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Letter to Pine Island

Sunday, December 19th, 2004

Here is a transcript to our friend Rob who is working on a project in West Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey. We met Rob coincidently last summer at Rifugio Boccalatte.

Hey Rob,
How’s life on the Ice slab? Hows the project going? Randy (from the Herc crew) said you guys seem to be doing well when they flew in last week. Is Martin still around?

It has been quite warm here lately. Temps above 0C for weeks making for mud at first and then an evil and unbearable dust. The runway melted very quickly and before anyone knew it there was a half-meter of water in the fuel pits. They moved to Willey Field almost overnight. Since the Jets are no longer flying down the Kiwi’s in their wheeled Hercs have been keeping us supplied. Since the Ice runway closed when they still had 5 missions left we have been going without lately. They did decide to open pegasus this week and they have been getting flights in. Today at brunch I heard that it actually rained breifly at Pegasus last night just to show how warm it has been here lately.

They have launched both the LDB projects over the past week. Keep your eyes to the sky and you might see one of them floating by (you’ll have to look close, their cruising altitude is about 40km above the surface).

Luci and I did a presentation about Rifugio Boccalatte this week. It was piggyback to a traveloge by a woman from HR who hiked the TMB a few years ago. She had one slide from the train station in Chamonix and you could see Stewart’s appartment in the background. There was live music and Vin Brule at the BFC last night. It was a real good time. Still feeing good about staying at Halley for the winter?

Luci and I have been thinking alot about sailing when we get back to NZ. We are going to take a weeklong sailing couse in the Bay of Islands. Afterwards we will be going back to the states starting in Hawai’i and maybe stopping in Colorado before getting back to Maine. We’ll be back in Europe earlier than usual this year and hope to do some motorcycle touring before our season in the Alps starts.

Say Hi to Ben and Dave for us. Keep in touch when you can. -Luke and Luci

Runway Move and More

Wednesday, December 8th, 2004

Town from Cape Armitage.jpg

Today we have Hut 10. When McMurdo was a Navy base Hut 10 was the home of the commander. It is the closest thing to a normal house on the base. Now it is used for special functions like departmental parties and Distinguished Visitors. In addition, anyone can sign up to have the hut as long as they do it a month in advance. So, today we have the hut but never found the time to organize a party. We are just relaxing and trying to catch up on things we have been putting off.

To say we have been too busy working to blog would be a lie. We have been busy, just doing other things. I have been taking multiple trips out to Cape Evans volunteering for the recreation department; though today they finished for the season. A few weeks ago I drove a trip for my department. The trip went really well and everyone had a great time but a couple days after we had a somewhat odd brush with Antarctic authority. It was out of the ordinary for us but would probably seem downright bizarre for someone outside the Program.

Halfway into the drive on the way out, we stopped and watched a couple of researchers checking the fin tags of Weddel seals and weighing a newborn. There were 20 of us on the trip many of which had never seen a seal in the Antarctic and were eager to get as close to them as possible. But, as we all have it drilled into our heads from the moment we arrive on the ice that we are not supposed to approach the wildlife as stated in the Antarctic Treaty, everyone in our group remained a good distance from the seals. Many of us did, however take pictures of the researchers near the seals.

There was one new guy in our shop who, without thinking it through, put his pictures of our trip on the infamous I: drive. This is a network drive, accessible to everyone in the Program, with a temporary folder where people share their pictures and other files. He labeled the pictures he put there, “Ut Shop Trip to Cape Evans”. Among his pictures was a couple of the researchers handling the seals but with no clear sign that they were studying them.

When the National Science Foundation Representative saw these pictures he flipped his lid and immediately called a meeting off all responsible parties which included my boss, the head of recreation, the Rec person who organizes Cape Evans trips, and even the Base Manager. When my boss told me about the pictures and that we were going to have to go on the defensive against two of the most powerful people on the base because he thought we were touching seals, I was legitimately concerned. I had not seen the pictures and Libor had not been on the trip so there was an overlapping grey area that left us both worried.

My fears were set to rest when I saw the pictures and realized that they were not of any of our group but indeed of the scientists. My boss still seemed concerned as we walked to the Chalet (the NSF building). The girls from Rec also seemed worried when we all met in the common room of the Chalet and were looking to Dan (the GA who posted the pictures) and I to calm their own anxieties. But, we had the truth on our side and other supporting photos showing the researchers with scales and equipment. The meeting was anticlimactic and we quickly let the wind from the NSF reps sails. He spent a half-hour giving a lecture about the fragile Antarctic ecosystem and the treaty put in place to preserve it, blah blah blah, but his argument against us had no foundation so we adjourned and went back to work. In the end, as one of the Rec girls put it, “it seemed a little like getting called to the principle’s office”.

It has been warm and most of the snow we had on the hills in the area has melted off. The roads in town are muddy and where it has dried it makes for a vicious volcanic dust. The ice on the Ice Runway has started to melt and pool. They decided yesterday that it was no longer safe to land aircraft on it and today they started to pack it up to make the annual move to Willey Field on the Ross Ice Shelf.

Not much snow for snowboarding this year so we have been doing a lot more skiing on the ice-shelf. I went out to Castle Rock one day with a couple friends with my snowboard on my back. It is mostly flat on the 2+ miles out with a bit of a hill at the end. Since I am not much of a skier, I brought the board for the downhill parts. It was kind of tedious learning to x-country ski with a snowboard on my back. The ski out was nice because we had the wind on our backs and were able to sail most of the way out but I had to walk back with both the board and skis in my pack because I couldnít make headway.

Luci and I have been spending more time than usual at Scott Base, the NZ base located about tree miles from the US base. We skied back to MacTown from the base the other day on the Armitage loop and had some great views of the base. Every other Tuesday they had a trivia night there. There are about 10 teams of 4 who answer 3 rounds of 25 questions. Our team has been coming in second every time but last week we were the winners. Over the past couple for weeks Edmund Hillary has been staying there and was there for the trivia night, albeit on the periphery. Hillary was the leader of the team who first climbed Mt Everest and was the first leader of the NZ Antarctic Program. He was here dedicating the NZ Programís new research building named after him. He also participated in a memorial service for NZís worse plane crash. Air New Zealand used to do scenic Antarctic flights in rather large jet planes. 25 years ago, one of these flights crashed into mount Erebus killing all 250+ people on board; a flight that Hillary was supposed be on but canceled at the last minute.