30 January 2014

In an unusual turn of events for Antarctic fieldwork I wound up leaving Antarctica sooner than expected. Melissa and I were scheduled to fly north on Monday (3 February) but due to slushy conditions on the ice runway, due to the warm weather in McMurdo over the past month, the US Antarctic Program was trying to get as many people north as soon as possible. After we returned from our Tall Tower field camp we were asked if we would be ready to leave McMurdo before the end of the week. While we had several things to take care of, like returning our camping gear and packing and shipping our science equipment, we were happy to head north sooner than scheduled.

Last night we had bag drag after dinner. Bag drag is the Antarctic equivalent of checking in for a normal commercial flight. At bag drag all of your luggage but a small carry-on bag gets checked in and loaded onto a cargo pallet that is brought out to the ice runway the night before your flight. At bag drag we were also informed when we would travel from McMurdo to the ice runway the next day.

Our transport time from McMurdo was 9:45AM this morning. Normal vehicles don’t drive on the snow road to the runway because their small tires quickly eat up the road surface. Instead we were loaded into a very large truck with oversized tires.

The Kress "bus" used to transport us to the ice runway.

The ride from McMurdo to the runway took about 1.5 hours. Once at the runway we waited in the truck for another 1.5 hours until our military cargo plane – a ski-equipped LC-130 – was ready to be boarded.

Two LC-130 airplanes on the ice runway with the Transantarctic Mountains in the background.

Flying in a cargo plane is never comfortable – it is loud, the seats are uncomfortable, and it is typically crowded. Despite that everyone on board is happy to be heading north. We are all looking forward to eating fresh food, seeing a dark, starry night sky (the sun never set in the 3.5 weeks I was in Antarctica), and eventually getting home to our families and friends.

The LC-130 flight back to Christchurch.

I’ll be spending a few more weeks in New Zealand working with colleagues at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch and will get back to Colorado at the end of February.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my latest Antarctic trip over the past month.

Thanks for reading.