What an incredible couple of days! Over the last 48hours, I have hiked up Observation Hill (which is actually more like a mountain), walked more than 20kms over sea ice, photographed baby seal pups and set up a tent in the snow, before finishing off with an ice cream at McMurdo Station.
From the air, in the early hours of Friday morning I caught my first glimpses of my new home for the next month. Peeking through the small port-hole we could see the broken sea ice below, extending out as far as the eye could see. Waiting in anticipation, we touched down on the Ross Ice Shelf in front of McMurdo Sound. I was smiling ear to ear even before the doors opened. Following in suit with the others, I put on my ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear and stepped off the plane.
The view, the landscape, the experience was incredible!! I allowed my eyes to adjust, taking in the spectacular landscape that surrounded me. There are no words to describe how amazing this moment was. The surreal panorama of icy skyscrapers stretching to the horizon is like nothing else I have seen before. I feel truly privileged to be here and to have been given this amazing opportunity. After a few minutes to reflect (and take photos in front of the plane!) we climbed into “Ivan The Terra Bus” and drove along the perimeter of the Sea Ice before heading up the hill to Scott Base.
We were meet by Scott Base staff member Trudie, who gave us a quick tour of the complex and a safety briefing, before being shown our accommodation. After a quick 20min power nap, we hurried to put on our boots and walked up the Hillary Trail behind the base. From the top we could see the overall layout of the base, made up of a collection of ‘chelsea cucumber green’ buildings all linked together by corridors. The base has everything from accommodation blocks to movie rooms and even a sauna. Without the sun to tell you when to go to bed, I almost didn’t want to sleep but the 3.30am start soon caught up with me and I was asleep in no time.
On Saturday morning we attended our Antarctic Field Training (AFT) – covering survival techniques on how to pitch a tent in the ice, lighting a camp stove, what gear to wear for each condition and how to set up the poo bucket. This training is compulsory for all first-timers on the ice. I was joined by Jamie Curry, Youtube sensation and TV producer Damian Christie, as we set off onto the sea ice to put our newly taught skills to the test. After being side tracked by the weddell seal colony, Jamie and I finally put up our tent and lit our camp stove – which with several pairs of gloves on is more of an achievement than you’d think!
In the afternoon Ciaran took drove a group of us over to McMurdo Station, the American Base also known as MacTown. In comparison to New Zealand’s Scott Base, McMurdo is huge, holding over 1200 people during summer months. They have two bars, a coffee shop, a gym and a store, where you can get your passport stamped. We finished the evening off by driving up to the old power station on Observation Hill, located between Scott Base and MacTown overlooking the Ross Sea.
Sunday is considered the ‘weekend’ in Scott Base and everyone gets the day off.
After an early breakfast I headed out with expert Mike Evans, climbing to the top of Observation Hill, overlooking the Ross Sea with the mountain range in the distance. Sundays are also known for the famous big kiwi breakfast including bacon, eggs, sausages, hash browns and waffles! After second breakfast I was ready for another expedition. Heading out this time onto the sea ice and through the pressure ridges. Pressure Ridges develops as a result of sea ice being crushed between Ross Island and the advancing sea ice. This forms a huge ridges allowing seals to come through the ice and providing a safe haven for the newly born pups.
Walking along the Cape Armitage Loop, we arrived in the US Base McMurdo, “MacTown”, once again where I investigated the free ice cream machine. Just like home, there is a Sunday night roast and we were treated to roast lamb and roast veges. Each week there is a dessert competition between each of the groups and after which we give a rating on concept, presentation and overall taste. Tonight was a Richie McCaw Special including a rich chocolate and caramel slice and vanilla ice cream. After serious discussion I settled on an overall 7/10.
The day wasn’t over just yet so taking advantage of every opportunity, I jumped back into T3 and headed over the hill. This time we arrived at the fire station where we were given the key to the Observation Tube (Ob Tube). This 1m diameter tube penetrates 10m through the sea ice so you can see underwater!! I have always wanted to scuba dive under the ice in Antarctica so this is being the second best thing. I watched in amazement. There was a huge school of tiny fish, illuminated from the sun above and the ice glowing a rich gold colour. I could have stayed down there for hours.
Today is Monday and I am off to joining my team from the Antarctic Heritage Trust, working on the restoration of the Sir Edmund Hillary’s Hut (TAE). Stayed tuned as we are preparing to head into the field, staying at Cape Evans and Cape Royds to monitor and continue on-going maintenance of both the Scott’s and Shackleton’s Huts before starting work on the TAE. I am looking forward to seeing these huts from our early explorers, giving an insight of what it might have been like for them living in Antarctica.
BLAKE Antarctic Ambassador 2016