Elana Blog #2
November 27, 2013

It’s my fourth day here on Scott Base and I already feel like I have been here a week. The past few days have included sleeping in a snow trench, hiking up a nearby mountain, hanging out at McMurdo station, and running a half marathon!

On Thursday flying over the East Antarctica Ice Sheet towards Ross Island was magical. From the cockpit of the Hercules I had an incredible bird’s eye view of the Antarctic glacial landscape and expansive amount of sea ice that extends out from the continent into the Ross Sea. Coming into land, the aircraft did aheart-stopping loop tilting at 90 degrees to circle around Ross Island and thankfully landing smoothly on the ice shelf. Taking my first steps on Antarctica and absorbing the surrounding view, was just breathtaking – I was in complete awe. This monochromatic landscape is like nothing else on Earth and it’s a true privilege to get to be here. Apparently only around 380,000 people have set foot on Antarctica!

After arriving, we were quickly whisked onto the back of a Hagglund and taken up to the green buildings of Scott Base. Yes, each building of the base is painted in a light green hue, called Chelsea Cucumber. We had a quick introductory tour of the complex and a safety protocol briefing, before being shown our accommodation and crashing out for the night. The base is made up of separate pre-fabricated buildings, which are joined together with connecting walkways. The base is excellently designed and kitted out, with research labs, offices, accommodation blocks, lounge/reading room, gym, and even a room containing an impressive dress up collection. You instantly feel the community environment here;the passion that all the staff and scientist have for their work is infectious.

Friday was my first full day and we were thrown right into the mix of things. The morning was spent going over more safety information before starting our Antarctic field training (AFT). AFT is a compulsory part of coming to Scott Base. The training teaches you how to use all your cold weather gear, how to pitch a polar tent, to work the camp stoves, use the infamous pee bottles (yep, no yellow snow allowed here!) and other basic survival techniques. After lunch our AFT crew packed up the Hagglund and headed out to the AFT field site out on the ice. Our crew included a National Geographic photographer, Jason Edwards, One News cameraman, Will Hines, and a renowned New Zealand photographer, Andres Apse.

Our first task was to set up our camp for the night. We set up several polar tents, constructed a kitchen out of ice blocks, and I built a snow trench as I decided that I wanted to try sleeping outside for the night. After a gourmet dinner of Backcountry Cuisine and Farmbake biscuits, we took a walk to the top of Castle Hill to check out the view over McMurdo Sound and ended the evening having a hot drink at the Square Frame Hut, which is the equivalent of the Scott Base bach. My night sleeping in the trench was actually pretty comfortable, though I did have to sleep in fours layers tucked up in a thick down sleeping bag to keep warm.

Most of Saturday was spent completing AFT and getting acquainted with life back on base. In the afternoon Hamish took me for a walk over to the American Base, McMurdo, to show me around. Compared to Scott Base, McMurdo looks like a little city. They have two bars, a coffee shop, a gym offering classes like zumba and yoga, and they even have a thrift shop. I don’t know what I expected from life down in Antarctica, but casually sipping lattes in a cosy café and finding my zen in a yoga class really wasn’t it. I did hear rumours that McMurdo has a free ice cream machine, so I will definitely be seeking that out next time I am over there. While at ‘Mac Town’ we could see their largeicebreaker ship just off the coastcutting a channel from the open ocean through two metres of ice to shuttle supplies to the base.

Sunday is normally the day off on Scott Base. However, this past Sunday was the annual McMurdo Marathon. Wanting to tick off another bucket list item and to challenge myself, I signed up for the Half Marathon. I probably should have spent some time training for the event instead of spending the Christmas period eating far too much good food, but I was determined and turned up at the start line at 9.30am with 17 fellow Kiwis to run 21kms. Running on the ice was definitely an interesting experience, but I quickly found a technique to avoid slipping, and off I went. I am not going to lie, it was a difficult experience and I had to find everything in me to keep going, but at the halfway turn around point I saw 5 emperor penguins huddling together, and thought that these creatures can tough it out living in this inhospitable environment, then I could make it to the end. Running the last mile with Mount Erebus in the background and crossing the finish line was the best experience of my life – there’s nothing like pushing yourself to your limits and seeing what you’re made of. Let’s see if I can do the ful42 next time.

Today is Monday and I am off to work with the Antarctic Heritage Trust for the next few days to catalogue a historic food cache from the 1950s. I am looking forward to seeing what provisions the early explorers brought with them.

Elana Hawke

Elana Hawke

BLAKE Antarctic Ambassador 2013