Thursday, December 30, 2004

It’s amazing that such a trip can almost become routine, but we have arrived back in McMurdo to begin our new field season. The flights on Christmas day were long, but presented no problems, and we arrived as scheduled in Christchurch on the 27th (after losing a day to the International Date Line). The only item of note was a conversation I had with a transnational Kiwi/British couple about their experience changing planes in Los Angeles during a London to Auckland flight. It seems that our new Homeland Security Department fingerprints everyone that enters the country, even if they are in transit in an international terminal, and the couple almost missed their connection due to the involved process. I know I feel safer now. But otherwise, Qantas treated us well and we were soon in Christchurch for the now-obligatory team shot in front of the Scott Memorial. While wandering about the square, we toured the old church and admired the stained-glass windows and spacious sanctuary. Clothing issue at the CDC was smooth, and we boarded the LC-130 at a luxuriously late hour of 10:00 AM. The South Island was socked in with clouds, and indeed the entire flight over the water was masked by solid cloud cover. But as soon as we approached the continent, the clouds broke apart and we got some typically fabulous views. I’m starting to recognize most of the landmarks along the Victoria Land Coast as we fly south now from our previous season’s experience, so I’ve linked some images below to give you some landmarks along the way south.

In the first image we are flying over Robertson Bay on the north edge of the continent, with the elusive Cape Adare visible at the top of the image. The second image is the view down the Tucker Glacier towards Cape Wheatstone. If you went around that far point and then north up the coastline you would reach Cape Hallett. The next two images are views of the edges of the Drygalski Ice Tongue; from the north and from the south. This massive structure continues to fascinate me and my attempt to produce a photo that really captures its striking geometry and scale still eludes me. Speaking of scale, the next image shows a new fragment of the now-famous Iceberg B15A, now named B15K. In total, these bergs seem to be responsible for keeping the sea ice in McMurdo Sound in place late in the season due to interference with wind and ocean currents, and jeopardizing the reproductive success of the Cape Bird penguin colony, as the birds must now traverses 10 km of sea ice each way to feed their hungry chicks. As we approached McMurdo, my request to go onto the flight deck was granted, and I got breathtaking views of our final approach to Willy Field. Mount Erebus was dramatic from the flight deck, and grew more massive as we approached the Fang Ridge and summit cone. We flew directly over Cape Evans, where Scott’s Terra Nova hut resides, with Inaccessible Island behind (not to be confused with Inexpressible Island near Terra Nova). Final approach gave us a good view of Hut Point Peninsula and Observation Hill directly above McMurdo.

So now I’m typing this in our now-familiar lab as we make arrangements for our first field outing on Monday. Amazingly we had meetings most of the day today, and are booked all day tomorrow in more meetings and our Safety Refresher Course. It takes a lot of coordination to make all parts of such a large organization mesh. This weekend everything is closed for New Year’s, so with any luck we’ll be helo-ing to Beaufort Island first thing Monday. There is some problem with a landing zone, so we’ll find out more as events unfold. I’ll post another update as soon as I can. Happy New Year!

Addendum, January 03, 2005

Over the holiday weekend we took our now-traditional New Year’s Day hike around the Castle Rock Loop. I’ve attached some images to familiarize you with the terrain around McMurdo Station. After climbing up the new Hut Point Ridge Trail, we joined the top of the Castle Rock Loop, with the summit of Castle Rock as our first objective. The route of the backside is an easy scramble, but the Field Safety folks have installed some new bolts and fixed ropes for the most exposed section. From Castle Rock the trail descends past the Kiwi Ski Hill to the Ross Ice Shelf. One of my favorite parts is where the trail traverses below the icefall, allowing close-up views of seracs and crevasses. The trail eventually joins the road from Willy Field and arrives back at Scott Base. The last leg follows the McMurdo road (Highway 1) back to town. At least we got some exercise to warrant the 2000 calorie dinner!

Return to Antarctic Field Season 2004-2005 page