January 31, 2003
I don't have one. But I know some people who did.
Our flight was cancelled on Friday. What can you do?
Go to the bars.
This was the first night I had experienced Southern Exposure, fondly referred to as "The Southern"--the smoking bar. Why go to a smoking bar?
Well, it just so happened that Sal and Joel had started celebrating Sal's birthday early, with shots. It also happened that there was a bet on--someone agreed to drink a beer out of somebody else's bunny boot for $150. Yuck.
On weeknights, last call is 10:30, and folks get the boot at 11. Friday is a school night (the whole 6-day work week thing). When we got booted, Sal and Joel headed back to a place called Hut 10. Hut 10 can be reserved for parties; the environmental remediation group had it for the entire weekend. So, we headed to Hut 10, too.
So did a lot of other people. We went from two people (Sal and Joel) to about 20 in the course of ten minutes. It was amazing. Instant party. Music, dancing, beer, wierd Indian(?) video on piercings and rituals.
And, there were pig-piles. It's all about love here in McMurdo. And, apparently, beer.
This also happened to be the big night for the mustache club.
On New Years (if I understand right), 18 men joined the mustache club. Most, if not all, shaved off nice beards or goatees to leave the mustache, each contributing $5 to a pot. The deal was, whoever was left at the end of January took the dough. When I came down from Erebus, Dave, Tad, and Matt (climbing buddies) all had mustaches. Dave had at least warned me. At that time, Matt still had some nice chops going. The next day, they were gone. The idea was to worsen the mustache as time went on, to make the situation more painful. At first, chops and curling mustaches were fine. Then, mustaches had to be neatly trimmed. By the last week of January, they were down to Charlie Chaplins.
Friday, the 31st of January, was the big night. The club had met at lunch the day before and upped the stakes. Eight men remained. Too many. The rules were changed. By midnight, they were all (save Dave, who was on night shift) to meet at Hut 10 with their upper lips covered. At midnight, they would unveil. The catch was now thus: If everyone shaved but one person, that one person would take the pot. If more than one person kept their mustache, they would get nothing, and all those who shaved would split the money. To shave, or not to shave? Some debated all day.
Around midnight, the group unveiled. Shaved. Shaved. Shaved. Shaved. Etc. All shaved? Down to Matt and Tad. 'You take it off.' 'No, you take it off.' Off with the creepy plastic mask. .... Off with the balaclava. What was left?
Matt still had his mustache.
Tad tried to run out of the room. Then, instead, he made much ado out of taking off his balaclava.
Clean and smooth as a babe's bottom.
The only one left was Dave. So, down to the power plant.
And immediately handed half of it off to a certain Patrick, who had fronted the $5 for him. A spendy deal with the devil. If Matt were to lose, he'd be down nothing--Patrick would be down the $5. But, as it was, Patrick got half of Matt's winnings. For not having to wear a mustache at all. The winnings? $100.
Still, Matt basks in his mustached glory. What year is this, anyway?
Posted by beth at 2:53 PM
January 29, 2003
Photos of some splendid days.
Since getting bumped from the flight on Tuesday, I had the pleasure of getting out on a few hikes from McMurdo. The first was up Observation Hill (Ob Hill, for short), an impressive sharp mound overlooking McMurdo which is topped by a cross set up by Scott's men in honor of the perished.
My friend Rich had Wednesday off, so we took the afternoon to hike to Castle Rock.
We lucked out.
The weather was perfect. Sunny, windless, warm.
Posted by beth at 2:24 AM
January 28, 2003
Well, as luck would have it, I'm still in McMurdo. Bad luck because it means I'm not touring around New Zealand, good luck because I like it here and perhaps over the next few days I can actually get caught up on blog entries.
Right now, it's sunny and warm in McMurdo. I feel like we haven't seen that beautiful glowing ball for weeks. Last week, we had a lovely snow and wind storm, which was reminiscent of times on Erebus (the wind) and snows back home. The snow storms on Erebus were quite different, because we could never tell if the snow was coming from the sky or being whipped up off the ground. Here in McMurdo, the snow was definately coming from the sky, in flakes. Very nice.
But, the sun is quite welcome. It stepped out of the clouds early yesterday afternoon, and seems pretty happy to be back. I'm happy to have it. In fact, because of the sun, one of the best things ever happended yesterday.
I threw frisbee.
I was walking along from Point A to Point B, and there were some folks throwing the disc around. I didn't even have to ask for it. It just came to me. I was in a t-shirt and sunglasses, in the sun, throwing frisbee in Antarctica. And I was happy.
The rest has to wait until after lunch. It's noon, and I missed breakfast, and I'm hungry. Being hungry is not the same as being happy.
In the meantime, you can check out R.K.'s website for another take on Erebus stories and for some fabulous pictures:
Posted by beth at 10:52 AM
And what about all the inbetween? What is McMurdo like? What do you do there in your spare time?
I have had the pleasure of spending about three weeks in McMurdo, working on processing the GPS data and making friends.
First of all, there is the climbing cave. I described it a bit in a previous entry. To reiterate, and add:
Some people here crack me up. Blue-eyed Dave is one of them. I’ve had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with blue-eyed Dave, who I met way back on the field trip to Cape Evans, and his friends Tad and Matt. All three are wintering over. All three are nutty. And, not surprisingly, I adore them for it.
We climb together. Sort of. We go to the climbing cave, and hang out together. We climb around some, and then lounge and talk. I swung by the climbing cave two nights ago thinking I might find someone I knew there. I heard familiar voices on my way up the stairs. At the top, I found Dave, Tad, and Matt. Laughing. ‘What?’ I ask, thinking they must have been just making fun of me. They are sitting on the couch outside the cave. ‘We’ve been sitting here for about a half an hour,’ they said, ‘and haven’t even made it inside yet.’ Busted. We migrate inside, but still don’t climb. We sit or lounge on the mattresses. I reach absently for a climbing hold up behind my head, and Tad snaps, ‘Don’t touch that!’
The evening degenerates into horsing around. Literally. They take turns wrestling until they are red in the face, and when I try to climb again Dave takes me down, and I hold my own—either because he lets me or because I had an older brother, which provides excellent conditioning for such occasions—until I somehow end straddling his back, with him on all fours. ‘Do you want to ride the pony?’ he asks and, eyes wide, I immediately say ‘No’ and dismount. He proceeds to buck. ‘I’ll buck you off! I’ll buck you off! I’ll buck you off!’ I can’t even watch him, I’m laughing so hard. I guess it’s a party trick he picked up back in high school. The bucking thing. I’m embarrassed to be a part of the story, but it was so funny that I can’t refrain from telling it.
For a while, I had the bad habit of ditching my climbing friends once I get into the bar. It’s an unintentional thing. After climbing several days ago, we headed off to the Coffee House. On my way to the bar to buy some wine for myself and friend Matt, I ran into Geoff, a fellow I had met and climbed the 5th Flatiron with in Boulder, and Brad, a friend of a friend of mine in Boulder who I hunted down, and three of their friends. They were holding philosophy club, and invited me to join them.
"So what do you guys philosophize about?" I ask.
"What do you think?"
"Fish," I guess, randomly.
"Well, there are a lot of them in the sea."
I'm a bit slow. "The sea, then."
"Do you philosophize about women?"
Fish was a pretty good first guess, don't you think? A good way into our conversation, I remembered the glasses of wine. Poor Matt was over playing darts empty handed. “Oh, no!” I exclaimed. Rather than being sympathetic, the philosophy club found it quite funny. I think I gave them some material for their next philosophy session. I just said, “I am a very bad friend.”
Then, there are parties, big and small. I don't have any pics of the big ones, although at least one of them does merit some description which I probably won't get to. Saturdays are big nights. Fridays are medium nights, since Saturday is a work day (6-day work week for most employees).
Science tech Seth hosted a Crary (science facility) party out at Cos-Ray, a great building used for monitoring neutrons torn from their atoms by cosmic radiation.
[Dave poses in front of a poster. "Here, make it look like I'm driving," he says. The poster shows the cab of a truck, well-dusted with snow. It reads: "First rule of the Arctic. Close the damn door."]
Then, there was a going-away gathering on Monday to celebrate my departure on Tuesday. Except I got bumped from Tuesday's flight, so it was just a gathering.
And then wins.
Tucker opts for the safer bowl method.
Dave and Matt and Tad had mustaches. Dave warned me of this via e-mail before I came back down the mountain. They had joined the mustache club. Eighteen or so men decided to shave their nice beards and leave their mustaches, each contributing $5 to a pot. Whoever is left at the end of January takes the dough. This first night in the climbing cave, Matt still had some nice chops going. The following day, those had to go. The idea was to worsen the mustache as time went on, to make the situation more painful. At first, chops and curling mustaches were fine. Then, mustaches had to be neatly trimmed. Now, at the time of this writing (January 28), they're down to Charlie Chaplins.
I digress. Look forward to photos of mustached men in future entries.
Posted by beth at 1:05 AM
January 14, 2003
So I finally got to watch the penguins.
And, we went on about a thousand helo flights.
Well, maybe three.
Day's mission: Break down the sites at Cape Royds and Three Sisters.
First stop was Cape Royds, home of the penguin rookery. It is also home of one of Scott's huts, and we came prepared with the keys so we could check it out. I was accompanied by Dorothy Burke, a computer type who works upstairs from me.
Pilot Ken dropped us off in the A-Star, and left us to our business. The break-down took us about a half and hour. We walked briefly through the hut, both of us excited to watch penguins, and then watched the funny birds for a good while. Good enough for me to get a bit chilly out there.
Ken picked us up after almost two hours. Then, on to Sisters.
Maybe it was because Seth wasn't there. Maybe it was because Barry wasn't there. Either way, Sisters wouldn't let us in. Skank.
But Ken was a trooper. I'll bet it will be clear in a half and hour, he said. Let's try again then.
So we headed back to McMurdo. And, a half and hour later, we headed out again.
The weather had improved. Thevolcano was beautiful, and mostly clear. The summit was clearly visible. The only problem was.... a thin band of skank riding just at the level of the Three Sisters.
Denied again. Back to McMurdo. Come back at 6:30, said Pam of the helo hanger. So, a quick dinner, and back out.
I don't have any pictures from Three Sisters this time around, but finally, with Scottie piloting, we were able to land. The skank had cleared and the lighting was exquisite. I'd never flown this late in the day before. Rather than snapping a shot or two for the folks back home, I tried to work quickly, focusing on breaking down the equipment, and took in the views for myself as I did.
It was sad to be finishing the field work for the season. I looked up at Erebus. This was it. Last helo flight, last excursion, last reason to get out. The world was white and yellow and black and blue. Like a bruise, except a lot prettier. It was a good way to end the season.
Posted by beth at 8:29 PM
January 13, 2003
Before our stint on Erebus, I got to see the toe of the Barne glacier from its base. Very, very impressive. Today, I got to see the toe of the Barne glacier from the top of the ice. Less impressive, but fun.
The mission was to survey three survey points put in last year to get a rough idea of how fast the glacier is moving. Because the motion of the glacier should be large--on the order of several meters a year--the survey is much cruder than the surveys of the points on the volcano (which move only several mm per year). Instead of securing the big antenna to a level surface and orienting the antenna to north, we simply screwed a smaller antenna onto a PVC pipe hat which we slipped over a bamboo pole. The poles are the permanent markers, and sport flags (here covered by the PVC pipe) which make them more visible from the air.
Also, rather than leaving the equipment for three or more days, we survey for only 30 minutes. Again, this is because we are expecting motions from one survey to the next to be large, and thus don't need a larger amount of data.
The three sites were far enough apart that Ken flew us from one to the next.
When we landed, Erik would clip a rope from himself to the helo and step out with a probe (ski pole with no basket, essentially) and check out the area for cracks.
The surveying was pretty tough. It took us about 5 minutes to set up the equipment, and then we had to wait for 30 minutes. Lounging. On a relatively warm, calm, peaceful day. Cloudy, white, with flat light, but very nice just the same.
Posted by beth at 4:52 PM
January 10, 2003
Bombs and Three Sisters
McMurdo life and another field day.
We didn't fly in the afternoon on Tuesday. We were put on hold because of the weather, and then the helos were cancelled altogether. Instead, I worked on documenation of the GPS work we had done all season and distributing crystals. Getting the documentation of the new permanent GPS sites in to the folks at UNAVCO in Boulder was key, so that they can start archiving the data as it comes in.
Distributing crystals rocked. I got to play Santa Claus. Nelia and Rich E. divied up our crystal harvest into ziplock bags for the different work centers around town. I got the job of delivering some of these bags. Most people in town are pretty nice, but they're even nicer if you start off a converstation by saying, "I brought you guys this bag of Erebus crystals...." Everyone in town loves them. Rightly so--they're manky looking, but they're pretty cool.
The evening was, as usual, tough. I climbed in the bouldering cave, I lounged in the bouldering cave, I went for ice cream afterwards, then played ping-pong in one of the dorm lounges and watched the icebreaker make progress.
The next day was pretty much the same. We were scheduled to go out at 11, the helos were put on hold, and then the helos were cancelled. I began the task of processing the GPS data, which I'll describe in a future entry. I was in front of a computer all day. Although the helos weren't willing to take us up to Erebus for field work, they managed to make it up to get the folks who were still up there--specifically, Sarah finally made it down. Our grouped joined her and her husband, Wally, in their room for a little celebratory champagne. Then, on to the ping-pong lounge again, where we watched the Coast Guard folks walk drunkenly back to the icebreaker from the bars. At 12:30, those of us remaining went to Mid Rats, the mid-shift meal for night workers. Such is the McMurdo life.
On Thursday, I was able to go out in the field again. The rest of the Erebus crowd was to leave, so I worked with Seth, the science tech down here who had been helping us with our project from McMurdo. I said goodbyes to Nelia, Bill, Rich, and Rich shortly before leaving for the helo hanger.
Our first stop was Bombs, or BOMZ, a spot which can be wickedly windy. In fact, the last time we were there, it was wickedly windy.
Not so today. Today, it was perfectly calm, and sunny, and beautiful.
First order of business: Confirm that our equipment was still there.
On that wickedly windy day, when I had been at Bombs with Nelia and Rich and Rich, we brought a box of equipment for a permanent GPS installation. The idea had been to put it in that day, but our GPS antenna cable was too short to pull off the installation. So, we left the box with some rocks on top and on the leeward side and hoped for the best.
Within the next several days, we were hit by our worst wind storm at the Hut.
While some thought the box at Bombs was perfectly stable, I had visions of it tumbling to oblivion down the steep white slopes of the volcano. R.K. apparently had the same vision. He bet Nelia and Rich ten dollars each that the box would be gone. The groups parting words had not been, "Great working with you!"; they were, more importantly, "Don't forget to get a picture!"
Looks like Nelia and Rich are in luck. I'm in luck, too, for not betting, since I would have been losing money with with R.K. It also looks like the rocks weighing down the box are a little more substantial than I'd remembered.
The actualy field work was quite simple. Connect this to that, make sure the appropriate lights are blinking, rock the cable and rock the box more completely. Then, enjoy the view for a few minutes.
[Seth shows off the rotars.]
And show appreciation to the vehicle that brought us here. And to the pilot. Thanks, A-Star. Thanks, Barry.
After finishing up at Bombs, we were off to Three Sisters. Three Sisters had denied us once, and we still didn't know which Sister the survey point was on.
This time, the Sisters were kind. I think Seth must have woo-ed them. Or maybe it was Barry. Barry woo-ing them, I mean. Anyway. We made it to the ground.
And ended up walking right to the site. Well, Barry did.
The set-up was uneventful. The place was incredible.
And we had a little bit of time after to enjoy the view.
After the set-up, Barry treated us to a lovely flight over the ice flowing down from Erebus.
Posted by beth at 4:54 PM
January 7, 2003
McMurdo and the field
McMurdo. After coming down from the volcano, the rest of my group was done with field work. The weather had denied us several task that will have to wait until next season, including the installation of another major monitoring site on the crater rim, but we finished the season with everything else operational. Five new GPS sites, three new seismographs, two new cameras on the rim, three microphones, several anemometers (measuring wind speed and direction), new power supplies including wind generators, CO2 measurements from ice towers, and several suites of campaign GPS measurements.
I still had a round of GPS measurements to make, and one permanent GPS site to install. I decided while still up at the hut that I would stay behind in McMurdo while the others went on north to New Zealand. This allowed me to stay up at the hut with them to the end, rather coming down a few days early, and also allowed me to check out a little bit of McMurdo life. After Erebus, it's like coming to the big city.
Actually, it's a lot more like coming to my dear alma mater: Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington. (Say it out loud if you haven't already--it's fun.) A small place with good people, who you meet one day and are almost guaranteed to run into the next. I love it. But this entry is supposed to be about the field work.
Today was the day to do what Nelia and I had been trying to do via helo from the hut for over the past week. Mission: Install the last round of GPS sites. ARR6, in McMurdo (we were originally going to have Chuck Kurnik do this for us, when we'd planned the field work from the hut); ROY0, on Cape Royds; and SISZ, on Three Sisters.
The field work started with a trip with Chuck to the scenic Hut Point, on the outskirts of McMurdo. Chuck works for UNAVCO, the group I worked with in Boulder, CO, before coming down south, doing GPS. Chuck and I go way back. He even used to give me rides to work when we both lived in Longmont, CO.
But we're not in Boulder, or in Longmont. We're in Antractica.
ARR6 was probably my most difficult installation. Instead of being transported via helo or skidoo, we drove to the site. Not only is this much less glamorous than helo or skidoo, but it also left us farther from the site than we can usually get. We had to carry the equipment all the way over two small hills. Sigh.
But just from a distance.
Our set-up took a little longer than I'd anticipated... which may have something to do with the fact that we first started setting up over the wrong benchmark (good thing they label those things)... so we didn't get to wander over towards the rookery. We did, however, have some close encounters with skuas (very large sea birds), who seemed quite anxious for us to leave so they could check out the shiny new addition to their environment, and probably poop on it.
I resolved to leaving myself more time at take-down to go see the penguins.
We flew from there to Three Sisters, a lovely location on the flanks of Erebus. Fortunately, the Three Sisters were clear. Clear enough for us to see the snow snakes whipping through between them.... So we didn't land. Also, we didn't actually know which Sister the benchmark was on. After all, there are three to choose from. Opinions varied, and even folks who had been there before couldn't remember for sure. We brought the GPS coordinates, but couldn't narrow it down with the helo's computer. Instead, we flew over the Sisters a few times, squinting down to try to pick out the marker. The marker which consists of a stainless steel post about 2 cm in diameter, maybe with a ~6 cm-diameter orange skirt. After a fresh snow. I didn't really figure we'd see the marker from the air. We didn't. Instead, because of the wind, we headed back to McMurdo.
In McMurdo, there were many errands to run, what with returning equipment we had borrowed from the station and getting other equipment ready to be shipped back to the States.
One such errand took us to Building 71, up on a hill overlooking McMurdo, to tidy up the radios which receive the data from Erebus.
From above, McMurdo struck me as an 11-yr-old boy's dream town. Heavy machinery, lots of big orange trucks, lots of dirt. It's a Tonka town.
From Building 71, we went to a hill on the other side of the town. I think we had some particular purpose for going there, but mostly we sat in the sun and watched the icebreaker making its way towards McMurdo.
The icebreaker comes in every year right around New Years, making the long trek down from Seattle via Hawaii and Austrailia. The trip takes two months. The ship and its crew (Coast Guard) spend another two months in McMurdo sound, breaking up the ice for the shipping vessel that comes in to bring in supplies for the winter and to carry out the cargo from the entire summer season, including science cargo such as GPS equipment and rock samples and the season's worth of waste. After two months of sticking around the Sound, the icebreaker turns north for the two-month journey back to Seattle.
We spent a little while watching the ship laboriously break ice. It backs up in the channel it has recently created, to gain momentum, and then surges forward, with its rounded hull reaching up over the ice. If the ice isn't thin enough to break by merely getting rammed, it is crushed unter the weight of the ship.
Earlier in the day, Barry had flown us over the icebreaker to get a good view of the ship and its broken trail. Often, whales follow the ship in its trail, and seals take advantage of the new opening in the ice. Unfortunately, we didn't see any whales, but we did see some seals.
[Icebreaker from the air.]
The weather was sunny and warm and nice. Like summer.
After dinner, I went climbing with Power Plant Dave and friends. Dave and I go way back to the Cape Evans field trip in November. Little did I know this climbing thing was to become a ritual. We met his friends Matt and Tad in the climbing cave, and were later joined by another climber named George. Dave and Matt and Tad had mustaches. Dave warned me of this via e-mail before I came back down the mountain. They had joined the mustache club. Eighteen or so men decided to shave their nice beards and leave their mustaches, each contributing $5 to a pot. Whoever is left at the end of January takes the dough. This first night in the climbing cave, Matt still had some nice chops going. The following day, those had to go. The idea was to worsen the mustache as time went on, to make the situation more painful. At first, chops and curling mustaches were fine. Then, mustaches had to be neatly trimmed. Now, at the time of this writing (January 28), they're down to Charlie Chaplins.
I digress. Look forward to photos of mustached men in future entries.
An important part of the climbing ritual is lounging. In fact, climbing is not an important part of the climbing ritual at all, and sometimes we don't even do it. The small room is covered with climbing holds, walls and ceiling, and the floor is lined with mattresses. Nice, comfy mattresses. So we climb a little, and then we lounge. We talk about life, the pursuit of happiness, past exploits, future plans. Dave, Tad, and Matt are all wintering over. They're in for the long haul. They have no future plans.
After climbing, we went to the CoffeeHouse, the wine bar in town. I met up with the Erebus group there, and proceeded to laugh and drink wine and have a good time. After all, I could sleep in--we weren't scheduled to fly again until the following afternoon.
Posted by beth at 5:53 PM
January 6, 2003
We made it to McMurdo! We packed up the last of our things yesterday morning, with a scheduled pickup of 11:15, and then were put on hold. It's okay, we're used to it. We took it pretty hard by settling back into playing cards and getting excited about a lunch of grilled cheese and tater tots. I was a bit bummed when we got the call saying the pilot was thinking of giving it a shot, and then another call saying that he'd taken off.
Three guys working for the environmental division had made it into Fang on Saturday, and were scheduled to come up to the mountain to do some clean-up, including digging up leftovers of old camps (the pre-hut Jamesway, hard-to-remove bamboo poles which had been left behind when tents were removed in years past). The 212 swung by Fang to pick up Geoff, Brian, and Sal and arrived at LEH at the tail end of our hurried lunch. The three guys unloaded, and we got on. Wait! Who are these people? And what are they doing up here without us? Am I allowed to feel possessive?
As we pulled away from the volcano, I thought of how excited the newcomers must be to see from up close. That's pretty cool, I thought. And, seeing it with new eyes, I was sad to leave. I realized I forgot to say goodbye to my trusty skidoo, Fang, and then I was even more sad.
I was sad and contempletive for most of the way down. Then, we pulled into McMurdo, and I was fine. Mission 1: Get dorm room. Mission 2: Get shower.
Shower. The first shower in over a month. Rich E. said he would get a quick shower and head back down to Crary, the science building, to intercept the next helo load. I had no intention of taking a quick shower. I took my time. Except, I was working hard. Because it's cold and we don't often sweat while working, I really didn't feel very stinky and grimy. Stinky and grimy, yes, but not one month's worth of stinky and grimy. I didn't, however, anticipate the month's worth of dead skin built up as a scum all over my body. Just add water, and -bing- instant grime.
Clean. Clean? Really? Yes.
After clean, and clean clothes (clean clothes! A t-shirt!), I was set into motion. There were things to see! It just happened to be the day of the LDB (something something Balloon) launch out at Willy Field (the late-summer runway). Seth, the science tech who has been helping us out, called R.K., a phone call which I intercepted, and I told Chuck Kurnik, a friend of mine from UNAVCO, and he told some folks from upstairs, and the lot of us crammed into the shuttle to head on out. (I was in a bit of a hurry, neglected to grab my digital camera, and almost missed the shuttle.) The crowd to watch the launch was surprisingly small. Some of us were skeptical. Is this worth the wait?
They were filling the balloon when we got there. We stood around, took pictures, chit-chatted, and then were shuffled around to watch the launch. First, some folks were corralled our way, being told the launch might be a bit wild. Then, we were all corralled back where the other folks had been corralled out. Then, the balloon launched. It was big. It went up.
I can't even begin to explain the science behind this event. To those involved, it is an instruement to measure the universe. To me, it is a very big balloon. To all of us, it was very cool.
We just missed the shuttle heading back to McMurdo. So, we hitched a ride in the back of a pick-up truck. Classic. We're in Antarctica, in the back of a pick-up, on a beautiful day, watching a huge balloon rising tranquilly in the blue sky. We decided it would have been a good day for a barbeque. I realized halfway through our ride that I had already met the guy sitting next to me, when I was first through McMurdo. Turns out he's most recently from Boulder, too. Joel, the guy sitting next to me, also had a revelation.
He just realized why the balloon is called "Boomerang." Someone asked why the balloon launch takes place in Antarctica, and someone explained that 1) the continuous daylight which keeps the balloon from contracting at night and also keeps charging the system through the solar panels; and 2) the wind patterns are such that the balloon lands in almost the same place it took off. "I just got it!" Joel exclaims.
We decided BOOMERANG must also be an acronym for something, because everything in science is. Joel started off with what it might mean, but had some spelling issues. Chuck and RK picked it up, coming up with clever options--RK's suggestion for the "RANG" was "Return Arrival Not Guaranteed."
We made it back. We went to dinner. We went to a party in a lounge. We drank gin and tonics. I was very tired. Eventually, we called it a night, and went to bed.
Not bad, for a first day back in town.
Posted by beth at 3:00 PM
January 5, 2003
Well, we are scheduled to head down tomorrow. For better or for worse. I know, I know, all my recent entries have a "Get me out of here" overtone, but I'm over my cabin fever. I'm pretty content up here. Maybe it's just knowing that I'm going down, but more likely it has to do with having decent weather and getting things done, and getting to have some fun besides. The last couple days have been pretty good. We've retrieved the last of the GPS instruments up here, fixed the cameras at the rim to satisfaction so the world can see (online) what's going on with the lava lake, fixed multiple GPS receivers which lost their minds, fixed other equipment that spontaneously decided to fail (including one very stinky seismometer), put in guy wires, rocked cable, and fixed cables. We've also explored a very, very cool ice cave, played in snow, put our hands on warm ground, collected pounds and pounds of crystals, and driven fast on skidoos. Sometimes, it's been sunny. Sometimes, it's been warm. Most importantly, most of the time, it's been calm. The wind makes all the difference.
I'd love to elaborate on some of the happenings from the last few days. The cave, in particular, deserves some describing. I'm afraid events and thoughts and feelings will start piling up once we get to McMurdo and I am exposed to a completely different environment with completely different stimuli. (Is that a word?) I've been ready to leave. But am I ready to leave? When life is good here, it's really good.
I've been ready for change. I think what's happening is that the situation here is so good that I can't wish it away. I can't willingly say, "I want to leave," because that would mean saying, "I don't want any more scenic skidoo rides, any more cave exploration, any more views out at McMurdo Sound; I don't want to see any more snow snakes slithering mystically across the ground, live amongst the lava flows, walk past bombs the size of our hut (flatened), collect any more crystals, look down into the crater." At the same time, there are other things. There is change, for one. And change is good. There are also showers, more people, more privacy, more room to move.
To everything turn, turn, turn. Of course, we may be stuck here for another week, if the helos can't get up. In which case, I'll probably have all sorts of time to tell you about the ice cave, and to describe the patterns of the wind blown snow, and to upload the pictures I've taken the last few days.
Yesterday, we said, All we need is one day of decent weather and we can get everything done. Well, we got decent weather. Bill and Nelia were already zooming off on their skidoos as I was just on my way to the hut from my tent. Must be a clear view into the crater, I reckoned. I was right. Their mission: Finish up the camera work at the rim. Align, zoom, focus. Meanwhile, the McMurdo search and rescue team arrived to have some hot drinks and a little brekkie on their trip back from the rim. They skidooed all the way up from McMurdo, to familiarize themselves with the route in case they ever had to perform a rescue up here when the helos couldn't make it in. They started out about 6 PM, arriving here at 2 AM on their way to the crater rim and then again at 8:30 AM on their way back. I was asleep for their first time through, and sleepy for their second time through, but I refrained from taking my morning nap until after they left. They were hours without sleep, hours on skidoos, and hours up at altitude, unacclimatized. Despite it all, they were in pretty good spirtits.
My nap was great.
After lunch, Bill, Nelia, Rich and I headed to E1, the site on the rim of the side crater, to finish up the microphone work there. A cable leads miles and miles (okay, more like a few hundred feet) up along the side crater rim from the monitoring site. At the end of the cable, a microphone records sounds of eruptions. Our goal was to finish splicing together the cables and rock the whole thing to protect it from the wind. The weather was calm and nice at first, and a bit breezy and chilly by the time we were done rocking. We spent a good while collecting crystals on our way down. E1 done.
Not quite. When we got back to the hut and checked the data streaming from the microphone, we found a slight problem. It was not working. They had checked the system while we were still up at the site, but before they had taped up the cable splices. The wires, it turns out, are quite delicate (=weak) and Bill and Rich both suspected they could have easily broken during the taping process. So, after Rich E.'s birthday dinner (happy birthday, Rich!!) and desert and present opening, Rich got to enjoy another trip to E1. Out of kindness, I accompanied him. I make it sound like I'm some kind of martyr. It has more to do with being useless. Troubleshooting the system was really a one person task, and I was just along for the ride. So it was sort of out of kindness, and sort of for fun.
Our goal: Check the splices in the cabling (power and data) to see if something had gone awry. Splice 1: Messed up. Broken ground wire. We fixed it. We talked to Bill. 'Great,' he said. 'But it's still not working.' Pause. What to do? Bill thought the problem was with the microphone. 'You have to walk up to the top anyway to GPS it, right?' he says. Rich is unhappy. 'Well,' Rich says, 'if I had remembered to bring the GPS, we would have to go up there.'
Up to the next splice. Splice 2: Messed up. Broken red wire. Hooray--maybe we found the problem. I mean, the other problem. I mean, hopefully the last problem. We fixed it. (=Rich fixed it.) We tried radioing the hut. No response. We tried again. No response. We tried again about every minute. 'Hey!' we said, not on the radio. 'It's cold out here! Where are you guys?' Turns out there was a misunderstanding, and Bill and Nelia thought there was someone in the hut (where the radio is) to listen for us. They were busy packing up the science gear in the orange hut. Finally, Nelia heard us. She just happened to be walking by, carting a load out to the helo pad. (Helo pad = flat patch of snow by the hut.) Our saviour. 'Could you please check to see if the data looks good?' I asked (I love talking on the radio). 'Okay.' The expected silence. Then the longer-than-expected-silence. 'Okay, guys,' we said, not on the radio. 'What are you doing?' The silence was broken. By a penguin scientist. 'Oh, no!' Rich and I wailed. 'Now we'll be here forever!' Indeed, the conversation about penguins went on sometime around forever. 'Ainly, come on!' I yelled into the radio, but not with the mic keyed. 'My hands are getting cold!!' Rich and I laughed. And laughed. What else can you do? Besides, it was funny. The whole situation. Even if we were getting cold.
As soon as the penguin conversation ended (and believe you me, I wasted no time), I got back on the radio and called the hut. The data look perfect, Nelia said. Whew. Alright, then, we're back on to Splice 1. Still had to finish the tape job.
Splice 1 taped. We radioed the hut. The hut (aka Nelia) responed immediately. Looks great, she said. Good. I was starting to shiver, and the place was pretty completely skanked up. Nelia had promised hot drinks awaiting us in the hut.
But when we got back, Rich announced he wanted to go right back up and get the GPS reading off the microphone. What? Another trip? Now? Alright, I said, I'm game.
We were paranoid. Is there anything else that needs to be done at E1? Is there any way we could possibly mess up this simple mission? Nelia checked the batteries on the GPS (a hand-held), and I made a point of putting it in my pack. 'It's in my pack,' I said to Rich, at least twice, and even showed it to him. We refueled the skidoos. When we got to E1, we fussed a bit over who would carry the GPS, and where. I cleared out a pocket in my jacket so it could have a place all its own, made sure it fit in completely, and made sure the flap on the pocket was velcro-ed down. 'I'll ask you periodically if it's still in there to make sure it hasn't fallen out,' Rich said. I knew this wouldn't be necessary. I knew I would knock it every once in a while to make sure myself.
The walk up wasn't bad. Skanky, but not bad. We hiked and rested, and hiked and rested, and made it to the microphone in decent time. Rich figured we could make it back to the hut by midnight. (We set out at about 10:30.) We got our GPS reading on the microphone. To be on the safe side, we stored two readings, and I wrote down one of them in my Green Brain (green memo book). The whole process took all of about two minutes. 'Now, if we really wanted to be safe,' said Rich, 'we'd split the stuff up so that one of us was carrying the Green Brain and the other was carrying the GPS, so that if one of us fell in the crater we'd still have the data.' 'Thanks, Rich, you just jinxed us.' I knew I was going to be the one to go. 'Although,' he continued, 'I guess if you fell in, so long as you didn't explode or anything, I could still go down and retrieve the GPS.' So nice to work with someone who cares.
As it turned out, neither of us fell down into the side crater. Instead, we had a rather enjoyable walk. The skank and sun were playing games that only we could see; now the skank obscures the entire ridge behind us, now it moves on to let the ridge show through; now it moves on enough to let the sun light up just the upper reaches of the ridge, now it obscures the ridge again. Now it thins just enough in front of the sun to cast an eerie light on us, now it moves both in front of the sun and into the side crater to create a circular rainbow not in front of the sun but opposite it, in the side crater--a ring rainbow that frames us, so that our shadows are inside, and so that we can move our arms and legs so that they radiate out from the rainbow like rays themselves. Now the skank moves away from the sun and side crater completely, so that our shadows are cast on the opposite side of the side crater, a projected duo, here I am walking and there I am walking, so far away.
When we made it past all the cables and boxes and windgens and solar panels on the way back down, Rich said, relieved, 'Now we can't mess up anything.' Happy birthday, Rich. A trip to E1. Oh, another one. Oh, and another one. Luckily, when we arrived back, the microphone was still working.
Here I am. 1:46 AM. Awake and happy as can be. WAIT! Don't I have somewhere to be tomorrow? Don't I have to wake up in a few hours? Didn't I do a lot of running around today (ignoring my long morning nap)? Don't I love sleep??
I do love sleep.
Our flight is scheduled out for about 11:15 AM. Enough time to pack up personal stuff in the morning. The wind has picked up considerably in the last two hours. Perhaps I failed to mention the lenticulars (clouds that mean wind) Rich and I observed on our way back. He called one the mother ship. Such beautiful beasts. So maybe we'll leave tomorrow, and maybe we won't. Either way. There's always the skidoo rides, and the snow snakes, and the food, and playing cards, and the dweebing, and, of course, the trips to E1.
Posted by beth at 8:48 PM
January 4, 2003
Rabbit Hole Cave
Woke up. Into the hut about 8:30. The weather looked promising. Do we get to go see the pengies?? Skank moving in. McMurdo socked in. Helos on hold. It was a typical story.
I worked on data processing all morning. The weather deteriorated. But, it was still workable. Before lunch, Bill and Rich E. made a trip around to the back side of the volcano to finish up some errands. After lunch, Nelia, Bill, Rich E., and I headed up to the crater rim to work on the camera site and take out the GPS equipment. Nelia and I carried the equipment down and picked up crystals along the way. The snow makes crystal hunting a bit more challenging than usual, but our path—not commonly used—was prime crystal-plucking territory. I came down with a heavy pocket.
As Nelia and I descended, a helo appeared from the west side of the mountain and descended towards the hut. They finally decided to give it a try. The helo lifted off again before we made it back home. Here breaks our six-day stretch with no helos. As expected, RK was gone when we arrived back at the hut. After three days of waiting, he’d made it down to McMurdo.
After a dinner of homemade pizza (compliments of Sarah), we headed back into the wilds of the volcano’s slopes. All of us, including Sarah, made the trek to visit Hidden Valley, one of the mountain’s treasures. Mission: Survey ice towers. First, we measured CO2 output from some cracks in snow-free, thermal ground. The ground was warm to the touch. Then, on to some ice towers downslope.
Bill probed his way up to the entrance of the first one. “It’s a walk-in!” he called. He entered. I imagined a gently-sloping floor leading down into the cave, or a shallow cave where we might have to crouch to get in.
I was wrong. We entered a rabbit hole.
Just inside the entrance, we were greeted by a snow slide arcing down towards darkness. Bill was already down, and Rich was on his way down in front of me.
He quickly disappeared. Nelia entered behind me, and we started the scoot down. Can you see? she asked. I could see just enough to know that there was a rock floor below me, but not enough to see Bill and Rich. "Hey, where are you guys?" I asked. "Woo-woo!" came from the darkness, and I had to grin. "I LOVE this game!" I made it to the base of the slide. I could just make out Rich, but no Bill. "Where’s Bill?" I asked. "Come over here," Rich said. He motioned me over to the wall, and instructed me to look down into its base. I knelt, my head several inches from the floor. I waited for my eyes to adjust, but they wouldn’t. I extended an arm. It was a passage. "Bill saw a stripe of light, and headed for it," Rich said. I squinted to see the stripe of light, and could almost imagine it. Nelia arrived and asked for Bill. "Do you want me to call for him?" I asked. "Sure." I call. "Bill!" No answer. "Bill!" Still no anwer. Nelia tried. "Bill!" Nothing. A moment later, we tried again. "Bill!" "Yeah?" His voice came from back a ways. "Where are you?" "I’m coming back." "Good!"
He emerged happy. "It opens up to a well-lit room back there," he said, "but the passage gets pretty narrow. I probably could have squeezed through, but I wouldn’t have been able to breath while squeezing."
They allowed me to name the cave, since it was my first season down. Rabbit Hole cave.
We surveyed a couple more ice towers on our way home. Each one was from a fairy tale. There was big-mouth tower, and then one that looked like a grand owl, and then one that looked to me like a monster snout thrust up out of the ground.
[Monster tower. To me, it looks like a snout pointed up in the air, mouth open. The picture doesn't show it all that well, but you may just be able to make out a nostril on the upper left side of the tower.]
After surveying, we split up. I went with Rich to Cones to replace the stinky seismic instrument, and Bill and Nelia headed back. Rich and I drove fast. It’s a wonderful place to look around, enjoy the view and try to understand that we’re in Antarctica. But... we drove fast. And that’s fun, too.
Posted by beth at 8:23 PM
It's time for a general SHOUT OUT! to the folks in McMurdo. I don't know if anyone is still checking in, but if you are: Damn, I wish you guys could see this place. You'd totally dig it. On days like today, or, more specifically, evenings like tonight, this place is magical.
James, I think we're set for chocolate, but we could definately use some toilet paper. We ran out a couple days ago and have been using Kimwipes, also know as "Delicate Task Wipes." Pretty expensive TP. Not bad, though. And, as it turns out, we have a friend in common. Not me and the Kimwipes--me and James. It's a small, small world.
I look forward to seeing you all in a few days. Just tell this weather to stay nice so we can get out work done, and so the helos can come retreive us.
Posted by beth at 12:14 AM
January 3, 2003
January 3rd: CONZ
Awoke to wind, so slept in. The morning was slow. I fixed a GPS receiver, and then Bill gave me a lesson in fixing a cable. So, while the others played cards, we sautered.
The weather was clearing. Bill, Nelia, Rich, Rich, and I all headed out to Cones. We fixed guy wires, rewired electronics, replaced the GPS. I think I mostly took pictures.
I realized I could have been doing more productive things. For example, the recent storms had dumped a good amount of fresh, soft snow. It occured to me just as we were getting ready to leave to make a snow angel. It was a pretty good one, especially since RK helped me up. I even made a halo. Then, Rich Esser pointed out that the snow was good for packing into snow balls. He demonstrated this from behind a shield of equipment. It had finally occurred to me to play, and then I wanted to play, play, play. Everyone else wanted to go home. So we went home. But, once we got back to the hut, I did some somersaults for good measure.
After dinner, Nelia and I headed to the crater rim to pick up GPS equipment from our new site, SHAC. The weather at the rim was *perfect*. I could have lazed there for a good while, but as it turned out the GPS receiver lost its mind. We were greeted with the same relatively rare error message we had seen just the day before, stating that the machine had lost its firmware. Because we weren't sure that the survey had been completed, and even that the data would still be stored in the receiver, we took the receiver and left the rest of the set-up, hurrying down so that we would have time to come back up that night and restart the survey should the data be lost.
The data, we found, were fine. I was a bit disappointed that we didn't have to head back up to the rim, and as the weather was nice and we were both energized, we headed out to our backyard to survey Helo Cave.
The cave is named for the downed helicopter which hangs out as a curious fixture in the backyard. As the story goes, some Coast Guard folks landed just fine but weren't able to take off. Not surprisingly, Coast Guard helicopters are designed for flying close to sea level, not for flying at 13,000 ft pressure altitude.
Posted by beth at 8:44 PM
January 2, 2003
And then, there is the Sun
Nothing to cure cabin fever like a trip outside. By the evening, the weather seemed to be improving, and Nelia and I went out on a test run to HELZ, the campaign site Rich K. and I had set up on nearby Helo Cliffs. Our mission was simple and short: break down GPS instrumentation, bring it back.
The weather was marginal, but the scenery was beautiful. Snow was still moving over the ground surface, but the air was mostly clear. The sun was sometimes shining. The only drawback was the site location: in a small saddle, which happened to funnel the wind right over our site. It was pretty impressive to watch. Still, Nelia and I were glad to not be there any longer than we were.
When we got back, Bill and Rich E. were preparing to go to Cones, a.k.a. the end of the world, without us. No, no, we'll come, we said. It's at least a nice night for a drive, I said.
Indeed it was. For the first 3/4 of the drive, anyway. Then we were in skank. My thoughts were sophisticated: This sucks. I wondered when we would turn back. But, before we turned back, we were there. And, in the immediate vicinity of the site, the world was alright. A bit skanky, but not too windy. And, as time wore on, we were rewarded for our perseverence. The world periodically cleared on our level completely, offering up a splendid view of ice towers, steaming volcano, tight cloud bank moving quickly below us. The storm had brought snow and soft snow drifts, and was currently working to touch everything with rime ice. The world is white. This, Nelia says, may be the snowiest winter she's seen on Erebus. Everything black and brown now white. We worked tonight in a winter wonderland. Except, I guess it's summer.
It was beautiful, but it was cold. Too cold for pictures. My hands were cold--we have a new type of hand warmer, and they're just not as warm--and my toes were cold, and all were approaching potentially painfully cold. It was a feeling reminiscent of days playing outside in the snow as a kid. No matter what we did, feet wouldn't stay warm and often ended up numb. It made me realize that although I've been cold here, it's not the coldest I've been. It's just cold. It probably helps that it's not wet.
On the way home, Bill discovered a problem with his fuel valve. He drove home on the primer, priming the skidoo every second or so. It was a slow drive home, which was good, since I spent the last quarter of it driving with my left hand crossed over to my right grip. I had skidoo thumb bad, and even after stopping for a group hand warm-up still couldn't feel the thing. So I pulled it into my mitt and drove with my left hand, so I could get skidoo thumb on that hand, too.
We must have arrived back at the hut around 11:30 PM. Time for a hot drink, some flan (from scratch, compliments of Nelia), and some peanuts. Now, time for bed.
It still hasn't cured my cabin fever. As great as this place is, I'm ready to go down. But, outings like tonight make it all worthwhile.
Posted by beth at 11:30 PM
Stuck in the Hut
I'm feeling a bit stir crazy and depressed this morning, a bit antsy. Right now, anyway. We awake to the wind blowing--not terribly, but enough, like last night. I was scheduled to fly out today, and liked that plan for a few good reasons, but the weather has changed things around and so our plans have to change, too. I still could have tried to get out today, but there would be only three people to do the remaining work. We're scheduled to head to McMurdo on Monday, which I don't think will change. Unlike me, the people I'm working with have places to be. So, four more days on the mountain. With the way the weather's been, it seems like we'll be lucky if we work one of them. Who knows, though, maybe the weather will clear this afternoon and the rest of the days will be gorgeous. And a gorgeous day up here is certainly something to see. On days like today, of course, there's nothing to see. Although I can see the hus nextdoor pretty clearly, with it's little gnome epoxied on top. Here, the gnome is pictured with rime ice.
Posted by beth at 9:19 AM
January 1, 2003
We're never getting out of here!!
This morning our helos were on hold due to weather. Our weather was not flyable, but it was workable. Still, we waited to see if we could get the helo tasks done. At lunchtime, the helos were called off for the day. Then, of course, the weather went bad. Cards were played, and we watched "Big." In the afternoon, Bill decided it would be good to do some work at our backyard site, LEH, to gear up for a trip to site Cones. Bill, Nelia, Rich E., and I got decked out in our full gear, no skin showing, and stepped outside. Then, we stood outside, about 15 feet from the hut door. We looked at each other. We looked around us. We didn't see very far. We saw snow blowing around us. Bill decided there was too much snow blowing for the task at hand.
After dinner, Nelia and Bill went back out for a second attempt at fixing up LEH. The attempt was successful. Rich and I donned our gear, again with no skin showing. Handwarmers in. Ice axes and packs on skidoos. Vrrrrrm, vrrrrrrrrmmmmmm. Off to Cones!
Around us, the world varied between solid white and milky white. For the second time on this route, my eyes were glued to the snow at the base of Nelia's skidoo--the only way I could see the tracks. We were very tightly clustered. Bill lead, often standing to try to make out the tracks. A ladder was fastened across the front of his skidoo. I could see Nelia bracing against the wind in front of me.
We made it about 3/4 of the way there. It was a good attempt. When we stopped, Nelia said, "My face is freezing." "Turn back?" "Turn back."
We even stopped on the way home for a thumb warm-up. We all agreed that it was a fun little adventure, and a good excuse to get out of the hut. But I don't think any of us were too disappointed that we didn't make it all the way to Cones. Brrrrrrr.
So we watched "The Crow." The second one. It was visually interesting, but the plot and message were narrow. Kill to avenge, and it really didn't go deeper than that. Unless I'm missing something. Very possible. Still, an interesting movie.
The wind's picked up since we got back. Gusts up to a little over 30 knots, and lots of snow moving. Sarah's sleeping in the hut tonight. I'm about to retreat to my tent. My departure to McMurdo keeps getting pushed back. I was gearing up to head down tomorrow, and was getting excited about it, but I've decided to stay on up here until the rest of the gang goes down. I'll still have work to do from McMurdo, and will likely just stay on longer than they do. I'll be starting to think about travelling in New Zealand (and possibly 'vicinity'), so if you have suggestions for must-sees or stellar pubs or secret get-aways, let me know. Also, go ahead and post your new years stories on my NY entry!
Hope everyone's enjoying the fresh beginnings of the new year. My mind is in just-another-day mindset, so appologies for lack of philisophizings. I will say, though, that reflection is good and change is good and the turnover to the new year is a good time for these things.
May you find nice weather,
Posted by beth at 10:30 PM
ANTARCTICA 2003, BABY!!!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!! We're an hour and twenty minutes in already, and counting. So, from this side, I can tell you that 2003 ain't all that bad. Although I guess it's pretty hard to tell so far.
We six celebrated here in the hut by playing cards and telling stories all evening, and then having a champagne toast at midnight followed by a brief discussion on life philosophy. Nelia brought up a countdown on the web so we could get accurate timing.
I've since donned a string of yellow Mardi Gras beads to show some spirit. YEAH, 2003, brang it!
The wind is picking up, and I suspect it may delay my Thursday departure to McMurdo. Never can tell about this place! Here's to (good) surprises in the new year!!
Please feel free to drop a comment on how you brought in the new year. I'm curious, and sharing is good.
Posted by beth at 12:32 AM