Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ob hill Up Hill

Making merry at Christmas with Merry Maker

Christmas day was a very quiet day at McMurdo. Since this is my first time down, I don't know if this was because everyone was thinking of home or if this was just an off year. It never really felt like Christmas day. It felt like any other weekend. Maybe, it is because we were tired from a 7 day work week.

A not so tired Ob Hill Up Hill participant decked out in elf costume

After I slowly rolled out of bed, I prepared for our annual Christmas day race, the Ob Hill Up Hill. The race would take us over a half mile and up about 750 feet. It wasn't that long, but it wasn't easy either. There were only 15 participants and about 10 spectators. Not that many people on base were even moving yet.

The Ob Hill Up Hill course

The race was so small compared to the the Turkey Trot that I wondered if we were even going to do it. However, the hard working event organizers got things underway and we headed to the start. The only rule was that we had to head up the road and pass a cairn. After the cairn, we could get up the hill anyway we wanted. Some stayed with the switchbacks, others tried to head straight up. Just past the area where we turned up the hill were two abandoned buildings. One of those buildings used to hold the U.S. Navy nuclear power plant, PM-3A, that has since been closed down.

About two-thirds through the Ob Hill Up Hill

The race wasn't too eventful once we got underway. Danny, the eventual winner, shot to the front immediately and gained steam the entire way up the mountain. The highlights of the day had to be Audrey heading up in elf costume and Carl stripping down to his underwear to run the race. No, it wasn't warm enough to run in underwear. I barely ran without a jacket.

Carl scaling Ob Hill with Jon O just behind him.

That is me near the last 20 yards of the race and exhausted.

On the way to the top, almost everyone had to stop and walk for a short stretch. To finish the race, you had to touch the cross at the top of the hill. Once everyone did, we sat down for a group photo and enjoyed the views. It was a clear day and the lighting was great. It might have been my best day on top of Ob Hill so far.

All the participants of the Ob Hill Up Hill

Name Time
Danny Uhl 6:51
Dave Zybowski 7:32
Brody 7:51
Carl Klent 8:44
Jon Owen 8:44
Jared 9:10
Jordan Murphy 10:42
Tom 11:07
Farah McDill 11:34
Graham 12:10
Audrey 12:35
Caesar 13:40
David Ireland 14:16
John Williams 15:44
Jared 15:51

A close up for mom who insists on having pictures of me.

The great view that we were all working for - the top of Ob Hill.

The organizers decided to go with a random drawing to see who would win prizes in the race instead of taking the top finishers. I think this might have been because of the controversy about awarding shirts to the top 50 finishers of the Turkey Trot, independent of sex, age, or choice to walk. Lucky enough, I was still able to get a prize. I won two movie tickets to Hoyt's Cinema. They expire in August 2008. I don't leave the ice until August of 2008. On the other hand, a theater by the same name was raided by 50 drunken Santas later that day. There may still be hope.

After the race, I walked around base and realized just how quiet things were. Tons of people were calling home and the rest just weren't to be found. It was a peaceful day and probably what I needed. I finished up my night with a cup of Oregon Chai in the Coffee House while watching 'The Christmas Story' for the first time. Now people can stop throwing up their arms when they ask if I have seen it. Somewhere in there, I took time to open some great presents from home. Highlights are probably Annie's Organic Mac & Cheese and a tripod to photograph the Aurora Australis this winter. Yeah for all the fun stuff that came though.

When the day closed out, it didn't feel as much like Christmas as I would have hoped, but that was alright. It was still good and the next day I got up at 4:30am so I could start calling home to hear from people on their own Christmas days. It was great to talk to so many people from home and hear Christmas morning excitement in their voice.

On to New Year's now . . .

Christmas at McMurdo

Just because we are spending Christmas on the harshest continent doesn't mean that we can't celebrate in style. After four days of Christmas festivities, we finally have returned to work. I'm definitely not ready to be at work yet.

Two story gingerbread houses make for good treats!!

My Christmas celebration unexpectedly started on Saturday night when the Housing department asked me to help them decorate for their party. Their theme was Christmas morning. They did a great job of getting everyone there in their pajamas and serving up a great Christmas morning breakfast. You can't buy presents for everyone, so they did a white elephant gift exchange where every ones gets a turn to pick a present from under the tree or steal an already opened one from someone else. Presents ranged from chocolate bars to hockey sticks to dancing penguins. Fun stuff. After the Christmas morning festivities, things changed into a more normal night at hut 10 - dancing and drinking. It was a school night though so it didn't run too late.

Christmas morning at Hut 10!

Sunday, every department was supposed to work their full day. Few did, including mine. We got off early enough that I wanted to do my distance run for the weekend on that afternoon instead of on a day off. I thought it would be a good idea so that I wouldn't be as tired on my days off. 25 miles in 4 hours and 10 minutes. Surprisingly enough, I spent the rest of the weekend with a slight limp and a lot of tired. Who would have guessed it? I even manged to spend enough time in the sun that someone called me out on having a farmer's tan!!!

Santa at the holiday party!

Christmas goodies that were sent out as door prizes at the VMF party.

Holiday decorations and Santa's sleigh.

After a failed attempt at napping, I was off to the holiday party. They emptied out the vehicle maintenance facility and did a great job decorating. It was like any other Christmas party - drinking, dancing, egg nog, etc. There were a couple cool differences. Santa rides a snow machine instead of a sleigh in Antarctica. We also had different pictures projecting on the wall of things we might be missing. Favorite themes were friends, family, dogs, greenery, and beaches.

The Abominable Snowman!

Pictures to give you a warm fuzzy on a potentially lonely holiday

A candy cane pole to help find a friend who can give you a warm fuzzy on a potentially lonely holiday

As I understand it, Santa may not have been able to work the entire night . . .

Inspired by Calvin & Hobbes?

Fireside on Christmas morning

After some of the more basic holiday events happened at the party, it was back down to the usual shenanigans. Drinking, dancing, and revelry. The holiday party is famous for being the second party of the year where people find someone to hook up with because by this time a lot of the Halloween inspired relationships have fallen apart.

Dave and me at the holiday party

Martin from the help desk gets down!

Usual shenanigans.

After being up way too late at the party, I got myself into bed. Christmas eve day came way too soon. I went for a run to get the ache out of my legs. It helped a little bit, but exhaustion was definitely the theme of the day. After a long day of lounging, I worked in the kitchen to let a dining assistant (DA) be off work for an hour. Even though most of the base is off, they aren't. They may have the toughest job on base. When I was done washing dishes to the Temptations with Meg, it was off to get prettied up for dinner. Some people ate in the galley. Others do more private affairs in converted work areas.

Christmas dinner in the galley.

The kitchen crew who makes it all possible

There were four separate dinners that the kitchen staff had to prepare. When the final day dinner was wrapping up, the evening festivities were winding up. There was a dance party in one bar and live band karaoke in one of the departments meetings room. I'm continually amazed at how they can transform a work space into a play area. At live band karaoke, they don't have the usual music or videos. The singers have to know the words or download them off the Internet and sometimes the band has to download tablature too. It worked really well.

Sky singing at live band karaoke.

Christmas day still to come . . .

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!