2 February, 1999
Hello from New Zealand!!
When all 102 people scheduled to leave on the 141 flight woke up yesterday morning McMurdo remained socked in, foggy and snowy. I went to breakfast at 6:45 and everyone had that "another day in MacTown" look. I returned to the Hotel California (it looked like not only would we never leave, but that we would never check out either!!), and answered some mail, paced and grinned that anticipatory grin at the other passengers on flight ACH 018. The flight still hadn't been cancelled by 9. None of could believe that we would have to report for transportation at 11 and then have to come back because of a cancelled flight. Surely the plane couldn't land without a ceiling. Then we heard that it was due to clear for a few hours in the afternoon. Still cynical and resigned the exodus of red coats and orange bags dragged their too large hand carries up the ridiculous hill to the Movement Control Center.
The Air Force became suddenly picky about the size of our carry ons. My bag could never fit in the box, no matter how I tried to deform the shape of big orange, so I happily relinquished it and walked out to be transported to Pegasus Field with only my ECW, camera and water bottle.
I was able to ride on the Terra Bus. This monster holds about 50 people and the gas efficiency can be measured in gallons per mile!
It was slow going and it really didn't seem that we could negotiate the hairpin turns in this big red crate. We made it out past Scott Base and out onto the ice past Willy Field. The 141 lands at Pegasus because it is on the ice shelf proper. When you see the pictures of the 141 you will understand why this makes sense.
We were all finally at Pegasus by 1pm. The passenger terminal is close and uncomfortable for that many people so I waited outside with many others on the ice shelf. Behind us, the sky DID begin to show small patches of blue. And then the sun began to glint off Ross Island. We could see Castle Rock and I was imagining how it was for Scott's and Shackleton's parties when they left McMurdo and crossed the shelf. We were standing on some historical ice.
We waited, talked, laid down on the ice, played with a frisbee (our substitute for the Super Bowl), made snow angels, and waited........ Once in a while we went inside to warm out hands and cheeks. It was -2 degrees C with 10-15 knot winds.
One of the things that is so apparent from talking to everyone is how different everyone's experience is here. Connie Adams was one of the "penguin people" at Mt. Bird. At their camp they had gray water and they were proud that they only generated 55 gallons in the 7 weeks they were out. Gray water is water that is left after washing your hands, face, body and dishes. Adam and I were both in Beacon and we generated no gray water at all. Connie was in awe of us, and thought we were tough.
Every morning we could hear many of the field camps talking on the radio when we made coms. Most people had check in around 7:30 am. This was just to let them know how many in camp and that everything wasgoing well or not. Sometimes we reported weather for our location then, too. This is important information for the helicopters that supply the field camps. They have no other way of knowing what the weather is in these locations. At around 8 am we would have coms with Robin Abbott at helo ops. We could ask Robin for supplies, or parts, a retro of samples or to schedule a pick up. So we could all hear what all the other camps were doing.
Once we ran out of certain food items and it became an issue. Easy to solve! Lets just order those two cases of steak! So when I ordered those 50 steaks, Robin asked "Is that 15 - one five - steaks Over?" "No, Robin. That's 50, five zero repeat five zero steaks. Over." "Wow, Hillary. Ok we'll get that out to you on the next flight. Over" "Thank you Robin. This is 156 Clear."
Now to us this was serious but I found out that while we talking at Pegasus yesterday that several of the other camps thought that the exchange was so hilarious they wanted us to repeat it over and over.
"So did those steaks last the rest of the season?"
"Well no. They lasted for a meal and a half!!"
You should have seen the look in their eyes - but it was true!!
I'd say the men in our camp ate about 6-7 thousand calories a day. I think I ate around 3-4, maybe more somedays. It was amazing to watch.
But we laughed at the other camps plenty, too.
The sky continued to break a little and many of us began to get hopeful. Around 3 pm a C130 flew over, obviously it could see the runway. This was a good sign, we knew. If that plane could see it, and if the weather would hold for an hour, we would leave.
I talked with Gabriella Walker, a writer for New Scientist magazine. She studied to be a chemist, but partway through a PhD in chemistry, she re-thought her path and decided that she prefered to write. I met her first in a hall in Crary Lab. She asked me if one of the men talking with George Denton was Peter Barrett - a New Zealand scientist who is interested in many of the same issues that George Denton is interested in. Gabriella had spent a night flying with Denton and Sugden, and was interviewing Barrett. She is writing an arcticle for New Scientist that will likely appear in April.
We saw the 141 come in about 4 pm. Now remember we'd been out there for several hours with no lunch or coffee or tea, so we were all getting hungry - looking forward to our sack lunch with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They had to unload the DV's (who left in 31Lima - the helicopter I spent so many glorious nights in, the cargo which left on transport vehicles and load the medivac (who arrived in one of the Kiwi Hugheys).
This man was a member of the Indian Antarctic Expedition and last Friday he suffered a cerebral event that resulted in paralysis. His evacuation shows both the cooperation and logistical nightmare that is Antarctica. He was as far from McMurdo as it is possible to be on an Australian ship which is leased to the IAE. The ship was located near the peninsula.
A C130 cannot carry enough fuel to evacuate some one that far away. McMurdo needed help to get this man the medical care he obviouly needeed. The stations in the peninsula of Antarctica are also many hours behind McMurdo , so when Dave Breznihan, the head of NSF at McMurdo called some bases for their help, there was no answer. Finally at one of the German staions the cook answered the phone and woke someone up to help!!
The man ended up being evacuated from his ship via German helo to a South African ship. From the South African ship he was flownon a South African helicopter to Neumeyer, the German base and then flown to the South Pole Station. The C130 from McMurdo was able to leave on Sunday afternoon, and he arrived in McMurdo that night. It was then determined that he did indeed need to evacuated to Christchurch.
After cargo and the medivac were loaded the Deltas came to load us. But they loaded the men first!!! They did this to segregrate us bathroom wise. The plane had a funnel with a curtain in the back (for men) and a latrine with a door (for women AND the DV's that were aboard).
After the loadmasters strapped us in, I ravenously tore open my lunch and inhaled the PBJ. Everyone was doing the same. We took aff around 5 pm (6 hours after we reported to the MCC!) I immediately fell asleep until 8 pm. I opened my eyes to the sight of Jeremy - a 6'4" field assistant for a project at Siple Dome - standing on the mesh seat across from me dancing and singing at the top of his lungs. I could hear him over the roar of the engine and through the earplugs. Jeremy seemed happy to get off the ice.
There was one window near me and I noticed that it was getting dark!!!! Dark. I was almost afraid. I really enjoyed the sunlight all the time. One of my favorite parts as a matter of fact!!
We landed at 10 to hoots and hollers. We made it to New Zealand!! Night. Stars. A full moon. We were all out on the tarmac looking up, staring and pointing. It was hilarious. Like we returned..well ...from Antarctica!
We collected our bags - now remember that they are ALL orange- and went through customs. Marlene and the wonderful people from the CDC let us load our bags on the truck. I walked over with Nancy who worked on a project for USGS on the Ice. Now the horror of getting all our bags and returning our ECW. I could not imagine how this could take less than years. There were so many of us!!! But the CDC has this down to a science - I was checked out and at my B&B by 1:30 am. I was so tired that I did not even try to go get something to eat. I collapsed at 2 under a stained glass dome.
This morning I learned that the only reasons we left were that we had a 2 star general aboard and the medivac. Today's flight was also canceled.
In Antarctica the two words you learn the definition of are flexible and relative.
Good morning from Christchurch.
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