Tuesday, 14 December 2010

McMurdo Base, Antartica

Typed 8/12/10

So I've arrived in Antarctica!
And my luck in getting the best possible journey continues.
Following our lovely 5 day sojourn in Christchurch we boarded a US Air
force C-17 and flew to McMurdo Base. It took 5 hours and I have to
say was the smoothest take off and flight I have ever known. There
was onboard coffee and a pretty decent lunch! The noise, however was
deafening even through the ear-plugs we were issued with. The plane
was packed with around 120 people and pallets of supplies, in one
cavernous space.

The runway is laid out one the ice shelf near to the base. Apparently
the C-17s land on ice that is 2-3 metres thick. There are several
metal cabins including a couple of control 'towers' with typically
slanted windows. But they are all on skids and shortly will have to
be dragged further away to a safer place as the ice thins thought the
We can only see a tiny bit of the Ross ice shelf, the main part is
obscured by the outcrop McMurdo stands on. But we can see Mount
Eribus, the volcano, with a pretty lenticular cloud gracing it's
summit like a conical hat.

There are two Hercules C-130 planes and a twin otter parked up, and a
helicopter buzzing around up at the base. It's a busier airport than

McMurdo stands on the steep-ish slopes of a rocky outcrop at one side
of the Ross ice shelf, and at the site of Scott's original camp. It's
run by the US and is by Antarctic standards huge. It looks like a
factory complex with several independent 2-3 storey buildings. Pipes
and cables run as far as the eye could see. Apparently it even has an
ATM. This is something I will learn more about; Antarctic bases are
not pretty. But they do have amazing views and McMurdo is no
exception. It looks over the ice to some very graceful mountains far
over the other side.

While others are taken straight to planes to ferry to Mario Zucchelli
station, I and a few others are taken by the oddest bus I've ever seen
with massive wheels into McMurdo Base, to the communal area. It's
nice to rest for a few hours, have some food and tea. The driver,
Nathan, kindly gives me some stamps so I can post some cards. Thanks
Nathan, I really appreciated it.

Some guys made the trek to see Scott's hut but I missed the
opportunity to go with them, so I stay at the base and just relax. At
5pm, we're bussed back to the airstrip where we're given a hot meal in
one of the cabins. And at 8.30pm, I and three others get in a small
squirrel helicopter for the trip to MZS.

We flew over the ice very low to avoid the worst of the fierce
katabatic winds that roll down from Antarctica's high plateaus. Even
staying low we got batted about a bit. Fun fun fun.
We flew over thin sea ice, thick glacier ice, hills and right at the
very edge where the ice broke off into floes. Often you would see
thick bergs that had been trapped by sea ice and were stuck as if
struggling toward the edge where they would be free to drift and be
what they were meant to be.

And all too soon that magical flight was over, as Mario Zuccelli base
came into view.

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