Monday, April 20, 2015

Fun in Antarctica!

When we were first planning on coming down here, we had been told of all the fun things there are to do but it's a bit hard to believe how much there is to do until you've been down here.  We brought books and movies down here to pass the time.  Oh were we wrong. Even with a 54 hour 6-day work week,  the social calendar during the summer is non-stop and infact it feels a bit frantic.    Things are a lot quieter now that it's winter but there's still a fair amount going on.  Here's a general list of things that happen here.  Almost all of the things happen both winter and summer but during the winter it's not necessarily every week or with so much at one time.

Here's a basic list of the things that happen here:

Weekly Events: 

Travelogues: Every Monday people have the opportunity to share pictures and stories of their travels.  We've heard stories of peoples trips on Cargo Ships around the world,  hiking the Anapunra trek in Nepal, bike trips across Australia, rickshaw races across India and all the long walks across America. The weekly travellogue is a dangerous event to attend because it just keeps adding to the list of places to visit and things to do.
TedTalks: On Wednesday there's a selection of TedTalks that is shown in the galley.
Science Lectures:  Twice a week the scientists give lectures of the work they are doing down here.
American Night at Scott Base:  The New Zealand base is 2 kilometers from ours and on Thursday nights they open the store and the bar to us Americans.  It's really nice to be able to go somewhere new to hang out and shop.
Brunch:  Every Sunday the kitchen prepares an excellent brunch.  When we were living in Korea I remember paying upwards of $40 for brunches that weren't even as good as these are.
Open Mic Night: Technically not every week, but still an incredible event.  The talent here is remarkable.  There are so many talented singers, songwriters,  poets and performers.
Two-Step Tuesdays:  Every other Tuesday we clear away the tables and two-step!

The following events are pretty self-explanatory. 
Rugby with the Kiwis 
Boxing Classes 
Spin Classes

Outside Opportunities:
Hiking: There are 4 different walks you can go on here.  Two small ones out from and around town, both about 3 miles.  The longest is Castle Rock Loop, 10 miles and during summer you can walk/ski out to the Runway.
Cross country and skate skiing:  These can be rented from our "gear issue" and you can ski out to the airport, our out on the castle rock loop.
Snowboarding: The Kiwis have an actual ski lift which if you make friends with them, you might be able to use.   However,  you can hike out the the hill at the Castle Rock and ski or snowboard down that.
Marathon and half-marathon: Heck yeah!  If you're really motivated, you can train to run the marathon or half-marathon.

Bands and Parties:
Halloween: This is a huge party and one that people make plans for before the even get down to the ice.  People come with great individual costumes and group costumes to compete in a costume contest. If you win, the prize is usually a trip somewhere.  Very fun!
Waste Barn Christmas Show:  The Wasties go all out for the Christmas party.  This year the theme was from Ferrous to Paris and they decorated the barn like a street full of cafes in paris.  People sing all sorts of songs both Christmas and other.  Again, this is another event that people look forward to all year.
VMF Christmas Party: On Christmas Eve the VMF hosts the Annual Christmas Party.  There's a performance from the Choir, a Santa appearance, photo booths, a photo display, live music, a wine bar,  and snacks.
Icestock: Perhaps the biggest event of the year.  Icestock is our New Years party.  It starts at 6pm and goes until midnight on new years (although this year it was technically a on January 2nd and the countdown to the third was 5 minutes late).   Bands practice all season and perform on IceStock. There's a chili cook-off and usually about 7-8 different types of chili to test and sample.
Math Club:  This is a weekly, alcohol free party this is strictly about dancing.   It is incredibly awesome.  Even people who hate dancing usually love Math Club.  It's early in the evening so people aren't drunk, there's no guys creeping up on women. It's dark with fun lighting and no one cares about how you dances.
Dance Parties:  Aside from Math Club, there are spontaneous dance parties all the time. People love to dance here! Any opportunity to dance here!
General work center parties: Throughout the season the various work centers have parties with live music (and dancing!).   Carp shop, helo hanger, the BFC. Any place that has a big enough space and the time to host a party.

Other Random Things:
Dance Groups:  Special Project Other is a dance hip hop dance crew and will not only put on one or two dance performances but also a great flashmob at Icestock.
Cribbage Tournaments: This is an hilarious obsession on station.  Tournaments are almost constantly ongoing but there is also the "Cribbage Bracelet" that people are constantly challenging each other for and then flaunt when they win.
Film festivals: Each season, both winter and summer, there is a film festival that people on station can participate in.  During Winter, the festival branches out and becomes and international festival and people from all the stations in Antarctica participate.  I can't wait to see it!
Discovery Hut and Cape Evans Hut: Discovery hut is Shackleton's hut that sits right near station.  We can walk out to see it and a couple of times a year we get official tourguides to open it up and we can go inside and look around.  The Cape Evans hut is a little farther out so less people can get out there.  Only about 50 people made it out there this season (neither Jamie nor I).
Room with a view: This is a trip we can sign up for or win by raffle. It's a snow mobile ride out to a hut with an excellent view of Mt Erebus.
Ice Caves:  Another trip that can be won by raffle and another snowmobile trip. This one goes out to the IceCaves in the Erebus Ice tongue. It's the glacier that flows off of the volcano, Erebus.  
Tug-of-war competitions: This used to be an annual event that they brought back this season.  We had a team of 6 vs the Kiwis.   We lost royally.  The Kiwi had actually practice.   We lost in seconds. But it was great fun!  And a very serious event.  We had to weigh in before we could compete. The Kiwis were overweight so that had to drop one person.  Did I mention we lost?
Manhauling competition:  This is a ridiculous competition where people haul, either in teams of 4 or singly, weighted sleds across the ice.  Technically this is part of the Tug-of-War competition, the team that loses can then challenge the winners to another competition.  Whoever decided on Manhauling, i have no idea.  I'm sure you can guess, the kiwis were very good at this too.  They are a bunch of young and very fit men that are competing.
MAAG:  A yearly art show; Performance art, painting, sculpture, music

The Ice Caves.  And the video tour! 

Halloween!  A ghostbuster and David Bowie

Skiing out to the ice runway. 

Our friend's band, Shitty and Loud.  Their title is very literal. 

Dance Party! 


Inside the Nimrod hut. 



The start of the 5K.  You didn't think we actual ran a marathon, did you? 

Hiking with Sage!

VMF Christmas Party

Holiday Meal!

Room with a View Trip
Trivi Night.   Notice the concentration.  They've won twice in a row and are a bit intolerable.  

More hiking! 

My awesome dance crew.  Special Project Other. Feel free to click the link and watch us! 
A link to my performance with Special Project Other:

Thursday, April 16, 2015


More Random photos for your viewing pleasure.
Many of these I took with permission off the USAP shared drive.  People have incredible cameras and I am taking advantage of the photography skills.

This is the view from the back of my dorm.   That's hut point and the mountains behind are the Royal Society Range.  You can walk out to that point in about 20 minutes from town and get a great view. 
My co-worker Travis and I run a bootcamp class twice a week.  This is our warm-up. This is one of the many opportunities people have for exercise here.  Yoga three times a week, spin class twice a week, pilates twice a week, bootcamp twice a week, volleyball, soccer and basketball each once a week. 

These are the penguins that wandered into our bay.  I posted a picture of them last week, but this is a much better one. 
I took a trip out to visit the pegasus crash site.  It was 6:30pm and getting darker.  It was quite dark before we left so the good photographers got some excellent photos.  This one is looking back toward town and the mountain in the background is Mt Erebus. 

These are my co-workers in our oh-so-cozy break room. 

These next sequence of photos are from the McMurdo Luxury Homes tour. People all opened up their rooms and we toured them.  There are some incredibly creative room set ups and I thought you might like to see them.
Kira and Brad in there exquisitely decorated and matching room. 
Yes, that is a climbing wall. 
The zen masters living room. 
Excellent wall hanging giving the illusion of two rooms when there is, indeed, only one. 
Paige and John in their cozy living room. 
Need a tapestry?
Eric in The Parrot Lounge.  He inherited this room from two summer people who did a lot of after-market additions.  They also left a lot of booze and Eric opens up the bar once a week for anyone to visit. What a great guy!  
I just loved the lanterns.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


I take random pictures, every week, and then don't do anything with them so I'll just post them here.
Why not?

This is not just this past week as I have a backlog, but here you go:

Sometimes we find perfectly good cake in the foodwaste bins.  

That's Rob, posing next to our truck that we can't move because that stupid Skua bird is in the way.   We walked out to get in our truck that morning and a bird had parked itself right in our way.  Because of the Antarctic Treaty, we aren't allowed to just shoo it away.  The general policy of wildlife is that you can't do anything to alter their behavior (let's not talk about having an entire base).    You can't walk so close it looks at you, you can't make loud noise to disturb them and you certainly can't shoo them out of the way.   We moved our morning meeting into the galley and waiting another 20 minutes for that Skua bird to fly off. 

I got to play with the metal bailer the other day.  I put all these drums in here and then I got to crush them! 

All down into one tiny cube! 

It was so fun I decided to give you another photo. These are all the tin cans from the galley. 

Look at that pretty cube!!

This fun looking vehicle didn't want to work in the cold morning so the VMF had to send out the Emergency Recovery Vehicle (a pick-up truck with all sorts of gadgets attached to make vehicles go) to warm it up.  You notice the hose and engine? That's a huge heater to warm the engine up. On cold mornings the VMF is very very busy.   There were no less than two times we had to call them ourselves.  

Penguins!  These emperor penguins had been hanging around for a couple of days and they walked right into our bay!  What a great afternoon.  The Waste department took our van down (no Skua impediments this time) to look at the penguins.   For people without transport, we had a van driving people down from work centers all afternoon.  

We won a night out at this little hut on the ice (random drawing).   It was cloudy when we arrived and stayed that way all night so we didn't get any stargazing.  I'm not to upset though. The weather had called for aggressive wind with temperatures at -72 (with windchill) so I was fine with it being overcast and still. The next day, however, was beautiful!

Here's that same hut the next morning. That mountain in the background is Mt Erebus-the cloud above it is steam-it's a living volcano. 

Clearly we chose the right group of people to go with-outfits, wigs, food and fun photos shoots. Such a great night out.  All these photos are compliments of our friend Debbie-far right. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Cold Weather in McMurdo

When Boston was getting pummeled with snow and cold weather, a friend asked me if I was annoyed when people on facebook complain about the temperature.   Honestly, when I read those posts I think "wow, that's cold" even when it's probably colder here.   The reason is that I don't even think about  the weather or how cold it is here.   I never check the temperature and I'm often out and about in just a fleece (and insulated Carhartts/two shirts/long-johns and thick socks).   But I'm not always wearing that massive Canada Goose jacket they give us (read a recent article about how those are up and coming in the fashion world, BTW).     It's been around -13 lately.

 In terms of feeling the cold, I've decided that people just don't dress for the cold - come on people!  Take that extra 15 minutes to put on all those layers and you'll be toasty warm.  And so fashionable too!   Nothing better then going to a bar and having to spend 15 minutes taking off your snow pants. I get that it's annoying and there are times I don't dress for the cold and in the 4 minutes it takes to walk from one building to the next I will be FREEZING.  These times usually occur when I'm dressed up and going to the bar or going to dinner and have forgotten a critical aspect of my "extreme cold weather" gear.  Or intentionally don't take it.  Last night I had a dress on and my hair did and I literally ran from building to building because my legs were so cold and I didn't want to ruin my hair with my hat.  

In reality, I have all the tools to stay comfortable and keeping warm takes very little effort. I know exactly what I need to stay warm and there are some crucial elements that are the most important things for my comfort:  Neck gaiter, hat, gloves, warm footwear. While I, of course, will also put layers on my bigger body parts, if there's no icy wind blowing down my neck or my nose doesn't feel like it's turning into an ice crystal, it's usually pretty manageable.   While our vehicles all have heat,  the heat just blows a warmer version of cold air when I am constantly getting in and out of them and there are multiple places where the vehicle cab is open to the outside so, in general, it's pretty chilly in there.  If I can keep my extremities warm, even if I can feel the cold on my arms, I'm usually pretty good.   Unless there's WIND.  Oh man.    The wind is brutal - cuts through everything (yes even that $1000 Canada goose jacket). Ugh!   That's why it's  good to check the weather forecast (now that the cold is really coming in-i'm taking the weather a bit more seriously)    Here's the weather for April 1st.

Regional Summary

4/1/2015 7:04:58 AM
Calm to start, but bundle up! A large weather system dropping across the Ross Sea will bring cold, howlin’ easterlies today…Should see eased wind tomorrow…
McMurdo Station
                                                                                                                  SKIES: Mostly Cloudy
                                                                                                           VISIBILITY (MILES): Unrestricted
                                                                                        WINDS (KNOTS): NE @ 3
                                                                                             STATION PRESSURE: 29.210 in.
                                                                                   UPDATED: Apr 01, 2015 07:04 AM

How do I get ready for my day? My basic outfit is long johns, one long sleeve lightweight wool shirt, one thicker wool shirt,  mountaineer socks and then my padded Carrhart overalls.   I'll put a hooded green fleece on over all that and bring my Big Red  just in case.   I'll put on my thinsulate boots and then head up the hill to the Waste Barn.  Once there, I'll open up 12 (at least) little hot hand packets to bring with me.   I put some in my pants pockets,  my big red pockets, my fleece pockets, inside my mittens and sometimes in my shoes. .   Part of what I do to prepare for the weather is to have three pairs of hand gear.  I wear my work gloves mostly, but if I need to do something that involves some dexterity I have a pair of thin gloves- after using those, my fingers are usually frozen so at that point I'll put on my mittens (pre-warmed with the warmers) to warm my hands before switching back to the work gloves for work.   If I know it will be really cold and the steel floor of my loader will be wicking heat away from my feet, I'll put on my FDX boots, big blue boots with an insulated booty and a felt liner (of which I have two).  I avoid wearing these boots because they make my feet 4 times bigger and it's exhausting to clomp around all day, but I will put them on (with warmers inside) if my feet get cold.  
If the wind is aggressive, I'll put on two hats and pull my gaiter up over my nose and mouth.  

Lately, it's been getting really chilly.   I walked outside the other day real quick to grab something and the cold took my breath away and I started coughing.   I've become more diligent about checking the weather.  In fact, the above forecast was the first I had checked in a long while (and inspired this post) and it really helped me toward the end of my day.  Because I knew it was going to get windy (miserable for working outside) we switched our day around to avoid the weather.  Unfortunately, I'm still learning how tied down things have to be and the one cargo strap I had on all my cardboard boxes wasn't enough so I had to chase down a whole bunch that had gone flying in the last 15 minutes of my day.  I felt better when I saw other departments had also lost things during that storm. 

I've been checking the weather a bit more diligently lately and this is what I have to look forward to tomorrow: 

UPDATED: Sunday, April 05, 2015
SKIES: Mostly Cloudy
VISIBILITY (MILES): Unrestricted, patchy blowing snow
WINDS (KNOTS): NE-E 7-17, becoming NE-SE 15-35

The best part about this?   The high is -2!  That's warm! This weekend it was -14!  

Let me know if you have other questions about the weather!

As for the daylight, i've been taking a daily photo (usually) to chart the sunlight, as the sun goes down I'll compile them all for you! 


This was a moderately cold day.  My eyelashes started frosting. This was the first time this has happened to me.  Since this day it's happened quite a bit and much more aggressively. 

Here I am climbing out of an igloo all bundled up ( I didn't build it).   Notice the big FDX boots, the double hat, the gaiter, mittens and big red.  I do, indeed, have handwarmers in almost all pockets and inside my boots.