my trip to the Antarctica and the South Pole

Thursday, November 18, 2004

destination McMurdo

destination McMurdo

<> Today was my first day back home. I just finished up an amazing 2 weeks of traveling that has left me with pictures from remote field camps, receipts from fancy restaurants, and a friendship with just about every LC-130 crew member on the continent.

My first trip took me to McMurdo Station, which started with the flight from my last posting. I arrive ready to turn around in two short days after the Helium shipment gets in. I am put in a transient room with 3 roommates who are wonderfully welcoming. I meet the Helium, as expected, and put in some work with the McMurdo cryo tech at the station's Science Labs. Then, according to plan, I pack my bags, clean up my room, put on all my ECW gear, turn in my key, and head out to pick up my transportation to the ice runway. Ten steps into the door, I am met by air services...they had just tried to call me. My flight is cancelled because it's too cold to properly offload the 1000 gallon helium tank, which was deemed too large to be safely combat-offloaded. I do an about-face and head back to housing to complete the leaving process in reverse. The next day, I would repeat the drill exactly...right down to the part where they tell me my flight is cancelled.

Each day, I return to my room, play another round of the skip-bo card tournament my roommate and I have started, and spend the day explaining to everyone I run into about the cancellations. Around this time, people have stopped saying normal greetings like "hi" or "how's it going?" to me. They simply say, "You're STILL here?!?" By day 3, we've had it with waiting for the weather, and we go ahead and transfer the Helium into smaller containers that can be combat-offloaded. The transfer is going nicely, when suddenly, the other cryo tech runs into the room and says we have a problem. A line in our big tank has burst...the first failure like this he's seen in his 15+ years in the program. Luckily, we eventually improvise a bit and still get our small tanks full. I imagine in horror what would have happened if my flights weren't cancelled the last few days and the faulty tank had flown and failed while on the air plane! I could have been in charge of a decision on whether or not to drop the container from the plane while in flight!! That's one of the only contingency plans we have for flying over the Antarctic plateau in a small aircraft with limited radio contact.

Instead, I land safely at the South Pole the next day around 8pm with our smaller containers. The flight was thankfully uneventful, except for the frantic unhooking of vent lines before the landing so we could be ready for the combat offload, and a spastic liquid gauge on one of my tanks that has the loadmasters nervous that we were going to blow up. We weigh and store the containers until 10:30pm, when I finally get to see my room again. I'm not done though. I have to unpack, and then re-pack. I am slated for the 10:45am McMurdo flight the next morning for a trip that would eventually have me stepping off a plane in warm, humid Christchurch, New Zealand. But, of course, the Antarctic continent couldn't ever make it that easy.


Blogger Uncle Buck said...

Teener this is incredible. I can hardly wait for the next installment.

November 19, 2004 at 10:48 AM


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