Part of the Mattrack parked on the ice.
Hey folks, how goes it? So I've not been writing much lately, but I have had a lot going on...so let's all get caught up...
First of all, work. This job quite simply isn't what I thought it was originally. As I believe you all know I am here as the Fire Inspector, not just an on shift Lieutenant like last year. I was led to believe there was a lot more fun and a lot less doing either obnoxious, or tedious tasks that I've never had to deal with before. So, while tough and sometimes downright aggrivating, I have learned quite a lot... and memorized a lot of fire codes.
Now, on to the fun stuff... first of all, as some of you may have seen.... Ann Curry from the Today Show is in town. She of course came with a full compliment of camera men, sound guys, producers, NSF liasons etc.
The crabeater seal
Tonight is actually their first broadcast. That means it will be aired live for the Today Show back in the states. Don't expect to see me on the show, although tomorrow night (Tuesday morning for all of you) They are allowing people to be in the background of the shoot, so if I can stay up until the 2am shooting time, maybe I'll be in there....
In other fun news last week I was asked to go on a Boondoggle* out to Hutton Cliffs. Im sure you are all rather confused at what that statement means. I was asked on a Saturday i just happened to not be working to take a Mattrack** Out to a shallow field camp (shallow meaning its not so far that it requires a plane or helicopter to get there) about 8 miles off station. Our important mission? Take a new generator, a little bit of science supplies, and more than a little bit of beer and liquor out to the scientists there for the season.
Another amazingly and sickeningly adorable pup pair.
As I said, ALL of these items are of course mission critical. So, myself and my two companions on the journey saddle up in the truck and head out, me driving the whole time as I was the only one trained to drive a Mattrack. It was roughly an hour drive due to the slow speeds you must observe over the sea ice road, due to snow drifts, and ice features that could seriously damage a vehicle if hit too quickly.... stranding you in the Antarctic. It was a heavy traffic day on the Ice Road, at one point we passed a tractor pulling tanks of propane to resupply the camps with...another vehicle on these roads might as well be rush hour at the 90/94 merge. Upon our arrival I first, of course, saw the cliffs... quite large and interesting looking. Next I spotted the camp its self.
This little guys mom was about 20 feet away, he was just flopping around having a grand time. The bloods a good thing, I promise.
A couple of fishing huts, one was a lab, and one was the galley/common area. Then there was also a RAC Tent. This is similar to a Jamesway only a differant manufacturer. The RAC tent is basically an arch roofed structure made of canvas, plywood, blankets and a diesel fueled heater. In addition there were 3 yellow tents, and a few snow mobiles. Welcome home. So, we unloaded all the important gear, and our leader, the Camp Liason*** had us strap some SabilIcers to our boots... basically a rubber shoe sole covered with metal studs to keep you from slipping on the ice... and we hiked the 1/4 miles to the Hutton Cliffs Seal Colony. The colony is populated vastly by Weddel Seals.... which live enmass further south than any other seal on earth. It was also breeding season so the mother seals were absolutley huge (~1200 pounds per one of the scientists), the seal pups were as adorable as you always hear, and the ice was absolutley covered in blood from the births.
Just a great picture to sum up Antarctica...
We were allowed to get incredibly close to the Seals since we were there under a scientific group's license which was quite awesome. The seals generally just lifted their heads to look at us then continued doing nothing... which they are very good at. There was one Crabeater seal at the site (the most populous seal on earth at about 5.5 million) since they are not covered by the permit, and not nearly as docile as the Weddels we kept more than a safe distance from him. So we walked, took our pictures and learned somethings from the Beakers**** there. They are doing a study regarding the "pup pairs" or the mother and new pup. The stud covers things like if they come back to the same area each year, and even how much water the pup gets from its mother's milk in comparison to how much it gets from the ice/snow/sea.
Our Delta parked in front of Mt Erebus
Very interesting. There is a second science group that comes and tags all the seals and documents them to track their life cycle... this group has been doing this in the same area for over 30 years! So, that being all finished we hiked back to camp, and our hosts treated us to tea and Cadbury chocolates in their galley. After that with many thanks, we got back in the truck and headed for the big city... an amazing day.
Well, it will be tough to top that story, and I know this is starting to run rather long. The other exceedingly interesting I did was went back to Cape Evans (see a post or two ago). This time was training as I will be driving the huge orange Delta Vehicles out there for the future trips. This trip had much better weather, which made for better views and all, but not nearly as much fun as the storms.
This one speaks for its self.
Also, we failed to encounter any Penguins this time on our trip out...oh well. I am currently reading "Cherry: The Life of Apsley Cherry-Gerrard" By Sara Wheeler. Cherry was one of the younger men on Capt. Scott's ill-fated expedition to reach the pole. Returning the the hut at Cape Evans while reading all about the life these men and animals led there was quite a moving and humbling experience. The descriptions in the book of where certain items are...remain perfectly accurate to this day, sort of a chilling though really...over 100 years later. We had great weather like I said, and it was a great time, I will be out there at least two more times as a driver this month.
Other than all that, I've been bartending a bit and just enjoying my time here.
Under this frozen pile of old equipment outside Scotts Hut lays one of Shackleton's sled dogs... they had to shoot him and leave him tied up since they left in such a haste after being stranded 3 years.
I hope to hear back news from the homefront from you all, and I hope everyone enjoyed this and the pictures too!
* - Boondoggle - Per Dictionary.com "work of little or no value done merely to keep or look busy." These are offically referred to as "Working Morale Trips" by management now, but the age old term of boondoggle will never go away.
** Mattrack is a band to "wheel track replacements" Essentially you pull all four wheels off a vehicles and replace them with rubber tracks...similar to a Caterpillar tractor or a tank. These are obviously much better performanace-wise on snow and ice... when theyre not needing replacement or in some other state of disrepair.
*** His sole job is to be the connection between McMurdo and the Field Camp. Handling supplies, and other things of the like. He spends about 70% of his time in camp and the rest in town.
**** Antarctican term for a scientist or grantee.