Whew, this season begins with A LOT of concentrated air travel. After leaving Flagstaff at noon on Christmas Eve, we boarded a 747 in Los Angeles, spent the few hours of our Christmas winging towards the International Dateline, and landed in Aukland at 6:00 AM on the 26th. No troubles through Agricultural Inspection this time (I actually washed my ground cloth, tent stakes, and hiking boots in anticipation), and boarded the domestic flight for Christchurch. By 10:00 AM we were picking up our arrival packets, catching the Super Shuttle, and headed for the Windsor Bed & Breakfast. There was only time for a quick lunch before we returned to the CDC (Clothing Dispersal Center) for the fitting of our Antarctic field clothes. Since it was a Kiwi Holiday (Boxing Day), only a couple of staff were there to help us, but since most of this flight consisted of folks that had been down before, it went smoothly. In the afternoon we were back to the Windsor, caught a quick nap (that I almost didn’t wake from!), and headed out to Sala Sala for sushi, our last really good meal until we return. On the way, my teammates posed for the obligatory shot in front of the Scott statue. From left to right are Steve, his new grad student Ed, and collaborator Jurek from Poland.
Calling it an early night, we headed back to the Windsor in full daylight (we’re just past the longest day of the year in the Southern Hemisphere), enjoying the shorts weather and intoxicating fragrances of summer growth. The alarm sounded all too early, and we headed back to the CDC at 6:30 AM. There we changed into ECW (Extreme Cold Weather wear- required for all flights to and around the continent), packed our carry-on bags, cleared security, and boarded the bus for the airfield. The ice runway at McMurdo had just closed for the season, so we learned we were the first flight to fly to Willy Field, the snow skyway on the Ross Ice Shelf adjacent to the Kiwi Scott Base. We boarded an LC-130 that had just flown in from New York the previous day, and took off again for the last 8 hour flight of our trip down. Our view of Mt. Cook was better this time than last, although the ocean was much cloudier. After several LONG hours in the sling seats, we saw land emerge in the distance. This time I could somehow appreciate how wild the landscape we were passing over was in comparison to anywhere else on Earth (click here for a short movie). From a height of 25,000 feet, with unobstructed view of the land below, no sign of humans is visible in any direction for hours as you fly across the harsh glacial landscape. I also began to appreciate the scale of the mountains that are buried within the ice. Peaks of similar scale to the proudest of the Canadian Rockies tower above glacial valleys now, but their bases are cloaked by ice up to a kilometer thick! These must be some of the grandest peaks in the world, but only the last few thousand feet stick up out of the glaciers and these are the size of Mount Robson!
A half hour ahead of schedule we landed at Willy Field, disembarked the LC-130, boarded the shuttle, and arrived at McMurdo station at 5:00 PM, 53 hours after leaving Flagstaff! It is amazing to me that we could get down here that fast, several days faster than our 2000-2001 field season. Now we have some more preparation to make- sending Jurek and Ed to Field Safety Training, arranging for our Twin Otter flight, fine-tuning our field gear, and getting ready to move to Terra Nova on the 2nd of the New Year. I will add another update as time and events warrant.