Arrival at Pegasus.

Arrival at Pegasus.

Transport came at high noon yesterday.    “Transport” is the trip to Pegasus Airfield, where we would board our ride off the continent, an Air Force C-17.   About half of us rode on old Ivan the Terra Bus, with the remainder on the new transporter (as yet, so far as I know, unnamed).    The trip unfolded uneventfully, and about eight hours after we gathered at Building 140 we found ourselves in Christchurch, walking across the ramp in temperatures in the 60’s F.  By the time we had cleared customs it was dark.  We were back in the land of the ordinary, with extraordinary memories.



Bag Drag

The wind and snow since Friday stopped all flights from departing to Christchurch.   Given the backlog of people in front of us on the cancelled flights, it seemed unlikely we would fly off the continent as scheduled tomorrow.   When the first flight manifests came out this morning, we were not listed, but around ten we showed up on a new manifest.  If things go as planned, we will fly off the continent on a C-17 sometime early tomorrow afternoon.  If.

Your trip off the continent begins with Bag Drag.  This is a weigh-in for all your bags and you.   We are limited to 75lb of checked luggage and one carryon (it’s not clear what limit there is on the carryon).   Bag drag is at the Post Office, which doubles as the air transport terminal.   There is no limit on your weight.  First they weigh your “checked” bags, then your carryon, and finally you, wearing all your ECW (extreme cold weather) gear.  I didn’t ask how much I weighed.  (I’d stuffed some electronic equipment and both cameras in pockets of my Big Red parka in order to reduce the weight of my carryon.)

Bag drag, the first step in leaving the continent.

Bag drag, the first step in leaving the continent.

After the storms of the last four days, the weather cleared and it became almost still.   After Bag Drag I was going to have a drink at one of the McMurdo bars, but the weather had become so nice that I spent over two hours walking around.  I got out to hut point, and in a miraculous coincidence, ran into a group of Polies who were getting a tour of Scott’s Discovery Hut.  I’d tried several times to get into the hut after we came back from the field, but I was thwarted by the weather, so it was a wonderful to get inside and look around.  I’ll probably be writing about that visit from Christchurch.

The open water in McMurdo Sound really sets off the Royal Society Range.  This photo can’t do the scene justice, but it might give you a flavor of what my last night in Antarctica was like.

Sea ice and the Royal Society Range across McMurdo sound from Hut Point.

Sea ice and the Royal Society Range across McMurdo sound from Hut Point.

Con 2

con_2-weather Friday we got a broadcast e-mail warning of a forecast of high winds for that afternoon, with bad weather continuing through today.   That forecast came true.  At first, on Friday, there were winds, but McMurdo remained at Con 3.  By Saturday snow came and visibility was reduced, and we went to Con 2, , weather condition 2.

con_2-1610 The lights on the pole signify that McMurdo has gone to Con 2.  If another set of lights above were lit, that would signify that we were at Con 1.  Weather condition 3 is benign (or as benign as things can be in Antarctica) and there are no restrictions on movement.  With Con 2, restrictions are applied to travel.  At Con 1, all personnel must remain in buildings or in the nearest shelter.   While McMurdo was at Con 2, the airfields and other facilities out on the ice sheet were at Con 1.

One good thing about the wind, at least from my perspective, was that blew out the sea ice, which gives an entirely different perspective from town.  The sequence of photos below show that happening, and a bit of the variety of conditions between Friday at 4:00 p.m. and tonight at about 10:30 p.m.


Bicycling in Antarctica

One thing I have missed over the last three months is riding my bicycle.  I’ve been a commuting cyclist for forty years, and I also ride for fun on the weekends and on vacations.  In fact, if I had not gotten my physical qualification (PQ) to come down here my Plan B was to ride across the U.S. along a southern route.

There is cycling in Antarctica, at least in MacTown.  The recreation department has provided a number of mountain bikes, in various states of functionality.  These are free to use–just pick one up from where the last rider left it and peddle off.

A few days ago I rode out to Hut Point, just a kilometer or so, to see the Discovery Hut.  It was a cold windy ride, but fun.  Yesterday the weather looked horrible until around 4 or 5, but then it became great–very light wind and clear skies.  So, I took advantage of the weather and rode to Scott Base, the Kiwi base a few miles east of McMurdo, through the “gap” alongside Ob Hill.  Thursdays are American Night, when the Kiwis deign to allow yanks into their pub.   So, I rode over and had a beer, talked to Thomas and Ryan, who had just dug their balloon payload out of the middle of nowhere (where it had rested since it came down two years ago) and bought a little loot at the Scott Base Store.

At Hut Point

At Hut Point

At Scott Base. Mt. Erebus is out there, but I can't force it to show up in the photo.

At Scott Base. Mt. Erebus is out there, but I can’t force it to show up in the photo.

E-ticket Ride

One job for the Stream Team is to measure lake levels at the end of the season.  That information allows for calculation of an estimate of the amount of water in the lakes, and how much that volume changes from year to year and over the long term.   In our “routine” operations we work around Lake Fryxell, Lake Hoare, Lake Bonney, Lake Vanda and Lake Miers, but lake levels are required for four more lakes: Lake Joyce and Lake House, in the upper Taylor Valley, Don Juan Pond, in the Wright Valley, and Lake Vida in the Victoria Valley.  These are four places where I had never been before.

We took lake levels at Lake Fryxell, Lake Hoare and Lake Bonney when we closed gauges in their vicinity.   Lake Miers is the odd man out, being about 45 kilometers south of the Taylor Valley, so we saved that for our last day in the field, so we could do it on the way to McMurdo.  The remaining five lakes can be visited in one counterclockwise loop.  We did this on Thursday, January 29.

We begin the loop by taking off from Lake Hoare and flying west, beyond Lake Bonney and up over the Lower Taylor Glacier to reach Lake Joyce, in the Pearse Valley, an offshoot of the Taylor Valley.

Flying up the Taylor Glacier.  The Pearse Valley enters on the left.  Looking at Taylor Dome on the skyline, part of the inland ice plateau.

Flying up the Taylor Glacier. The Pearse Valley enters on the right. Lake Joyce is just at the edge of the ice at the bottom of the Pearse Valley.  Looking at Taylor Dome on the skyline, part of the inland ice plateau.

08 Hotel at Lake Joyce.  Taylor Glacier behind the Lake and the Kukri Hills behind the glacier.

08 Hotel at Lake Joyce. Taylor Glacier behind the Lake and the Kukri Hills behind the glacier.

From Lake Joyce it is a short hop further up the Pearse Valley to Lake House.  We were flying in 08 Hotel, a Bell 212, which has no photo windows, so all the airborne photos are through plexiglass.

These are really beautiful spots, but the fun really begins when we leave Lake House and fly a loop west and north onto the Wright Upper Glacier.   Here was the highlight of the trip for me, the opportunity to see the Airdevronsix Icefall, where the Wright Upper Glacier flows more than 400 meters over cliffs.  (For those of you in Boulder, this is like ice hundreds of feet thick pouring over the top of Flagstaff Mountain above Chautauqua.  For those of you in New York, 400 meters higher than the top floor of the Empire State Building.)  The icefall is named for Air Development Squadron Six, VX-6, which in 1969 became Antarctic Development Squadron 6, designated U.S. Navy Squadron VXE-6.  VX-6 and VXE-6 provided support for Antarctic operations, known as Operation Deep Freeze, from 1955 through 1999.

Down the Wright Valley from Airdevronsix is the Labyrinth, which leads the way to Don Juan Pond.

From Don Juan Pond, it’s a short hop to Lake Vanda.

Lake Vida is north through Bull Pass, in the Wright Valley.

Lake Vida was our last stop before flying back through the Olympus Range at Bull Pass and then over the Asgard Range on our way to Lake Hoare.

As we flew across the Wright Valley, just east of Lake Vanda, at high altitude, we got a couple of last looks at the Airdevronsix Icefall.





If there is a magic on this planet, it is contained in hot water flowing from shower heads.

With profuse apology to Loren Eiseley.

Mactown has two virtues–hot showers and soft beds.  Otherwise, the field is far better.   Those two virtues are greatly appreciated, however.  In fact, one reason to spend three months in the field is to learn not to take our luxuries for granted.

McMurdo from the side window of 36 Juliet.

McMurdo, upon arrival, from the side window of 36 Juliet.

We left Lake Hoare today around 2:30 or so.  We took a roundabout route to Mactown–we went first to the Miers Valley where we did some final “touch up” work on two gauges and surveyed the lake level.  This was an efficient use of helo hours–we eliminated the need to make a separate trip later from Mactown.  Since we had all of our personal and project gear with us, this was only practical to do with “close support” where the helicopter stays with us (otherwise, we would have to unload and then reload our 500 pounds of stuff each time we were dropped off and picked back up.)

Our stuff, all 500 pounds of it, staged at Lake Hoare, waiting for 36 Juliet.

Our stuff, all 500 pounds of it, staged at Lake Hoare, waiting for 36 Juliet.  (The barrels hold gray water, including water from showering.  We stage gear behind the barrels to protect them from the rotor blast of the helos.)

Water at McMurdo is supplied by desalinating sea water.  This takes energy and the plant has a limited capacity.  Water conservation is encouraged.


How much water and energy would they save if they showered once a week with two and a half gallons of water, as we did in the field?  My first shower in town probably used two or three times the amount of water I used in showering over the entire field season.   It was great.

E-Ticket Ride (a teaser)

Today was our last day operating from Lake Hoare.   Tomorrow after lunch we will take our last trip from the field and end up in McMurdo.  From there we will take one, perhaps two more field trips, but most of our time will be devoted to logistics and paperwork.

Today we ran lake levels on five lakes.  I’d never been to four of these places, so this was an exciting trip for me.  It also turned out that I was able to scratch a 10-year itch by seeing the Airdevronsix Icefall (aka VXE-6 Icefall, named after U.S. Navy Air Development Squadron Six).  I just don’t have time right now to review, organize and caption the photos from this trip, but here is a teaser.

Airdevronsix Icefall.  This is at the edge of the polar plateau.  Taken through plexiglass.

Airdevronsix Icefall. This is at the edge of the polar plateau. The scale of this feature is hard to appreciate. I’ll provide some dimensions later. Taken through plexiglass.

Why science?


It is the glory of God to conceal a matter.

It is the glory of kings to search out a matter.

Proverbs 25:2

I’ve never understood why there should be conflict between science and religion.   Science will never explain everything–there is and will be plenty for religion to address.  What was “there” before the Big Bang?   Why is Pi not 3.151?  What is beyond our universe? And so on.  But, science can explain a lot, beyond any reasonable doubt, and science provides a structure for revealing matters.  It is worth remembering that many famous and important scientists were religious people: Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Euler, Bayes, Maxwell, Kelvin, Thompson, Planck, Heisenberg, and many, many others.  Some Popes were scientists.   (I recognize that conflict arises, in part, from people who reduce religion from spirituality to dogma, often for their own personal gain.  Science also suffers from corruption of many types, but eventually it will punish greed and hubris and reward rational skepticism.)

Pilot Keith put the proverb on his helmet, and taught me that the Bible comprehends how science and God, and thus religion, relate to each other.  My formal religious training ended as a teenager, much to my mother’s consternation, because I could not simply take things on faith.  Nevertheless, I do pray that there is a just God.  Keith reminds me that there is wisdom for me to find in the Bible.


Cape Royds

Cape Royds is notable for two things: Shackleton’s hut from his 1907 expedition, and an active penguin rookery.  We visited Cape Royds today to take water samples and samples of algal mats.  Here are a few photos from that visit.

Earnest Shackleton became Sir Earnest as a result of the 1907-1909 British Antarctic Expedition, also known as the Nimrod Expedition, after the ship used by the expedition.  Shackleton, Jameson Adams, Frank Wild and Eric Marshall reached to within less than 100 nautical miles of the South Pole on January 9, 1909.  This was a remarkable result for an expedition that had no government support, and was only surpassed by the successful trip of Amundsen and the fatal trip of Scott in 1911.


Shackleton’s hut on the left and the penguin rookery on the right. Pony Lake in the middle.  In the background is Backdoor Bay on the Ross Sea.

Cape Royds also hosts the southernmost colony of Adelie Penguins.

Adelie penguin rookery at Cape Royds.  Cape Royds is formed in black volcanic rock.  The color of the soil in the rookery is of biological origin.

Adelie penguin rookery at Cape Royds. Cape Royds is formed of stark black volcanic rock. The color of the soil in the rookery is of biological origin.


Shackleton's Hut

Shackleton’s Hut

Ventifact Puzzle

Pilots have sharp eyes and our pilot today found the following ventifact puzzle.

What’s amazing about this is that the pattern of grooves in the two pieces do not match, and there are grooves in the depression in the “host” piece, which seems to indicate that the pieces have been separated for a very long time, or that the wind works faster than I imagine.