Earlier this season I had the opportunity to go on a trip “off the rock” (as we say in McMurdo — the “rock” meaning Ross Island, where McMurdo Station is located). The trip itself was a work visit to Odell Glacier. However, it was not part of my own job tasking, but rather a routine work trip organized by the McMurdo Fuels department to visit an emergency fuel cache, assess the condition of the fuel barrels staged there, and sample the fuel for chemical testing to ensure it remains in good condition. Fuel caches are placed all around Antarctica in locations that are considered to be reliable emergency landing sites for planes supporting Antarctic Operations. The Odell fuel cache contains around 2200 liters of diesel fuel. Trips such as this one usually require a dedicated flight (either by helicopter or by plane) to reach the work location, but typically only require two or three personnel from the organizing work center (in this case McMurdo Fuels) to complete the task at hand, which means that flights would depart McMurdo with empty seats. The U.S. Antarctic Program takes these trips as an opportunity for improving morale across the community by allowing personnel whose jobs would not normally take them off station to fill those empty seats on a flight and tag along on the trip to help with the work. Naturally, these trips are known as “morale trips.” I was able to attend the trip to Odell Glacier as a morale trip. It was an awesome opportunity, and the only requirement on my part was the willingness to help dig out fuel barrels if they happened to be completely buried in snow (a common occurrence in Antarctica) – Easy!!
Odell Glacier (76°44′S, 159°55′E) is located roughly 150 miles northeast of McMurdo Station, in South Victoria Land. It is named after Professor Noel E. Odell, an English geologist and mountaineer known for his support of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine’s famous (and tragic) expedition to be the first to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, in June of 1924. We spent little time on the ground at Odell Glacier, just enough to sample fuel, but the flight there and back was nothing short of incredible. The route from McMurdo Station to Odell Glacier took us along the edge of the sea ice, as well as across the McMurdo Dry Valleys Antarctic Specially Managed Area (to access a map of the McMurdo Dry Valleys, click here). Below are some of my favorite pictures from the trip, both from the ground and from the air. Enjoy!