Not Dead Yet!

Photo: Exploring the Erebus Ice Caves (Kaleigh Hinkley on Facebook)

For those of you who don’t know, I made a valiant attempt to switch from WordPress to Squarespace this summer.  Of course, this led to the dwindle (and eventual sizzle) of blog posts.  No documentation of an amazing summer, no updates on my adventures on the ice.  What happened!?

Well, the migration did not go as smoothly as expected.  My ideal would be to merge the WordPress blog platform with the rest of my Squarespace site (Does anybody know how to do this?  Please!  Teach me your secrets!)

Until I get back to non-Antarctic bandwidth, I’ve changed my means of communication to something that doesn’t make my head spin with logistics.

My public Facebook page (www.facebook.com/kaleighhinkleywrites) has served as a wonderful platform to share the occasional photos, short stories, and fun facts.  These posts are also acting as place holders for future blog posts (once those icy kinks go away.)

Looking for something more visual?  Check out my Instagram!  My goal is to draw a line between information (Facebook) and visual aesthetics (Instagram).  Some posts cross over, but each page has something that the other doesn’t.  (www.instagram.com/stillkaleigh)

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Sea-soaked leather gloves drying off after a day of line handling.  (@stillkaleigh on Instagram)

If you enjoy the posts from this blog, please check out (and follow/like/whatevs) my other pages and continue to be patient.  Also, please share my pages with your friends!  Word of mouth is how I roll.

Eventually, this whole internetmess will blend together into a pretty sweet collection.  I’m sure of it.

More stories & more adventures to come!
(Hint:  New Zealand hikes & Southeast Alaska by boat!)

Sending love from the South.

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McMurdo Dormitories: Like College, but Colder and Full of Science.

At this point in the Antarctic season, everything is about settling in to a new environment:  adjusting to new work schedules, light cycles, social calendars, sleep cycles, and the like.  As the season ramps up, I look forward to telling stories about adventures in the cold!  In the meantime, I will attempt to describe general life on the ice- the things that are the same and the things that are slightly different.  Please feel free to ask questions or prompt me for a post any time!  Cheers!

 

Where do people live in Antarctica?  Last year, I excitedly posted a short video of my new room in Building 155 (the big blue building, if you’re checking us out on Google Earth.)  But I have since come to realize that there is a lot of mystery surrounding where people live and sleep while on the ice.

Do we live in little huts?  Not at McMurdo- not anymore.
Do we sleep in igloos?  Well, there was this one time… (I’ll post about that later!)
Are there apartments?  Not quite.  We live in dormitories and sometimes, it feels just like a college dormitory:  always something happening, always someone laughing, always that one guy walking around with that funny hat… and there is this really strange smell…

Most Field Camp groups (like Siple Dome or WAIS) sleep in tents, work outside, and eat/entertain in a Quonset hut.  Some stations (like South Pole or Scott Base) keep living and sleeping quarters all inside one building to maximize energy efficiency and minimize the amount of time where people are exposed to the harsh elements.

Here at McMurdo, we sleep in dormitories (there are about 14 dormitory buildings on station), we eat in building 155, and we work in (or based out of) a different building entirely.   Last year was an odd one for me because I lived, worked, and ate in 155.  That is not common, and it is nice to be outside more this year!

Dorms at McMurdo tend to get cute little nicknames: Building 201 is called “Two Oh Fun” and then there is Mammoth Mountain Inn (known as MMI) Hotel California (aka Ho-Cal) down the way.  This year, after orientation, I was handed a key to “Uppercase.”

Uppercase are coveted dorms at McMurdo for a few different reasons:

  1. There are only two beds to a room (compared to the four in building 155.)
  2. There is a sink in every room.
  3. These rooms are on the larger side and laid out well for those who enjoy a “living area” that is separate from their “sleeping area.”
  4. Each room has a connected bathroom that is only shared by four people (or “suitemates”) instead of dozens of people.
  5. Building 209 has some AMAZING views of the bay.

Although I don’t mind walking down the hall to a communal bathroom, or reading in bed instead of on a couch, I was pleasantly surprised to find my new home in building 207 which is one of the three uppercase dorms (along with 208 and 209.)

(Just in case you really are using Google Earth to double check my facts right now, building 206 looks identical to the other three uppercase dorms, but it is only occupied by military and civilians are forbidden to enter without an invitation.  On this same tangent, it’s worth noting that many different work areas get grouped together in specific dorm buildings: NASA in one, pilots in the other, grantees in another.  Generally, all ASC employees- like myself- intermingle in all the other dorm buildings, filling the majority of rooms on station.)

Within two days of arrival, I was unpacked and awaiting the arrival of my mysterious roommate.  Another term that is commonly used on the ice is “roommate roulette.”  Each year, we are given the option to choose a roommate.  If we do not specify a name we are thrown into a hat and paired with someone of the same gender who has the similar snoring habits and smoking preferences.  Because I am an easy-going roommate who likes to make new friends (and I like to make myself nervous!), I opted to play roulette.

I will not know who will be sleeping four feet away from me until her plane lands sometime in the new few weeks.  Until then, I’ll enjoy having my own sink and bedroom!

 

All settled in to my new living space.  Yes, I bought that tapestry just for Antarctica.  Feels just like home! :)
All settled in to my new living space.  Yes, I bought that tapestry just for Antarctica.  Feels just like home!
A shot of the "living space" in my room, sans roommate.  Looking forward to getting cozier once she arrives!
A shot of the “living space” in my room, sans roommate.  Looking forward to getting cozier once she arrives!

Arriving at Pegasus Field, Antarctica

When we stepped off the plane at Pegasus Field (the local landing strip on the Ross Ice Shelf), we were greeted by clear skies and a -35F windchill.  Some workers nearby excitedly explained how much they had to rush to clear off the runway after this morning’s Condition 1 storm.  A line of people stood outside the plane, hugging and shaking hands as they recognized people in the big red cluster of new-comers.

One by one, we piled onto the Kress (think: giant industrial super-bus) and we began our 45 minute journey to town.  The FNG next to me leaned over to see out the window and I explained that, in about 5 minutes, a thick coat of frost would cover the window and nobody would be able to see where we were going.  We introduced ourselves to one another and talked about our past lives (life before the ice) as the Kress rolled slowly across the Ross Ice Shelf and towards Ross Island.

We were dropped outside of building 155, the hub of McMurdo, and we gathered in the Galley for yet another safety briefing.  There were more hugs in the hallway, winter-overs peeking around the corner and waving to their friends from last summer, and winfly employees enthusiastically running up to familiar faces.  After a speech about potential work hazards and a quick rundown from the lodging office, we were handed our room keys and released to pick up our linens, grab our luggage from building 140 (up the hill from 155) and settle into our new home.

It was 11:00pm by the time the shuttle dropped me off in front of my dorm, still clad in my 52 pounds of ECW (Extreme Cold Weather gear) and with my 85 pounds of luggage plus a laundry bag full of ice-cold linens.  I momentarily considered walking back to the galley and grabbing a piece of pizza before my fatigue set in.  I was instructed to arrive at work tomorrow at 7:30am.  My luggage barely made it into my door.  My eyes barely open.  I quickly made my bed and fell asleep.

 

Looking out the entrance of building 155: caked in winter snow.
Looking out the entrance of Building 155: caked in winter snow.

Aboard the C17: The Super Loud Monster of a Plane

The view from the front of the C17, looking back.  Everyone is cozy by this point in the long flight!  Thanks for the thumbs up, my friends!
The view from the front of the C17, looking back.  Everyone is cozy by this point in the long flight!  Thanks for the thumbs up, my friends!

After one short day of delay, a mass of USAP employees boarded a C17 towards Pegasus Field in Antarctica.  There was a Condition 1 storm in McMurdo the day we flew and everyone was chattering about how they were going to spend their day once we were released to our hotels due to weather.  Hot in ECW gear, my pockets were loaded with avocados, apples, and nuts from a New Zealand grocery store.  A coworker convinced me that I would be thankful for the fresh produce, even though my cold weather gear (produce included) added an outstanding 52 pounds of extra weight to my 5’2” frame.

After a safety briefing and a couple hours of sitting around in our snow pants, everyone was shocked to hear the announcement that we were about to board the plane.  Everyone settled into their seats and put in their ear plugs, ready to spend the next 6 hours flying towards the Antarctic cold.

C17’s are enormous military planes.  Big enough to hold a couple hundred people plus thousands of pounds of cargo.  (I geeked out an Googled it: 174 feet long and 54 feet tall with a 170 foot wingspan!!!)  The plane is not insulated, therefore the roar of the propellers is near-deafening.  98% of passengers have earplugs in and everyone has to shout loudly to communicate.  Many people spend the time on their laptops or reading a book (likely a book about Antarctica.)  Others put on sunglasses and “Big Red” parka and then sink into a nap.

There is a near constant line at the left side of the plane full of people with full bladders who are waiting for a person in the tiny box of a bathroom to take off their jacket, overalls, fleece layer, wool layer so they can do their business and put it all back on again- carefully making tiny movements to avoid accidentally dropping their the strap of their overalls into the toilet (which will not flush for the first hour of flight.)

Some people are line up by the one small porthole window, waiting for their turn to stare at the clouds and hope that a mountain will pop up at them and stick around long enough for a photograph.

Others stand in line next to the stairs that lead up to the cockpit.  The crew graciously invited passengers up to say hello, ask questions, and take photographs.

Most of us sat in excitement, nibbling on the goodies in our brown paper lunch sacks, ready to land on the ice.

 

Bunny boots are funny boots!
Bunny boots are funny boots!

 

 

Second is the Best!

When I arrived on the ice last year, I made it a point to explain the culture around station regarding FNG’s (pronounced “fin-gees,” or “effing new guy.”)  This year, I am no longer the new kid on the block.  This gives me a renewed perspective on the term, as well as a great opportunity to point out the benefits of arriving on ice for a second (or first!) season.

I am not nearly salty, seasoned, or weathered enough to find myself annoyed at the tell-tale excitement that FNG’s display.  In fact, I find it refreshing.  Also, as a second year employee, I now understand that my anxiety about being a FNG was mostly in my head.  Yes, people like to poke fun and crack jokes at the new guy- but it’s all in jest.  Yes, people get annoyed at outrageous bursts of enthusiasm- but seasoned ice people have their quirks too.  (Anyone who has ever worked in travel/tourism should be able to relate to this fatiguing reaction to excited visitors.  While working on the Alaskan Railroad, we called these energetic people “foamers.”)

Finally, yes, there is an etiquette to networking on the ice and it may take excited FNG’s a few months to figure out what is appropriate and what is over-stepping your bounds.  All of these nuances are things that can be learned and as a returner, I understand that there is patience and acceptance pretty much anywhere you look on station.

 

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This year, I flew from Minnesota to Dallas instead of Alaska to Los Angeles.  The moment I hit the Dallas airport, I recognized faces from the ice and it felt like we hadn’t seen each other for years.  Even as returners, we were buzzing with excitement.  Some of us had even picked up a few FNG’s who happily joined in on sharing adventure stories, but were blatantly out of the loop on the gossip, and overwhelmed by the descriptions of the skuas, the galley, what you can find in a janitor’s closet- really, there was information being thrown at them from all angles.

I found this fascinating since I spent my entire commute alone during my first season- only running into ice people when I finally reached the hotel in Christchurch.

After boarding the airplane, it seemed like every other row on the giant A380 had a person from McMurdo.  Each of us smiling and waving, occasionally hugging, possibly confusing the hundreds of other passengers who were probably wondering why so many people on their flight knew each other.

This year, I find myself thankful for the fact that I am approaching the season with a clean slate.  Fear is not a factor since I know what to expect.  Loneliness is not a possibility since I now know what a strong community I am a part of.  This season, I feel more prepared and more confident- and I couldn’t be more ready to start round two!

Back to Ice: A Second Season in Antarctica

Summer screeched by in a colorful blur.  Between rendezvous with friends and reunions with family, it seemed to go by in nothing flat.  Next thing I know, I am here- in a hotel in Christchurch, New Zealand and waiting for the Antarctic storms to calm enough to squeeze a C17 onto the frozen ice shelf near McMurdo.

When returning from the ice last season, I found myself dealing with a long adjustment period.  I could feel time ticking by while I was stateside and my instinct was to do everything I could to grasp the hands of the clock and slow it down so I could sip up every bit of warmth and greenery.

With a renewed sense of calm and acceptance about my return to Antarctica, I am now in the New Zealand springtime, ready to see what Ross Island has in store for a no-longer-“FNG” who already misses home.

Although I am still behind on posting photos and stories from last season and this summer, I have yet to figure out how to time travel so I can catch up on my writing.  Instead, I will keep telling this story the best way I know how: continue on and fill in the blanks where I can.

It’s time for my 2nd season on ice!

 

 

Introducing: My Very Own Website!

Reconnecting with my extended family during our annual camping trip in Michigan.
Reconnecting with my extended family during our annual camping trip in Michigan.

***Update March 26th, 2016: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  My new website was a fun project, but turned out to be too labor-intensive considering the bandwidth restrictions in Antarctica.  Because of this, I am currently attempting to find a new system that will allow me to keep the functionality of WordPress and hopefully some of the beauty of SquareSpace.  I am removing the “blog” portion of my SquareSpace site and will continue to use this site to communicate.  Thanks for sticking with me!***

So far, my summer has been spent reconnecting with loved ones, adventuring a little, and working a lot. I have so many stories and blog posts to share- all in due time.  Before sharing my experiences after such a long hiatus, I must finish my self-imposed assignment:  I am creating my own website.

Over the last couple of months, I have learned about website hosting and building.  I’ve brushed up on my HTML & CSS knowledge (Did you know my dad taught me these things when I was 7 years old?  Finally, a use!)  I’ve dipped my toes into the (very) shallow end of graphic design pool, and I’ve taken courses on personal branding, social media marketing, and community building.  I’ve even ordered my own business cards!  (And I’ve handed out three of them!)

What have I been working on?  A brand new platform for my travel blogging, writing, and photography.  Once the kinks are worked out within that website, I will post exclusively to www.kaleighhinkley.com.

Wish pinterestWhy the change?  I am lucky to say that I’m growing as a writer, traveler, and professional.  My dream is to have a little piece of the internet that is all my own so that I can focus on connecting with others through self expression rather than messing around with templates that I feel disconnected from.

What can you expect?  The new website will not just focus on travel blogging, but it will also focus on alternative lifestyles: vagabonding, artistry, and community.  One of the projects I’m excited about is the “Adventure Toolbox“- a section of my site where I will share interactive printouts and how-to’s that are designed to help readers stretch out of their comfort zone and realize that every day has a little adventure in it.  The Adventure Toolbox is all about having fun and getting your hands dirty.  Now, the toolbox is empty as of this post, but I have a lot of ideas and by subscribing, you will get a nice little reminder when the ideas become reality.

How can you help? 

  • “Like” my new Facebook page!  A business Facebook page is a new endeavor for me, but it seems like the perfect way to stay in touch with my community without risking my privacy via my personal Facebook page.  Don’t be offended, I’m just trying to be responsible. 🙂
  • Contact me with any feedback or suggestions.  I mean ANYTHING.  Got an idea for the Toolbox?  Shout it out.  Did you just go somewhere cool?  Tell me about it!  I’m still forming a routine to ensure I’m responding in a timely matter, but no matter what, I guarantee that an email from you will make me smile.  (And we can all use more smiles!)  Emails from you keep me going, they light my fire, they get me thinking.  Please get in touch!
  • Lastly, sit tight.  Content will be on the new site soon, and it’ll be worth the wait.

Thanks for subscribing and for sticking with me through these changes- enjoy your summer, find some adventure.  You’ll hear from me soon!

All the Best,
Kaleigh

Volunteering for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

First, a few words on the Iditarod from Wikipedia:

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is an annual long-distance sled dog race run in early March from Anchorage to Nome. Mushers and a team of 16 dogs… cover the distance in 9–15 days or more.  The Iditarod began in 1973 as an event to test the best sled dog mushers and teams but evolved into today’s highly competitive race…

Teams generally race through blizzards causing whiteout conditions, sub-zero temperatures and gale-force winds which can cause the wind chill to reach −100 °F (−73 °C). A ceremonial start occurs in the city of Anchorage and is followed by the official restart in Willow, a city 80 miles north of Anchorage… The trail is through a harsh landscape of tundra and spruce forests, over hills and mountain passes, and across rivers. While the start in Anchorage is in the middle of a large urban center, most of the route passes through widely separated towns and villages, and small Athabaskan and Iñupiat settlements. The Iditarod is regarded as a symbolic link to the early history of the state and is connected to many traditions commemorating the legacy of dog mushing.

Slightly over a year ago, I was sitting in my friend’s living room when he mentioned that he had once volunteered on the Iditarod Trail.  He said it was cold, dark, and the smell of wet dog lingered in his nose for weeks… but it was an amazing experience.

Ever since learning about the 1,000 mile dog sled race when I was a small child, the race has been at the back of my mind.  My pet dog used to pull me around our yard in my sled and I would imagine I was an Iditarod musher (never mind the fact that my dog was facing the wrong direction and not in a harness, and not moving very quickly, but hey- the sled moved!)

Upon hearing my enthusiasm for the race, my friend informed me that first year volunteers don’t go out on the trail- most of them have to work at least one race at the Iditarod Headquarters in Anchorage before being sent to a remote checkpoint.

While finishing my season in Antarctica, one of my top priorities was to get registered as an Iditarod volunteer in hopes of earning a spot on the trail in 2016.  Only 4 days after landing in Anchorage, I had my first shift at the Iditarod Headquarters in Communications and Statistics.  After my second shift, I was informed that I will be working the White Mountain checkpoint near Nome, Alaska.  Here, I will greet every musher and submit check-in/out times as well as inform HQ of any important developments in the race.

I am looking forward to spending time in the beautiful Arctic Circle while learning more about a race that has fascinated me since I was a child as well as learning about a culture that is far different from my own.  Although I will not be able to post blog updates from White Mountain, I will keep a record so that I can share the experience when I return at the end of the month.

It’s a beautiful life!

For more information on the history of the Iditarod, please visit the Iditarod website.

Back to the “Real World”

It is risky to abruptly interrupt my published story of life on the ice to announce that I have since redeployed (meaning I am back in Alaska.)  As it turns out, there were so many activities keeping me busy on the ice that I compiled quite the list of future blog posts but did not find the opportunity to write them all down.  Likewise, my journey back to Alaska has been anything but dull!

As I prepare myself for my next adventure on the Iditarod Trail (which will leave me without access to the phone or internet for the remainder of March) I feel the need to set some blogging goals for myself so that my ice experience on still gets communicated while all of my excitement and amazement is still fresh.

My goal for April and May is to finish editing and organizing my photos and backdating new blog posts to go along with them.  Please follow my blog if you haven’t already and you’ll receive an email with each new post.  I apologize in advance if you get multiple emails in one day- feel free to adjust your settings now for a “weekly update” so your inbox doesn’t get messy.  Some stories to look forward to in the upcoming months:

  • Camping on the Ross Ice Shelf  (Yes, in a tent!)
  • Touring an LC-130 Air Force Plane
  • Siple Dome: Boodoggling on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet
  • What does a Steward Do?
  • Vegetarians in Antarctica
  • For the Love of Frosty Boy (The Evil Australian Ice Cream Machine That’s Won the Hearts of Thousands.)
  • The Sea Vessels of McMurdo
  • Culture Shock: Redeployment
  • 10 Days Exploring New Zealand
  • Volunteering at the White Mountain checkpoint on the Iditarod Trail
  • 10 Days of Silence: My First Vipassana Experience

These are just a few of the stories I have in store.  As much as I want to catch up quickly, I also want to take my time to enjoy sharing (and living) my story instead of rushing through it.  After all, I’m more of a journey person than a destination person.  The story will continue for you just as it is for me: slow and steady!

Last day at McMurdo, enjoying Hut Point on a beautifully clear day.
Last day at McMurdo, enjoying Hut Point on a beautifully clear day.

My stories are only as powerful as my audience.  Thank you for inspiring me to share my words- my audience is (you are) amazing!

Antarctic Time Travel: Inside Discovery Hut

Along the frequently traveled pathway to Hut Point, one passes by the historic Discovery Hut.  For the majority of the season, the hut has been closed by the Antarctic Heritage Trust for restoration.

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While the hut was closed, my curiosity led me to attempt photographing the interior artifacts through the outside window. (To no avail.)

 

As a pleasant surprise, the recreation department recently arranged tours of the inside of the hut and I had the opportunity to travel back in time to the days of Captain Robert Falcon Scott.  Only 200 people per year are allowed inside the hut.

Discovery Hut was constructed by Captain Scott and his crew in 1902 and is notable for being the first building on Ross Island.  While used for science experiments exploring magnetism and gravity (among other things), the hut was not actually inhabited by the men because they found it too cold inside.  Instead, they slept on their ship which they kept anchored nearby.  The hut has been visited and lived in a number of times since it was abandoned by the original crew in 1904- including a visit by Shackleton’s crew in 1908.  A full chronology of the historic site can be found here.

Below are photos of the of the hut- but before you scroll down, take a moment to image the smell of wet hay and decomposed seal fat.  Think of the sound of strong sea winds whistling through the wooden walls.

To read more about Scott’s Discovery Hut, please visit the Antarctic Heritage Trust website.

Check out the Google Street View of Discovery Hut!

Under Pressure: Exploring Ross Island’s Pressure Ridges

For a short time every Summer, the Recreation Department at McMurdo offers tours of the Pressure Ridges near near Scott Base (The New Zealand Antarctic Base.)  These tours take place during a “sweet spot” in the season after the winter storms have stopped, and before it is so warm that the ice becomes unsafe to walk on.  The tour consists of a 3 mile walk around the ice where we observed the beautiful ice formations.

Pressure Ridges are caused by pack ice pressing against fast ice.  Pack ice moves with the wind and sea current while fast ice is connected to land and does not move.  When pack ice presses against the fast ice, the ice buckles up and creates pressure ridges.

From above, some ridges look like waves that were (literally) frozen in time.  From the ground, there are ridges that are waist high and ridges that tower 8 feet or more into the air.

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For a moment on the tour, we encountered a group of lounging seals.  To respect the Antarctic Treaty, we kept our distance, did not speak, and moved very slowly.

A mama seal and her baby.

A seal being lazy.

 

 

 

 

Thanks for reading!
Thanks for reading!

Antarctic Hike: Castle Rock Trail & Climb

The longest hike currently available to USAP participants in McMurdo is the Castle Rock Trail.  This trip is 7 miles long if you go out and back and climb Castle Rock.  There is also a loop trail available for folks who want to walk across the ice for their return.  Due to large crevasses in the permanent ice shelf (which have appeared due to the beautiful weather), the loop has been closed for the season, but the hike is still available and beautiful as ever.

The hike is fairly flat, but tramping across ice and possible postholing through deep snow can make the hike difficult.  Because of the distance and dangers present on this trail, hikers are required to travel with a partner and file an e-foot plan (an electronic map of where you’re hiking, when you’re leaving, and who you’re taking.)  Hikers are also required to check in/out with the firehouse where they are issued a radio to use in case of emergencies.

After the 3 mile flat portion of the trail, hikers approach the 1,360ft tall Castle Rock and begin the incline to the top.  Guided by a fixed rope that has been bolted to the rock, a shore scramble pays off with breathtaking views of Mt. Erebus, Mt. Terror, Cape Evans, and more.

Here is a preview of my photos from this hike, more will be posted on Flickr once I leave the ice and have access to higher bandwidth:

Sign at the trailhead.
Sign at the trailhead.
Our hiking group approaching Castle Rock with a view of Mt. Erebus to the left.
Our hiking group approaching Castle Rock with a view of Mt. Erebus to the left.
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Sign at the base of Castle Rock.
The group ascending Castle Rock.
The group ascent.
Admiring the view before descending.
Admiring the view before descending.
Using the ropes as a guide.
Using the ropes as a guide.
At the end of the hike, we were witness to a rare polar stratospheric cloud (Read more about clouds here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polar_stratospheric_cloud)
At the end of the hike, we were witness to a rare polar stratospheric cloud (Read more about clouds here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polar_stratospheric_cloud)

Antarctic Hike: Hut Point Ridge Loop

In a previous post, I mentioned the short distance between McMurdo Station and Hut Point– an area that is ideal for seal and (theoretically) penguin watching.  When residents are looking for a bit more than a short walk, they can continue beyond the point onto the Hut Point Ridge Loop trail.

The trail runs for 2.9 miles- it runs up a ridge that follows the shoreline and then back into some of the hills and valleys behind town.  On the walk, you pass by the “golf ball” which is often seen perched above town in photographs.  While standing next to in, you can hear the satellite inside move as it collects data from the sky.

Hut Point Ridge Loop is a beautiful trail with plenty of nice views, and some peace and quiet that is greatly welcomed after a long day in town.

Below are some photos from a recent hike on the Hut Point Ridge Loop:

This crack in the ice is named "Big Willy Crack."  Photo taken from Hut Point.
This crack in the ice is named “Big Willy Crack.” Photo taken from Hut Point.
Looking back at Hut Point from the ridge.
Looking back at Hut Point from the ridge.
A friend walking along the ridge- the "Kiwi Golfball" is visible in the background.
A friend walking along the ridge- the “Kiwi Golfball” (New Zealand Satellite) is visible in the background.
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The view of town from the ridge.
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The small U.S. golfball in front of the Transantarctic Mountains.

Mustache Roulette: Going Bald for a McMurdo Charity Event

The bar was crowded and there were beards everywhere, like most Saturday nights at McMurdo.  This night was only different because dozens of these beards were going to be shaved off to raise money for charity.

Mustache Roulette is a new tradition at McMurdo Station, with only four years of history it’s still gaining momentum.  Designed to mimic a similar event that takes place in Seward, Alaska, the proceeds for McMurdo’s event will benefit the Chaing Mai Elephant Nature Park, the MLD Foundation, and Prostate Cancer Research.

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Donation buckets set up for people to donate to their favorite mustache designs, including “the hockey puck” or the “sleeping kitten.”

How does Mustache Roulette work?  It’s easy!

1. Several buckets sit on a table, each with a creative mustache design taped onto it.
2. Bar-goers place money in the bucket that dons their favorite design.  The amount in the bucket is the amount the ‘stache is worth- and the full amount is donated to charity.
3. Once money is collected, six people sit around a table and the designs are set in a stack at the center.
4. An electric razor is placed on the stack and, with a spin, the razor points to whoever will take the top design in the pile.
5. That person then proceeds to the stage where they are shaved to match the design.

Beards aren’t the only thing being shaved tonight.  Four women (myself included) volunteered to shave a design onto their heads for the cause.

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Beards getting shaved for roulette!

At different points in the night, some of the more “famous” beards in town went on stage with a random design and the bids took place at that time.

“How much would you pay to see So-and-So shave their beard?!”  The MC would rally- the crowd cheered and bids came in quickly.

I don’t have a famous beard, but when my name wasn’t called for the final round, this is how my donations were gathered.  Instead of picking a random beard design, I allowed my shaver to “follow his heart” and he gave me “The Unicorn.”

The Gallagher's crowd watching beards disappear.
The Gallagher’s crowd watching beards disappear.

The crowd was generous and the night was successful.  This year, participants raised over $3,000 for selected charities which is a significant increase over last year’s event.

No, I have never shaved my head before and yes, it does feel weird/cold/funky but what better time to shave your head than for a charity event?  I am so thankful to have made the decision and although I’m not still rocking “The Unicorn,” I am proud of my bald head.

Below is the progression of my head shaving:

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Before Mustache Roulette.
Before Mustache Roulette.
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After Mustache Roulette.

Antarctic Hike: The Observation Hill Loop

While many McMurdian hikers prefer to climb Observation Hill on a clear day to enjoy the spectacular views, my preference is to take the less traveled loop trail below.

Panorama of McMurdo at the beginning of the Ob Hill Loop trail.

The Observation Hill Loop Trail wraps around the base of Ob Hill and takes hikers over towards Scott Base (the Kiwi station.)  The hike is only a couple miles long, but as the trail curves around the hill, there are points where I feel far away from anything in town.

The view was too beautiful to not do another panorama!

On the coldest, windiest days, ice crystals dance quickly across the ice and create mesmorizing patterns as they run toward the continent.  About half way into the hike, all that I notice around me is the volcanic rocks under my feet, the seals on the sea ice, and the Transantarctic Mountains across the ice shelf.

Getting further from “civilization” (is McMurdo even considered “civilization”?!)
A baby seal and it’s mama, sunbathing on the sea ice.
Volcanic rocks under my feet, compliments of Mt. Erebus.

 

Antarctic Hike: Observation Hill

Overlooking the town of McMurdo is Observation Hill, a 754-foot hill topped with a Memorial Cross in honor of early Antarctic explorers.

A view of Ob Hill from the Hut Point Ridge Trail.
A view of Ob Hill from the Hut Point Ridge Trail.

Over the years, Ob Hill (as the locals call it) has become one of the most popular hiking paths on station because of it’s short duration.  Once a year, the recreation department organizes a race called the “Ob Hill Up Hill.”  Many runners are able to finish the race in less than 7 minutes.

Despite the constant wind at the top, Ob Hill is an enjoyable to hike in most any weather.  On clear day, hikers enjoy an excellent view of Mt. Erebus, McMurdo Station, and the Transantarctic Mountains as a reward for their efforts.

A McMurdo Local enjoys the fog as he sits at the top of Ob Hill.
A McMurdo Local enjoys the fog as he sits at the top of Ob Hill.
Hikers descend Ob Hill.
Hikers descend Ob Hill.
A wind-blown self portrait at the top!
A wind-blown self portrait at the top of Observation Hill!

Yoga Mala: Summer Solstice in Antarctica

For the most part, Summer Solstice at McMurdo Station feels like any other day.  Since the sun never sets, it’s hard to recognize this as the “longest day of the year.”  Because of this oddity, McMurdians embrace the ability to create their own meaning for the solstice: change, remembrance, thankfulness, grounding… all of these ideas were brought to light during a group yoga practice called “Yoga Mala.”

One of our wonderful instructors waiting for practice to begin.   Photo Credit: Gwen Shoemaker
One of our wonderful instructors waiting for practice to begin.
Photo Credit: Gwen Shoemaker

Today, instead of setting up in the dark, loud, cold, exercise room where we normally have yoga practice, the yogis of McMurdo gathered in the chapel.  The stained glass let in beautifully colored natural light.  There were approximately 30 of us with our mats laid out in a circle: yogis, athletes, spiritualists, artists, and people who just like to stretch.

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Photo Credit: Gwen Shoemaker

We were led through 108 Sunrise Salutations (also known as Surya Namaskara) – one of the most common sequences of asanas in the yoga practice.  Four instructors traded off doing three sets of nine vinyasas each.  With each completed vinyasa, there was a clink of a pebble being dropped in a bowl to keep count.

Photo Credit: Gwen Shoemaker
Photo Credit: Gwen Shoemaker

The sound of synchronized ujjayi breath filled the room as we tied our movements to the oceanic sound of our lungs.  We occasionally broke away from our Sunrise Salutations to include a breath in Child’s Pose to calm ourselves.

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As a yoga enthusiast who has never done one vinyasa so many times in one practice, I found this experience to be wonderful, challenging, and meditative.  After the 108th vinyasa, we sat in Corpse Pose and drifted off.  The feeling of euphoria filled the room as we basked in a wonderful solstice tradition.

Photo Credit: Gwen Shoemaker
Photo Credit: Gwen Shoemaker

Antarctic “Hike”: Hut Point & Discovery Hut

Just a 5 minute walk away from McMurdo Station can take you to a serene point that sits quietly on the sea where you can listen to seals sing, the ice move, and the blowing wind.

Seals resting on the ice at Hut Point.
Seals resting on the ice at Hut Point.

Hut Point is an Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA) due to it’s historical significance as one of the principal sites of human activity in Antarctica.  As you approach Hut Point from town, you first come across Discovery Hut which was built in 1902 by Robert Falcon Scott.

A once-snow-covered Discovery hut has since thawed thanks to the austral summer sun.
A once-snow-covered Discovery hut has since thawed thanks to the austral summer sun.

Discovery Hut got it’s name from the Discovery Expedition of 1901-1904 which was the first scientific expedition to Antarctica since the James Clark Ross voyage that took place sixty years earlier.

Map showing the Discovery Expedition's general field of work, 1902–04. Main journeys: RED line; Southern journey to Farthest South, November 1902 to February 1903. BLACK line; Western journey through Western Mountains to Polar Plateau, October–December 1903. BLUE line; Journeys to message point and Emperor Penguin colony at Cape Crozier, October 1902, September and October 1903.  (Photo credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discovery_Expedition)
Map showing the Discovery Expedition’s general field of work, 1902–04. Main journeys: RED line; Southern journey to Farthest South, November 1902 to February 1903. BLACK line; Western journey through Western Mountains to Polar Plateau, October–December 1903. BLUE line; Journeys to message point and Emperor Penguin colony at Cape Crozier, October 1902, September and October 1903. (Photo credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discovery_Expedition)

The hut is currently closed for restoration by the Antarctic Heritage Trust, but it is still amazing to be so close to such a historically important building.

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The point has thawed quite a bit since these photos were taken, but ever since my arrival to McMurdo, Hut Point has been my favorite place to go when I feel pressed for time but want to be reminded of where I am and why I’m here.

Memorial cross at Hut Point.
Memorial cross at Hut Point.

As the ice thaws, penguins are becoming a more common site at Hut Point.  Rumor has it that Stan the penguin has been hanging out around there since early December.  I have yet to meet him, but I will keep trying!

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Seals sunbathing on the thawing ice.

 

Video: Under the Antarctic Sea Ice at McMurdo Station

Would you like to see what is happening under the sea ice off the coast of Ross Island, Antarctica?  The Observation Tube (Ob Tube, for short) is a “cozy” tube that was temporarily stuck in the sea ice for McMurdians to recreationally observe sea life.

The Ob Tube is mysterious and unassuming from the outside.

Climbing down a 20 foot tube into a glass room the size of a port-a-potty is not and activity for anyone who is afraid of the dark, afraid of small spaces, or afraid of being surrounded by the coldest water you’ll ever touch with nothing more than a bit of plexi-glass standing between you and an Antarctic swimming adventure.

This is the first time the Ob Tube has been open in years, which made it one of the town’s favorite recreational activities for the few weeks it was open.

As always, safety is top priority at McMurdo Station.  The Ob Tube is only open for a short period of time because the weather must be calm enough to not pose a threat to visitors but the good weather must not be around long enough to compromise the integrity of the ice.

In order to visit the Observation Tube, we were required to check out at the firehouse in a group of two or more.  We were then given a radio, key, and a curfew in exchange for our names and the name of an emergency contact.  Missing the curfew by even a minute would result in the Search & Rescue team being summoned to find us.

After check out, a short 10 minute walk onto the sea ice along a flagged path lead us to the Ob Tube.  A squeeze down the tube brought me into the most peaceful and serene blue light.  Everything within the tube had a metallic echo, and for a while, that was all I could hear… until the seals started chirping.

Giant brinicles shot down from the ice above, forming a ghostly cave-like atmosphere.  Brinicles are tubes of ice that contain supercold supersaline water which are formed exclusively in environments such as these.  Brinicles have had some limelight ever since the BBC’s Frozen Planet released the first ever footage of a brinicle forming.  They called it the “finger of death” because when brinicles reach the sea floor, they have the ability to freeze and kill any creature they come in contact with.

On my first visit, the water was empty aside from the sound of seals, the brinicles, and the site of one two-legged-jellyfish looking creature (which I have yet to identify.)  But on my second visit, there was significantly more life in the water.

The view under the sea ice. A brinicle reaches down towards the ground which is covered in life (including a starfish!) The white flecks in the water are small, transparent fish.

When setting up the area for the tube, the snow is plowed off the ice so that sunlight can illuminate the water from above.  That light attracted large schools of fish and other creatures.  In later visits, micro algae also started to grow on the bottom of the ice.

While in the Ob Tube, I had the ability to take a video of my experience.  Watch it below and listen for the seal calls!

 

Standing under the sea!

“The Crud.”

A severe lack of energy turned into a tickle in my throat, and when the first cough left my mouth I knew what was happening: I have “the crud.”

I arrived to my 4:00am work shift 10 minutes early, dressed in uniform and unable to speak.  I found my supervisor and whispered “I need to go to medical.”  She nodded in agreement and told me to go right away.

Days later, my raspy throat will hardly allow words to escape, and when a word does come out it plays a game of volume roulette.  The word “hi” comes off as a whisper as I pass friends in the hallway, but my laugh is way-too-loud and sounds like a baboon jumping on a rusty bed frame.

Like most close communities, sickness on the ice travels quickly.  We are all ordered to prevent it by washing out hands, getting plenty of rest, and taking our vitamins.  Still, with each flight that lands at McMurdo Station, a whole batch of germs comes riding in on the coat tails of big reds- ready to infect the population of McM.  Of course, as soon as we grow immune to the sicknesses that just arrived, a new flight carries in more germs and this will continue for the entire season.

In many ways, being ill on the ice is just like being ill at home:  you stay home from work, you lounge around in bed, you try not to cough on your friends.

In other ways, being sick on the ice is much different.  For example, you must see the doctor and obtain a note any time you miss work.  You are not allowed in the cafeteria while you are sick, which means you must ask friends to deliver food to your room.  Doctors prescribe common over-the-counter cold remedies to treat your symptoms.  People have actual fear in their eyes if you sit down next to them without announcing that you’re not contagious before starting a conversation.

Yes, being sick on the ice is even less fun than it is back home.  After a solid 24 hours in bed, I pulled myself out to take some photos so I could share the full crud experience with you.

The medical building, full of an amazing staff of nurses and doctors!
The medical building, full of an amazing staff of nurses and doctors!
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My “sick station” includes a penguin humidifier, cough drops from the store, vitamins and cold medicine that I packed to the ice, and the cold medicine and cough drops that were prescribed by medical. I’ll be better in no time!
This little monster is at the stair by the galley, reminding folks to wash their hands.
This little monster is at the stair by the galley, reminding folks to wash their hands.
A sign by the dishes right as you enter the galley.  (I requested a friend take this photo since I cam not allowed to enter the galley.)
A sign by the dishes right as you enter the galley. (Taken by a friend, of course, since I was not allowed to enter the galley.)
There are two hand washing stations at the entrance of the galley.
There are two hand washing stations at the galley entrance.