Monday, December 6, 2010 — Christchurch, New Zealand
Mon, 12/06/2010 - 6:00pm
I landed in Auckland at around 10:00 a.m. and caught the flight to Christchurch, NZ at around noon. Christchurch has a population of somewhere around 350,000 (and all 350,000 of them talk funny and drive on the wrong side of the road). Actually in checking into the hotel, I had to concentrate quite hard to understand what the young woman was saying – it was English, but not at all clear to me.
I was met at the airport by Michael Van Woert, executive director at NSF. Michael used to help coordinate the Polar Programs and this is his tenth visit to Antarctica. He dropped me off at the “disembarking station” where I watched a training video, had my laptop checked out, and got instructions for how to deal with altitude sickness. They recommend that you take some medication, but I never had any problems in Colorado so I declined. Everyone else on the team arrived on Sunday and went through all of this early this morning.
I am only coming to realize how difficult the environment is “on the ice.” There are only periodic flights into and out of McMurdo Station and often they “boomerang” (a fitting term for a place so close to Australia). What this means is that the flight actually leaves Christchurch and then — either when it gets to McMurdo Station or on the way — has to turn around due to weather. This is not an infrequent occurrence and is one of the reasons we are headed to McMurdo today and the South Pole Station on Wednesday morning. We will be able to have a couple of tries in case we are delayed by weather.
While I was watching the video, they took my laptop to make sure that it was virus free so that I would not “contaminate the Polar Network.” After the video at the disembarking station, I went to the clothing station where I was issued my Extremely Cold Weather (ECW) clothing. Because of the extreme climate conditions, they issue special Arctic clothing to everyone who is going out on the ice. This further reinforces my earlier thought about how brutal the environment is. They have everything I need and all I really need are some clothes to wear inside at McMurdo and a toothbrush. They talk about layers and issue boots (these make the ski boots you rent in Colorado look like summer wear), lightweight long johns, heavyweight long johns, fleece pants and shirt, a lightweight coat (which is really not all that lightweight and heavier than anything I have ever owned), a heavyweight coat with fur-lined hood, three pairs of gloves, lightweight socks, heavyweight socks, three hats, ski masks, neck warmers and snow goggles.
Then it’s off to another training video about how to pack all of this stuff. They issue two large bags: one that will be loaded on the plane for us and another that has all of our emergency survival bag/clothes. If I was not already convinced about the climate extremes before, this did it. They instructed me on what to pack in here and then told me to keep it with me at all times I am outside any of the buildings on the ice. We even carry it on the plane with us in case there is a forced landing so we will have what we need to survive. At first I thought they were being a little melodramatic, but when you hear about some of the stories, it convinces you that they know what they are talking about.
We finally finished at the disembarking station about 2:30 p.m. and I hauled my two bags and suitcase to a shuttle to the hotel. The team met at 3:30 to go to a museum to view the Antarctica exhibit. We were in luck: there is a collection of photographs from the Scott Expedition to the South Pole. He set out in around 1910 to go to the South Pole — a nearly two-year adventure (more on this later) and when he arrived found a small tent with a note in it from Amundsen who had arrived just 35 days earlier. Scott and his four other companions died on their way back to McMurdo and were eventually found in a tent just 11 miles from a supply depot they had set up for their return. An incredible story/adventure.
From there out to dinner and a meeting to discuss the next several days. By this time I am starting to fade. I left Atlanta on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. and it is now Monday night about 10:00 p.m. — or 4:00 a.m. EST — 36 hours in transit plus orientation/dinner. Off to bed.
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Tue, 12/07/2010 - 2:40pm