New Year’s and a Trip to the Mainland

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I haven’t been very good at writing lately. I guess as time has worn on my enthusiasm for these things has faltered. Working six days a week for the last four months has certainly taken its toll. I still try my best to get out on my day off and enjoy the sunshine. I still spend a little time bouldering and hop over to McMurdo to see what bargains I can score at the Skua (free op-shop) or visit friends. The difference is that it now takes a little bit more to convince myself that I really want to do these things. In saying this, with only a couple of weeks to go, I should really try get out and enjoy every moment I have left in this amazing place.

Talking about amazing places and things to do, two big events in January. First, I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to head over to mainland Antarctica to help set up a science field camp. There was five of us on this set up team: two domestic staff, an electrician, an engineer and a field support person. The destination was Boulder Bay, Granite Harbor, which was to be reached via helicopter. This is how it went….

We lifted off from base a little after 8am with big silly grins across our faces, we were excited to be off on our big adventure. We spent the next hour flying over the beautiful landscape. The great expanse of sea ice we flew over was a patchwork of white and soft grey blues formed by the shadows of the patchy clouds. Eventually, the landscape changed to the mountainous country that is mainland Antarctica, the low cloud on the horizon and the stark brown rock forming the scenery. We touched down on a small boulder covered beach that was to be our campsite for the night. We took a moment to soak in the scenery and get our bearings then it was straight into it, there was work to do and time was ticking.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThree of us were left standing on the beach while the helicopter left to sling a load of gear over from a different campsite. Our first job was to build a new helicopter pad as the current pad was going to be used as a platform for the large polar haven tent that we were yet to set up. We found the flattest spot we could on the small rocky beach and then started piling rocks. Rocks, rocks and more rocks. Slowly but surely, we built a sturdy platform for our two wooden pallets to sit on, and after a steady hours work we had our helicopter pad, at least version 1.0.

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By the time the helicopter rejoined us, it was time for a much-deserved break. After we finished munching on our sandwiches and crackers it was time to crack into putting up the large polar haven tent, what was to be the scientist’s kitchen. Under the warm sunshine, we hauled and tied until we had something that looked inhabitable. While Sooty set to work setting up the gas stove the rest of us started putting up the three sleeping tents and toilet tent. Usually these tents are relatively easy to put up and take no time at all. But, with football sized and larger rocks covering the ground there was a lot of work to do to make flat enough areas to set up tents. It was 5.30pm before we were tidying up the campsite, definitely time for a beer. While the beverages were cooling in the snow we cracked into making some dinner, Spag bol was on the menu tonight. We enjoyed our meal out on the deck of the polar haven, soaking in the rays and listening to some tunes. The rest of the evening was spent exploring our surroundings before heading to bed to get some needed rest.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the morning, we didn’t have much left to do. It was however Kat’s birthday, so we cooked pancakes, bacon, hash browns and toast for breakfast. Not bad considering we had one pan and two elements to cook on. Then we shifted the gear to the helicopter pad and lay about in the sun waiting for our ride to arrive. I felt so incredibly lucky to be on this trip, it’s not every day that you get to set foot on the continent.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe second major event was New Years. It was probably one of the best NY’s I have had to date. The main event happened at McMurdo, they call it Ice-Stock. It was about 8pm when I headed over to check out what was going on. Deciding I needed some fresh air I chose to walk, which isn’t really a hard decision when it’s nearly 0 degrees outside and the sun is shining. When I arrived, the bands were cranking and people were dancing.  Ice Stock is a festival of sorts, they set up a big stage and bands play until about 1am. People get dressed up in costumes and gather to dance and be merry. It’s a pretty good vibe and the weather made it even better. Soon after we arrived, however, a breeze picked up a little and with my wet hair (rookie mistake showering before going to play outside), I was soon chilled and looking for ways to warm up. A couple of breaks in front of the heater inside the drinks hut and a couple of hot cups of tea helped but I still couldn’t feel warm. Then I had the bright idea of putting hot water in my Nalgene water bottle and sticking it down my jacket and stealing an additional jacket from my McMurdo friend. With these new additions and some dancing on the dance floor I finally was able to maintain some body heat. As the sun circled the sky we headed towards the New Year. I have to say it is pretty nice welcoming in the NY in the sunshine. As the time drew near, we counted down in the same fashion that happens all over the world. Five, four, three, two, one…. HAPPY NEW YEAR. We danced away for the next few hours before enjoying the infamous McMurdo pizza and then calling it a night. I think we had all very much enjoyed ourselves and were looking forward to the comfort of our beds.

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