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November 30, 2002

Day 1: Establishing Home, Adjusting to Altitude

Day 1: Arrived at the Hut around 10 am, set up tent, started feeling crappy around dinner.

Day 1 at the Hut was spent taking it easy to adjust to altitude. We arrived, had a hot drink, sat around, and in the afternoon put up our tents. I was energetic and excited when we first arrived, but ran out of steam setting up my tent. I went through cycles of elation and exhaustion. After setting up the tent on a lovely flat with a door view of a rocky ridge (old lava flow) and a back window view of the volcano (as if I'm ever going to open my back window), I took a break in the Hut. Later, I moved in. [Elation.] The tent is huge! Or, at least, seemed it for one person. Granted, I'll be there for over a month, and maybe it won't seem so large in early January, but on Day 1--and still--it seemed huge. Nice, open, blank. Like a fresh notebook. Like a clean room. The beginning. I love beginnings.

I wheeled in my monster duffel and unpacked and stacked the important stuff. I dragged in my sleep kit and made my bed. Home. Cold, but home. Wait. Cold. How much time am I going to spend in here, anyway? Cold. Probably not much.

The rest of the afternoon was spent lounging. One hot drink turned into another, and soon it was dinner time. And I felt lousy. The girlscout had been feeling lousy since early afternoon, and was on oxygen most of the time. I looked at the oxygen longingly. Maybe it would make me feel better...darn girlscout...but I tried to make it through with hydration and breathing. In the evening, I tried to entries for this webpage. My entry went something like this:

Check-in, Lower Erebus Hut, Day 1: November 30, 2002

Up at 11,400 ft at the hut, and I’m feeling pretty groggy. I felt fine at Fang, the acclimatization camp, and fine at first up here, although I did get tired while putting up my tent in the afternoon. At dinner, I felt somewhat feverish, in that my face felt hot and I had trouble regulating my temperature (hot cold hot cold), and had no appetite—which is a bad sign when trying to acclimatize. I was also having a bit of trouble following the conversation. Well, I could follow but not participate. I didn’t really feel like eating; I just wanted to breathe.

I feel a little better now, but not by much. My energy level is very low, and it’s only 8:40 PM. I have diarrhea, and am still having some trouble with temperature regulation. My relief consists of taking a trip to the loo to take care of business and get some fresh air. You know it’s gotta be bad when you go to the loo for fresh air. But, it actually is a nice place, because there’s an open window and only one person to suck the oxygen. It’s easy to feel claustrophobic in here when not feeling well—ten people and about as many chairs in a space about the size of an average living room. That may sound big, but we have kitchen, dining room, and living room in our living room. It will be interesting to see this place at its maximum, with four more people.

At present, four of the ten are playing 500 (a card game). Two are watching. One is reading, one is working on word puzzles, and one is working on a wireless feed from camera to TV which he’s distractedly set down so that it is presently, unfortunately, pointed at me. The camera will be placed on the crater rim as a live webcam, which should be much more interesting.

I’m getting a bit of an appetite back and feel a little more energetic. I am sipping on hot apple cider, which may help: water and sugar. I have been trying to hydrate today, since hydration is supposedly the key to avoiding just about any outdoor ailness, or at least isn’t bad for you. I probably didn’t drink enough at Fang. I didn’t feel sick, but I did feel a bit dehydrated.

I’m starting to feel bad again. I have to pee, my digestion area is starting to feel a bit grumbly, and my head is feeling borderline headache and my energy level took a bit of a drop. I just don’t feel as alert, and my wrists feel heavy on the edge of the laptop. And, my vision seems lazy. As in, things just don’t seem as clear. Not fuzzy, just not as clear. I don’t want to go outside again already, though. I was just there less than half an hour ago. It’s tiresome to keep myself upright, and my attention span for writing these entries is again waning.

I stayed up and in the Hut until I felt comfortable going to my tent and spending the night in the cold on my own. I slept pretty well, awaking once to pee, and felt better in the morning.

Posted by beth at 2:58 PM

Post-Fang: The Hut

On Saturday morning, the five of us acclimatizing at Fang were shuttled by skidoo up to the Lower Erebus Hut, or "home." There was at one time, and actually still is, an Upper Erebus Hut, which was abandoned in 1984 when Phil Kyle discovered, shortly after disembarking the helicopter, a 6-foot-long volcanic bomb, still steaming.

The Hut (white, white in foreground) and the shed (orange, in background). Sorry, but I can't get a better shot for you right now--the world is white.

The Lower Erebus Hut, or LEH, is quite comfortable. We've got internet, heat (preway), stove, oven, TV, real food, and a shed out back for equipment, also heated. The bathroom is in the shed outback, very private. Male urinal, female urinal, crapper. The only problem is, on blustery days like today (Dec 4), making the short treck fromt he hut to the shed to pee. Even more of a problem, today, is that the pisser is frozen. Not enough peeing to keep it warm.

We have power outlets galore of your normal US variety, perfect for computers and digital cameras and heat guns and whatever else. We have bookshelves, cubbyholes, and lines hung over the preway for drying clothes. We have windows that open. We're set.

We don't have running water. Snow (stored in chunks below the lowest window for easy access) is heated to water on the preway, then further heated in a kettle on the stove for hot drinks and dishwasing water. We do have a sink, where water can be poured; such water drains into a greywater bucket outside, which will be taken back to McMurdo by helicopter. All waste must go. Greywater, urine, poop--all in buckets, eventually bound for McMurdo, eventually bound for California.

The hut is completely windproof. It survived a 90-mph windstorm last year, which took out several tents. Some said they did start to get nervous when rocks began hitting the windows, but the windows, along with the rest of the hut, survived, as did its occupants. So this little 50-knot bugger is nothing.

This weekend's occupants included our fabulous camp manager, Sarah, most of our group (7 of us--four stayed behind at McMurdo and are now at Fang), a girlscout, and a writer. There are sevearl programs to bring non-scientists and non-support-staff to Antarctica every year. One brings in artists and writers, one brings in a girlscout and another a boyscout, and there is (or was) also a program to bring teachers. So, a field camp can have a good number of guests. Not to mention the media--for example, the Japanese TV crew coming through soon. Girlscouts and boyscouts get to tour around pretty much everywhere. Amy, the girlscout, was here the day of our arrival, started suffering from possibly altitude-related conditions Saturday afternoon, and was flown out Sunday morning. Kelly Tyler, the writer, was here until yesterday. Kelly is a scientific writer and historian working on a book about the Ross Sea Party, the group of men who sailed to McMurdo Sound to stash supplies for the second half of Shakelton's Antarctic traverse. They were the folks who got stranded at Cape Evans (see Field Trip entry). Kelly also brought two films on Shakelton she had worked on: a two-hour Shakelton NOVA movie and the IMAX film. These were nice to have around in our hours of being cooped up inside with the storm raging outside.

The hut. I know there are probably more questions. Go ahead and ask.

Posted by beth at 1:37 AM

November 29, 2002

FANG: The Camp

Five of us left the comfort of McMurdo to spend two nights at Fang on Thursday, November 28: Phil Kyle, Bill Macintosh, Mario Ruiz, Rich Karstens, and myself. One of these days, I'll introduce the team members properly. For now, suffice to say that we survived. There was a short period where Phil and Bill were placing bets on how long we would be stuck at Fang, thinking there was a storm moving in, but we ended up getting in and out of camp on time.

The time spent at Fang was nice, and uneventful. We slept, we read, we took short walks, we crammed into tents for communal dinners. I've included a journal entry from Fang (cheating?) to describe the experience.

Pictures to be posted shortly!

Fang Camp. The world is yellow--except for yellow things, which are now white. Phil lies on his side of the tent reading "Caravan," a Mitchner book set in Afganistan. I lie on my side writing, and before that reading "Volcano Cowboys." The food boxes and stove separate us so that, lying down, we can't see each other's heads.
I've adjusted well to the altitude, so far, although I can tell I'm dehydrated. It will be nice to get up to the hut tomorrow and start hydrating comfortably. We've mostly done nothing today, with skank passing through so that the weather's never horrible but we have periods where we can see Fang clearly and periods where the world beyond the shitter is white. I've been quite content to lounge and sleep and read. We slept probably 10 hours last night, and several this afternoon. I've been out only three times: to pee, to root around for dinner food, to walk out towards Fang to get a picture of the crater and the plume. Throughout the day, we had a couple visitors--Bill at 8:30 AM to check on us and chat, Mario in for breakfast--and Phil and I made dinner for the group. The five of us crowded into our tent, as we had in Bill's last night for Rich's birthday dinner of spaghetti and veggies. Phil made goulash out of the leftover veggies, sauteed chicken breast, and three packages of dehydrated terriaki turkey dinner.
I like doing nothing.

Posted by beth at 10:11 PM

November 28, 2002

FANG: The Approach

I was treated to an excellent helicopter flight up to Fang in an A-Star (zippy sportscar), front seat, just me and Barry, the pilot. Because he wanted to check out the location of a reported "exploding glacier" by a place called Turk's Head, he deviated from his normal route to Fang and flew lower along the coast and up the flanks of the volcano, treating me to an incredible view of the coastal features and of the crevasses on Erebus. I filmed almost the whole thing... Or, I thought I did. Barry gave me the perfect opportunity. As it turned out, for most of the flight, I was paused when I thought I was recording and recording when I thought I was pausing. So I've got some nice footage of my pantleg, and no footage of the supposed exploding glacier.

Luckily, I caught on about midway through the flight, and still have some nice pictures of the approach to Fang. Check the link below for a few; a link to some more should be available shortly.

Thanks for the great flight, Barry! (Note oxygen. The helotech who showed me to my ride said, while pointing out features of the helocopter, "And here's oxygen, in case you get light-headed...But if you're getting light-headed and you're staying at Fang, you're probably in trouble."

Fang Ridge with clouds.

Posted by beth at 9:53 PM


View image

Well, I've taken my last shower for a good month or so, had my hair cut (4 inches off, to make it easier to comb), and am just about to change my clothes and head down to the helo pad to catch my ride up to Fang camp, which is at the base of the nasty-looking ridge (Fang Ridge) pictured here. We'll stay at least two nights there to acclimitize, more if a storm comes. Wish me minimal wooziness!

Posted by beth at 2:44 PM

November 27, 2002


Field work! Today was my first day out, and my first time in a helicopter besides. I think helicopters are the new coolest thing in the world. The ride was super smooth, probably due in part to the fact that there was no wind, and the view, of course, incredible. I'd say it was like flying, except it was flying. But flying like you'd imagine flying, effortless, not like flying in a big jet. Very, very cool. Well, the coolest thing in the world.

The day is also pretty incredible. Sunny, windless, warm. You can see the Erebus plume (yep, that puff of cloud at the top of the volcano is gas emitted from the volcano itself) for somewhere around forever, or at least for a long ways. Phil says the gas emissions from the volcano are constant, and the appearance of the plume actually depends on humidity and wind. Less humid, less plume. More humid, plume condenses to cloud. Wind, plume gone. No wind, plume hangs out. Today, plume. Up and drifting over, and around.

Take off was at 8:50, touchdown back at McMurdo was at about 1:20, and between the two pilot Ken buzzed Phil and I around on a tour of the volcano. Our mission was to install four campaign GPS sites. See the 'Continue reading' link below paragraph for an explanation. We fell one site short due to a bad power cable, but installed three successfully. The only major glitch was arriving at site #2 ("Abbotts Peak") and realizing I had left the GPS tools at site #1 ("Hoopers Shoulder"). What a way to start off the season and prove myself competent. Luckily, it was easy enough for the helo pilot to zip back to Hoopers Shoulder and pick them up. Consider me now paranoid about my tools.

It's still hard for me to comprehend that there's a volcano in the backyard.

Campaign GPS is a style of measurements in which you establish a 'benchmark' (something to measure--in this case, stainless steel posts apoxied into the rock with a ~1 mm wide dimple in the top) and measure it's location periodically. So, the Erebus crew goes out and sets up the GPS antenna to be centered and level over the point, hooks it up to a receiver which records and preliminarily processes the data from the satellites, and leave the equipment running for several days. The next year, they do it again, to get an idea of how the position of that point has changed over the year. That is to say, to figure out how that area is moving.

Continuous GPS utilizes the same equipment, but makes use of permanent monuments onto which the GPS antenna can be fixed. Then, you get data all day every day, for ever. Or until the station breaks down. Or until the money runs out. I love continuous data sets. Well, love and hate them. You have to keep looking at the data. Or, you get to keep looking at the data. You can see what goes on in the inbetween. Why ever do campaign GPS, then? Resources, of course. You can use the same equipment to measure a bunch of points, and GPS equipment is expensive.

Today, I loved GPS. It happens sometimes.

Posted by beth at 12:57 PM

November 25, 2002


Enough people have asked me what the heck I'm doing down here that I thought it worthy to dedicate an entry to the subject. Appologies for not getting on that right at first.

I've actually had to explain myself a goodly number of times since I've been down here, both out of curiosity and envy on the askers part. Seems I've gotten onto a peach of a project, which is what I'd been told even before departing the US.

This is my speil, with a little more detail for those of you who are not familiar with volcanoes in Antarctica.

I'm working as part of a group which studies Mt. Erebus, the southernmost active volcano. It also happens to be one of the most constantly active volcanoes in the world, with an actively convecting lava lake. Yep, that means there's hot glowing lava (1200+ degrees) at the surface of the coldest continent. And yes, there are eruptions.

Erebus is located on Ross Island, an island just about due south of New Zealand which is joined to mainland Antarctica by ice. McMurdo, a major US research base, is also located on Ross Island. McMurdo is another story. We start out in McMurdo, which is where I am at the time of this writing, but will be moving up to a camp on the volcano for the majority of the field work. Scheduled departure to Erebus is this Thursday, November 28--also known as Thanksgiving. Return to McMurdo will likely be sometime in early January, which means about about a month and a half on the volcano.

The volcano rises to about 12,500 ft above sea level, from sea level, which makes it a pretty prominent feature around here. We first head up to an acclimitization camp, called Fang for short because it is located on Fang Ridge, at about 9,000 ft. Because we're so close to the Pole, the elevation is actually effectively (for physiology, anyway) up to a couple thousand feet higher, making for a pretty steep acclimitization. After at least two nights at Fang, we head up the rest of the way to the Lower Hut, at about 11,000 ft. Housing at Fang consists of several polar tents. Housing up at the hut is apparently pretty comfortable, although perhaps a bit cramped. We sleep in tents outside the hut, and do all our 'living' in the hut.

But that's all logistics. Beth, what the heck do you do? One fellow here said to me, 'I know all sorts of people who would love to get on Phil's project. How did you do it? What's your secret?'

'Well,' I said, 'I have something that Phil wants.'

It all comes down to GPS processing. Aaarg.

In a nutshell, I study volcano geodesy. Or volcano deformation. Both of which are confusing terms. Both mean that I study how the surface of a volcano moves, presumably in response to things that are happening inside. A change in pressure within the volcano, if large enough, should result in measurable deformation at the surface. Deformation means a change in shape. For example, a magmatic intrusion from deep within the Earth to a shallow magma body (i.e. chamber) should result in inflation of the volcano, like a balloon. If we can measure this deformation, we can make guesses about what's going on within the volcano. If we can measure it in enough places to get a pretty good idea of the spatial pattern of deformation, we can actually, via some mathematical magic, come up with an idea of the shape and location of the magma body. If we measure often enough, we can get an idea of how the magmatic system is changing over time. This could obviously come in handy if you, say, want to know if and when a volcano is going to erupt. It's also just good for better understanding how volcanic systems work, which ends up being good for volcano monitoring in the long run even if you're not working to immediately predict an eruption.

I use GPS (Global Positioning System) to measure said deformation. Most of you are probably familiar with GPS, and have likely used the hand-held variety. Without the government-applied Selective Availability, you can get your location to with about 6 ft, which is pretty amazing. We use some snazzy and somewhat more cumbersome equipment, pictured in the first entry of this blog, which gets us--with a goodly amount of time in front of the computer processing the data afterwards--subcentimeter precision. Yep, subcentimeter. You've got to have a method that precise, if you want to measure things like plate motion. Plates generally move pretty slowly. GPS is good for a number of studies, including fault motion (there are a bunch of GPS studies around the San Andreas, for example, and you can bet a few folks rushed out into the field in Alaska to record motions following the big 7.9 quake of early October), extension of the Earth's crust (e.g., Basin and Range, or southwestern US), mountain building (Himalaya), and, of course, volcanoes. You can also measure atmospheric stuff like water vapor gradients in the Earth's troposphere, which could come in handy for storm warnings.

One of the cool things about this niche in science is that it's still relatively new. Few volcanoes have been studied in detail. So, I could collect data and see a particular pattern of deformation and have no idea what it means. Volcanoes are complex systems, and deformation may result, like I've mentioned, from magmatic intrusions, but it may also result from changes within hydrothermal systems or something as simple as rainfall. Each volcano is different, and the behavior of a volcano may even change from one eruption to the next. So, there are still a lot of unknowns. I spent four years looking at cycles of inflation and deflation at Taal Volcano, in the Philippines, where I did my masters research, and can't even begin to answer the question of when it will next erupt.

But I get carried away talking about my science. At Erebus, we have a multidisciplinary team of scientists who look at the seismicity, geodesy (or deformation), gas chemistry, rock chemistry, and chronology of Erebus. I am here to work on the GPS part, and hopefully will learn a good deal about the rest in the process. This is my first season down, and it will be a big one: The main mission is to put in five new colocated seismic and GPS instruments on various places on the volcano. There are eleven of us total. Three, actually, are here not to install instruements but to collect rocks. For science, of course. The group is mostly from New Mexico Tech, with collaborators from Woods Hole, Mass, and France. I can't get more specific than France right now because I don't know the affiliation. My link to this project deserves a new paragraph, and then I'll be done.

Who am I. For those of you who don't know me well enough to know what the heck I've been up to. I worked for several years on a MS in Geophysics at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN, which immersed me in GPS. My project, as mentioned was on a volcano in the Philippines. Almost two years ago, I moved to Boulder, where I finished up my MS at a facility called UNAVCO, which offers GPS project support to scientists wanting to use it, and offered me support in the confusing task of processing data. I mostly worked on my thesis, but put in some hours for UNAVCO, some of which were working with Dr. Phil Kyle of New Mexico Tech when he came through to discuss his data from Erebus. They had already been using GPS for several years on the volcano, but had no one to process the data. I finished my thesis sometime in April or May. In July, Phil offered me the opportunity to join their team on Erebus this season. I signed a four month contract with New Mexico Tech to process the GPS data and assist in the field. So, here I am.

And, here it is two AM. And still sunny outside. And I've got a big day ahead tomorrow. What am I doing still up???? Writing all this science gibberish that probably no one will read! If you've made it to the end of this, send me a comment, so I know it wasn't all for nothin'.

And, keep sending your comments and questions! Things are about to get busy in the next couple days, but I'll try to keep on this.

Geez, why don't they turn off that light so some of us can get motivated to get to sleep around here? I shouldn't've had that ice cream and coffee....

Posted by beth at 11:57 AM

Being in Antarctica is Cool

This is awesome. It's 12:15 AM, and the sun is shining brilliantly on the ice and mountians outside. I love it. So, I've decided it's time for a check-in. An emotional check-in, you might say, before I get back to the events.

I'm in Antarctica. That's frickin' crazy. It's also a bit crazy that it doesn't really feel like I'm on some isolated and hostile continent, because MacMurdo is pretty cushy. I just had a nice ice cream coffee (no Baileys, unfortunately) with three fine gentlemen in a warm cafeteria, and now am on the internet, writing to the masses in a tee-shirt and coords. It's cold at MacMurdo, but how cold one feels depends in great part on the sun and the wind. Sunny and windless means warm, as in I walk around outside in my coords or jeans and shirt and fleece shirt and wind parka and lightweight gloves, with no hat on. Wind means it's time for the puffy parka and head gear.

Tonight in the galley (cafeteria), I watched a documentary about four women who skied to the South Pole. Hard core. Similarly, I can feel myself get harder. Not hard enough to ski to the Pole, but certainly harder than I've been the last several years, which will come in handy as I work outside in the wind at 12,000 feet in a week or so. Resiliance and determination. It's a good thing. Tolerance and patience. Also good things. Both for working in the harsh physical conditions, and for working in a team. I like the toughening, and the softening. Both as a matter of survival, and enjoyment. For instance, plans here are subject to change, much moreso than in many other parts of the planet, due to weather. 'So,' I ask Phil, one of the PIs (Principal Investigators, or, more descriptively, people who wrote the grant proposal), 'do you think we'll go up to Fang on Thursday?' Fang is the acclimitization camp at 9,000 ft where we all must spend at least two nights before proceeded to our hut at 11,000 ft. 'It's only Monday,' says Phil. 'There are three days between now and then.' Plans are made and remade and unmade and made again and then the weather changes and plans are remade again. Today, a group of four was supposed to go out to start setting up one of the sites at 9:30 AM, departing by helicopter. The weather was such that the hilo pilots didn't want to fly to Erebus, so delayed departure until 1 PM, at which point the group did go out. But, as it turned out, the larger of the helicopers (the bus variety, as opposed to the sportscar variety--sorry I don't know the names yet) can't land at the desired site, so dropped off the human cargo a ways away and then came back to McMurdo to swap the equipment from the hold to a basket, went back to the site, and dropped the cargo for the scientists. Which means the scientists were stuck on the side of the volcano with no equipment, and thus nothing really to do, until the helicoptor got back. Such is fieldwork anywhere, and even moreso here.

Here I go off speiling. There's always too much to say. Especially if you love words as much as I do.

Alright, go check out another entry.

Posted by beth at 11:34 AM

November 24, 2002

Field Trip: Cape Evans

Field trip. Why the heck not? I heard of the opportunity to go to Cape Evans to see Scott’s hut, so I bundled up and joined about 30 other people for the trip on Sunday. The hut was first constructed and used by Scott’s party, and then later used by Shackleton’s group. Shackleton’s ship broke anchor and sailed away with some of the men on board, leaving the rest of Shackleton’s men shipless. Three died, seven survived and were saved over a year later.

Our journey was much less taxing. We piled in to two Deltas, which are big vehicles that can drive across ice, and headed on our way.

Our first stop was an impromptu stop to see a seal. As the first of us hopped out of the vehicles, we stopped beside the Deltas to look. But we were far away. The general rule is, you can approach wildlife only until it starts reacting to you. The same goes on foot as in ground vehicles and helicopters. As more people disembarked from the Deltas, the group slowly started to inch forward. Then, becoming more bold, the group moved more rapidly, almost in unison, and formed an arc advancing toward the seal until the arc was just twenty or so feet away, and the seal looked up and around and, eventually, started to shook off away from the arc. Attack of the two-legged red-coats. A small group of us hovered back to watch the spectacle. It was a bit embarrassing, really. But the seal was beautiful: silvery coat, shimmery in the sun, like magic.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of the seal, or the attack. In fact, I don’t have a digital picture of anything. Beth forgot to bring her spare battery. So, no pictures of Scott’s hut. Sorry, Dad! And, as luck would have it, I only had about three pictures left on my 35 mm. Bad, bad Beth.

I’ll tell you the highlights, instead. Appologies for the lack of historical details.

Because of the cold, the hut and its contents are preserved pretty much as they were left when Shackleton’s men departed. Half a jar of Royal Plums, among other goodies, on the food shelf; dead penguin on the dissecting table; beakers and catalogues and clothing on tables and in bunks. In the shed, which I did not see, the names of ponies carved into the wood alongside the stalls, the pony’s snowshoes, and piles of whale blubber. I was in search of one of the dog skeletons. Don’t ask why. We didn’t find any dog skeletons (hypothesized to be under snow), but did find one anchor of Shackleton’s ship which blew away. The anchor is pretty hard to miss: it’s huge. It gets my seal of most impressive thing about Scott’s hut. But I don’t have a picture of it for you.

Also, there were a few seals near the hut. One was dead, and was having its eyes eaten out by a skua (very large sea bird), and the others were a mother-cub pair. The latter two were much more endearing. The cub fed off its mother and squealed.

The tour consisted of: walk through the hut, search for dog, search for anchor, play hackey-sack (in Antarctica. That’s cool.), watch seal, load back into bright orange Delta.

The driver poked his head into the back of the vehicle before starting off and asked, “Are you guys up for heading down to Barne glacier? It will add about an hour onto the trip.” Not everyone was into it, but, luckily, they weren’t the vocal ones. Admittedly, I wasn’t that stoked on it either.

(Photo compliments of snow-school Kevin.)

But, look at this place—how can you not be stoked to be there? We were standing right at the toe of a glacier, staring up into clean white ice, blue in the crevasses. Most of the crowd again mobbed a poor seal. I didn’t even see the seal until my way back—Beth was headed straight for the glacier. Cold, but very impressive. Definitely cooler than Scott’s hut. Although, yes, the hut was cool. Nature vs. history. I can’t help it. I can’t connect to Scott’s hut—it’s somebody else’s, and has nothing to do with me. I can’t comprehend it, even though it’s human. My imagination works much better on the glacier—mass of ice, collected as snow and compressed and pushed slowly down by the weight of overlying snow and ice while being pulled slowly down by gravity. Huge blue wounds gaping open to the air, silent, the whole thing representing the power of time and patience and continuous processes. Starting small and growing enormous. From one small snowflake, to this shear cliff standing before me. Power in numbers. Impressive.

That’s one thing that happened. I stood before the glacier, and admired it, and thought about it, and felt good. What also happened is the four or five or so of us sitting at the back of the Delta gabbed the whole way home. The conversation was great, and is a good example of chatting in McMurdo, and made me aware of a thing or two. I was sitting next to roommate Jill, and we were both quizzed (and quizzed each other) on our science. I had a blast explaining it. It’s kind of cool stuff. That’s thing one. Thing two is that there are a lot of interesting people down here, both doing interesting things and having done interesting things. Everybody’s got stories to tell, and everyone surprises me. It’s inspiring.

Posted by beth at 2:10 PM

November 23, 2002

McMurdo Nightlife

I got back from Happy Campers (snow school) late Saturday afternoon, somewhat tired but looking forward to my first real night out in McMurdo.

There’s really not much to say about the night. Itinerary: Drinks with my roommates in our room, migration to another room, migration to a party, and then back and forth between party and the non-smoking bar. [There are three bars: the non-smoking bar, Gallagher's, which happens to have AIR HOCKEY; the smoking bar, the Southern; and the wine bar, the Coffeehouse. Each is located within about 100 ft of the other.] What happened: For the beginning of the night, at the party, I still felt on the outside of the McMurdo social scene, and, somewhat disappointed. But, as parties are apt to evolve, the night became a little more interesting to observe and I made a few friends besides. One pulled me onto the dance floor. He had a very free style of dancing. He liked to hop. He didn’t like that I wasn’t hopping. I think he thought I was just afraid. Really, I just didn’t want to hop. Our over-the-music conversation went something like this:
Him: Hop from one foot to the next, like this.
Me: I don’t want to hop.
Him: Try this. Start on the left foot. Then one, two, three, hop to the right. Ready? One, two, three.
(He hops. I don’t.)
Me: I don’t really want to hop.
Him: What?
Me: I don’t want to hop.
Him: Just try it. Look.
(He hops.)
Me: Now try it with rhythm.
Him: That comes next.
(I continue to dance how I want to dance. He gives up.)

That, and I promised to stand with a catchers mit at the crater rim to catch bombs, yelling, "Brang it!"

Posted by beth at 1:54 PM

Snow School

Seems like it's been a long time since I've updated this thing. Things tend to happen quickly at first on adventures like this.

Snow school. Was the suspense killing you?

Actually, it turned out there were 16 of us, and about half were female. Everyone was nice, and we had fun, and we got along, but no major bonding. Just fun. I guess that's really not such a bad thing.

So this is what we did: talked about keeping warm, then tried doing it.

The most significant thing about snow school is that I got my first view of the volcano. The weather was beautiful, the volcano magnificent. I was taken. I was joyous. I was in awe. That thing moves. Slowly, but it moves.

Posted by beth at 1:32 AM

November 21, 2002

The Next Move

Day two in McMurdo (only day 2??) has consisted of an acute mountain sickness session in the morning and nothing else while the veterans were in their snow school refresher course. In the evening, we went to 'the cage,' a cell in one of the buildings which holds gear for the different projects. We busted into our cage and divied up equipment--most importantly, the sleeping bags. Apparently, the sleeping bag situation goes something like this: Feathered Friends good, Everest something-or-other bad. I stood back quietly and didn't complain when I got one of the Feathered Friends. I tend to get cold easily while sleeping. The 'sleeping kits' also contain two sleeping pads, a pillow, and a fleece blanket. And a pee bottle. It's a pee bottle because it's marked "PEE."

Mario, the other newbie, and I have our full-blown snow school starting tomorrow. It's a one-night affair in which we are instructed on basic survival and have to sleep in the snow structures we build. I've heard snow school is a good time to meet people. I guess there's a certain bonding which goes on when you're stuck outside in the Antarctic climate overnight shortly after arriving with a group of folks you've never met before. From the e-mail list, it looks like there are only about 7 other people in the group. Also from the e-mail list, it looks like I'm the only female.

I'll leave you there in suspense until I get back.

Posted by beth at 8:47 AM



Arrival was definitely uneventful, though busy. They hurry us off the plane to a big red bus with some more glamorous name which I can’t remember, drive us across the ice, and drop us at the ‘chalet’ at McMurdo, where we get briefed on the important things and get our room keys. Then, our group proceeded first to the lab to get our office space and keys, then to our rooms, and then to dinner. Cafeteria style. In our dorm. Very, very, college-esque. Good thing I liked college.

After dinner, organizing the equipment, and after that, a beer, and after that, bed. But it was still light. Wait, shouldn’t we be working? It’s still light! Beth, shut up and drink your beer. What, is this my first beer still? But I’m already buzzed…Wait, this is the first third of my first beer? Oh, jeez, it’s going to be a long two months….

Posted by beth at 3:56 AM


The flight was perfect. Uneventful, except the part when I was dreaming something embarrassing (I don’t remember what it was—I just remember waking up and feeling embarrassed) and woke up to a drip of drool on my lower lip with a small wet spot on my coat front. And the guy two seats down had his camera out.

This morning, they said we flew down with only three engines, which I guess is a bad thing since that means they’re flying back without any cargo. But, since that didn’t amount to any change in our actions or atmosphere yesterday, I’d still consider the flight uneventful.

No boomerangs. Hardly any turbulence. A flight time of almost exactly 7 hours. And, a gorgeous view of Antarctica on our way in. I enjoyed the view of sea ice and mountains and ice and nothing and nothing and nothing and when we started to lower, my stomache jumped—we’re going to Antarctica!—and we descended and descended and descended, and my last though before landing was, “Dear Lord, I hope we’re landing where we’re supposed to land” and it turned out we did and signs of life started to appear as we sped across the sea ice. A few flags, a vehicle, and finally, a couple people. Civilization.

Posted by beth at 3:54 AM

Fly Away


Packed in like sardines, the atmosphere is jovial. Besides, we’re in a Kiwi herc, which is more laid back than an American Herc. We take off the puffy red parkas and stash them behind us or under us or on our laps, and try to get comfortable. Nelia and Bill talk of the time they got TV dinners for lunch as if it were the pinnacle of their years of Antarctic experience. Rich Karstens remembers the greasy cheese and butter sandwich and is much less wistful. We get ham sandwiches, chips, candy bars, juice, and fruit: not TV dinners, but not too bad. Nelia and Bill start eating immediately. Bill and Rich are already working on word puzzles. Everyone is chatting. The plane has a very communal feel. The woman across from me works on penguin exhibits at zoos and is going down to observe penguins in their natural habitat. The woman next to me is a biologist. There is a Kiwi military man to my other side, and two men who are to engineer a road across cravassed terrain across from me. The engines start up. Everyone stops chatting. Everyone pulls out the earplugs which had been handed out at check-in. Everyone puts the earplugs in and proceeds to go to sleep, read a book, speak very closely with the person next to them, or pantomine. I opted mostly for sleep. Sometimes, for the pantomine, because it was fun, but nobody else really wanted to play.

Did I mention that we had an awesome chocolate-covered chocolate cookie in our lunch? That was the best part.

Posted by beth at 3:51 AM

Please Take One


After organizing goods, we checked in and were screened by Kiwis, watched a video about life in McMurdo and Scott Base (the Kiwi station), and were shuttled by bus to the plane. We were boarded three at a time into a Kiwi Herc (sp? short for Hercules), a big ol’ military plane, in which you sit on bench seats facing each other lengthwise down the plane, with webbing as a communal backrest. There are several different types of planes which they fly down to Antarctica. When asked about the hercs, the veterans said, “They take about 7 hours, they’re noisy, and they’re uncomfortable.” I ask, “So what are the advantages?” They think. There is no answer.

Posted by beth at 3:48 AM

Get de Clodes, id's Gonna Be Code Oudside


At two, we went to the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) to get our Extreme Cold Weather Clothing (ECW. Or something). Thin long undies, thick long undies, socks, boots, fleece pants, fleece top, wind pants, wind jacket, hat, hat, gloves galore, balaclavas, and big, puffy red parka. There are different clothing issues for the different work settings. (For example, folks working support staff around McMurdo get Carharts). Everything for me was either too short (women’s) or too wide (men’s). Sigh. You can exchange the clothing for different sizes and models, but it was still hard in some cases to find something that fit. Nelia recommended I get two of some things, which I then had to get approved by the head lady, who said to her staffmember without hesitation, “Oh, yes, she’s going to Erebus.” Hmmm….

The rest of the afternoon was spent shopping for books, last clothing arcticles, candy, and odds and ends. For example, I got some colored pencils. Christchurch was rainy and very green and reminded some of us fondly of home. It blew me away that it was still light at dinnertime. Just wait until Antarctica, my companions say. (It’s nicer than laughing and saying, Whatever, rookie. This is nothing.) We met up with the rest of the group, including Phil Kyle, the head honcho, at 6:30 for dinner. Perhaps I failed to mention the Japanese film crew that had been following us around. So, there was a Japanese film crew following us around. They filmed us getting off the plane in Christchurch and picking up our bags (I picked up my two heavy bags at once in front of the camera, to look like a badass) (okay, they just happened to be next to each other on the carousel, but maybe if they leave that footage in the documentary I will look like a badass), filmed us at clothing issue—although luckily they followed the guys into the guys’ change room and left Nelia and I in peace—and then again in the evening. They met up with us for dinner, and we all went for beers first in a big sports bar and then to dinner at a fancy seafood restaurant where we drank apricot-smelling wine. By the time we got home, it was time to crash. Hard.

We were scheduled to head out the next morning, which is a pretty quick turn-around time in Christchurch and, I think, reserved for seasoned veterans and companions (like myself) of seasoned veterans. At dinner, the veterans speculated on whether we would end up in Antarctica the next day as scheduled. Statistics say no, one commented. Often, flights are cancelled because of weather. If cancelled the night before, the hotel will leave a notice on the front counter with this information. If cancelled in the morning, the hotel will send someone around to the rooms to notify the Antarctica-bound passengers. The worst is a “boomerang,” which means the flight turns around. So, you get up early, get all dolled up in the extreme cold weather clothing, get checked in etc. at the airport, get on the plane, get maybe halfway down to Antarctica…. and turn around. Something that most my companions had experienced, and were certainly not fans of.

But, when we got back to the hotel, no cancellation message. And, in the morning, no notes under our doors. We got on the shuttle at 6, arrived at the center (where we got our clothing the day before) by 6:30, and started getting ready.

We’re required to wear certain clothing on the flight, and have certain clothing in our carry-ons. There was a short amount of time in the morning to change into our issued clothes, pack up our street clothes in a bag (issued, orange), and organize the rest of our stuff into a) carry-on, b) checked, and c) staying in the center. I left my big backpack in Christchurch filled with goodies for trekking around New Zealand and Hawaii. Our checked bagged goes on the plane and does not come off until Antarctica… Thus, in the case of a late cancellation or a boomerang, you could be without your checked bags for days. It’s recommended you throw some spare undies and socks into your carry-on. Um… of course I did.

Posted by beth at 3:40 AM

The Journey Begins

The last couple days have been uneventful, as far as stories go, but I’ll give the run-down for those curious people, just the same. I always get bored reading these things, but I’ve had enough people ask me enough detailed questions that I couldn’t answer that I’m supposing some of you are interested.

So here goes. No, here I go. No, there I went. From Boulder to Denver ala Steve’s taxi service (thanks, Steve) departing Boulder, Colorado, on a gorgeous sunny Sunday (November 17) at 2:30 PM. Perfect climbing weather, fresh snow in the mountains. But I wanna play! Whatever, Steve reminds me. You’re going to Antarctica.

Right. Board a plane and leave Denver at 5:30 PM local time. Arrive LAX 7 PM and immediately find my group. Or, rather, they find me. Nelia Dunbar, Bill Macintosh, Rick Aster, Rich Esser, and Mario Ruiz, all from New Mexico Tech, and Rich Karstens, freelancer (okay, unemployed, like me, except with more money saved) from Seattle who sauntered up about a minute after I did. Step on a plane at 8:30 PM, fly away.

We were seated in different parts of the plane. I mostly slept, and watched a movie called “Bend it Like Beckman.” But we don’t care about long plane rides. Nothing happened. What about Antarctica?

We arrived in Auckland, NZ, at 6:30 AM local on Tuesday, November 19. Gathered bags, went through customs, showed the poor official my stinky kleets so he could determine I wasn’t carrying significant amounts of nasty pollutants on the bottoms, and had a curried lamb pie. The last leg of the commercial flight portion of the journey was a short flight to Christchurch, on the south island, getting us in at about 9:40 AM. The system is so refined that even I could have gotten through it without the assistance of my seasoned veterans. A Raytheon staffperson met us at the airport, explained the basics, and showed us to our shuttle. We all stayed in the same bed and breakfast, with a fat weiner dog named Winnie and bathrobes and a hot water bottle in each room. With the whole day ahead of us. Clothing issue was at two, so we had a couple hours to kill. We shopped and had lunch.

Posted by beth at 3:36 AM

November 12, 2002


It's nice to go somewhere sunny in winter. Really, really sunny. Of course, Boulder is often sunny, and is close to fresh powder, and is not insanely cold, so it's really not a bad place to be in the winter.

Whatever. I'm going to Antarctica.

Posted by beth at 6:53 PM


GPS. I hate it, I love it. Sometimes, it gets me to cool places.

This is a photo of a GPS setup in Death Valley. Death Valley is an extreme environment. It is very, very hot. And dry.

Antarctica is also dry. But it will be very, very cold.


Posted by beth at 6:46 PM