28 January 2014
We started packing up our Tall Tower field camp on Saturday (25 January) and spent all day Sunday snowmobiling back to McMurdo. On Saturday we packed almost all of the gear and took down the large Arctic Oven tent that had served as our kitchen and work area and loaded this onto our snowmobile sleds. We also dug out all of the snow anchors that held down each tent in camp. At the end of the day I was happy to crawl into my tent and get some sleep.
On Sunday morning we woke to cloudy skies. We had a quick breakfast while sitting on the loaded sleds and started back to McMurdo around 9AM.
The snowmobile trip back to McMurdo went much quicker than the one out to the field camp almost two weeks earlier. We did a better job securing all of the cargo to the sleds so we needed to stop less frequently to re-secure the cargo. The overcast skies meant that it was hard to see any of the snowdrifts on the road so we were continually bumping over drifts that we didn’t see and that kept our speed down to 20 or 25 mph.
Just before we got back to McMurdo we were treated to the sight of a single emperor penguin sitting by the side of the road.
We arrived at the edge of the ice shelf, just a few miles from McMurdo, at 5:30PM. Lee, from the automatic weather station project, met us at the end of snow road with a pickup truck and took us back to McMurdo. After a quick dinner, before the galley closed, my top priority was taking a shower and shaving.
Since I didn’t have access to e-mail while at the field camp I was dreading the deluge of e-mail that would be waiting for me when I got back to McMurdo. Before going to bed I started my e-mail program and let my computer download all of the messages that had accumulated over nearly two weeks. I had over 1000 messages waiting for me and with the slow internet connection in Antarctica it took my computer all night to download all of the messages.
We spent Monday unpacking the sleds and cleaning and returning all of the camping gear we borrowed from McMurdo. On Tuesday I went through all of our scientific gear, retrieved the last bits of data from the planes and AWS memory cards, and then packed the gear for the long trip back to the US on a cargo ship. All of our science gear should make it back to Boulder sometime in April.
I took advantage of being back in McMurdo to go on some of my favorite hikes around town. The first two nights back were beautiful Antarctic summer evenings with light winds and relatively warm temperatures in the upper 20s F. While out hiking I heard the whoosh of air and water as whales were clearing their blowholes just offshore from where I was hiking. While watching the minke whales swimming near the shore I saw a group of Adelie penguins swimming in the water. These penguins made their way to the edge of the sea ice and then quickly flew out of the water and onto the ice.
While we had been at our field camp a lot of the sea ice in McMurdo Sound had melted. The newly open water in the sound had drawn in the wildlife I saw on my hike and it also brought in tourist cruise ships.
On my hike this evening the weather was a bit more typical of Antarctica with a cold wind blowing off of the ice shelf. The more stormy weather made for some dramatic skies.
I’m scheduled to fly back to Christchurch in two days and will post one more blog entry once I get there.
Thanks for reading.