First full days on the Ice
In the morning on the 10th, I have to go to training. First there is Driving School. In order to drive any vehicle down here, you have to have a McMurdo driver's license. There is a lot to learn about operating vehicles in this cold, harsh environment. There are lots of specialized vehicles (which I'll cover in a special report), but the only ones I'll have to drive are modified Vans and Pickup Trucks. The modifications include special large snow tires, special hydraulic emergency brakes, engine block heaters (vehicles have to be plugged in when they're not running), and radios (a minor breakdown can be very dangerous here). There is also a strict scheduled maintenance plan. Because so much time is spent with the engines idling or the vehicles running slow (maximum speed limit is 25 mph on the best roads), the maintenance schedule uses the number of hours the engine has been running, and there are special meters on all the vehicles.
After that is Waste Management training. The treaties that govern Antarctica strive to minimize the human impact on the entire continent. A lot of time is spent here on recycling, prevention of fuel spills, etc. I'll do a special report on this topic, too.
Then the slow trip out to Willy field. The wind is blowing the snow up, and visibility isn't very good, but the road is well marked. Lunch out at Willy Field is great. Because it is so far from town, it has it's own galley and the two people running it, Beaver and Jenn, do a terrific job. It's easier to cook for 20 or 30 people than the 800 to 1000 people the cafeteria in Mac town handles every day. The picture at left shows the galley, which is a military-designed building called a Jamesway. The Jamesway behind it is a lounge and has bunk beds in case we can't make it back to town because of weather.
Photo at right: Galley at Willy Field with Mt. Erebus in background
The mountain in the back left is Mt. Erebus, and the white area at the top is not blowing snow or a cloud, it's smoke. Mt. Erebus is an active volcano! It is the southernmost active volcano on Earth. Castle Rock is also visible from here (picture left) and there is a hike from McMurdo that goes to Castle Rock that I can take when I've done my Outdoor Safety course. The path has marker flags every 25 feet, and it is important to stay on the marked trail. In 1992, two hikers were killed when they tried to take what appeared to be an easy shortcut and broke through a thin cap of snow over a crevasse that was hundreds of feet deep.
Photo at left: Eric standing with Castle Rock in background
Sunday the 11th is a day off for the regular galley crew, but we still head to work. The NSBF Facilities Manager, Dave Sullivan, has arranged a BBQ for us with some wonderful T-bone steaks. The grill is just outside the door of the galley and a South Polar Skua (a large seagull with a very large beak) comes to check us out. At one point, while we're all eating down at the other end of the galley, he decides to come right in and check out the food situation. We sucessfully shoo him away without any problem.
Dr. Eric R. Christian
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This page was last modified on December 19,