anyways, me and one other guy went around to the 5 streams in the area and sampled them.  The sampling consists of collecting two different bottles to measure various chemical and physical characteristics of the water.  We also use what is called a YSI meter to measure the conductivity, and the temperature.  Meanwhile, while we collected the samples.  Someone else measured the flow on the larger streams of interest.  We completed all of our work in about two hours.  We hopped on a helicopter again and headed down the valley.  We stopped at one more spot to sample for the day, and performed the same measurement tasks on two more streams.  We hopped on a smaller helicopter this time which was fun.  The smaller one allows one passenger to sit next to the pilot.  This gives you a much fuller view than compared with looking out the window of a 212.  We finally dropped down at Lake Hoare and were done with sampling for the day.

Lake Hoare is a pretty awesome camp, and I said I wasn’t going to name any names, but anybody who knows anything about the Dry Valleys knows that Rae Spain runs a stellar camp out of Lake Hoare.  Lake Hoare has a lot of amenities, but certain tasks take a little more work and consideration just because of the remote location, and the environmental concerns.  There is a main building, which on the exterior looks like a trailer home.  On the inside is two main rooms, there is the dining room/kitchen, and then a room with computers, seating, and bunks.  There are three lab buildings at the camp as well.  There is a radioactive lab, which I didn’t look in because I don’t know the first thing about anything radioactive.  Then there is the chem lab, and the equipment lab.  These labs aren’t very big, maybe 15ft by 30ft, and they have room and equipment for researchers to conduct their science.  We aren’t really roughing it too bad, we have wifi in the main building, and all the food you could imagine (although it is never any newer than Jan 2013), to be honest I think I am putting on a little bit of weight. 

The most “rough” part of the whole experience is sleeping in a tent with an awesome sleeping bag.  My bag is rated for -40 oF, which is a little overkill because the average temperature right now is around 20 oF, and the sun is always up to warm up your tent.  I have slept surprisingly well in the sunlight, I just pull my winter hat over my eyes and that seems to do the trick.  Oh and the schedule of up early, work hard, and drink at night seems to help with any sleep issues.  Below is the view I have to wake up to every morning at Lake Hoare.

Yesterday we had the day off because it was Sunday.  We went for a hike up and over Canada Glacier.  The weather was kind of nasty with low clouds, snow, and a lot of wind so the views were obscured.  Even so, it was pretty amazing.  On the way some of my fellow hikers pointed out a couple of mummified seals to me.  There is a picture of one of them shown below.

It is amazing to me that there is so little microbial life around that nothing really decomposes the seals.  They are mainly broken down by the sand that the wind blows around.

Today we hiked from Lake Hoare to our home base which is called F6.  The hike was about 3 hours where we passed over frozen Lake Hoare, hiked next to Canada Glacier, and then on the shores  of Lake Fryxell.  I was happy to return to F6 because the first day when I flew in I dropped my bags off here.  I wasn’t told that it would be two days before we returned to F6, so I was stuck with the same clothes, no contacts, and without some of the gear that is nice to have.  We settled in, did some housekeeping, ate dinner, and prepared for work in the morning.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

First Couple Days in McMurdo

Well, I didn't really want to write a blog while I was down here because to be honest I can't say I have ever read a blog, nor have I ever had a desire to do so.  However, my mother kept bugging me about writing one. So like a good son, instead of writing emails to multiple people saying the same thing and updating tons of photographs to Facebook I will give this a shot.

Today is my second full day here at McMurdo station.  I am currently sitting in the Crary Library, which so far is my favorite spot in town.  Not so much because of the books, but it is quiet, and it has arguably the best view of the McMurdo Sound which is shown below.

The flight down here was pretty interesting.  We were in a C-130 military aircraft which is a prop powered flying warehouse.  This was operated by the New York Air National Guard.  As can be seen in the image below it is a very "no frills" flight.  I actually preferred it to many commercial flights that I have been on.  We were seated in cargo net seats along the side of the fuselage.  This meant that you could stretch your feet out as far as you wanted to, and there was no possibility of the jerk in front of you jamming his seat back as far as it possibly can go.  We were free to stand up, wander around and look out the tiny windows as shown in the next photo.  The only trouble is that there was no consideration in the airplane design for minimizing the sound inside the aircraft.  To say it was loud is a bit of an understatement.  The earplugs provided worked really well, it just made communication impossible.  So, I read the majority of Lone Survivor which was given to me by my brother and an excellent book.  It put the seed in my head of trying to become a NAVY SEAL as my next adventure, but let's get through Antarctica first.

Anyways, around 8 hours after takeoff we smoothly landed on the ice.  We were greeted by some interesting looking vehicles with about 4 ft diameter tires on them and a big cube on the back in which the cargo (us) was stored.  We bounced and bumped our way onto Ross Island past the Scott Base which is New Zealand's base.  And finally made our way into the beautiful town of McMurdo.

I managed to stay half awake through the introductory briefings.  We were then given our room keys, and set free to go find our luggage.  I grabbed my luggage, threw them into my room, went and grabbed some pizza, then hit the hay after a long day.

The next day I woke up, and began figuring out what exactly I was supposed to be doing here in town.  One of the big things when you arrive is to get all of the training out of the way so you can actually get down to business.  There are many different training sessions that are required, and the communication for which ones you will need is awful.  They also have no problem with pulling you off of a helicopter as you are about to leave McMurdo because you didn't attend a training session.  Anyways, all students and workers that I have been hanging out with down here have a point of contact here that tells them what training to do, where to be and when, and so on.  However, my point of contact is my professor, Mike Gooseff, who is back in the US.  So, I met up with a helpful woman that he works with, and she was able to help orient me.  

By talking with people at lunch I learned that I needed to attend a field safety briefing at 1:00 pm.  Here we went through all the typical do's and don'ts you would expect.  Basically no having fun, as usual.  We set up some tents, learned how to light stoves, and wrapped up at around five.

Thursday nights are the American nights at Scott Base.  Typically entry to their store and bar requires an invite, however Thursday nights they open it up to all of the Americans.  So we walked about a mile over to the Kiwi base, which by the way is all painted green.  We didn't know where any sort of entrance was so we were walking around the exterior of the base.  Two scientists had just hopped off of a helicopter and were kind enough to let us into the back door.  They had just flown down from Mount Erebus, which is the southernmost volcano on earth.  I thought it was so ridiculous that they had just flown down, hopped off the helicopter, let us into their base, and showed us the bar.  I want that job!

We had a really good time at the bar talking with the kiwis.  I don't know if they liked us or not, but I do know that we entertained them.  I always struggle picking up words from different accents, but this was a whole different challenge trying to do it with a buzz on.  I will say the weirdest part of the night was when we left the bar at around 11:00 pm, we walked outside and the sun was still way up in the sky like it was noon.  The constant daylight has been a weird adjustment, and it certainly gives me more energy all day.

I woke up this morning feeling really good for the amount of Flying Fortresses (good kiwi beer) I drank.  I think Antarctica must have the same healing powers as Canada where hangovers simply do not exist.  I made my way to the galley for breakfast, and guess what?  More training!!  The schedule that I had checked, along with other people that I knew from the flight down said that our meeting was in the galley.  Well it was now five minutes past our meeting time and no one was around.  We asked around and found out that it had been moved without any of us knowing.  We walked in about ten minutes late and the instructor was pretty ornery.  He demanded to see the piece of paper that told us the wrong room, and I offered to go get it.  He scoffed and said he didn't believe me and that we would have to take the training again on Monday. I do not however plan on sitting through his course again.  Anyways we sat through the rest of his presentation, a waste management one, and a fire one.

I then met up with Andrew Fountain who is a professor at Portland State, and who is a collaborator with my professor.  He showed me the locked cage where all of the gear I will need for the field is.  I also received some emails informing me that I will be shipped out to the Dry Valleys ASAP, which is exciting!  I have to complete one more training course, re-pack for the field, and check out of my room for all of this to happen.

Although there is a lot of fun to be had in McMurdo, it feels much like a small town.  Almost all major conveniences that we enjoy in the US can be found here and honestly, that takes away a little bit from the experience.  However, I couldn't be happier that we don't have cell phone service here, and the internet is just barely enough to send a few emails.  If I want to meet up with someone or ask them a question I actually have to go find them in the galley, or their room, or even worse call them on a land line!  What a strange, terrifying way of life!

I am excited for the Dry Valleys because the location is much more remote, and the accommodations are much less plush.  We will live at field camps in the valleys that offer a shelter to cook, eat, and work in, but we will be sleeping in tents.  I have a feeling that sleeping in a tent with 24 hours of daylight will take some getting used to.  Ben, the stream team leader which I will be joining, says we have a lot of work in some awesome locations which sounds great.  When we hop around from location to location we get to ride around in helicopters which is another great perk!  He also told me to bring a big big backpack because I am the FNG (this acronym is an endearing term for a rookie and I bet if you think about it you can figure out what it means).

I just finished up the last half of this post after lunch, and now I am in my room awaiting phone calls and emails to schedule the last of my training, and my flight in the helo to the valleys .  I also am going to go tour the Crary Aquarium here in a bit.

Take care and I will send more updates soon!  Hopefully with pictures depending on the internet connection, and hopefully from the Dry Valleys!