Nov. 13, 1998
Letter 1: Getting To The Ice
Greetings from the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica! It took awhile for us to get here, but we finally made it on Nov. 2, Monday. We departed Denver, CO on Oct. 24 (after briefings from 7:30 am to 2:30 pm) in the late afternoon and flew straight through to LA, Auckland, and then to Christchurch, New Zealand arriving sometime in the late afternoon of the 26th. Since we crossed the International Date Line, we missed Sunday, Oct. 25th altogether.
Our group from Antarctic Support Associates (ASA) for the National Science Foundation (NSF) was met at the Christchurch airport by a member of the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) for the United States Antarctic Program (USAP). We were briefed on our housing assignments and were told our times to appear at the CDC the next day for clothing issue specific for our job requirements and travel in Antarctica. I'll write a lot more about our issued clothing later. So from the airport we were all shuttled off to our lodging to have showers, a rest, and go out for some food.
At our CDC clothing issue and briefing on Oct. 27th, we were told that Antarctic flights were backed up for days due to bad weather on the ice and not to expect to fly before Wednesday or Thursday. We were all actually happy for a break and the opportunity to R & R in Christchurch while we waited to be called for deployment! It's springtime in Christchurch now and the weather reminded us of home in Washington state. It was mostly cool, cloudy, with showers and periodic sunshine. When we come off the ice in February it will be warm and beautiful, as it will be near the end of their austral summer.
We spent the next few days enjoying Christchurch's museums, gorgeous botanical gardens and parks, city square, and ethnic restaurants. Perhaps the most amazing museum I have ever experienced is the Antarctic Center at the NSF complex and CDC. We spent hours in the Antarctic Center and even though I lived 3 ½ months at the South Pole Station 2 austral summers ago, I was extremely impressed with the exhibits, hands-on activities, walk-through multi-media rooms complete with chilling temperatures! One can even experience being on the ice by putting on rubber boots and wind jackets to walk through a glacial room. It was cold! I did not choose to turn up the wind-chill fan, as I knew that soon enough I would experience the real thing! At that point, I'd realized that I had forgotten how cold it really is at the South Pole, Antarctica and I was concerned about returning to the ice.
Finally, on Friday evening there was a note on the door of our room telling us of a 4:15 am shuttle pick up for the next morning. We were to report to the CDC for deployment. Once we arrived at the CDC early the next morning Mike, the director, told us not to put on all of our Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) issued clothing in order to fly as the weather was questionable in McMurdo, Antarctica. McMurdo is a large coastal station of around 1,200 during the austral summer and is located at the southern tip of Ross Island near Mt. Erebus, an active volcano 12,444 feet high. McMurdo is the main U.S. station in Antarctica and is a connecting point for the South Pole Station and other smaller camps. We were to wait for 3 hours for a decision for flight to McMurdo. The Antarctic Center's coffee shop opened up for us so we could have breakfast and a place to wait out the early morning hours. We were told to return the next day to try again. We missed the famous Halloween party in McMurdo that night!
Sandi and Les Kolb waiting to depart from Christchurch, New Zealand to McMurdo, Antarctica.
On Sunday, Nov. 1, we were up early again and on our way to the CDC. This time Mike told us to get dressed, meaning to put on all of our required ECW gear in preparation for flight. Once this was done, we had several briefings in the Antarctic departure area, went through security clearance, and were weighed with all of our bags. My best guess is that I had on 25-30 lbs. of clothing including my water bottle, camera, and book! We noticed a big change in the security clearance this time. Instead of the line-up with Sam, the black Lab, sniffing our bags and us we had typical airport baggage X-rays and walk-through detectors. We were told that Sam had retired.
Were we ever thrilled to learn that we were being sent out on the C141-only a 5-hour flight instead of the 8 hours of the C130 to McMurdo! It's not a very comfortable flight. In fact, it is an extremely uncomfortable flight: loud, cold, dim light and crowded. There were about 40 of us packed in like sardines in long rows from front to midway. The seats were military style made of nylon webbing and supported by metal frames. Our long rows sat facing each other and we were so squashed that we had to interlace our bunny boots with the person opposite us. Not a centimeter to spare anywhere! The huge parkas we wore kept us so propped up that all we had to do was to tilt our head back to catch a nap. But very few of us were able to sleep. Even though we were given earplugs before boarding, the noise was deafening. Men were boarded first and the minority of women were boarded last. This was because there was a bucket-type urinal behind a canvas curtain where the cargo load began for the men. In the front of the plane under the cockpit was a tiny airplane type restroom for the crew and women. The C130 isn't so plush! Once strapped in by the crew and handed our brown bag lunch (bologna and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches), Les (my husband) and I were surprised to see the banner hung in front of the cockpit announcing McCord Air Force Base. Our crew was from McCord in our home state!
Departing Christchurch for McMurdo Station, Antarctica
Photo by Sandi Kolb
Luckily for us the weather held and we were able to make it straight through to McMurdo on this first try! Not so for others who had several turn-arounds at the Point Of Safe Return where the pilots must decide if the weather will be acceptable to land in McMurdo. If not, then there is sufficient fuel to return to Christchurch. McMurdo, Antarctica is 2,415 miles from Christchurch. When we landed on the ice runway and disembarked, I was once again astounded by the beauty and brilliance of the sun on this starkly and surreally blue and white continent of ice. I have never before seen Mt. Erebus so majestic as on this perfectly clear Antarctic day. I then knew why I had to return to the ice. The next day I would be at the South Pole Station, but I didn't know that yet.
With my letters, I hope to share the details of daily life and science at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica, where I am living and working for the austral summer season of 3 ½ months. If you do not wish to be a part of this distribution list, I will not be offended if you ask to be removed. Likewise, if you know someone who would like to be on it, please let me know. Many of you have already told me you are forwarding my letters to others.
Some of you have asked me for a few details about myself. You can find my photo in front of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole dome and a brief bio about myself at the Teachers Experiencing Antarctica (TEA) website at: ../tea_kolbfrontpage.html. I am ateacher with Central Kitsap School District in Washington State and have been granted a one-year leave without pay in order to take advantage of this unique Antarctic opportunity. If you are a teacher, student, or are simply interested in Antarctica, I highly recommend the Project GLACIER website to you: ../. It's an outstanding experience with endless information and lots of photos. Enjoy!
High altitude illness, the Antarctic storm of our first week at the S. Pole Station, and ECW clothing are to follow in my next letter. If the letter isn't too long, I'll also describe my job and how we really got here.
In the meantime, I'm still gasping for air.