To Antarctica, Part 5: We made it!

I’m a bit backed up – this post will start on October 7th and go on as far as I can today. 

October 7 – We had been delayed a whole week in Christchurch, NZ (our original “ice date” was October 1) due to poor weather in Antarctica. Finally, our fourth attempt…


Bags stacked up in the Clothing Distribution Center

Because the last week of flights were cancelled, there were roughly 4-500 contractors and scientists living in hotels in New Zealand, waiting for their ride down south. As this queue amassed, the bags of cold weather gear in the locker room started to get piled higher and higher.


Members of the Todgham Lab, apprehensively waiting for our flight

We went through the usual motions – checking our bags and waiting in the departure lobby. We then learned that the flight before us that morning had already been cancelled due to bad weather, but that they were hoping to get our flight safely to Antarctica during a window of good weather.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn addition, our plane for the ride was, again, the C-17 military transport jet – incredibly powerful and ruggedly built to land in rougher weather than normal commercial aircraft.


There's no way I can get this plane in one photo!

There’s no way I can get this plane in one photo!

Me and  Kevin, fellow grad student.

Me and Kevin, fellow grad student.

Our flight took off successfully, at 2:00pm, and we started the 5-hour flight down south. After several attempts at a landing, we finally touched down on the Pegasus runway on the McMurdo Ice Sheet at a hair past 7:00pm.

Taking a deep breath, I stepped out onto the most hostile continent on Earth. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the first photo I took after coming off of the C-17. The runway is situated on a 700 foot thick glacier that has extended into the ocean, called the McMurdo Ice Shelf.

My advisor, Professor Gretchen Hofmann.

My advisor, Professor Gretchen Hofmann.

Professor Hofmann and Kevin

Professor Hofmann and Kevin


“Ivan”, the Terra Bus

The weather was indeed suboptimal – the sun was still up, but the horizon couldn’t be seen in any direction. The wind was blowing flurries of snow up into the air, obscuring geographic features and muting all of the color. This runway is built a fair distance away from the station – about an hour by bus. Ivan the Terra Bus works to shuttle people from McMurdo Station to Pegasus Field, and resembles a school bus on the inside. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Scott Base, Antarctica

On our way, we pass by Scott Base, which is New Zealand’s Antarctic Base only several miles away from McMurdo. By population, it’s about 1/10 of that of McMurdo.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn hour after leaving the runway – finally, our first signs of McMurdo! We approach McMurdo from the backside, traveling through it down to the galley for our first briefing.


McMurdo Station predominantly consists of corrugated steel buildings, with shipping containers lined up for winter storage. The base’s only major resupply ship comes once a year in February, so I imagine there’s a lot of need for stockpiling.


Pisten Bullys!

We pass a line of Pisten Bullys – tank-like vehicles that our group uses to travel on the sea ice.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the time we’re at base, it’s 9:00pm. We grab some cold pizza from the galley during the briefing, and finally make it to bed around 11:00pm.

October 8 – 

The next day, we get up for a day of training and orientations.


Golf Quebec

We learn about separating waste at the station, as all of the trash we generate gets shipped back to the United States in shipping containers for processing. We learn about water conservation, as the station runs on a desalination plant – taking ocean water and drawing the salt out of it in a complex, expensive process.


We then start to get acquainted with our lab space. The lab buildings, called Crary, are actually a series of three buildings built on a hill. They are connected by a long ramp and staircase running down the length of the hill, which we call “The Spine”. The spine has 48 stairs, which separate our lab space from our aquarium tanks where we will be holding our critters.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a quick panorama from a trip up to the Carpenter’s shop. The ice past the station is the expanse of sea ice that covers the McMurdo Sound. This is the 6-foot thick ice we will be traveling on and conducting experiments under.



Previous Post: To Antarctica, Part 4: Frolicking in coastal New Zealand 

Next Post: To Antarctica, Part 6: -50˚C wind chill, Sea Ice training 

2 thoughts on “To Antarctica, Part 5: We made it!

  1. Hi,
    I’m Gretchen’s mommy! She gave me your site address and I’m having fun following the adventures all of you are experiencing.
    It’s a fantastic opportunity to experience such a remote part of our world. Keep the pictures coming!
    Barb Hofmann

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