Thursday, October 18, 2018

Weekly snapshot #34

I'm still here....

And the day looks okay, but the weather wasn't good enough for them to send planes today. In the previous three days, we've had five planes carrying a total of almost 500 people arrive on station. On the first of those flights, 60+ of our remaining winter-over crew--nearly everyone except a handful of people who decided to stay the summer and another handful, like me, who must wait for their replacements to arrive--got on the plane going north. It was a very tearful goodbye.

My replacements were FINALLY supposed to arrive today, but with today's flights delayed till tomorrow, there's now a question mark of whether I'll actually be able to leave on Monday. Most likely it will happen, but if Antarctica has taught us anything this year, it's to refrain from believing any plane's going to make it here until it's actually wheels down. (And for that matter to refrain from assuming it's going to actually take you back to Christchurch until you've passed the point-of-no-return in the flight north! It's rare for a plane to boomerang back to Antarctica for weather or mechanical, but it has happened....)

If planes arrive tomorrow, tomorrow will be my last day in the office, Sunday will be disassembling my room and packing, and Monday I will fly. So you can imagine that's what's happening unless you hear otherwise. But fingers crossed that the final Antarctic post I have waiting in the wings for you on Monday is really it and the post after that is from the non-frozen world to the north....

Monday, October 15, 2018

Forever Winfly

Some moments-in-photo from delayed-flights life in McMurdo....

Saturday night silliness at Southern bar:

 Game night in Hut 10 (a game called Code Names that I've never seen before but that was very fun):

Contemplating the endless bad weather out the window:

A break in the clouds looking out over the ice shelf toward the continent:

One winter-over trying to comfort another (who has been on the Ice more than 13 months and counting) over the continuing delays, though she cannot at this point be comforted:

Six firefighters and the store's liaison in the Supply department, all frantically digging out the store dock during a brief break in the weather so we could try to get the beverage delivery into the store on time (since the only things worse than people who are stuck here against their will is people stuck here against their will who can't have a glass of wine to calm themselves):

A nod, on the rec schedule on the white board outside the galley, to my favorite childhood movie, "The Neverending Story." And the Swamp of Sadness of a two-week delay to the start of Mainbody....

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Weekly snapshot #33

There wasn't supposed to be a snapshot #33! I was scheduled to be back in Christchurch, New Zealand, by now, taking walks in the sunshine without a parka on and eating fresh fruit and vegetables!

But Antarctica had other plans...and that's okay. I will get out of here eventually. I feel worse for the people who were supposed to leave on October 1st, or 3rd...or 5th or 8th...and are also still here. And those who are losing money on travel reservations that they're missing because they're still here. Because, yes, EVERYONE is still here. It's now October 12 and we still haven't seen a flight come in for the start to the summer season. The earliest we could possibly get one is Sunday, but people are talking Tuesday the 16th as more realistic, considering the amount of grooming the airfield is going to need after two weeks of Condition 1 weather out on the ice shelf. I've been officially extended to the 17th but in the next couple days I'll have to check in with my boss to see if we need to push that out even a bit more so the store can continue to open until the summer store people get here.

People are coming up with all kinds of clever plays on words to describe our situation. Usually "Winfly" (the 6-week shoulder season) lasts mid-August to October 1, and then "Mainbody" (summer season) starts. So people are calling this crazy delay "Winfly 2018-2019" (dear lord, let's hope not) or "Mainfly." I'm starting to feel the need to screenprint some t-shirts....

For the most part everyone is handling the delay with grace and an awareness that it's no one's fault, it's just the power of nature. But I'm definitely starting to see a growing polarization between the winter people who are staying through winfly and the summer people who came early for winfly. During the weeks of intended overlap, I feel like everyone was making an effort to co-exist despite our totally different mindsets--the winter people making room on station for the summer folk and tolerating their higher energy levels, the summer people showing a little deference to and understanding of the winter-overs and their relative tiredness and crustiness. But at this point, the winter people are DONE and just want to get out of here and the summer people are antsy for real summer to start and all of their friends to get here and things to be the way they always are in summertime.

When I walked across the street from my dorm to work this morning, it was completely beautiful out--Condition 3 everywhere, some sun poking through the clouds, winds low. And then as I settled in front of my computer to answer a few emails not 30 minutes later, I heard the severe weather call go out over the radio, Condition 2 in town and Condition 1 on the airfield and most other places. Scary how fast the conditions change so drastically! So "the pinwheel" continues all around us...and who knows, there might be a snapshot #34....

Monday, October 8, 2018


Since the wild weather has made the past week VERY different from what we had expected, I thought I'd make this week's extra post a few fun pictures and videos of the elements.

Here's a video I took out my bedroom window during the first storm that came through at the beginning of the week when summer season was supposed to be starting:

And then here is one when a few of us were walking home in Condition 2 weather that was about to turn to Condition 1, so the station management sent us all back to our rooms to hunker down for the afternoon:

And in between these two lovely weather events, there were these amazing skies....

Oh, Antarctica....

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Weekly snapshot #32

Things are a wee crazy over here. Remember how last snapshot I said that by the time I posted the next one, summer season would have started? Well...I love that Antarctica has the power to foil the best of plans. The start of summer season has been significantly delayed and there are currently several hundred Ice-bound Americans spinning their wheels in Christchurch while some wild weather has roiled Ross Island this past week. Monday's flight was delayed till Tuesday, and then Wednesday, and so on...and at this point the soonest we'll get a flight is Sunday, but word on the street is we're more realistically talking mid-next week. A 10-day delay to the start of Mainbody season in McMurdo is a really big deal! In New Zealand the program is booking out empty ski resort hotels more than an hour outside of Christchurch to try to find space to house all the summer folk that have been flying in. Down here, everyone is trying to figure out when exactly they should actually start packing and strip their beds and--once again--cancel or delay their vacation and return-home plans.

My own departure--originally scheduled for this coming Wednesday the 10th--will very likely be pushed back, as it's looking entirely possible my replacements will not even have arrived by then. That's okay--I hadn't made any reservations for off-Ice, just in case this happened, and every extra day I stay is an extra day of pay that can go to eventual travel. So I'm just waiting this out and we'll see how it all goes!

In the meantime, I have a fun snapshot for today. It's actually two snapshots. We're in what the weather folks are calling a "pinwheel" storm, where one second it's completely nice out and the next you can't see 50 yards away. Case in point, here's the snapshot I took at 12 pm today, as everyone was coming in to lunch:

And then here's what everything looked like one hour later when people were trying to head back to work after lunch:

So Antarctica is dishing it up till the very end for me. I wouldn't have it any other way!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Crater Hill

One of the things I love about Antarctica is that it's a place where the word "boondoggle" is used in everyday conversation. AND I got to go on a short-but-sweet boondoggle last week! It was to Crater Hill, a high point above town where a bunch of IT/Comms equipment lives, and several folks from IT needed to go up to do some maintenance and had a couple extra seats to invite others along. I was really happy to be one of those others. (And especially happy that the trip finally actually happened before Mainbody started, as it was delayed day after day for almost a week due to weather and/or Pisten Bully availability.

Totally worth the wait, though. The views were amazing, the wind formidable, the PB ride an adventure, and the trip out of town: very refreshing!

When we got to the top of the ridge, the wind was so strong I could just lean back into it and it was holding me up.

There were spectacular sun dogs going...

The view back to town made it look very small and far away....

I got some satisfying ice crystals collecting on my eyelashes...

You can see Castle Rock in the background of this photo, just to the right of my jacket hood flap. And if it hadn't been overcast, you'd have been able to see mighty Mount Erebus behind that.

That's me on the left way out on that ridge. Sooooooooo beautiful!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Weekly snapshot #31

This week a dozer with a snow bucket was doing its thing directly in front of my snapshot--kind of funny! Hopefully you can tell from the background that the weather is overcast and getting iffy. Things are pretty crazy here right now, as the "Mainbody" (summer) season is supposed to officially start on Monday, with 118 people arriving that day and an average of 75 more arriving every day after that for the rest of the week. Just the thought of it makes me dizzy. But a five-day forecast yesterday predicted a possible Condition 1 on Monday, so the chances seem high that all these flights will not go exactly according to plan.

In any case, I imagine that by next week's snapshot, at least a few planes will have made it here and even the "fake winter" shoulder season will be officially over. And until my own flight is delayed, next week's snapshot will be my last from here, at least for the foreseeable future. Having a hard time wrapping my brain around that, but the days are ticking by frighteningly quickly, and it's all happening whether I'm ready or not!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Weekly snapshot #30

It's a GORGEOUS day at McMurdo. The sun is shining (so weird to feel sun on my face, and I can't stop squinting every time I go outside, but at the same time I can't force myself yet to put on a pair of sunglasses) and it's breezy, but the breeze actually feels WARM. Wow.

And activity is really ramping up, as the summer season bears down upon us. You get a bonus 'dozer heading back to work after the lunch-hour in this week's snapshot!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Spring skies at McMurdo

The promised gorgeous sunrises and sunsets (plus iridescent nacreous clouds) of the shoulder season here have not disappointed. And at this point the sun is rising and setting at what at home we would consider "normal" hours, so that we're not all trying to wake up in the darkness of winter or go to sleep under the constant blazing sun of summer. What a treat! As were the real-world sights of the skies in these pictures. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Weekly snapshot #29

I think this might be the first weekly snapshot that actually shows some true blue skies since the sun has returned to us? It's still plenty-chilly out (yet probably good weather for the afternoon of shoveling off the receiving dock at the store stockroom) but spring is here...and it's less than a month till I'm not here anymore....