Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Santa Trip

Click on any photo to see a larger size

Early this morning, Lynn and I made our way down to
the Helo Hanger where we were issued cool helmets (in
addition to our Santa/Elf hats) and we joined our four
fellow elves and Santa for our trip to seven awesome
places that we hadn't been to before...delivering gifts
to each stop and bringing Christmas cheer!

It was a really foggy morning on part of the ice shelf headed
out of town, but we managed to skirt it and after about 15
minutes we were at Black Island.

Black Island holds the communication equipment that makes
it possible for us to stay in touch with the outside world. If you
get a phone call from me, it goes through Black Island and the
equipment held here. It was originally built because the satellite
equipment on Ross Island was blocked by Mount Erebus and
Black Island was far enough away to get a clear signal.

The camp manager, Tony, has been coming down here since
the 80's and he's a really nice guy. I've known him for a few
years and he's always pleasant to me and has good stories.

From Black Island, you can see Mount Erebus in the
distance. At the very bottom of Erebus is a small
set of darker hills. That's where McMurdo is located.
It's fun after all these years seeing McMurdo from
Black Island instead of the other way around.

This is my favorite photo of the day. It's my "artistic"
photo of our fellow "elf" Katie, as we're entering the
Dry Valleys.

This is one of the many glaciers we flew over or past
as we flew up into the valleys.

Our first camp that we visited was F6. It's a tiny camp
and the scientists there seemed very happy to see us.
In all the places we visited, no one lived in the main
building or buildings. They were just central gathering
spots and a place to eat. Everyone sleeps in tents.

Here they're making studies around this stream. We were
told that the night before, it was much higher and they weren't
even able to cross it.
Our next stop was the Lake Fryxell Camp.
Yes...that's a boat!

The Lake Fryxell Camp is larger, but still pretty small.
It's in a beautiful location, surrounded by the lake and
towering mountains.

I really liked their galley tent.

We landed the helicopter directly on the beach.

Our next stop was Lake Hoare Camp. Lynn's friend Rae
is the camp manager here and they shared some knitting
stories. Rae is a wonderful knitter that Lynn really looks
up to.

They had a cool little logistics/bunk room in the main

This helo landing spot was a little more precarious than
the others.

Rae showed us a mummified seal that had traveled miles and
miles up the valley from the ocean. This happens occasionally
and scientists are trying to figure out why.

Then we were showed this Penguin skeleton. The same
thing happened here too as the Penguin wandered up
the valley to die.

This is a huge glacier that is right next to the camp.
I asked Rae if this water was drinkable and she told
me that it is the source for their drinking water. It
comes from the top of the glacier. Back home, even
mountain water must be filtered because of giardia.

When we got back into the helicopter, we saw some fantastic
scenery that included glaciers and glacial lakes of beautiful
blue coloring.

We crossed over Blood Falls. There is a iron ore deposit
under this glacier near Lake Bonney that drains with the
melt water and looks like blood.

Our next stop was the Taylor Glacier Camp. It was very
isolated, but probably the prettiest place we visited all day!
The scientists have estimated that Taylor Glacier is about
1000 feet in depth and the area where the camp is located
is over 50,000 years old.

The mountains surrounding the camp and the glacier
were absolutely stunning!

The scientists dug really deep holes into the glacier for their
experiments. This hole was 70 meters deep! That's over
200 feet! When we would drop chunks of ice into it, it made
a really loud ping pong sound and air would blow up into our
faces. It was a lot of fun!

The scientists at this camp were really proud of their work
and they spent our entire time there showing us their

When we left Taylor Glacier, we took a different, scenic
route over the mountains to Marble Point.

I especially liked this glacier since it looks like a big
waterfall of ice, headed over a cliff.

Parts of the Dry Valleys truly live up to their name. This
is one of the driest places in the world.

We landed at Marble Point after about a 20 minute flight
and I was lucky enough to have a window seat. Marble Point
is essentially a refueling station. It is the perfect location for
a much larger Antarctic station and it was actually considered
as a replacement for McMurdo at one time, complete with a
dry land runway.

The facilities are a little larger than other locations, but still
fairly spartan.

It's nice to see that the folks here have a good sense of humor,
complete with couch, grill and foilage.

Our friend Bodie is the camp manager and it was really great to
see him. He visited us in Grand Junction during the summer.
Now we got to visit him!

These tanks hold the fuel that makes Marble Point so

While headed to our last stop of the day, we flew by a
place called Bay of Sails, where lots of icebergs are "trapped"
Our pilot, Jack, who I've known for years, flew all the way
around one of them, just above the water line. Then he
asked if any of us have ever landed on top of an iceberg.
No one raised their hand, and the next thing we knew, we
were touching down on the top of the iceberg! WOW!

Then we flew over the Ice Breaker Khlebnikov. It's in
the area, showing paying tourists the local sites. Jack
congratulated us. He said that the folks on the ship were
paying up to $50,000 each to see what we were seeing today!

Our last stop of the day was Cape Royds. Occasionally
folks from McMurdo get to visit here, but not often as
it's usally a trip given to people as a reward. Exactly why
we were here today!

Cape Royds is about 19 miles north of McMurdo, and home
to a really large Adelie Penguin rookery. There are thousands
of penguins in various stages of nesting. It reminded me of a
crowded beach of people on a summer day at Lake Michigan.
I'd seen lots of Adelies a few years ago at Hut Point at
McMurdo, but this was probably 100 fold the amount
we saw there.

We even saw a few scampering across the ice.

This Skua though was giving us the evil eye the entire
time we were watching the Penguins. He was probably
thinking we were moving in on his territory. One of the
main things that skuas like to eat are penguin eggs and

There is a small, historic hut here that was built by Ernest
Shackleton, during his 1907-09 expedition. I can't imagine
spending a long time here as it seems very desolate.

We didn't get to spend as much time exploring the hut as
I would have liked, but it was great to finally see it in person.
The day was spent enjoying all the physical beauty, but it was
really nice finishing it amongst a site of such historical significance.
This day is definitely in my top ten of all days I've spent on this
earth. I've now been to everywhere in Antarctica that I've
really wanted to go. If I get to go to other places, it will be icing
on the cake.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic story and photos, Tom!


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Benjamin said...

Wow. I am especially happy for you two. You are some of the most deserving people I know. I am glad you got to have such a great Christmas gift.

Jude said...

Wow. Very cool. Thanks for sharing this with us in so much detail.

Lori Murray said...

What a wonderful trip. I'm glad you guys got to go.