Monday, November 14, 2005

The Eagle Has Landed ...

… and by the eagle, of course I mean me.

Before I begin my usual long and boring narrative, let me warn you that there will be no pictures at this juncture. Sadly, the McMurdo computer lab, where I am currently seated, has very poor network bandwidth. Translation: no pictures. I hear pole has a much better network so I think I can get pics up tomorrow.

I got up bright and early this morning at 4:15 am; well I guess it wasn’t very bright at all. By 5:30 I was back at the CDC getting changed into my Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear and preparing to board a USAF C-17 cargo plane headed for McMurdo Base in Antarctica. After a brief breakfast at the Antarctic Visitor Center Café (where I will be purchasing all my souvenirs), and a not so brief briefing by the flight crew, we weighed in and walked out onto the tarmac.

The C-17 was an amazing piece of aerospace engineering. Not only that, but it is thoroughly BADASS, wait till you see the pics. Inside we were seated along the side of the hull like luggage interspersed amongst huge palates of cargo; actually exactly like that. The flight was smooth and I had the good fortune of sitting next to a USAF pilot who was going to the Ice in the capacity of a flight safety officer. Incidentally, he told me when on a commercial airliner, to always sit in an exit row. Not in order to save you in the event of a crash, because then you will surely die. Instead to save you in the case of a post landing cabin fire, a much more common scenario. He also taught me how the C-17 and similar aircraft worked. It was geek heaven. I managed to finish Kafka’s Metamorphosis (fantastically amazing) and watched Empire of the Sun with the pilot dude; he liked it a lot.

As we neared the Arctic Circle, I made my way up to the cabin and talked to the pilots a little, got some amazing views of the continent and the summer sea-ice breakup. I saw it all, the snow covered Antarctic mountains, the huge sheets of floating ice and even the icebergs!!! We landed on an ice runway, totally smooth. McMurdo is located on Ross Island in the Ross Sea. The Ross Sea is famous for its ice sheet that reaches a thickness of 60 inches in the winter, before melting and breaking up in the summer. This was the point of entry for Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition to the pole. Once off the plane we were transported off the ice onto the island by “Ivan the Terra Bus” … as the locals have fondly dubbed the ice transport.

McMurdo is a weird and interesting place. It would be easy to imagine such a little town somewhere in a northern Minnesota mining region. It’s inset into a series of small mountains, rising above the coast. There are about 200 buildings in the town, ranging from utility shacks to inns to large dormitory and cafeteria buildings. There are also many more people here than I expected, I’d say at minimum a 1000. All sorts ranging from early 20’s guys and girls serving dinner to old grumpy maintenance workers. The support staff is incredible; there are plumbers, mechanics, networking specialists, science techs, etc.

After getting my room assignment, and learning I had 3 roommates tonight, I got my shit together and went out for a hike with another guy going to pole (for a different but very similar CMB experiment). Our hike took us to a hut built by Robert Falcon Scott before his fateful journey to the pole, then up a ridge to a peak where a Doppler radar station was located, definitely a few hundred feet up. The hut still stands as it did the day it was built, completely stocked inside with the original rations, and even features a dead seal laid out by the entrance. See, Antarctica is snowy yes, but it’s also extremely dry and cold. In fact, the South Pole is as dry as the Sahara desert! So the lack of bacteria and the dry cold conditions make it an ideal place to preserve things. Thus the wood of the hut and the flesh of the seal never rot away.

Standing near the peak of our climb it finally occurred to me where I had come. The wind was howling from the side of me stinging my face as I looked out over the Ross Sea Ice shelf. The ice shelf was framed by mountain ranges all around, majestic glaciers cautiously protruded from between the peaks like little turtle heads emerging from their shells. The ice below us and covering the mountains around us, glowed an eerie electric blue; it stretched for miles, for as far as I could see and into the distant horizon. It was 6 pm and the sun was still directly overhead, barely budging at all since my arrival hours prior. I was standing on a dead land, volcanic rocks scattered about a sandy black soil incapable of supporting any life. To my right stood a massive volcano, only its gentle slope visible, the clouds obscuring its summit from view. I was in Antarctica.

Tomorrow, weather permitting; I fly to the South Pole.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:20 AM CST  
Anonymous jstrysko said...

Wait, did you really see Bill Clinton? Wasn't he at Itzhak Rabin's memorial service? I'm so confused.
This is the best blog ever.
I bet Fudge Cottage was quite a place.
I bet you're gonna delete this message.
Because it's so dumb sounding.

1:53 AM CST  
Blogger Robert B. Friedman said...

hey jonathan,

bill clinton is a mystery. he is a very powerful person and being at two places at the same time is not outside his range of abilities. in fact many people believe that bill clinton is everywhere, in everything, all the time. its said that every man has a little bill clinton.

i only delete spam, this is obviously incoherent, but not spam.

thanks for the compliments, keep em coming.
ok, im gonna pass out now due to lack of oxygen,

12:21 PM CST  

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