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5 December, 2003

Still here, but planes are on their way!

Temperature: 28*F

Location: McMurdo Station, Antarctica

I have always heard that getting in and out of Antarctica can be tricky. I can now verify that statement! We were scheduled to leave four days ago. First bad weather refused to let us leave, now solar flares!

Yesterday, severe solar flare activity hit the southern hemisphere. The LC 130 aircrafts, which we will be flying out on, use high frequency (HF) waves for their communications. The HF waves "bounce" off the ionosphere to transmit signals. When solar flares hit, the signals being transmitted on HF waves can get scattered. The planes that were scheduled to come get us could not fly due to solar storm activity!

What does one do when stuck in Antarctica during nice weather? Go skiing of course! Three of us rented cross country skiis from the recreation department and prepared to go. Before traveling off base, each traveler must take several safety classes. We took the final class, then went to the fire station to report our intentions.

Anyone traveling off base must check out with the McMurdo Fire Department. Each individual signs out, the group files a travel plan, the time of departure from base, and the expected time of return. The group is issued a radio for communications. If the group gets into trouble, members can call for assistance. The radio is also used to call the fire department and extend the return time if the group is running behind schedule. If the group does not return, or check in via the radio, by the expected time of return, a search plan is put into action by the fire department. Communication in Antarctica is critical!

We filed our plan with the fire department, grabbed our skiis and headed out! We took a shuttle over to Scott Base, which is the New Zealand equivalent to McMurdo Station, and skiied back to McMurdo. It was a wonderful trip.

We skiied beside huge pressure ridges near Scott Base. Once we were beyond the ridge area, the trail extended out onto the Ross Sea Ice. All trails in Antarctica are well marked with flags guiding the way. All travel must stay strictly to the flagged routes. Black flags mark crevasses, dangerous pressure ridges, and unstable ice. Our path kept us clear of the black flags although we could see several not too far in the distance!

It was fantastic to get out and ski after being confined to buildings during the stormy weather of the previous several days. The views were magnificent. Looking across McMurdo Sound, the Royal Society Mountains jutted boldly into the sky. This is a view that I will forever cherish, and an experience that I will always remember.

It looks as though my time here is truly coming to an end. The planes coming in from Christchurch are beyond the point of no return and should be landing soon. Barring any more storms, solar flares, or other unforseen obstacles, Peter and I should be heading to Christchurch tomorrow.

1. Scott Base sign.

2. Pressure Ridges.

3. Pressure ridges and flagged route.

4. Heading down the trail.

5. The trail ahead!

6. Amy and Barb in front of a volcanic cone.

7. McMurdo Station with Mt. Erebus in the background.

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