Thursday, September 25, 2008

Caste Rock Loop Hike

Sundays are hiking days, our only day off during the week. I did the big one this week, Castle Rock Loop, 7 miles roundtrip, with Solomon, Mel & Martin. The route takes you way out a ways from the station, onto the plateau of Ross Island and into the Antarctic "wilderness."

We start out going up over the hill heading out of town. This shot is looking back towards the town (you can see Observation Hill above the red flag at upper right, the white geodesic dome on top of another hill at right, and the frozen sea ice above that... all things often seen much closer in the background of just about any photo taken in town).
About a mile into the hike we reach the first of two warm-up huts called Apples. Inside are thick sleeping bags, first-aid stuff, and a visitor log. Outside is the bathroom, a yellow flag (or "P-Flag").

Here I am one mile in, bundled up, warm and freshly relieved.

"Castle Rock in sight. O the joy!"
The wind rips through these flags that direct the route. Winds were calm in the afternoon when we headed out, but were strong enough to make for a FIFTY BELOW wind chill just a few hours earlier in the late morning. Weather can change erratically to extreme conditions, which is why we have to check in with the firehouse before doing any hiking out of town, where we get a radio to call for help and give an estimated time of return, after which they send out the Search and Rescue team if you don't check back in upon return.
Castle Rock, part of the only 2% of the continent that isn't covered in ice.

From here we also see Mount Erebus, a still active volcano. There's a small steam cloud hovering just above the opening, but hard to see here. I hope to get much closer to it in the future...

****One of my favorite pictures taken down here, miles of snowdrifts and ice, piling up like sand dunes. It looks completely unreal in person.

Continuing on, following flags, seeing nothing but clouds and exposed rock to break up the white.
About 5 miles in, face covered in frost. Sometimes the frost in your upper and lower eye lashes freeze together when you blink!!
Approaching Scott Base, the New Zealand base a couple miles from ours.
They obviously have a more institutionalized culture of light-heartedness, as seen by their Welcome sign, and you may notice all their buildings are painted bright green, like a kiwi (which is what we all call them).

We round the final corner to a perfectly-timed sunset over McMurdo station. Of course, the sunsets last about six hours these days, so there was a wide window during which we could "perfectly" return to such a dramatic sight. Thanks for reading and following along!

DJ episode one

I co-DJ'd a dance party last Saturday night at one of the two local bars on station, Gallagher's. The beats started after about four hours of open mic to a very packed, very drunk crowd. The musicians were pretty good, mostly folk guitar strummers, some from my shop (Carp Shop represent!)-- Casey did lots of songs about his home state of Texas, plus a great eddie vedder song from Into The Wild soundtrack and a Neutral Milk Hotel cover, and Danny did super excellent John Fahey/Leo Kottke-style instrumentals and some old country-blues numbers, half of them on a new lap steel guitar that the recreation department just bought and is available for borrowing (I'm getting ideas!).

Here's some moving pictures of my view from the dj booth. You see fellow techno-vegetarian Ben, who's been dj'ing down here for a few years now. Below is my friend Shawn, who was excited all week for what he called "Dance in Your Underpants," and in this shot he's already followed through with that promise, about to climb up on a chair, grasping his (now much-less-than-full) bottle of rum. You'll have to imagine the bottom half of this shot...


Thursday, September 18, 2008

sun snow miscellanea

Miss you!


Probably the craziest night in town since I've arrived: Bingo last night at Gallagher's (currently a BYOB-only bar). Had a super fun time with about 100 people (a good third of those present right now) packed in to the tiny bar. Here's my awesome dauber. I love bad puns and GLO references in products! Also a can of CD (Canturbury Draught, the cheapest and most common New Zealand beer), and Ezra not winning in the background. Oh, and the red basket. There was a free Burger Bar, I had a great grilled cheese with onions.

Working outside

McMurdo Station is next to a large ocean bay that freezes dozens of feet thick every winter, and thaws out in summers. This is helped along every spring by a giant icebreaker ship that makes its way through the ice layer, readying the bay for the cargo ships that deliver supplies and pick up our well-sorted trash and recyclables. When the sea ice starts breaking up, orcas and other types of whales will be surfacing and playing around in this water, along with the seals that are already starting to show up (they chew through the ice wherever they find cracks). Maybe penguins too! But for now this sea ice is basically treated as land... The airfield is on it now; it's where my plane landed. And various scientific structures are being built on it, as well.

This last week I got to finally do some work outside on the sea ice building a Jamesway (Korean War-era military tents) for researchers to hold and study seals. It was great to be outside and be (just slightly, maybe a quarter mile) out of town for work. I felt really cold for the first time! (I kept thinking that 0 degrees wasn't really so bad as long as I had my parka and hat on, but that was when I was only outside long enough to walk from the cafeteria to the carp shop. Once I was outside for several hours straight trying to drill with heavy-lined gloves and a slight wind storm picking up on the ice, things were a little more frustrating!) But overall I loved it... exactly the kind of polar experience I came down here for. Also a nice preview of how it'll be when I get to work in the field camps much, much further away from McMurdo and for much longer periods of time.
Here's the track truck I get to drive down to the ice.
Jamesway on left, funky orange shack-on-skis on right.
The carp crew in front of our completed Jamesway.

Inside Myway (with Ezra from Flagstaff, one of my favorite people down here so far)

Hiking around Observation Hill

Last Sunday (our only day off each week) I hiked a few miles around the base of Ob Hill just outside of the station. You start to take the scenery for granted while you're in town, walking to work and back down to lunch, seeing the mountains in the distance, but it's all so much more incredible every time you leave the station and feel a part of the scenery, without buildings or roads in the way. I get to be re-overwhelmed every time I get the chance to step out of the town.
John and Robbie, the two friends I hike with (we flew down together from Denver, all first time visitors).
Looking back at McMurdo from the trail.
Some structures out on the sea ice.
Start of sunset, over the still-frozen sea ice of McMurdo Sound, about 3:30 pm.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The library here

is really cool. I just browsed through some of the randomly awesome CD's (free jazz, early electronic composers, lots of Dischord Records, Jean-Michel Jarre's Equinoxe [hi Dane!], etc., even a Megadeth CD with a yellow Zia used sticker!) and sat and read a big chunk of Vonnegut. A very pleasant surprise!

Oh, and there's plenty of free used stuff all over the station, books and otherwise. There actually is a small 24-hour unstaffed free store (named Scua Central after the kleptoparasite seabirds that arrive in summer and scavenge anything they can get), so yes, I *can* go thrifting in Antarctica! I got some great wool flannel shirts there the other day.

Daylight, Daylength

This season is the short transition from winter into summer. Dawn lasts for about 4 hours, then the sun is low in the sky for about 8 hours, so it feels like mid-morning all day, then the sunset lasts for another 4 hours or so. The sun starts going down (with orange skies to the west) around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, and at nine o'clock at night it still looks like late dusk! It still gets dark at night for now, but by late October it should start being solid daylight for the next 4 months! The sun will just revolve around us in the sky.

For now I'm really loving the eternal dawn/dusk feeling!


My address here is:

James Roemer, RPSC
McMurdo Station
PSC 469 Box 700
APO AP 96599-1035
I'd appreciate any physical correspondence you'd like to have! I'll try to reply in kind to any post I get, so here's your chance to receive polar mail!

Arriving on the ice & around town

Here we are now on the landing strip just after landing on Antarctica. This photo taken from Ivan the Terra Bus, which you may remember if you saw 'Encounters at the End of the World' by Werner Herzog.
Here are the "roads" out on the frozen bay that we took from the airfield to the station. Lanes are separated by vehicle type-- those with tires on one side and (tank-type) track vehicles on the other.
Here's the back wall of my carpentry shop... note the saguaro cactus and headless scorpion wood cut-outs!
Some shots of the area around my carp shop... Observation hill and the many recycle bins for all the separated trash that gets removed from the ice.

The Pisten-Bully. I get to drive this! The driver's seat is surrounded by tons of light-up buttons and a little half steering wheel that sits low in your lap; it feels like playing Pole Position. Also some shots looking out the window of the Pisten-Bully.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

some ANTARCTIC photos

Here's some photos of my trip down to the ice:
Boarding the air force jet in our big red parkas
sitting inside with all the cargo
lots of napping!
Finally seeing some ice

My new Carhartt overalls work uniform (airplane bathroom mirror)
Frozen Ice Tongue pushing into sea ice