When planes aren’t flying to the Pole, everyone’s attitude changes.
For almost three complete days there have been no Herc flights from McMurdo to the Pole due to a heavy snow storm along the coast where McMurdo is located. Even though the Hercs have skis, they still can’t takeoff over and through drifts, so the skiway had to be cleared once the snow stopped falling. People who were supposed to leave days ago are left wondering when they’ll be able to start their journey home. People who were supposed to arrive are either stuck in McMurdo (not that fun, really) or cooling their heels in Christchurch (definitely not a hardship). For instance, my replacement, who was supposed to arrive on Wednesday morning, will arrive at roughly 23:25 on Friday night. Even people who aren’t flying or involved in air operations start to watch the flight displays more closely as planes don’t land and perhaps a part of that is that the Hercs are the lifeline of the station in so many ways.
Fresh fruit is normally scarce here but when the planes aren’t flying fresh fruit is nothing more than a theoretical concept and we are served the thoroughly unfortunate “fruit cup” in the galley for breakfast. We don’t get any television signals here, and normally the planes fly in football games on recorded on DVD in McMurdo (where they get Armed Forces Network broadcasts) from the previous weekend. No planes meant that there were no football games to watch this weekend so our normal football night in one of the lounges was canceled. Some of the more exotic spare parts, like a completely new engine for a snowmobile, aren’t kept on hand and when the planes aren’t flying the machines that need those parts don’t run.
Not coincidentally, NSF and others have been looking at ways to get equipment and supplies to the Pole that don’t relay on the Hercs. The 2007 South Pole Traverse rolled into the station earlier this week after traveling 1035 miles overland from McMurdo. A traverse offers the opportunity to transport items larger than the cargo bay in a Herc to the Pole. In addition, it may be possible to more efficiently transport fuel and other supplies to the Pole.
The Traverse members spent almost six weeks driving their tractors to the Pole across the unforgiving terrain of Antarctica. They drove three Case tractors with blades, a pair of Caterpillar tractors and a Pisten Bully while pulling over 65,000 gallons of diesel fuel, two living modules on skis, a reefer unit, and a complete tool shop. A picture of their living modules and some of their tractors is below. They will leave the Pole in two days to make the 1035 mile journey back to McMurdo towing some equipment from the Pole that we no longer need or want. Eventually, the goal is to make a yearly journey to transport large items, fuel, and supplies to the Pole and return with large items, waste, and other things no longer wanted at the Pole thereby lessening the reliance on the Hercs for some things.
Astute readers may have noticed that I mentioned my replacement above. My time here at the Pole is rushing towards its end. I’m scheduled to leave the Pole on Monday and start my journey back to the life I live the other ten months of the year (at least for the last two years). We’ll see if the Hercs are still flying on Monday. I hope so.