To the ends of the world!

It is somewhat surreal to think that we are en route to Antarctica. For so many years I’ve thought of Antarctica as this “beyond-my-reach” type of place; a place so extreme that most people only ever see it on TV… thank god for BBC! It has a mystical air about it: an entire continent (mostly) buried under 3000-4000 meters of ice, with glaciers that extend to every one of its corners, and as if that wasn’t enough it is surrounded by frozen ocean, in some areas permanently, in others for a large part of the year. Add some whales, seals, skuas and other birds, and a few thousand penguins and you’ve got Antarctica.

So how did we end up in this place? Well… science happened. It never crossed my mind that I could find my way here with of science. As it turns out, 6 years of gallivanting about from place to place looking at rocks (or marine biology in Bev’s case) eventually gets you someplace that is just simply ridiculously awesome… like Antarctica. Not that I ever doubted that. After all, I picked my career partly because of the places I wanted to see and understand (from a scientific perspective, of course). Ater doing her research in Antarctica, Bev got a position as the Sr. Assistant Supervisor of the Crary Science and Engineering Center, the United States Antarctic Program’s (USAP’s) best science facility! This year, she has taken over as the Supervisor of Laboratory Operations, and I join her wonderful team as one of two Assistants of Lab Operations. I predict a great Antarctic science season ahead of us!

Science. Ok… But, how do you PHYSICALLY get to Antarctica?? Oh… Right. Well first, after going through all kinds of medical tests to get PQ’d (Physically Qualified) and whatnot, you need to get yourself to Christchurch, New Zealand. That’s where the United States Antarctic Program’s deployment center (also know as the Antarctic Passenger Terminal, or “APT” for short)  is located:

The United States Antarctic Program’s Center in Christchurch, New Zealand; the main point of deployment for Antarctica-bound U.S. passengers.

Before you can go anywhere, though, first you have to get geared up for the weather. So, you go to the Clothing Distribution Center (the “CDC”) and pick up your Extreme Cold Weather Gear (your “ECW”… start getting used to the acronyms):

My ECW Gear: A USAP down parka, snow goggles, balaclava, wind-proof bib, mittens, and a whole lot more underneath that you cannot see (thermal long underwear, a fleece jacket, wool socks, awesome “bunny” cold-weather boots, and more).

Finally, you check-in at the APT, where they put you in a bus, drive you across the street, and load you onto the U.S. Air Force C-17 plane that will take you to Antarctica! This was my first time inside one of these beasts, and Bev’s 5th (which includes her two previous seasons of travel to Antarctica). Because it is a military cargo plane, there are no windows (except for these small round ones located on each of the doors), but you can see the inside of the plane (bare bones!) which is pretty awesome. Have a look for yourself:

The U.S. Air Force C-17 that will take us to Antarctica.
Boarding the C-17, geared up for the long (~5 hr) flight to Antarctica. Chances of Landing: 50%.
The inside of the C-17. The back of the plane is loaded with cargo (a lot of science equipment), and there were about 120 passengers on board.
The bare bones (or ribs) on the inside of the C-17.

After the ~5hr flight south from Christchurch, the plane lands on the permanent Ross Ice Shelf. Sometimes, if the plane cannot land on the ice, which is usually when the weather is bad and the winds are high, the plane will turn around and head straight back to Christchurch. We call this a “boomerang” flight, for obvious reasons. The first flight for this season actually Boomeranged. Not only did they have to return to Christchurch, but the plane turned around 6hrs into the flight, over the Ross Ice Shelf! Basically, they got there, and couldn’t land because of the weather conditions, and turned around. That’s a 12-hr-flight to nowhere. Literally. I was glad I was not on that flight. Thus, our flight was technically the second flight of the season, but the first to land on the Ross Ice Shelf.

From there, we hop onto large snow- and ice-equiped vehicles (more on this on a later… vehicles here will require their own posts) that transfer us from the ice shelf to McMurdo Station, ~16 miles away: the icy end of the world that, for the next 6 months, we shall call Home.

Onboard the C-17, en route to begin our wonderful Antarctic Adventure together!

Welcome Home!!  Let the adventures begin!

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2 thoughts on “To the ends of the world!

  1. eres lo máximo de aventurero….. me asombras cada paso que das….estoy muy orgullosa de ti y por tus logros y aventuras y todos los conocimientos que adquieres de la tierra ………bye besos un abrazo de tu tia Meche

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