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Nov 13th – Day 4 at Pole

Whew! Guess who “fixed” their laptop charger (by splicing it with another charger) — This guy!

It’s only been 4 days back at Pole but it’s felt much longer. Lots of remembering how to do things and trying to feel like a “supervisor” .

I had a beautiful flight through the Trans-Antarctic mountains and wonderful weather! In fact, the weather has been beautiful the whole time I’ve been here — even unseasonably cold and calm according to our lovely weather man Jeff:

“Step outside right now and you will feel record cold for the date. We are currently at -46.2°C / -51.2°F; the coldest we’ve been on this date since 2006. The UTC date doesn’t end until 13:00 local time on Sunday so there is still time for the documented record to get colder. If you are only staying for the summer, your next chance to feel temperatures this cold will be (realistically) early February; and that’s not guaranteed. If you are staying for winter, the currenI t temperature is warmer (a lot warmer) than the average daily temperature for every day starting March 26th until October 29th. So there is that . . .

Cold is not the only record we’ve broken this week. On UTC day 12 we broke the record for lowest average wind speed (see below). You won’t see the cold record “officially” listed until next week’s summary. Looking ahead, models indicate a warming trend starting Monday night into Tuesday.”

This picturesque image is not a photo on a wall — it’s a picture out the window of Ivan The TerraBus looking at our plane with Mt. Erebus in the background!
Inside a Basler on the way to Pole! Luggage on one side, pax on the other and wonderful views of the mountains.

The great thing about the Basler flight is that you can actually fly THROUGH the mountains — like you look out the window and look up to see the peaks of some of them! My watch has a barometer and said we were flying between 10k and 11.5k ft; so only about 1000 to 2000 ft higher than Pole.

I felt great this year; haven’t had any trouble sleeping (which is very uncommon). So I’m happy!

I’ve done a couple runs outside; getting used to the cold and trying to figure out how to stay warm, but not too warm and to not burn out my eyeballs when I inevitably have to take my goggles off because they iced up 10 mins into a run. I also now have a watch with GPS tracking… which is, well, not very useful at Pole

My first (~3mile) run using my GPS watch at pole… just a flat line at the bottom of the planet haha. No matter how much I zoom in, it’s just a straight line at the bottom 😛

I have also of course been working a lot with the current WOs to train up the new ones and get them ready to be self-sufficient at operation and trouble-shooting.

First South pole selfie of the year! Post 3 mile run (probably around -50F with -70F windchill).

Work continues tomorrow with some EHT training in the morning – installing the mirrors and showing them the electronics.

Also I played volleyball on Friday night and it was awesome… I really gotta get into a beer league back in the real world. Dunno why I haven’t.

And of course I’ve been playing some roller hockey here and there, though with a larger summer population the gym is a little more busy so it’s hard to find good times.

That’s about it. Check in later.

Nov 8th – Day 34 of “The Commute”

No go. Weather in McMurdo cancelled today’s departure. We will try again tomorrow morning.

Weather was Condition 1 out on the airfields for most of the night/morning (which means high winds and low-visibility). The runway will have to be regroomed; so hopefully the winds die down soon, or tomorrow morning won’t be likely for takeoff. Winds have been gusty; up around 20-30knts all day.

Condition 1 definitions for McMurdo. One of the three things must be present.

Unfortunately they won’t cancel the flight until ~10 mins before we need to be at the transport building, so it’s one of those get-up-and-check types of deals. Get up at 0600, get breakfast early, and then make sure you’re ready to go by 0700.

Just another day in paradise!

Nov 7th – Day 33 of “The Commute”

The Halloween party did not disappoint. The setup was really nice; well decorated and it ended up being really well attended. Kudos to whoever put in the effort!

Today it snowed! And was super calm, so I went for a little run and took my first selfie of the trip! Was also quite warm, got up to almost 20 F. It will be a little bit colder at Pole… -45 F there now . brr.

Snowy McMurdo from Arrival Heights. It felt much more like what you might expect Antarctica to look like 😛

I haven’t been taking many pictures this year; trying to be more “in the moment”, but maybe I’ll document a bit more when I get to pole.

My flight is scheduled for tomorrow morning; 0700 transport out to the airfield and an 0830 flight. I’m not sure what the Pole forecast is, but it should be clear here in MCM (although supposed to get pretty windy).

I’m excited to get there and get to work!

Nov 6th – Day 32 of “The Commute”

This past week has had some great weather both here in McMurdo and at Pole, allowing 3 of the 5 opening flights to take pax in and out. This includes the 2 replacement winterovers for SPT, which is good because even if I get delayed from my nominal Monday flight date, they can start the training with this past year’s WOs.

I’ve done my “bag drag”, where I submit my checked bag to the cargo folks in prep for the flight, so now I just wait for Monday and hope for clear weather!

In the meantime I’ve been reading lots of papers and including the just-released Astro2020 decadal review which is a big collection of the US’s plans for astronomy in the upcoming decade. One notable encouragement from the review is the interest in time-domain astrophysics, including lots of multi-wavelength stuff – which is what I’m currently doing with SPT data. There was also lots of talk about CMB-S4 (the next generation CMB experiment) and how there should be a strong push to publicize data, including near-realtime alerts – which is also what I’ve been working on with SPT. So that’s encouraging that I might be headed in the right direction for post-graduate work 🙂

Aside from work, there is a Halloween party tonight. I have a feeling McMurdo will put on a well-decorated ; so I’m excited to see how it turns out… though I must admit I’m not much of a Halloween person. I don’t like coming up with costume ideas, nor dressing up :/

Then there is open volleyball on Sunday afternoon.

And meals in between. What more could I want?

I’ve also been getting really good at my Antarctic stare; especially right after stuffing my face at a meal I like to just sit in the galley for a while in my food coma and stare. Exciting stuff.

Nov. 4th – Day 30 of “The Commute”

Alrighty! just about 1 month of “commuting” so far. Flights have been going to Pole almost on-schedule so far; we’ve had 3 flights take passengers into/out of Pole so far including one of the new SPT winterovers. The other new SPT winterover is scheduled to fly in tomorrow, and my flight is scheduled for Monday barring any weather delays.

I have to say, I will be pretty surprised if tomorrow’s flight goes to Pole because having 3 flights in 3 days is pretty miraculous.. and it would be reeeaallly amazing if my flight wasn’t delayed from Monday. Weather actually looks good tomorrow, so I don’t think it’s crazy to think that that will go, but it’s too early to predict weather for Monday.

One nice thing about staying in McMurdo for the weekend is that we are now in “level green” which means that because we haven’t had a flight carrying passengers from off-continent to McMurdo in the past 7 days, we do not need to do social distancing/mask wearing anymore. It was really awesome to see people’s faces – all of these people who I had seen on and off for around 3 weeks during quarantine but haven’t actually seen their faces. And to see smiles again! You could feel the moral of station explode yesterday when we moved into level green… it was really neat.

There is also going to be a Halloween party this weekend. I don’t have a costume, nor do I particularly like thinking of costume ideas or dressing up, but I know people around here take these things very seriously… so who knows, maybe I’ll find something.

Today the weather is super nice; 14F with nearly no wind! It feels extremely warm compared to the usual 10-20 knts here in mactown… so of course I feel like I need to get out there and enjoy it, but I also kind of wanted to take a rest day; I ran 12 miles yesterday (one loop of what I thought was going to be the 2-loop marathon distance… so I’ll need to add a bit if I want to do that) and had been doing lots of hill climbs before that, so I needed a break. But it’s so nice out, this day can’t be wasted! Tough decisions.

Anyway, not much else going on here but running, hiking, eating and sleeping. I have occasionally been reading some papers online, and promptly falling asleep at the computer. A very familiar feeling.

Nov 1st – Day 27 of “The Commute”

Made it to McMurdo about 6 days ago! sorry for the delay in posting.

My laptop charger decided to stop working on the first day of my arrival, so I’ve not been able to use that. The internet in McMurdo is also pretty slow (though it is available 24 hours/ day there are also ~600 people using it).

The weather has been really nice; temps around 10F with windchills around 0F. Lots of sunshine. I’ve been doing lots of outdoor activities while trying to not get sunburnt. One of the “challenges” here in mcm is the Observation Hill “Everest challenge” — which is ascending the Obs Hill about 40 times in order to climb the height of Everest. Obs hill is about 750 ft tall, and Everest is ~29k ft . It takes me somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes per up-and-back, so I’ve managed to do ~30 so far and will probably finish today or tomorrow depending on how many I want to do (i.e. how long I want to be outside).

You can keep up with my activities on Strava (at least while I’m in McM… not sure I can upload to it from Pole, and probably won’t have reliable GPS).

I’ve still got probably at least a week until I fly further south, so I have some plans to run a marathon length run using all the available trails around McM (there’s a good 13 mile loop I can run twice… lots of elevation gain, so it should be pretty tough).

I got to play volleyball on Sunday for the first time in almost 9 months (since I was here last!) . I was definitely rusty, but started picking it back up… getting ready for Pole!!

That’s about it. Living meal-to-meal like usual. Will update once I know my flight schedule.

Oct 25th – Day 20 of “The Commute”

Possibly the last day before heading down to Antarctica! Hurray!

Today was a long day, starting at 0430. I decided to stay up between then and the 0730 move-out (and actually did some work!). We’ve successfully moved from NZDF isolation to our new USAP managed isolation at the Breakfree Hotel; and of course I can’t help but sing “I want to break free” as though I were Freddy Mercury whenever I hear the name.

My new room (hopefully only for the day/night). Makes me really appreciate the other hotel’s room.

We got all of our ECW clothing and gear all set for tomorrow. That was a bit of a cluster since we had multiple groups get shipped out to the CDC to try and allow social distancing and things were a bit rushed because of that. For veterans of the program it’s no big deal — but for the new guys who have no idea what clothes they will even be getting, how they should fit, how to pack them efficiently so that they can wear the required stuff on the flight and check the rest — it’s quite stressful. I guess it’s all part of the “experience” :).

Back at the hotel, we have a semi-normal dining experience where we go down to the lobby and eat down there. Was really weird at first being in a room with a bunch of people after 3 weeks of pretty serious isolation. Dinner was pretty tasty – I got some salmon and potatoes w/ asparagus! just like home 🙂

My poorly backlit , but delicious dinner. It even came with garlic bread!! What more could you want?!

Word on the street is that we’ve got checkout scheduled for 0515, and breakfast at 0430 — so I’ll probably head down for breakfast around 0445 and check on the status of the flight. I would expect that means something like 0900 departure, if we don’t get delayed.

The Basler flight transited through South Pole (no contact) on it’s way to, and arrived in, McMurdo yesterday, so that is all on schedule and expected to officially open South Pole station on Friday.

Next update from the Ice, hopefully.

I’d give it a 50/50 shot (actually I have no idea how the weather is looking / supposed to look tomorrow). But one ought not set their hopes too high!

Oct 24th – Day 19 of “The Commute”

I’ve been messing up my days apparently (my computer is on EDT , so if I look at the date in the bottom corner, it’s a day behind).

Anyway, it’s October 24th here in NZ and I had my final nasal swab yesterday (ouch! that one was rough… I think the nurse might’ve gotten some brain on that one!).

I haven’t gotten the results, but I haven’t left my room except to put my trash out in the hallway bin, so I can’t imagine I would be positive at this point. I wouldn’t believe it if I was! 🙂

Tomorrow we leave this NZDF managed isolation and move on to a new hotel. We leave at 0730 , but are required to have a health checkup 3 hours prior to departure… so that means a 0430 screening tomorrow morning. The screening just consists of the nurse asking if we have any COVID symptoms and taking our temp, so it’s not a big hassle or anything, but means I’ll be getting up dark and early for that – then I’ll have to decide if I want to go back to sleep for 2 hours before getting ready to leave.

At 0730 we will be escorted to the lobby by NZDF, where we will be “released” by the NZ govt, and then subsequently shuttled off to the USAP managed isolation hotel (The Breakfree). Once settled in there, I think the idea is that the hotel becomes a bubble for us USAPers , although we’ll still need to social distance, wear masks, etc (and in fact, will have to continue that for at least 1 week in McMurdo).

Around noon I’ll be heading to the clothing distribution center (CDC) to pick up my “extreme cold weather” gear , or ECW and dropping off my checked bag that I will hopefully not need anything out of until I get to Pole. I only have 1 large bag, so I’ll have to do some reshuffling with the bag(s) they give us, and set up my “boomerang bag” , my carry-on bag and my checked bag. In the event of a “boomerang” – where the plane has to return to Christchurch due to weather in McMurdo – I will not get back my checked bag, so the “boomerang bag” has to contain several days of clothes/toiletries/ medications etc. The checked bag is also flying down separately (on a C17) due to cargo restrictions on the 757 that I’m taking down… so there’s always the chance that that bag doesn’t make it to McMurdo anytime soon. — Are you following everything? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. This process can be very confusing to newcomers to the program and indeed is one of those things that can change at any moment.

So it’s possible I will be flying to the Ice on Tuesday morning (NZ time) , arriving mid afternoonish.

Until then, I’m enjoying some of the last few sunrises and sunsets I’ll see for a few months.

I’ve also started getting some update emails from the South Pole area manager, which I can share here for those interested (I’m in Cohort 3, so most of the early travel information is not pertinent to me):


For this season, we will be using the Basler aircraft again for our passenger (pax) movements to South Pole. We currently have 24 Basler flights scheduled throughout the season and 2 LC-130 flights mid-season to assist with moving cargo.

The South Pole Overland Traverse (SPoT) will make 3 runs to Pole bringing us 100% of our fuel required for the next year (463,000 gallons) and the bulk of our cargo.

The Basler capacity is ~14 pax from McMurdo to Pole and ~6 pax from South Pole to McMurdo (the reduction in the northbound capacity is due to the altitude of South Pole which requires that the Basler have a lighter load on takeoffs from Pole). This means it takes a long time to move everyone back and forth. Redeployments will have to begin at the very end of January in order for us to be able to get all of the summer crew north so don’t be surprised if you end up redeploying just a bit earlier than normal.


Our Basler (tail MKB), arrived at Rothera Station yesterday and is hoping to fly Rothera-South Pole-McMurdo tomorrow. Due to COVID concerns, everyone going to South Pole has to have a 7-day hold period upon arrival in McMurdo before they can go to South Pole. This extends to the pilots and has an impact on us. Their 7-day hold period begins when they are wheels up from Chile as their last possible point of COVID exposure. We cannot fly any passengers to Pole with them until they have completed their 7-day hold. Pax can come out of Pole with them, but not in to Pole. Based on their departure from Chile, the earliest we can send passengers in to South Pole will be Oct 29. If MKB reaches McMurdo tomorrow, then we will try to execute this flight plan:

[redacted, since it’s not pertinent to me]

We will finalize the Cohort 3 flight dates once Cohort 3 arrives in McMurdo and we know when the 7-day hold period ends for those pax. Once Cohort 3 can fly, we will prioritize many of the winterovers so that we can begin job and ERT turnovers with the outgoing winterovers. It’s going to take us a while to get everyone in to South Pole so relax, get some hikes in and enjoy the views from McMurdo. We’ll get you to Pole as soon as we can.

It is very very normal for our flight schedule to change almost daily based on weather, mechanical or other delays. Do not get too tied to a specific date or flight in your mind because it will likely change and probably more than once. We often have to shuffle pax around as the flight schedule and our priorities change. That is perfectly normal for Antarctic flight operations.


In order to maximize the pax that we can send to Pole, we need to keep the baggage weights down on the pax flights. There is a very good chance that if you have more than 1 checked bag or your bags weigh over an as-yet-to-be-determined weight, that we will need to send some bags on a later flight. So when you are packing, try to pack things you might not need for a week or so after arriving at Pole in one bag and things you will need right away in the other. We’ll send you more details on this in the next few days.

Update this morning 10/24

The KBA flights have departed Rothera for South Pole this morning so that bodes well for possible flights in to Pole later this week with cargo & passengers. We expect the Basler to arrive in McMurdo around 7pm tonight. The Twin Otters will follow tomorrow if weather is good.

Oct 20th – Day 15 of “The Commute”

Day 10 of 14 in NZ managed isolation/quarantine. In 2 days we get our 3rd (and hopefully final) COVID test here in NZ before then 2 days later moving out to a USAP managed isolation in a different hotel. Pretty exciting! Then we just have the usual weather and mechanical delays to look forward to (though we’re scheduled to take the NZ ANG 757 which is just your normal everyday jet plane and is probably less likely to have mechanical delays).

Today was fairly eventful, in terms of differentiating it from every other day of quarantine. I had a lovely 0530 zoom call with a CWRU class that is about Polar regions and their use historically and today , climate impacts on these regions, etc. etc. So it was neat to be able to speak to the students in this class as someone who is currently using these natural resources for their work. And I got to show lots of pretty pictures, so who doesn’t love that?

After that I decided to do some laundry. Actually the MIQ offers 2 loads of laundry during our stay, and I never realized that there are these small paper bags in our closets which we use for laundry (and we’re only allowed 10 items of clothing per wash…and the bags like I said can only fit about that much). So I decided to send some stuff to get washed properly and then to hand wash some easier things like socks, and light-weight T-shirts, in my sink. They provide us with cleaning supplies including dish soap for our dishes that we have for eating meals – though I have yet to use any except the bowls for making ramen in, and the silverware.

So those were the two big exciting things.

Oh, and I also considered what a “climb Everest” challenge might look like – thanks to my brother Sean’s suggestion – (I can’t use the stairwell because it’s a common space and there is no exercising allowed in there)… So I thought, hmm. I’ve got some chairs in my room. What if I just step up onto the chair and back down. Could I climb Everest in some reasonable amount of time??

Well – Everest is ~8,850 m which is 29,035ft

My chairs are ~18 inches tall so 29,035 ft * 12 in/ft / 18 in/step ~ 19,400 steps

Which didn’t seem like much! But then I tested it out by timing myself for a moderate effort of 100 steps and it took me slightly less than 5 minutes (I’m stepping up, getting both feet on the chair, and then stepping down; certainly there are faster ways but this seems the most “rigorous”, or “official” way).

I would have to do 194 sets of 100, which would mean 5min , 194 times … which is about 16 hours. And I just don’t know if I want to step up and down on a chair for 16 hours straight… and I only have 3 chairs in my room, I’m not sure they could hold up to that :’D. I also did this for only 25 minutes today and was sweating pretty heavily. So I think this one’s out.

But there’s always the Observation Hill challenge in McMurdo, and I’ll be there for at least a week, so that one is totally doable but will still take at least 16 hours I think. It’s a ~750 ft “hill” , which means you have to ascend the hill 38 times (make it 40 for good measure) and if I recall from previous years, it takes me something like 30 minutes to ascend and descend at a moderate pace – and it’s quite steep. So lookin at 20 hours :/ yikes.

Anyway – pipe dreams for now. Back to hotel life.

Oct 18th – Day 13 of “The Commute”

“When I awoke today, suddenly nothing happened” – Colin Hay

I feel ya, Colin. Same here.

I did get awoken by some construction equipment being delivered at 6 am… Nice beeping of a couple cherry-pickers moving around outside.

Beautiful day today. Sunny / partly cloudy and clear- I can see the mountains quite well. Snow-capped and majestic. Just waiting for someone to go adventure. Alas, that’s not me.

However it is day 7 of the 14 days that NZ govt requires us to be quarantined! Which means I’m half-way there!! Well, half-way to moving to a new hotel while we wait for our ice flight. We’ll still be quarantined (USAP mandated) so hopefully the weather in MCM will hold up and we’ll get there on-time. ha. ha. ha. can’t you read the sarcasm.

On the flip-side, I have been getting some decent work done and the days have been flying by. Besides my nice stand-up desk (which I use almost exclusively for staring out the window and NOT working), I’ve got this great 2nd monitor for extra productivity!

Ok, so it’s not an ideal 2nd monitor…

And I tried to make a timelapse of myself working out, but the frame rate was low enough that it just looks like I’m doing nothing :’D . Like there’s a sequence where I’m doing “box jumps” on my bed and it just looks like I’m standing still but you can see the sheets have moved from frame-to-frame. (don’t mind my bloated tummy… to much dairy these past few days, but I need the calories)

It’s a grey day in McMurdo, and a balmy 5F (-9F windchill)…

and looks lovely at Pole , a cool -72F (-100F windchill).

Looking forward to getting out and running around. At least I won’t be sun burnt going down this year!