Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Spectrum of the Midnight Mind

My waking hours are busy, but so are my "sleeping" hours. My mind is continually active and I dream of long stories and of tall tales. They are images and messages told to me from above, or from within, I can't tell, but maybe they are of the same? It comes to me in colors, speaks of many things and plays a large role in my daily routine. Living here on this bare continent, on a frozen land that is void of color, my dreams are filled with images as vivid as crayola. The power within shall surface.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The weekends

It's Sunday night and I can not keep up with the updates because within one day occurs more than I can describe. I've come to the conclusion that this is an experience that will never be completely understood by others who have not been here themselves. I don't know if it is the crusted layers of frost that covers this continent (I won't call it snow), the freezing temperatures, or expired beer. But it doesn't matter because it belongs only to us, with people I most probably wouldn't have met otherwise.

My department is going to shifts tomorrow so we had a pre season party. I'll start on nights working 1800 to 0600 with 2 days off per week. We'll switch midway through and I'll finish off the season working 0600 - 1800. The normal work week schedule is 6 10 hour workdays, with Sunday off, so although my days are a little longer I prefer it in exchange for the extra day off.

After our department party we went up to the "carp" shop (carpenter's shop) as they were hosting a "get together" as well and as the creative geniuses they are a stage was set up and those with various musical talents played some great tunes.

This afternoon some of the guys and I attempted a hike up Ob Hill (Observation Hill) right here in town. This is McMurdo station, the largest research station on Antarctica. There are approximately 1000 people here in the "southern" summer, and about 250 in the winter.

Ob hill is a steep hike on unstable rocks and in the high winds we only went 3/4's of the way. The fabric of our coats and scarfs that was near our mouths was frosted over from our breath. And when I went to drink some water from my backpack it was, well, frozen. I'm not sure of the temperature but there was a negative sign involved.

It was at this point we noticed a Weddell seal sitting out on the ice below us and I immediately lost interest in continuing to the top. They agreed and we trekked on down to the sea ice, and was rewarded with this lovely creature sunning under the cloudy sky just a short distance away. She is my first real sighting of the Antarctic wildlife. However, I was beginning to lose feeling in my fingers and face and I heard my name being called. It was my old friend hot chocolate in the galley. It's the packaged kind of stuff but it did the trick.

After dinner we went over to Gallagher's, proof that you'll find an Irish pub on every continent. At closing our party had shrunk to 4 and we moved it to one of the dorms and watched the movie Beowulf. I read the book what seems a lifetime ago, and in many ways it was, but this time the story made sense to me. Does this make me a literary idiot?

On a clear day with no wind Mt. Erebus erupts. It is an active volcano, and erupts often.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

parking a C-17

Never before did I think I'd be happy to be outside in -10F weather, but life is full of surprises. It's cleared up and we are operating as normal, whatever that is for the day. A C-17 arrives with passengers and more "freshies" (fresh food) as part of its cargo. This is how an aircraft is parked, follow the leader. As part of my job I meet the crewmen and women and give them a short tour of the station and so there is always a good photo op watching them pull in.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

and it is getting colder...

Video monitors are displayed in the buildings for us to keep up on Antarctic current events... aka.. the weather. Did I mention that it is dry cold. hahaha.

There are no tulips in Spring on The Ice, but there are beets for lunch, YUM!

Look what the wind brought in

Ok, so today was a little more challenging. Luckily most of my work is indoors, but as part of Airline Operations people are in and out all day so the cold air is always lurking in the halls. You can feel it pass you with your eyes closed as if it were the grim reaper himself strolling through.

When I say challenging I mean the weather. -11F/-24C and with the wind chill is was -58F/-50C. YES IT FELT LIKE IT TOO! We are on watch for Condition 2 right now, which warranted an early out from work, well 30 minutes early. The runways and all surrounding areas from town are currently at Condition 1 but we are nestled in a little valley surrounded by hills and an active volcano, Mt. Erebus.

Walking down the "Main Drag" from work to dinner, never a dull moment.
Trust me, it is beautiful here. However, this is the windiest, coldest, and driest continent so not always ideal conditions for sightseeing and leisure photos. God, life is good!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Pogonip is here!

These last 3 days are testing my endurance. All flight activity to the South Pole, known as "The Pole", and to the research camps have been cancelled due to the pogonip. Pogonip is fog of fine ice crystals suspended in air. This only occurs in very specific weather conditions, such as it's gotta be flippin' cold! For instance, today was -13F/-25C BUT with the wind chill it was -35F/-37C which made my 3 minute walk to work grueling. These are still considered good conditions, or normal aka Condition 3.

There are 3 classes of weather conditions that define travel restrictions. Condition 3 is when the wind chill is above -75F and winds less than 48 knots, normal days. Condition 2 is with wind chills of -75F to -100F with less than 1/4 mile visibility and only necessary work travel within groups, with constant radio communication is permitted. Condition 1 means no travel, wind speeds greater than 55 knots, and wind chills colder than -100F. If I'm out in that just kill me on the spot if I haven't already combusted into ice particiles!

The sun is here somewhere behind loose snow blowing in every direction. Days like today you won't find many people outside, unless food is being served, as now, lunch time. But this stormy environment is intriguing in of itself. I am on the edge of nowhere, no kidding, we are on the edge of Ross Island off the edge of Antarctica. In this extreme weather (some will argue that this is not so extreme, because it does get worse, but.. this is my light) my body is a little confused. I've got a huge appetite, as to be expected since my body needs to keep warm. Luckily the food is pretty good, but I can't snack all day either. I have another 4 months to fit into these clothes! They cater very well to vegetarians and even often some vegan options!

On Sunday some of us began the afternoon on a tour of the Crary Science lab. This is the epicenter for the scientists and researchers to organize and test their data that was gathered out on the field. Here, Cesar takes his chances in the touch tank.

Eric and I break away and hike up to the Discovery Hut at Hut Point. The hut was built in 1902 by Capt. R. F. Scott and his crew during his Antarctic Expedition of 1901 - 1904.

Here is a mummified seal outside the hut.

Cold, soo cold but rewarded at the top with views of the never ending Ross Ice Shelf.

This cross honors George T. Vince, a member of the Scott expedition at the turn of the last century who was the first person to lose his life in the McMurdo area. He slipped and fell into the water and was never found. It is one of several monuments around town (McMurdo Station) dedicated to the few brave souls that made the voyage to Antarctica never to return home.

Dressed in my Sunday best behind me is the Discovery Hut, and further beyond is McMurdo Station, home for the next 5 months. Sunburn, as is frostbite are serious problems due to the cold and wicked winds. The ozone layer at the earths' poles are depleted and even 20 minutes outside with your face exposed without sunscreen poses a problem. This is also why we must wear specific heavy duty 92% glacier density sunglasses to protect our eyes. I found them impossible to wear anywhere else other than here because they are so dark.

Emily's last night here in town before leaving for the Pole. Apparently the 2 bars, and coffee/wine house are all closed on Monday nights. And that's an airplane.

But don't be fooled, there is no shortage of ways to keep ourselves occupied. After dinner we take the party to Cesar's building for a night of pool. Thank goodness we had Susan on our team.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Room with a View

Sometime after midnight this is about as dark as it gets and it is what I see before going to sleep from my dorm. Behind the chapel is the Ice Runway where I landed flying in from New Zealand. By the way we are on the same time zone as New Zealand, I'll leave you to do the math.

BBC Frozen Planet

As mentioned before there are many different science projects going on organized by the National Science Foundation, NSF. That is what brings all of us down here. In addition the BBC is filming Frozen Planet, part 3 of their Earth series. Dr. Chadden Hunter gave us a glimpse into their project. The footage is specatular, just as Blue Planet and Planet Earth before. There will be more viewings and presentations for us in the upcoming months including a visit from Sir David Attenborough himself sometime in December!

Done up like a Dog's dinner

I've been planted in the center of quite the social scene. Yoga 3 nights a week, movie at the coffee house every night, Monday is volleyball, Wednesday is soccer, Friday is Rugby, tap dance is once a week, knitting another, the library is amazing, ski rentals, bicycle rentals, endless hiking trails, science lectures, tours, I could go on and on. But yes, I did come down here to work, and there is time for that. I'll be working 5 12 hour shifts per week. Sleep will come in the next life.

Saturday a group of us spent the night over a few bottles of wine and board games at the coffee house and this is what I looked like walking in. It was exceptionally chilly at -4F, -24F with the wind chill.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mailing address

I know how anxious everyone is to send me gifts so I'll include my mailing address. Keep in mind a letter will take 1 or 2 weeks, and a package 2 or 3 weeks.

Christina Mia Vlacich
McMurdo Station
PSC 469 Box 700
APO AP 96599 - 1035

Thursday, October 15, 2009


With my Departure to Antartica immigration card I climbed up into the C-17 in Christchurch, NZ operated by the US Air Force, and according to Jim, my brother, this is the Cadillac of cargo aircraft. It was like stepping inside a bullet being shot out up into the sky and 5 hours later they tell us that we arrived.... arrived on the Antarctic continent.

A comfortable ride, I sat in the jump seat along the wall and slept with such ease due the the giant red parka (Big Red) that was issued which is like wearing a -50F sleeping bag. And I suppose in some ways it is.

Walking out onto the sea ice on arrival was surreal. I have no words to describe what I felt looking out over the ice field with the Trans Antarctic Mountain range behind. I can only tell you that my smile from within was as radiant as the southern sun itself.

There are dozens of studies going on at any given time during the year and on Wednesday and Sunday nights a different group of scientists proudly explain their work. I arrived on Wednesday and I wasted no time, a friend and I went to listen about the Weddell seal's behavioral patterns while hunting. It is here where I see Shelly, a friend and veteran of The Ice who introduced me to the idea of working here 5 years ago. Great to see a familiar face, meeting her has changed my life in every way in which I currently live. As fascinating as the lecture was my mind was all over the place and I found it hard to focus. I am, well I am in Antarctica.

My living conditions are comfortable and from what I hear, luxurious compared to the other first timers (I only have one roommate and not 3). Bathrooms are shared down the hall, this is probably what I would expect had I gone away to college.

The sun doesn't set and every day is like SUNday but there is a difference in its position in the sky. Overnight light is probably similar to a 5 o'clock afternoon sun..... but wait, I've been living in Alaska 2 years now and don't really know what that means anymore. Anyway, sunglasses are a good idea no matter what time of day/night it is, as well as sunscreen, as my nose is already looking a little like Rudolph.

Today's high was 5F but with the wind chill it was brutal. My 2nd day here, and my first day at work. Great department and co-workers, these next few months are going to be a lot of fun, and a lot of work.

There is a Recreation Department dedicated for our entertainment, including Thursday nights at the New Zealand station a short a distance away is American Night. Not wanting to miss an opportunity we went out to visit our neighbors' bar at Scott base. Here are 2 people cross country skiing on the Ross Ice Shelf.

These days have been packed with activities and lots of information. I am leaving out so much, but I am tiring out quickly of writing. I hope to offer more insight as I go along. There is too much to share; the landscape, people, routine, culture, emotions. I'll need some time to sort this all out. For now I am just enjoying the moment, and my smile.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

An extra day

Although the city is low key it was nice to get out to the edge of the city limits and do some hiking up in the surrounding mountains whether inland overlooking Lyttelton Harbour, or up the steep climb of Sumner's cliffs overlooking the Pacific.

We got the go ahead to proceed down now that the weather is cooporating on The Ice, not sure if it was the high winds or cold temperatures that held some of us back, but we're moving right along. At 0545 I'll board the bus to the Int'l Antarctic Center and climb up into the C-17 that will carry us across the lower Pacific to the white continent.

Here is a link in which you'll find more info on what is going on down on The Ice.

See you then! xo
It has been a wonderful 3 days in Christchurch, but I am ready to move further south and to get to work. In these days I ventured out with new friends to the sights and smells of Spring in the Southern Hemisphere. As we cross the streets and the trolley passes by we are surrounded by smart urban design including Hagley Park, the 2nd largest city park after the one and only NYC's Central Park. The Botanic Gardens are lovely, Cathedral Square busy with tourists, and each and every meal has satisfied my taste buds beyond expectation! Ahhh, the espresso is equal to that of my favorite, Illy. The shops are intriguing and stylish, and get this.. the Buzzcocks are playing a show in November. Christchurch is a little gem on the South Island that is stimulating enough to keep even me occupied. This place has everything!

Monday, October 12, 2009

One Step Closer, in Christchurch New Zealand

As I sit here in Christchurch New Zealand in the late night hours I am thinking ahead about a journey that began began days ago in Denver. After 2 days of HR and safety training in Colorado my group of about 50 future co-workers and I await for the final leg of our voyage, to the 7th continent, Antarctica, affectionately known as "The Ice". I'll be spending about 5 months working as a Passenger Service Representative coordinating everyones movement to, from, and within The Ice.

This morning we were issued our Extreme Cold Weather gear (ECW) and briefed on some important items at the International Antarctic Center.

I was scheduled to deploy down tomorrow but due to bad weather conditions at The Ice there is a bit of a delay and so I'll be spending another day in this beautiful city. Somewhat disappointed, all is not lost.