Antarctica

Back in Antarctica

Last I wrote was about getting off the ice back in February. A lot has happened in the past six months (I traveled to Cambodia, spent the summer hiking the Colorado Trail…), but I’m skipping ahead here for more of a “live update.”

 

The first month or two after I left Antarctica, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to return for a second season. I had signed an on-ice contract in Jan/Feb to go back to the shuttles department, but it was more of a backup in case I did want to return. I applied to a handful of other positions and decided I would return if I got one of those jobs, but otherwise I wanted to go back to Crested Butte for the winter. I interviewed with a couple different departments in April and was offered a contract to come down in August and work in the Mechanical Equipment Center.

 

I was hesitant at first because I really wanted to go to Burning Man this year (I even had a ticket!) and I was also thinking about heading up to Alaska in September. Ultimately I signed the contract and decided it would be interesting to see what it was like to come down and work winfly, which is the period of time (Aug-Sept) in between the Antarctic winter (Mar-Aug) and mainbody seasons (Oct – Feb). When I visited Crested Butte in June, it really had me rethinking my decision to come down here, but I decided to stick with it.

 

When Lizzy and I were hiking on the trail, the more we talked about Antarctica with each other and other people, the more excited I was to come back. We even met a couple people on the trail who knew some of our friends that we worked with here. The world is truly very small.

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Flying over NZ’s mountains
I left the States on August 20 and traveled through time, completely skipping the day of August 21 – I will never know what happened. I arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand on August 22 and had one day of training on the 23. Last year I stayed at a place called the BreakFree whose rooms are mostly windowless and feel like space pods. This year I was upgraded to the Crowne Plaza and I felt super fancy. I was really hoping to get at least a one day delay in Christchurch because I wanted to go snowboarding, but my flight left on the scheduled day.

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This casino near the hotel randomly had an Antarctic exhibit in the window display
This time I flew down on an airbus that is owned by the Australian military. I think since we sometimes assist the Australians in getting to their bases, their government has agreed to provide a certain number of flights for our employees (not actually sure if that is true). Anyway, an airbus meant windows! And there was even a flight attendant. Last year I flew down on a C-17 which is extremely loud, usually uncomfortable and filled with cargo. The airbus looked like a regular commercial plane, except with a chunk of seats missing, so many of us lay down and took naps. Since the C-17 only has a handful of windows, you have to take turns looking out when you start flying over the ice. With the airbus we all had plenty of opportunity to check out the continent below, and on our way towards Ross Island (where the station is) we had awesome views of Mt Erebus with the moon behind it.

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Antarctic landscape
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Ross Island
I’ve been here for 10 days now and it kinda feels like I never left. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing… but I am enjoying winfly so far. There are only 250 or so people on station at the moment and it’s a nice calm start to the reason, as opposed to arriving at mainbody, along with 600 or 700 other people. Of course, some people who stayed over the winter think that 250 is too crowded compared to their population of 150.

 

I like my job so far. It’s definitely more of an office job than I had last year. The nice thing about shuttles was that we were out of the office most of the day. In my new job at the Mechanical Equipment Center (MEC), I’ll have less desk time in the beginning, but more when it slows down in December. I am responsible for training people on light vehicles and the science vehicles as well as maintaining said vehicles. There are standard trucks (some fitted with snow tires), trucks with mattracks and Pisten Bullys, which are tracked vehicles good for traveling on the ice shelf (they’re like little pods with tracks on them). For this first month or so until mainbody starts, I am getting trained up and learning to drive mattracks and Pisten Bullys so that in October I’ll be ready to go when everyone else arrives.

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Pisten Bully
This is the first time that I am seeing the night sky and STARS down here! By the time I arrived last year in October, the sun was already up a majority of the 24-hour period so the sky never got dark, meaning no stars. I saw my first nacreous clouds the other day, which look kind of like a drop of oil spilled in the clouds – a rainbow of color spreading out from within the center of the cloud. These clouds only appear in the colder months at high altitudes and contain ice crystals. It was pretty amazing to see.

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Station at night
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One lonely nacreous cloud, and of course my phone camera didn’t capture the cloud colors – but compare it to the much darker clouds surrounding it
September is supposedly a good month to see auroras. Over winter, I heard there were many nights that were good viewing for the lights, so I’m hoping that this month, before it gets too light, I’ll be able to see some!

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