Friday, January 08, 2010

Moore's Bay on New Year's Eve day

This view is almost always the start of a great day.

This view is definitely the start of a great day.

On New Year's Eve, I was lucky enough to end the year in style. I went into the field with a grantee to fix a computer. The other folks in his group had already gone home and he wanted a computer guy around just in case anything went awry.

Our pilot took us directly over the Pegasus crash site.

I was pretty stressed about this trip into the field. Earlier in the week, the grantee had come to us to try and help him gain remote access to his linux computer in the field. He could ping (basically say hello and get a hello back) the machine, but he couldn't SSH to it. Every other service that would let him talk to his computer was turned off to make it use less battery. The easy solution to the problem, just like most computer problems, was to restart it. Expecting that to work, the grantee requested just forty-five minutes on the ground. This was great if the restart worked, but if it didn't, we probably wouldn't have the time to fix it.

I was amazed to see colors in the melt pools on Black Island.

A sliding glacier on Black Island.

As a shop, we wanted to head out with a full backup of the hard drive just in case it had been corrupted. We wanted to take spare parts. We wanted a spare battery. We wanted a lot of stuff that the grantee just didn't give us enough time for with less than an hour on the ground. All of this, stressed me out. I was going out to work on a system that I had never seen and didn't have time to get acquainted with. I wasn't sure it the trip into the field would be enjoyable at all. On the way out, I'd stress about if we would get it all done. While there, I'd get to stress about getting it done. On the way back, I was worried that I would stress because we didn't get it done. Yes, I do let the little things bother me too much.

The southwest side of Minna Bluff.

The black dot is where we were going.

New Year's Eve morning, we finally flew. It was a gorgeous day. It was so warm, we didn't wear our Big Reds while flying. Every time that I am in the field, I am boggled by our lack of perspective. Ten thousand foot mountains don't look that big. Flying at one thousand feet seems like three hundred. Nothing looks as far away as it really is. Flying at 110 mph, I would have guessed we were crossing the ice shelf at 60mph. The natural beauty and my amazement at our lack of perspective overwhelmed my stress enough that I was able to enjoy the flight out over Pegasus airfield, past Black Island, over Minna Bluff, and into Moore's Bay, which is a section of the Ross Ice Shelf.

Our flight route to Moore's Bay, S78'44.3 E165'02.45

Opening the box where all the communications equipment is stored.

Thorsten begins to uncover the box where the computer is stored.

At Moore's Bay, we had more beautiful weather with warm temperatures and almost no wind. Everything seemed to be going great. We split up to do our individual work. I grabbed a network connection to the computer to confirm we could ping it. Thorsten cut a live wire and spliced it to reset the computer. He insisted it was only 12V or 5v, but electricity scares me. I keep my distance from it and was glad he took that job. I'm not cutting any live wires.

The entire research site.

Our pilot takes a break while we do our work.

As soon as the computer was reset, we were able to use SSH to get back in. We turned on telnet so we'd have a second way to get in later if SSH broke again. Then, we reconnected everything and were getting ready to go. We just had a final test to see if someone in town could reach the computer. One short iridium phone call later, we found out we were not done yet.

Thorsten turns off the computer.

Paul wakes up from his cat nap.

Town couldn't reach the computer even though we could. The wireless link was down which isn't that much of a surprise because it is being broadcast over such a long distance (I think the longest we have ever done). We had to log in to the hardware and reset everything. After about ten resets, we got it to stay up. Things still weren't working. At this point, we were over our allotted time on the ground. I was starting to get stressed. After a few wrong turns, we figured out that an automated script on the computer had changed the gateway to an iridium link when the wireless went down. After entering a few quick commands, everything was working and we were on our way.

Mason Spur.

On our way out, the pilot let us know that we really had unlimited time. While they did have other flights to get to, they didn't want to have to make a follow up flight because nothing else is near by. They didn't tell us because they didn't want us to dilly dally. Yeah for stressing over nothing, just like usual.

On the way back, I was allowed to ride shotgun in the helicopter for the first time. The view is always amazing, but it felt like watching an iMax compared to a TV screen. I was left smiling for days. While a little stressful and tiring, the trip went well. Like most things, I'll conveniently forget the bad and remember the good. It was a beautiful day in the field and I was happy to get out. It was a brilliant way to whisk away a bad year.

The back (southern) side of Mt. Discovery


I've been very fortunate to get out of town twice this year (first to the Dry Valleys and more recently to Moore's Bay). However, there is a large contingent of base that doesn't always get those opportunities. Those chances to go into the field are exceptions, not the rule. Because of that, I wanted to put a little perspective on how 'small' life is down here, especially if you don't get into the field.

In the next picture, you see everything that I will walk on or touch for four months, except when I go to the field.

My entire home for four months, EVERYTHING (click to zoom in, right click to open in a new window).

Erebus - Mt. Erebus, the active volcano we share an island with. Southern most in the world.
Cape Evans - Where Scott's Hut is.
IR - The now closed Ice Runway that I used to ski to.
Pegasus - Our runway and the last place I'll see before I leave.
McMurdo - Where I live.
CR - Castle Rock that I can hike to.
Scott Base - Where I run sometimes or visit friends.
RWAV - Room with a View, where I'll be guiding tours later this month.
LDB - Where they launch Long Distance Balloons.
SKI - places where I ski, either a 1.3 to IR or 5 mile to LDB road.

At McMurdo, my life is much smaller this season. My first season, I moved through every building working on computers. This year, I live in just one. I sleep in another. I eat in another. That's it. I don't venture around too much. When there are errands, I make it happen, but I don't see those other buildings on a regular basis.

My daily life (click to zoom in, right click to open in a new window).

Erebus - Mt. Erebus, the active volcano we share an island with. Southern most in the world.
CR - Castle Rock, the farthest we can hike.
QS - Quick Skiing when it was open. This was about 150 yard from my dorm.
F - Food, where I eat every day
H - B-209 where I lived during my winter
H - B-155 where I lived my first season
H - Hotel California where I live this season
W - B-120 PC shop where I worked my first season
W - B-1 Crary Lab Information Technology where I work now

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Room With a View

The room.

The view (click to enlarge).

This year, I'm super fortunate to be a trip leader for Room With a View trips. These trips are morale or boondoggle trips. In theory, anyone can go, but usually they are for people whose jobs don't get them out of town. For some, this will be one of the more memorable events of their season.

A Haglund to get to the snowmobiles.

Room With a View trips leave after lunch and start with an hour of prep. After getting everything ready, we'll pile into a Haglund and ride over to the Scott Base transition where we transfer to snowmobiles.

Snowmobiling up.

After we get over there, we just hop on snowmobiles and snow machine nine miles up the peninsula to the base of Mt. Erebus. It takes about an hour to get up there, depending on the quality of the snow and number of stops for pictures. I think this is the biggest treat about the trip. You aren't working. You are riding snow machines and you are simply out of town and outside in Antarctica. On the way up, you get to see old features from new vantage points, like Castle Rock.

The Dellbridge Islands on the right, the wiggly part on the left is the Erebus Ice Tongue.

One of the coolest things that I got to see was the Erebus Ice Tongue. It is hard to see in this picture, but if you look closely at the left third, you can see a wiggle heading out to the sea ice. This is where the Erebus glacier hits the sea ice and extends out faster than the normal glacier moves. All in all, it is just a great way to spend an afternoon. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to start leading trips because the weather has canceled all of the trips so far.

My favorite part of the view.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

South Pole Traverse

South Pole Traverse map.

Currently, we deliver almost all of our supplies and people to the South Pole via LC-130 Hercules flown the New York Air National Guard. We also use the Hercs to deliver fuel by filling them up all the way and unloading all the fuel except what they need to get back to McMurdo. It takes 200-250 flights. The hope is that one day the traverse will be so refined that they can go up twice a year and deliver most of the fuel (hopefully, 200,000 gallons) and cargo that way. Currently, they have eight towing tractors that can each carry about 60,000 lbs. With that capacity, one successful traverse can offset 36 flights.

Pisten Bully with ground radar to find crevasses (photo by Pablo).

The traverse doesn't take the shortest route to the pole as the crow flies. They try to cross as much of the smooth ice of the Ross Ice Shelf as they can before they have to cross the Transantarctic mountains onto the polar plateau. Their smoother route is about 1,030 miles long. While this might not seem like much, they have to cross crevasse fields and snow swamps that make moving difficult. For the operators, imagine driving 5-10 mph for days at a time. It redefines enjoying the scenery on a road trip. That is slower than bike touring with even less to look at.

Part of the fleet.The first vehicle is pulling fuel bladders.

On January 4, 1958, Sir Edmund Hillary, the first to summit Everest, was the first to drive to the South Pole. It took him 81 days and 23 gallons of fuel. I believe our traverse made it in 46 days this year on December 16th. They'll get back a lot quicker because they'll be lighter and going downhill instead of climbing the 10,000 feet to the pole.

Monday, January 04, 2010

"Never Better"

My ultimate cleat.

I made a miraculous discovery on my cleats today.


I don't mean marijuana. I mean good old fashioned, lay in and get itchy, grass. One of the first people I showed it to did not understand why I was excited. They have only been here a few weeks. However, everyone who I showed it to, who arrived with me at mainbody or earlier at Winfly, was immediately taken with it. None of us have seen any non-food plant life since we left Christchurch. To see something that is quickly becoming just a memory is exciting. One person even asked if they could touch it.

Now that they closed the greenhouse, there is no virtually no living plant life here, just a few algae and mosses. However, those are rare and hard to even see. They just don't compare to plants. I can't find the words to explain it. Try to imagine what deprivation it would take to make something so common place be exciting again. If people find common pests, like slugs and spiders, in the galley while prepping the fresh fruits and vegetables, they sometimes take them home as pets! One of my friends received pressed and dried leaves for Christmas. She was lit up for a week.

The feeling loosely reminds me of a brilliant man down here who lived in the Eastern Bloc under Soviet control. I don't know his full story, but I've heard it alluded to that he was in a mining work camp for a decade. Ask him how he is and he will always answer 'Never better.'

Mt. Discovery in October.