Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Christmas on Ice, Part 2 - Arrival

Finally, we came to a stop. We could unbuckle our seat belts, pile on our ECW gear and get off the place into the wide, white world beyond.

And man oh man was it white. Although the temperatures made all our survival gear a little overkill, the sunglasses were definitly necessary. Everyone had smiles the size of saucers and cameras were clicking everywhere.

We were guided off the runway by military personel towards our next transport, Ivan, the Terra Bus.

After a half hour of driving across ice and snow, we bumped up onto solid ground and drove into McMurdo where we switched from bus to truck and drove over to Scott Base. Driving into McMurdo reminded me so much of Inuvik. Gravel roads, dusty everything, and lots of metal, square buildings. The 2km drive from McMurdo to Scott Base goes up between two extinct volcano cones to emerge on the otherside of the Hut Point Peninsula. The kiwi base, in comparison to the American one, is tiny and green (not in reference to environmental awarness, just colour) and it reminds me more of a mining camp all self contained (hallways connect each building so there's no need to leave the comfort of the indoors). We were ushered from our vehicles, into a big green, steel building and up into a warm little room where we learned the basics of staying in Antarctica and on Scott Base.

After a delicious dinner, served in the cafeteria, we all took a walk down to the sea ice. Just a few hundred meters in front of Scott Base, where sea ice is pushed up by the tides, are a collection of pressure ridges scultped by the sea and the wind. It is a beautiful, ever changing gallery of crystalline forms and scattered in amongst the colunms are the most regular visitors, the Weddell seals.

We wandered back towards base where some of the students scrambled into costumes to join in the fun of the James Bond party being held that night at the base bar.

The next morning, before packing, we went up Crater Hill, the volcano behind Scott Base. It was pretty windy and not very sunny, but the temperatures hovered around -7 degrees centigrade and everyone enjoyed the views.

These are the first 3 wind turbines in Antarctica. They were just coming online while we were there. It is expected they will reduce the amount of desiel used by both Scott Base and McMurdo by ~11%. There are some people who question their usefulness here and don't like the aesthetic impact they have, but I wonder if we are to continue being down in Antarctica for scientific purposes because of it's "early warning" capabilities with regards to climate change shouldn't we at least be trying to reduce our footprint to be here?

One of the students enjoying the small comfort a wind block wihle at the top.

McMurdo from Crater Hill.

Walking along the edge of the crater. In the background and to the left, Mount Erebus hides behind some clouds.

Heading back to base, ready to start packing for our next big adventure. Camping on the ice shelf.

While everyone packed food and tents and cooking stuff, Crystal, Steve, Sean and I met up with Alex to get our licences for driving on the ice. We were taught how to drive Hagglunds, skidoos and trucks (Landcruisers to be precise - although the only difference I noticed was that the top speed was 20km/h). That night, our personal and group bags packed, we snuggled into bed for one last night in a warm room. The next morning we would be leaving nice and early to get out to camp and set up our tents and dig some pits. It would be a busy day.

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