chilling feet

chilling feet

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Antarctica: South Pole - It's Starting to Get Cold...

So it has finally started getting proper cold here at the South Pole. Today it was negative eighty-one degrees F with a windchill of negative 120! Woo that's cold. Fortunately the two of us were inside most of the day but the cold storage area I work in is open to the outside and it definitely felt colder than usual. 

This past Sunday, while my beautiful wife was sleeping, I headed out to try out our climbing room. It's pretty small, as you will see in two pics at the bottom, but some one has put a lot of effort into making sure people can keep their climbing skills up.  It is not attached to our main building and is an area called summer camp, which is now mostly comprised of non-heated buildings for the Winter. Fortunately our crew keeps this building heated for climbers and anyone who might want to use some of the weights in the building as well. 

While it was ridiculously frigid this past Sunday and not far from the temperatures I mentioned for today, I decided I've not spent enough time at the geographic and ceremonial poles. With camera in hand I slowly made my way over to the ceremonial pole and took these pictures. As it was such a windy day, I thought the flags looked especially amazing, but the real special aspect to these photos is how low the sun is getting. We only have a few more days of sunlight left and as we circle the sun from a South Pole perspective, it moves closer and closer to the horizon every day. Then we will be super blessed to watch the only sunset of the entire year here at the Pole! Really excited!! 

The first and third photo show all of the flags representing the countries that signed the original Antarctic treaty years ago. Now there are many more but only the original twelve get recognition of being flown at the ceremonial Pole. They look so amazing when one is walking down the hall, or sitting in the galley, and looks out to behold twelve symbolic flags flying in any weather Antarctic dishes out here. While they will come down for the dark Winter months, these flags really give a feeling of international cooperation and act as a constant reminder of how vast Antarctica is as a continent.

The walk was great but right as I decided I needed to head in for warmth my camera decided it too needed some time away from the cold and gave up on me. So in I went to finish my Sunday with some board games, tasty leftovers from the week, and more time with Sarah. 

I believe I promised to add more photos of unicycling from last weeks post, so I went into our unicycling time with a better setting on my camera and with the lights up. The results were fantastic. 
Peter has far surpassed any of the rest of us in our attempts at learning to ride these one wheeled vehicles. He loves to bike and has somehow channeled the balance learned from his two wheeled years over to the unicycle. 

All of our unicyclists have shown great improvements but Gavin is definitely among the top few, only really overshadowed by the ridiculous talent of Peter. Look at that form!

Eric is our fearless unicycling leader. He shows us videos beforehand of people doing things on unicylces that should not be possible. If you do not believe me start doing some youtubing. 

Catherine joined us a week late and of course is still way ahead of me in her learning. She has a way to go before but that does not stop her from pushing off the wall and going for it. I love this shot.

And then there is me. Sarah opted out of this session for a nap I believe. Needless to say this skill is hard to learn. I am lightyears ahead of where I was our first week but there is a long, long, arduous road ahead of me before this is an enjoyable pastime. 

And yes sometimes when you fall the unicycle hits sensitive areas, leaving the rider in need of some reprieve.

Choosing to fall off when things get rough is important, and unlike biking it is more of a step off, usually, then a fall. Things can still get dicey but overall our group has done well to keep from really big falls. They are coming I am sure!

So far unicycling is kind of like golf for me. I am terrible at it but within every session of attempting it there is that one lightning strike moment where everything goes right, if only for a second. I go back to golf again because of one hit when there were hundreds of lousy ones all stringed together. My mind has an interesting self-preservation technique of deleting the awful memories and focusing on the one good one. This shot is that moment from unicycling this past week for me. It is clearly seen I made it three feet from the wall and I have not abandoned my ride yet. One moment later this was not the case but it almost looks like I can do this - almost...not really. 

And then there was the climbing room. Pretty creative no? I took two pics just to show off the room. I am a novice and neither my body nor my mind know what to do. My time on the wall was short and left me way more tired than I thought it could have. Hopefully by the end of Winter I will have some handle on the whole thing. 

Soon we will do some posts on different parts of the station. It has been tough finding time to post and I know family especially would love to see what this place actually looks like. I promise we have a medical focused post coming up along with some great inner station shots. But for now the sun is up and I would like to end this post with one of my favorite shots from this past Sunday.

Standing down wind and freezing my butt off I was enamored with the view of the ceremonial pole. The sun, while fading away and leaving us for months to come (although really it is the Earth turning away from the sun) looked as some powerful being set to devour this land. It seemed as if the wind was blasting out from the sun and as particles of ice or snow blew across the ice there was an ominous feel to the whole scene. 

While it felt that way, of course the reality of our situation is quite different. We will be living in the one spot on Earth where the sun's life giving rays will not reach us for the next six months. Perhaps I should have seen this display as the sun's last warning to flee before the long Winter night grips our station. Being overly confident in our stations tools and equipment, I push all trepidation aside and look forward to the upcoming months with an abundance of excitement. Not many people are afforded the opportunity to see what Sarah and I will see in the next few months. From the setting of the sun over the South Pole to the best displays of the Southern lights in the world to the constellations we will be seeing to much more, we are naturally excited and overwhelmed. 

We will share as much of this journey as we can via photos with you and where the camera fails we will attempt in words.  In the meantime enjoy the wonderful scene from this past Sunday at the South Pole. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Antarctica: South Pole: Sundogs and Unicycling

One of the fantastic weather phenomenon that occurs here at the South Pole are commonly referred to as sun dogs. Sarah and I first saw our first sun dogs up in the Arctic this past year and they are quite unusual to behold. They look like a rainbow forming a circle around the sun. Here are some pics of one from the other day I took while delivering some good to our cold storage berms outside. 

I think this was the most complete sundog I have ever seen before. Usually I've only seen them when there are arcs of the circle showing on each or just one side of the sun. I was pretty excited to see what seemed to be a sun dog show for one. Now that the station is closed not many people get out towards the berms and as far as I knew I was the only person for at least a half to a full mile enjoying this beautiful sun dog. Who knows, I'm going with it.

So what is a sun dog? There is a link to our local intranet site connected to our meteorology department and they define it like this:

What is a "mock sun"? "Mock sun" (also "sun dogs") is a colloquial term for a phenomenon called "parhelion" which occurs fairly commonly in polar atmospheres. It is a false image of the sun, created by the bending of rays of sunlight within crystals of ice in the atmosphere. Parhelia are usually observed in pairs, one on each side of the sun and at the same elevation. They tend to be red-colored on the side nearest the sun. Parhelia are quite close to the sun when the sun is close to the horizon, but move further away as the angle above the horizon increases.

Totally makes sense now right? It's pretty darn cool for sure.

Well like I said in our last post, Sarah and I are trying to be as active as possible in the South Pole community while we are here. This past Tuesday night Eric started up our learn to ride unicycles. A little crazy - nah. We met and watched some safety videos to ensure we didn't immediately kill ourselves, and then we watched a few videos of people doing extreme unicycling I did not even know existed - like mountain unicycling.

Our pictures and videos did not come out too well from this event but I'll have more good ones is the future. And yes I'm growing a mustache because a beard is not allowed for SCBAs. This means it had to start from the ground up and no easy peasy shaving a beard into a mustache. You're not hard core unless you live hard core.

I could not get the video to load so you'll just have to wait for those.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Antarctica: The Last LC130 Has Departed...We Are Here to STAY!

(Learning to drive the forklift was fun)
We are finally settling in a little bit to our Antarctic home at the Amundsen-Scott base here at the South Pole. With the close of our station for Winter we have finally moved into our permanent room together, which has been a huge part of this place feeling more like a home we can live in for the next ten months. We have settled into our jobs and community here on base.

(These dang cylinders are heavy! Thanks Kim for the pic)
The most exciting part of base closing was watching all of the summer staff pack up and go. There is a big to do with the last plane and most of us gathered in various spots to watch it take off. I was fortunate to be on a three man team of our ERT Fire team who got to learn a few new bits so we could be a response team in case anything happened on the last take off. There are fire fighters here for all LC130 flights except for of course the one they leave on at the end of summer. So we learned how to use the gatling gun pods and what to do/not to do when trying to enter a LC130 in an emergency. Really cool stuff and way more to learn if we were the "real" guys.

(compliments of John Dinovo, the twin otter scoots by the ceremonial pole)
So we all celebrated as the last passengers, and our last chance for escape, jetted down the ice runway and off into the sky. They promised a flyby and did not disappoint us when the pilot brought the massive LC130 back around and tipped its wings to us. People shouted, hooted, and hollered various phrases as we all celebrated the point of no return for the Winter-over crew. The photo above is of a Twin Otter. Our last one flies in tonight and out tomorrow as I write this on Feb 24th. They are on various missions or routes that are not a part of our station and are granted access to the base for fuel and such. These are the planes that perform rescue missions and such when no other planes can still make there way here in the cold Winter months, but only if absolutely necessary. 

(we got to tour the inside of the twin otter!)
The tradition that follows the last departing plane is the marathon viewing of all The Thing movies. These are horror movies, the first in 1951, all about an alien in Arctic or Antarctic scenarios. I was most familiar with the 1984 Kurt Russell version that takes place at a make believe American Antarctic base. The movies are enjoyable and it gives one a notion at the sort of people who venture down to the South Pole. Now that you're stuck here and you cannot leave let's watch movies about other people in a similar situation who had to fight for their lives against an alien who can transform into any form whether animal or human. Who can you trust? Welcome to the Winter-over crew.
(posing for a shot, Sarah is in her ECW disguise)
So when one of the Twin Otter flights was in Sarah and I decided to go for a walk for some exercise and so she could show me around parts of the camp I had not seen yet. We bundled up in all of our gear and headed out to find with a surprise a tour of the plane happening at that exact moment. Sweet! We took advantage of the situation and took the pictures, as you can see, to prove it. Just amazing machines. I believe the pilot said this one was made in 1941 and this is a plane they are flying with confidence to the South Pole! Wow. Do some reading on these planes and you will not be disappointed.
(the middle of nowhere)
On our walk we took some pics. While much of the base and the outlying area around it, mostly storage and buildings used in the Summer months only, has a military feel to it, there is still something else about the looks to everything so foreign and unusual. There is a part of me that deliberated as we walked, trying to find the right words to describe the mixture of emotion and thought evoked from the make up of the buildings and their purposes. The Amundsen-Scott base is truly a unique place and we feel beyond grateful for the time we have been given to spend here.

(once upon a time maybe people stayed here, storage now)
Understanding how special it is for us to be here, Sarah and I both spend a good amount of time trying to make sure our work and personal time is spent as wisely as possible. This means doing the job right and working hard to make sure we do the best we can. It also means trying to engage in as many of the community events as possible. For instance, even though we were tired and had seen some of the Thing movies, we stayed for all three. We both joined the greenhouse team and are working in there to help raise some fresh food for our group while we are here. I'll discuss this in its own post later as a hydroponic greenhouse is pretty dang worthy of a whole post in itself. We've been playing volleyball, floor hockey, doing yoga, playing board games and the lot during our time so far. And our Winter schedule of events is just now getting started. There will be more on the fun activities we are going to get to do and learn while here. Pretty excited about it.

(who stole our wheels? I believe these have been winterized)
For now these pictures will show a good part of the story. We will try to make some regular posts about life down here but oddly enough I've been working hard to get this post in and have just been too busy living here. There is always something to join in on from work to fun to science talks and more. Mostly I'll be posting pictures of events and various goings on while we are here.
(two LC130s on the ice runway at the same time! This is unusual and I was excited to see it)

(last few flights in and out)

(ERT training and also on standby - so glad I got to do this)

(waiting in the warm van with the guys)

(compliments of John Dinovo, the gatling fire hydrant! Glad we didn't have to use these) 

(last flight moves to take off - see you in 9 months or so)

(I think we are happy to be stuck here for nine more months)

(photo of the flyby compliments of NSF/James Casey)

I had to add some movie posters from the Thing movies. I added two from the 1984 version.


Monday, February 6, 2017

South Pole Achieved!

The South Pole!!  BOTH of us are at the South Pole preparing to work through the winter at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. So excited. 

Before I was able to join Sarah I worked at McMurdo for two weeks learning a little bit about my job and how things work down here in Antarctica. Not only is most everything quite different but the people themselves are a little bit out of the ordinary too. "Look who's talking" you might say to me and you would be right to suggest that both Sarah and I have made some not-so-ordinary decisions over the past few years. 
One common factor most Antarcticans (there are no native people from the continent so this is an affection term for those of us who are here now) share is enthusiasm for being here and overall a desire to explore. Just over the little time we have been here we've met people who have hiked the Pacific Northwest Trail, climbed various mountains, are a part of groundbreaking science (a lot of that here), who have traveled to almost every country you can think up and so you did not even know existed, and more.

McMurdo has a nice mix of Kiwis who work there as well, not to mention they have an actual base just around a big hill. Having lived in New Zealand for a year it has been fun to spend a good amount of time around some Kiwis again. I actually met a few who know a friend of mine from seminary who is a chaplain in the New Zealand Airforce - how cool is that? 
So while Sarah was at the Pole working and waiting for me, I was doing my best to experience anything there was to do and see at McMurdo. See the last post for more of those fun times. The day before I flew up to the Pole I was given the day off for having worked my day off during the vessel offload the week before. I was hoping to find someone who was willing to do a specific hike with me called Castle Rock as you are not allowed to do it on your own. 

Leave to the Kiwis to help me out there too! With a little bit of inquiry it turned out their group was thinking of doing it too and so we decided to meet and go for it. I was hoping the guys I had been chatting with for the week would make it too but they maybe imbibed till the late hours of the morning, allegedly, and so it was me and two of the ladies I had been working with in supply. We signed out at the firehouse, took the required supplies and started our hike. Which if you have noticed all of the pics from this post so far are from that hike. The second is Castle Rock. 
We did a quick out and back instead of the nine mile loop and settled for a nice six mile hike, which also included climbing to the top of the rock when we got there. The third pic shows a part of that climb and the view of Mt. Erebus in the distant background letting off some volcanic steam. 

Great hike, wonderful group, a lunch in the emergency warm up shelter, and stunning views. Overall great weather and spectacular way to end the time at McMurdo.  

Then yes it was time to fly to the South Pole! And on this sweet LC 130! A quick three hour flight with a few other people and, you guessed it, with some fantastic views. The next two photos were taken from the cockpit over the Trans-Antarctic Mountains. I am glad I did not have to cut a way through those trying to find the South Pole as Amundsen and Scott would have had to in their race over 100 years ago.  

This shot was taken after we had landed and were still gliding down the ice runway. They started opening the cargo bay door to make sure everything was ready to go. The goal is to get the plane back up in the air as quickly as possible for various reasons. What an experience!
Then it was off the plane and walk to meet Sarah, who in the next picture can be seen waiting for me in the distance. I did not know it at the time but when I took this picture of the plane before heading up to the station, I snagged a pic of Brian as well. He is the man who I had to convince to hire me for this job and works here throughout the fast paced summer months to get a lot done. He will leave on the last plane out and then it will be up to the logistics people he has hired, like me, to keep the train going through the long Winter months. 

There's Sarah can you see her? Way up in the red coat! 

Should have put Sarah in this shot too but this was my first time here and she was taking the picture to mark the occasion by the welcome sign for the base.

Not the best focus but on the way in to the station I saw my first Antarctic sundog! Wow. I saw a few in the Arctic this past year but none that were quite this full forced. I took it as a personal welcome from the South Pole. 

Sarah toured me around the station, started making me drink tons of water (we are at just over 9,000 feet at the Pole but the pressure and other factors make it feel as though you are at different elevations, which has been over 10,000 feet since I got here), I met a bunch of people, and we settled into life here. The next day was fortunately Sunday, our one day off each week, and I was able to take a day to acclimate before heading to work.

Sarah and I were lucky enough to go out for a tour of one of our satellites here on station. This particular one looks at light emitted from the original big bang (or as I like to think of it as when God spoke the universe into life - boom) and is studying it for all sorts of reasons. Then there is another project that uses this satellite (we went to a lecture on it later that night) to try and study black holes, with the goal of getting the first real image of one. Cool stuff. 
On the way back we stopped at the ceremonial pole (the one with the flags) and the geographic pole (the one that our station which is on moving ice slowly moves away from each year) and took some pictures. 

First is the Pole marker. Every Winter the team puts their hearts and minds together and designs the next years marker, as it has to move anyway, and the tradition continues as the Summer crew puts it out. Sarah waited for me to see the new marker from this past year. I'll try to get a better pic of it later.

Then we had to show you we are on the bottom of the world - literally.

Then a regular pic. So happy to both be here.

Oh this pole marker pic is a little better.

Then work. Here are some images from the area I work in. I'll do one soon on the medical clinic!

And today I was trained to drive these machines!! I don't even know their real names yet but it was super fun and I can't wait to get moving stuff with these bad boys!

That little guy moves quick compared to the big guy, but it can't carry nearly as much weight. 

Does anyone else think we just took over Hoth base and made it into the South Pole station?

Well as always more to come in the future when we get time. Plenty of work needs to get done and the internet does not like us here too often. Keep checking back for further posts on life down at the South Pole this Winter.