Well I have been in Antarctica for over a week now, here is a bit of an overview of some of the happenings so far…
Words cannot describe what I have seen so far, I will do my best to explain anyway & I hope my photos are going to give you some sort of an idea. I can’t give you a demo of what it is like to step out of an Airbus & feel the -17 degree air enter your lungs for the first time unfortunately. Having said that I think I have acclimatised quite well really, it has been averaging a sunny -15 degrees here at Casey Station, I have been to the Adelie Penguin colony at Shirley Island, I have done overnight survival training, Hagglund training, quad bike & navigation training. Tomorrow we head to Wilkins to begin preparation on the runway. The first couple of days were pretty amazing, here is a bit of a description…
So my alarm went off at the hotel in Hobart at 0230 on Friday the 28th of October 2011. A bleary eyed bus ride to the airport followed. We were all kitted up & excited as you can imagine, all 27 of us destined for the coldest, driest & windiest continent on the planet. Antarctica!
A four hour flight followed across the Southern Ocean to McMurdo Sound, the American Antarctic Research station. Clouds parted & disappeared just in time & the Captain announced that we had just arrived at the edge of Antarctica! Everyone rose & went to the nearest window & there was nothing but silence on board as we all peered at the bright white beauty that was below us. Sea Ice, frozen icebergs amongst & glaciers spilling into the sea. The brightest white you can imagine, she is a white witch that casts a spell over you, I was breathless. A white unicorn, impossible & still so amazing & burnt into my mind are these images. I was firing off the camera at a rate of knots as you can imagine, everyone was! I managed to shoot about 500-600 odd photos on the first day!
As we came closer to McMurdo the terrain became really mountainous, rugged pinnacles wrapped in glacial flows framed by the bluest sky. We landed on their airstrip, it was bizarre to see the snow under us as we landed. It blew into swirling clouds like bull dust. I packed my bags & slung my camera over my shoulder, I was the last off the Airbus A319 & looked out at the white expanse & everyone standing in a group on the apron looking everywhere & anywhere. I was a pretty special moment, unreal to say the least.
We had lunch & we sat around waiting for our connector to Casey Station on the US Hercules. We had a clear weather window & for the first time in Australian Antarctic Division Aviation history we were due to make our connector! It wasn’t to be though (which I am quietly happy about as a chance to see the American base is a good thing!) We were loaded onto a bus & taken to the station of McMurdo, it is huge as you can imagine. 1000 people call it home & it is certainly like a little town, a very cold town. McMurdo is one of the coldest constantly populated places in Antarctica. It was -17 when we arrived, it had hit -33 in the days leading up to our arrival!
There is an Australian guy based there over the summer just for looking after Aussies when they are stranded in McMurdo due to flight delays. We were given a tour of the base & then later on a tour down to Scott’s Base which was awesome! We had dinner & then we went to the pub of course! We went to all three bars on station until they closed at 11pm, (all of the buildings at McMurdo were over heated, we had to rehydrate & beer was the best option!) we stepped outside & the sun was still blazing away as if it was three o’clock in the afternoon. We made our way to our dorm (hotel California) & slept until 0600 when we had to go & have some crap American breakfast & head on down to the runway for our Hurcules flight to Casey Station!
Our hurc flight was another four & a half hours. It was awesome, all of us were jammed into four rows. After take off we were allowed to get up & move around. There were a few little windows to peer out of & take some snaps, it started as rugged mountains, then after about 45 minutes the mountains just stopped, it was just flat snow & ice all the way to Casey. The flight went surprisingly fast & the landing was pretty cool, a few bumps on the snow runway & a fast stop! as we were taxiing to the apron they dropped the rear cargo door & pushed the massive crate of cargo out which must have been 8 feet square in size. It slid down the ramp & disappeared into the swirling bright white outside!
We disembarked & hopped onto Pricilla which is the station bus which has tracks where the wheels normally would be. It was a 20 minute or so drive down a slowly sloping snowy hill, it was quite an amazing site. The water off in the distance, massive Icebergs punctuating the icy waters. We arrived at Casey Station & proceeded inside where we were greeted by the station leader. We were given tours of the base & shown our rooms. I have to say, Casey is an amazing place, it is neat as a pin. All of the buildings are colour coded, the rooms are great, the living area & bar areas are awesome. The home brew is great too! There is a big cinema with a massive screen & projector! The food is amazing too & the view from the mess is out of this world.
So I was absolutely knackered after a couple of big days & had a big sleep, today is Sunday & a station wide day off (apart from some of us who had to help get some gear ready for Wilkins Aerodrome). When I went to Shirley Island, (the Adelie penguin colony) last Sunday. It was absolutely amazing, we walked away from station & down a sloping snowy hill, looking out towards the scattered icebergs in the waters beyond. After about 20 minutes we were able to see what must have been thousands of Adelie penguins. Because of the sea ice we were able to walk straight over it to the island & hang out with the penguins, which were not bothered in the slightest by our presence. We wandered around & took heaps of photos as you can imagine. It was a magical experience, they would slide past on there bellies, flapping their wings & kicking their feet, they would waddle around us & stare at us. After an afternoon of hanging with the Adelies we came back to Casey Station, exhausted after walking through fresh, soft powdery snow. I had dinner & came back to my room to sort out some photos & process them so that I can give you an idea of what I am talking about.