Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Last week was a big work week for us. While most of you were probably doing less and less because people were disappearing for vacation, everyone down here was getting signed up for a seven day work week. Normally, we have a six day work week, but they wanted to give us a two day weekend that included actually having Christmas off. Instead of having our usual Sunday off, we had Monday and Tuesday. I didn't have to work all seven days though. I was offered a boondoggle on Wednesday.

A boondoggle is a slang term for a morale trip. I believe it is a left over from when they Navy ran base. A morale trip is basically any trip that takes you outside of your normal job. My one co-worker manned a dive hole. Someone else secured a rare trip to go to the Cape Royds penguin colony. Others even made it onto helicopters. It reminds us of the beautiful place we are in.

My boondoggle was a working trip. I was told I'd be going out to Cape Evans to pull up the flagged route in a pisten bully. A pisten bully is a cramped tracked vehicle which moves pretty slow. It would also be one of the last trips out onto the sea ice since it was closing up, hence taking out all the flags that mark the safe routes. I'd been out to Cape Evans a couple times already so I almost passed up the trip so someone else could go. Since morale trips are so uncommon (maybe one a season), I decided not to hold out and hope for a better one in the future and that turned out to be one my best decisions for the week.

Instead of taking out a pisten bully, we took out snow machines. That is snowmobiles for those of you, like me, who though snow machines are for making snow. According to my Alaskan friends, snowmobiles is the 'tourist' term. I've never driven a snow machine, let alone ridden one. After a couple hours getting ready in the morning, we took a shuttle over to the snow machines. We had to fuel them up which includes someone turning a crank while someone else tries to look in the dark hole and see how full the tank is. I ended up spilling because I couldn't see a thing down the hole.

Sean and Becky fueling up a snow machine.

The other five people on the trip had gone to snow machine and sea ice training classes. I hadn't been to either. I'm pretty sure I shouldn't have been allowed to go on the trip, but I wasn't going to ask questions. After a quick lesson, I was allowed to drive the snow machine. It was definitely similar to a teenager learning to drive. Too heavy on the gas and jilting with the brake. I got the hang of it on the way to our first destination.

The first flags we had to pull were in front of our own base. On our way over, we passed my first penguin, an Adelie. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera out and was only able to get this shot of it in the distance. It is there, honest. It's the little dot between where the two mountains meet. Very cute. Their arms flap while they walk so it looks like they are always late for a very important date.

My first penguin, an Adelie.

The biggest problem we would face all day was melt pools. A melt pool is formed when the ice on top melts, but can't drain out into the ocean. It just collects into a pool. We'd be driving across it, walking through it, and trying not to get stuck in it. We got to see heavy machinery working in some of the melt pools, but that didn't alleviate my fears any when I had to walk over to flags where the snow machines couldn't go and saw the top layers of ice cracking beneath my feet. The most my foot ever sank was up to the ankle and there was 3 more feet of ice below where it finally stopped, but still very freaky.

Heavy machinery crossing a melt pool.

Flag pulling!

We worked in two groups - each with two snow machines. One would pull the flag out of the ice or cut it out if it was stuck and then throw it into a sled the other snow machine was towing. Repeat for six hours in the sunshine without wind and you have for a beautiful day.

A beautiful day!

As we got farther out to Cape Evans, we had to break off onto side roads to pick up other flags. This took me on to terrain I hadn't been on before and thinner ice. The one area we entered had to be drilled to check the thickness of the sea ice (stuff you learn in sea ice training). They used a gas powered drill.

Checking the sea ice depth.

After the sea ice was determined safe, we headed out to pick up the flags. Along the way, we got pretty close to some sunbathing seals. Every other time I've seen seals down here, they just lay there. These ones actually wiggled a little bit!

Basking seals in front of Mt. Erebus
Another basking Weddell seal.

Towards the end of the day, we were running out of time so we didn't get all the way out to Cape Evans. It didn't bother me though because I had already been there. Also, that meant another trip would have to go out and allow others to go on a boondoggle. On the way back in, we didn't have any flags to pick up so we floored it. I went at least 80 km/50 miles per hour. It was weird to be going that fast on a snow machine. The machine shakes a little bit, but you get used to it.

An island I can't remember the name of . . .
Mt. Erebus with some great cloud formations.

We ate lunch out on the ice and all took turns switching in and out of the various jobs. We moved quickly, but didn't rush. It was simply a great day. It let me get on a snow machine for the first time, showed me my first penguin, and reminded me of why I was down here. I didn't think my morale was down, but it certainly showed me how to pick it up. Yeah for play dates and Merry Christmas to everyone reading this on 25th. I'm already at work on the 26th!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a great time!

    I got my first taste of "snowmobiling" March of this year in Washington. It was a heck of a lot of fun and after spending all day on one I can see where they want you to have some "training." You can do some incredibly stupid things on those machines. :P