Your faithful correspondent reports tonight from a berth at the South Pole.
We got our seemingly obligatory early start this morning and after breakfast and the like we got dressed in our ECW gear and hauled ourselves and our hand carry items back up the hill to Building 140 (where we had to go for Bag Drag the night before). Once there, we were once again issued ear plugs and directed on to a shuttle bus that would take us to the LC-130 airfield.
Shortly after the bus left Building 140, it stopped on one of the ice roads so that we could jump out and snap some pictures of Mt. Erebus, the active volcano in Antarctica that has provided much of the volcanic soil on which McMurdo is built.
Shortly after that, we arrived at Williams Field, where the LC-130s and the Twin Otters operate. For those not familiar with the designation, the LC-130 is a turbo-prop cargo plane that is significantly smaller and older than the C-17. The LC-130s that fly in Antarctica are also rigged with skis for use during landing and take-offs. The Twin Otter is a somewhat renowned aircraft in that it is durable, capable of landing on short air fields, and tolerant of very cold weather. The Twin Otter isn’t a terribly large plane, probably about the size of a small turboprop regional passenger aircraft.
There were fix or six LC-130s and a pair of Twin Otters at the field and after driving around and past most of the planes our bus stopped outside an LC-130. The New York Air National Guard (ANG) is charged with flying the LC-130s in Antarctica The door opened and one of the ANG crew members got on board to give us a quick briefing. Part of the briefing covered how to place a mostly opaque bag over our head if the plane loses pressurization. The ANG was significantly more laid back than the Air Force guys, so it wasn’t long before we were all on board and the plane started taxiing towards the runway. Shortly thereafter we were airborne for hour three our flight to the Pole.
In this space not too long ago I made mention of how loud it is flying on a C-17. Today I learned, first hand, just how limited my experience with loud aircraft interiors is. The C-17 may be deafeningly loud but the LC-130 is soul-crushingly loud. We were joking tonight at dinner that the plane was probably made that way deliberately. If paratroopers spent six or eight hours on an LC-130 they wouldn’t have to be encouraged to jump because the troops would be begging to go.
The LC-130 was obviously never designed to be a passenger plane. The urinal in the front of the plane is nothing more than a green curtain pulled around a funnel attached to the forward bulkhead. Our plane was a relatively modern version as the bucket and curtain in the rear of the plane had been replaced with something like a flush toilet and a curtain.
An hour and a half or so into the flight, the plane flew over the Trans Antarctic Mountains. The mountains seemingly rise out of a featureless white plain with huge black peaks and massive glaciers. It really is quite a sight and it goes on for quite a while. Once the mountains fade into the past, nothing lies ahead but a featureless white plain and the South Pole.
Eventually, the flight landed at the Pole. As the plane was taxiing, all the passengers were busy layering on the ECW gear and their glacier glasses to disembark. When the door on the left side of the plane opened we all walked out and carefully took a right turn. Since they don’t stop the motors or the props at the Pole, taking a left turn would be a quick way to end your polar experience.
Once in the South Pole Station, it was time for another briefing, of course.
After that, I found my room/berth. It’s not spacious, but it is a single with a small desk, a phone, twelve power plugs, a clothesline (they encourage you to air dry your clothes here since it is so dry and energy is so dear), a closet, six drawers, and one coat hanger.
They encourage everyone to take it easy for their first couple of days, because the rise in the altitude is very noticeable. I don’t much notice it except when I’m climbing steps and then I notice it quickly. Everyone is doing their best to not need or want my help while simultaneously encouraging me to sit back and take it easy.
I went out to the IceCube Lab (the ICL) this afternoon and took a look around. Since that is where many of the systems I’m going to turn up are located, I’ll be spending some time out there. However, once I get everything working well I can also do work from my room, which is nice.
Because the air is so dry here, and because our bodies need plenty of water as they try to acclimatize to the altitude I’ve been drinking water and tea like it’s going out of style. I probably drank a close to a gallon of water in just an hour or so after arriving and I was still thirsty when I was done.
In my last writings I wrote that I wasn’t going to post any pictures until I got off the continent. I’ve obviously changed my mind and I’ll try to post a handful of small pictures each day.
I didn’t get a chance to take a GPS reading when I arrived here today, but since I’ll be here for three weeks, I should have plenty of time to do so.