First day at Pole

Apologies for the slow updates over the last few days; I’ve been busy!

An LC-130 taking off, with the IceCube Lab in the background.

An LC-130 taking off, with the IceCube Lab in the background.

Our flight took off from McMurdo on Monday and got us to Pole without a hitch. We rode Ivan the Terrabus down to the Ice Runway, all wearing the big ECW outfits and toting our orange carry-on duffel bags. There were 40 passengers on our flight, about the maximum that will fit in an LC-130 Hercules, so there wasn’t much room on the plane. Unfortunately, I screwed up and put my carryon bag in what became the bottom of a pile of gear, so didn’t have access to my camera for the flight.

Although I’ve been around the ski-equipped hercs a fair bit, I’d never flown in one until taking off for Pole and was excited to get the opportunity. LC-130s are the biggest plane we have that’s capable of taking off from the compacted snow runway at South Pole, they carry most of our cargo, people, and much of our fuel. These planes are designed for hauling cargo; when they’re hauling passengers, people sit on net seats along the sides of the cargo bay with baggage and such in the centre of the plane. Views out the few small windows were incredible as we flew over the Transantarctic Mountains and enormous glaciers, it seemed like we were only a few thousand feet above some peaks.

We arrived just before the end of lunch and I was greeted at the runway by the current two IceCube winterovers (who had made a sign like motel shuttles have at airports). It’s really neat to finally be down here, after years thing about going to Pole. Several friends have spent time here, and I’ve seen enough of their photos and heard enough of their stories that some of the station already feels familiar, but there’s a lot to this place that doesn’t get captured well by photos.

We got our room assignments on arrival, and had a station welcome briefing scheduled to begin an hour before dinner. Before I even had my room assignment, the winter station manager asked whether I’d be willing to lead the medical part of the emergency response team down here.

Lunch was about to end, so we quickly headed over to the galley to eat and for a round of introductions. Our flight was the second LC-130 flight in to Pole this year, and we almost doubled the population of the station. For the most part, it’s easy to tell the previous winterovers apart from the new folks. Spending a year inside or in cold weather gear outside leaves people a bit pale, and some folks certainly have a distance about them from the long winter. Many people on our flight are planning on spending next winter here – we’re brought in early so that the outgoing winter overs can hand things over and leave soon after.

By the end of lunch, baggage had been brought into the station pretty quickly. My first project was to haul it up from Destination Zulu (DZ) on the first floor of the station to my tiny room. The fatbike made it down too, but after however many thousand miles and 5 airplanes, the box was pretty beat up. I also needed a shower; due to my bad planning and packing, I had ended up without a change of clothes for a few days.

The evening was pretty laid back; Blaise and Felipe took me on a quick tour of the main station, and there was plenty of catching up with people here and from my flight. I unpacked the bike and got it put together, even took it out for a quick ride outside! The air here is very thin and dry, and I’m certainly not acclimated to it yet. Just a few minute ride had me breathing hard, I left the bike outside instead of carrying it back up the stairs into the station. An hour or so later when I went to bring it inside, all the grease had frozen solid and moving parts weren’t quite as movable as they should be. One of my next projects will be to re-pack bearings with better grease for conditions here, and I think the bike will end up as a single speed, or fixed gear.

About ianrrees

Nerdy guy.
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