Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tucker Ride!

A Tucker!

Boondoggles are the old Navy term that we use for recreational trips during work time. Sometimes you need to work while you do them. Sometimes you just need to accompany other people who are working. I lucked into a boondoggle on Thursday. I'd be riding along while the MEC mechanics put hours on the new Tuckers that they'll be using for a traverse this coming summer. To put hours on them, they just go driving. My trip with them would be out to the A-Frame and then we'd return home via the Castle Rock loop.

Tucker see, Tucker do.

The south side of the peninsula on the way out to the A-Frame was uneventful. The light from the horizon couldn't get through Erebus and it was foggy. We took a new way out to the A-Frame that I hadn't been on before, but since it was so dark I couldn't truly appreciate it. We stopped for a while to take pictures and look around, but there really wasn't too much to see in those conditions. It was still great to be out of town though. Don't make any mistake about that.

Nacreous or mother-of-pearl clouds seen from Castle Rock.

As we headed up the Castle Rock trail, I started to get excited. You could see that there were bright colors in the sky. We parked at the base of Castle Rock and hiked up to where we could see the horizon. Bright reds and oranges filled the lower part of the sky. Nacreous clouds were in the higher dark part of the sky. This was the best horizon I've see since the sun started coming back up.

Daylight? Not quite. Some day light. Some Tucker headlights. Some photography tricks.

It was so bright that I could capture the horizon light illuminating the ground with my camera. The left of the picture above is lit by the light from the horizon and the right of the picture is lit by the Tucker headlights. It wasn't that bright, but I overexposed the image a little so you could clearly see what was going on. I love how excited I am getting as the sun comes back just a little more each day.

Castle Rock.

As we turned back to return to the Tuckers, I saw that Castle Rock was lit up. I haven't seen Castle Rock close up since early March. It was weird because I hadn't been there in so long and didn't expect it to be that bright from the headlights. On the south side of the peninsula, the headlights didn't seem to light up too much, but that might have been the weather. After taking that picture, we tromped back down the hill and hopped in the Tuckers. I made the mistake of handling my metal camera equipment with my bare hands once we were inside. I almost got a cold burn. Not smart. The ride home was uneventful. The Tucker side windows continued to freeze up so we couldn't see anything, but the snow and Tucker in front of us.

Sean looking north.

My fingers are getting cold

Auroras over Crater Hill.

A friend wanted to have a silhouetted photo taken of him and his friend with the Milky Way and Clouds of Magellan in the background. I was having more and more success with getting the photos I wanted from the night sky, so I figured I'd give it a go.

Auroras from one side to the other.

After watching a great travelogue on climbing Kilimanjaro, I got the page that tonight was the night to go. The skies were clear and the full moon was gone. I checked the weather and it was -35F with a -60F wind chill. I dressed up in my warmest gear and opened hand warmers before I even left the room. We went the back way up the Ridge loop to a dark spot near the RaySat golf ball. Once there, I was pleasantly surprised to see auroras illuminating the sky from one horizon to the other. Amazing! I got those guys to stand still for thirty seconds while I got a quick picture and almost as soon as I was done with that, the auroras started to fade.

More great auroras.

Luckily, the auroras came back and continued to put on a great show for my friends while I messed around with my camera and tripod to get everything set up. Messing around with my camera means taking off my gloves, sometimes sitting on the ground to get the right angle, and handling the metal lens, metal camera, and metal tripod with just a very thin liner on. My hands just get colder and colder the longer I am out there. I think I was only shooting photos for an hour, but I don't know another time when my hands have been so cold.

Silhouettes watching the Milky Way.

When I returned to my room, my hands warmed up quickly in hot water. It took my feet an hour in bed to feel warm again. The tips of my fingers were still super sensitive in the morning. I'm guessing that I got a little frost nip from handling my metal camera so much. I just don't know another way to do it right now. I do know I'm having a fabulous week, but I'm kind of sick of being cold right now. Current temperature as I write this: -33F.

That is me figuring out a new trick which hopefully you'll get to see soon.


The moonlit A-Frame

During the winter, the Kiwis let us use their A-Frame for overnight recreational trips. During the summer, they use it to house their instructors during Happy Camper school. Rumor has it that it used to be one of our buildings, but we threw it away and the Kiwis recycled it. Traditionally, it is only available to us once a month, but you can also make special requests. Our friend, Katie, doesn't have the same day off as everyone else so a few of us requested the day off so we could head out to the A-Frame during the week with her.

B-Nelson says . . .

We caught a piston bully ride out to the A-Frame just after dinner on Monday night. We went by Scott Base, past the Kiwi ski hill and Castle Rock turn off, and continued on in the direction of Windless Bite. Then, they dropped us off and headed back to town. We immediately got settled in. We lit the lantern, got some hot water boiling, and unpacked a little bit of our stuff. We had planned to play cards, but all we ended up doing for the entire night was chatting and drinking our favorite treats (Oregon Chai, Monteith's Black, or scotch carried in a recycled wine bag). It was so nice to just be out of town for a change.

Katie, Talie, B-Nelson and me inside the A-Frame (photo by B-Nelson).

A-Frame trips are limited to six people. You can easily sleep three on the right in the above picture and three more can sleep in the loft (the ladder is tied to the ceiling - visible at the top of the picture). The upstairs definitely has more heat, but the downstairs is plenty comfortable if the stove has been running long enough. Luckily for us, the A-Frame trip a couple days before ours had been canceled for weather so the stove had been heating the place for three days. The Kiwis keep the A-Frame stocked with fuel, a few containers of water which may or may not be frozen, sleeping bags, pillows, a lantern, and a bunch of other basic necessities. It is basically car camping at its finest.

A-frame and its outhouse.

When Sir Edmund Hillary, the first to summit Everest, came back down to the ice for his final trip a few years ago, he refused to stay on base. Instead, he chose to stay at the A-Frame (where a small plaque commemorates his stay just to the right of the stove). I'm guessing that his choice has something to do with how big our foot print has gotten here and how different it is from when he first was exploring this beautiful place.

Skiing north to Erebus, sunlight, warmth and home.

After a pretty good night of sleep, we got back to huddling around the fire. I don't think we did much but drink chai, sip tea, and stay warm. It was definitely colder in the morning, but we also didn't have anywhere to be. Our ride would come back to get us at 2pm and until then we were in no hurry. I think we talked by the fire until noon when we finally got motivated enough to out for a ski. When we first went outside, Erebus was completely unobscured. However, weather was moving in and within 30 minutes, you could barely see it. As the visibility continued to worsen, we turned back to the A-Frame just in case things got bad. When we got back, we packed up our gear, cleaned up, and waited for our Haglund ride back to Scott Base.

Our Haglund ride back to Scott Base.

This blog is a little too wrapped up in the facts and really doesn't do the experience justice. It was one of my best nights here in Antarctica for its sheer simplicity. It was a new experience. I chatted with good friends. I didn't need to worry about rushing here or there. It was a special night and I'll remember it fondly. Without these nights, I worry I'd end up with the 1,000 yard stare that Katie looks like she has in the picture below.

Katie's 1000 yard stare . . . . or she is about to become a zombie.