There were forty five excited Antarctic goers on our flight today. Some were first timers and many had done several seasons on the ice. Some were Scott base staff, some scientists, some pilots from the US Airforce and some worked in construction. There were New Zealanders, an Australian, a Czech, an Austrian, a couple of Germans, a lot of Americans and probably a few other nationalities! All were more than happy to put on their ECWs (Extreme Cold Weather gear) on a hot Christchurch day to go and sit in the cargo nets of a Hercules for seven and a half hours in very noisy, cramped and HOT conditions. All to get to Antarctica. It seems the novelty of the continent doesn’t wear off, even for the most seasoned antarcticans.
The only issues that concerned people aboard the Herc were the primitive toilet or ‘honey pot’, what component of their packed lunch they should eat next and where to place their feet! In Antarctica everything is big. My feet are actually quite small, but once transformed into ‘Antarctic Libby’ who wears mukluk-like boots, I suddenly have trouble finding the space to place them anywhere! The heavy duty, heavy soled, knee high (on me anyhow) boots were constantly being reshuffled with persons sitting next to you, across from you and passing among you. We put up with this because we know these boots are brilliant (Chris said so), and all your space issues will melt away as soon as you step off the plane and onto the expansive ice shelf.
We landed on the ice at Pegasus in McMurdo Sound. Upon exiting the aircraft, I immediately gained a view of Erebus on Ross Island and back across to the Transantarctic Mountains of the continent. It is such a beautiful day! Clear blue sky and very mild (-5 degrees Celsius with little wind chill). We then jumped on the Terra bus, which is definitely not your average bus and serves both Scott Base and McMurdo Station. Rather than making a straight line course across McMurdo Sound toward Scott Base we followed the land more closely, making sure to stay on the ice shelf, rather than the sea ice. Last time I was down in Antarctica, sea ice travel was the norm, but being here so late in the summer means it is no longer safe. The ice shelf (~20-400 metres thick) on the other hand is quite safe. Ice shelf is made of ice that initially forms over the land, but has since flowed from the land with gravity and now sits over the sea permanently. Sea ice (up to ~6 metres thick) is usually a seasonal phenomenon; forming as the ocean freezes in winter, and breaking up in late summer. The weakened sea ice may not withstand the weight of the Terra bus and swimming in Antarctica is not very comfortable (I can vouch for that).
I am feeling incredibly tired and excited at the same time. Today was long and my body definitely feels that it is time to sleep, but my mind is distracted by the fact that there is a bright blue sky outside and all the potential that offers . . . I must close the black out shutters and try my hardest to pretend that Antarctica isn't still lit up.
Renee and I about to board the Royal New Zealand Air force Hercules
Inside the Hercules, conditions were hot, very noisy and cramped- but everyone was happy ECWs finally put to good use… in Antarctica!
Renee and I are standing on the airstrip at Pegasus. Looking over the ice you can see the bare ground (black) of Ross Island where McMurdo Station and Scott Base are located with Mount Erebus steaming in the background