Things in McMurdo Station have changed quite a bit over the past month. The “Mainbody” season officially began on Monday, October 03, when the first C-17 flight of summer touched down at Pegasus runway with 98 new “summer” Antarctic participants (a mix of support staff and research scientists). Since then, the population on station has grown from ~325 (during WinFly) to ~910 personnel on station. In the first week alone (Oct 3rd-Oct 7th) 325 new passengers arrived, effectively doubling the station population. As you can imagine, things got really busy really quickly.
The third weekend of October (Oct 15-16), just as the chaos of Mainbody began to take flight, Beverly and I had the opportunity go on a quick overnight trip to New Zealand. Well… to the New Zealand Antarctic station (Scott Base) on the other side of the hill, that is. We were invited to join one of our New Zealander friends at Scott Base’s “Square Frame” on the Ross Ice Shelf. The Square Frame itself is a small rectangular hut divided into two sections: a smaller sleeping room with two sets of bunks that altogether can fit 5 people, and a living quarter with a kitchenette, a dining table and a very comfortable couch, where we squeezed in a couple extra people for the night. Personnel from the Antarctica New Zealand (ANZ for short) program use the hut for Antarctic survival training. The instructors for this training have the luxury of sleeping in the heated hut while the trainees spend the night in tents or, if brave enough, in survival trenches that they build themselves in the ice shelf. The U.S. Antarctic Program had a similar training in the past for McMurdo personnel that was affectionately known as “Happy Camper.” Recently, our program reduced the field portion of that training to be essentially offered only to personnel who will be spending the majority of their time in the deep field, far away from McMurdo (e.g. scientists doing field work, support staff at field camps). Because the ANZ program is so much smaller than the USAP (Scott Base has capacity for roughly 50 personnel) they are able to continue with these types of trainings for everyone. They are also able to manage spaces like the Square Frame as a multi-use open space that the community can use. Any ANZ personnel can reserve the Square Frame for overnight trips when it is not being used for training purposes. The opportunity for a quick getaway, to spend an evening with good friends at the Square Frame, out into the white solitude of Antarctica was welcomed with much enthusiasm!
Our friend Ursula (working with the Antarctica New Zealand program) picked us up from McMurdo Station on Saturday evening and drove us to Scott Base, where we started our hike. From there, it is ~3.2 miles to the Square Frame by foot. We hiked on the Ice Shelf along the Willie Field Road (which takes you out to the station runways) for about 1.5 miles, then turned off onto a groomed snow trail for the rest of the hike. It took us just over an hour to hike from Scott Base to the Square Frame. Luckily for us, the weather gods were on our side, and we got treated to a pleasantly calm (but still very cold) hiking evening and an amazing sunset that lasted hours. The full moon circling the horizon was the cherry on top. We arrived at the hut around 8:15 pm, and spent the remainder of the evening relaxing and enjoying good company, snacking on a variety of goods, and listening to very enjoyable and relaxing world music, with the occasional dash outside braving the well-below-zero temperatures to take yet another picture of the Antarctic world. The next morning we hiked back in time for Brunch at McMurdo Station. It was quite a wonderful and much-needed escapade.
I find it so nearly impossible to capture the true magic and beauty of Antarctica in pictures, especially during experiences like the above, but here is my attempt at it anyway. Enjoy!