McMurdo in August

Tuesday, 1 August 1995
It's getting lighter and lighter at lunchtime. This morning, about 09:30, the entire sky behind Arrival Heights. was lit up with a distinctly pinkish glow that lasted for hours. The Transantarctic mountains were raked in a reddish side light that stood out dramatically from the lavender of the ice shelf.

At dinner-time, Joe Longo tipped me off that he was going to be running the LIDAR experiment. It involves firing bursts of light from an argon laser and analyzing the reflected light. There was a light snow and a bunch of wind; the beam really stood out. It was so windy, I had to brace myself up against a support beam just to take pictures. I spent the rest of the evening making prints of Scott Base in the photo lab.

Wednesday, 2 August 1995
There were a few minutes of civil twilight today. The sun is getting close enough for long enough that for most of the workday, the sky is a rich blue, not coal black.

Friday, 4 August 1995
The 19:00 shuttle to Scott Base was packed. I didn't know it, but lots of people were going over to celebrate Enrique Mendoza's birthday. The Sambuca flowed freely. When the bar closed and the last shuttle headed for home, we all stopped off at The Erebus for one last birthday round.

Erik showed the last of the "Twin Peaks" tapes; the library down here only has the first season. Now I'll never know how it turns out. :-(

Saturday, 5 August 1995
Scott Enlow and Cheech Navarro just came through, filming their Winter Over video. It was completely off the wall. Cheech was taking the viewer on a tour of our building, stopping from time to time to look at what we were doing. I was "skewered" by the IMP-8 antenna, Michael Hancock was sleeping on the couch, Tonya DeCroce was coaching Jeff Frontz who was doing aerobics to music on my Amiga (the "Spaceballs/Nine Fingers" demo), and Andrew Crowley was answering call after call after call at the Help Desk. If any of the other work centers had half as much fun, it'll be a great video.

Monday, 7 August 1995
Sunday was pretty ordinary; "Babylon 5" at the coffee house and "Illuminati" took up most of my day. This morning, we're using CU-SeeMe to answer questions from schoolchildren in New Zealand. There are a couple of schools linked in, Patearoa School in the Central Otago region, and Bayfield High School, somewhere else in the South Island. The questions have mostly been weather or wildlife related, but a few relate to how we spend our off-time, or what we wear, or what we eat. We didn't know the answer to, "how many fish does a seal eat each day," we answered, "as many as he can catch."

Wednesday, 8 August 1995
Warren Herrick came over to the coffee house for another excellent lecture, this one on sights to see and things to do in New Zealand, especially tailored for the time of year that we come off the ice. He went over several interesting places from towns and villages to alpine areas and mountain bike trails. The place was packed; strictly standing room only.

Thursday, 9 August 1995
After dinner, a bunch of us showed up at the Chalet for a taping session or the winter-over video. Val rattled off a heavily jargon laden speech to a room divided room. On the left sat the OAE's (Old Antarctic Explorer), on the right, the Finjies (short for "Fucking New Guy"). The OAE's were lounging about, reading magazines, sleeping, etc. The Finjies sat, stupified, clutching their orange bags, completely bundled up in their ECW Gear. We sat through several takes, no two alike, giving Scott Enlow plenty of footage to choose from.

Friday, 10 August 1995
Today was a big move day - several of the administrative people have relocated to their WinFly offices, requiring the shuffling of plenty of computer equipment. It took the combined efforts of five of us, working alone or in small groups, to do the moves. It's all just practice for next week, when the VXE-6 buildings open back up. It didn't help the work that it was a short day. We had our monthly "All Hands" meeting at 16:00, then knocked off a wee bit early.

It was Karaoke Night at The Erebus again. It wasn't quite as popular as it was a few weeks ago, but plenty of people still got up in front of the mike, including a couple of new ones.

Monday, 14 August 1995
I spent most of Saturday up in B-133, finishing up my tape-digitizing for the Winter. I've managed to extract a couple of hundred images of airdrop activities and a few other things. The next big project is selecting the best of the best, cropping and enhancing and color correcting. It took me about fifteen minutes to grab, sample and sift through one minute of video tape; it takes an additional fifteen minutes to massage each picture and get it to its final form for my photo gallery. It's a lot of work, but in the end, I think its worth it.

Saturday night was the big End of Winter party at B-64. Cheech played DJ; people danced 'til 1. Most of the town showed up at one point or another.

On Sunday, I didn't do much besides play Illuminati, show "Babylon 5" and develop a roll of black & white film I finished up a the party on Saturday. This was the first roll I developed on my own and it came out great. I've got shots of aerobics class, the full moon, the stars overhead, Karaoke night and, of course, the party. I think I've got the hang of my flash unit now.

I just got some e-mail about the first few flights of MainBody: two C-5 flights, the rest, all C-141's. Hopefully I can get out there for a few pictures. I've never seen a C-5 up close and in person. I hear they're really big, but I'd like to see just how big. When they're here, the ground crew has to continually monitor the deflection of the ice and move the plane if the ice moves too much (note that the operative words are "too much", not "at all").

It's getting really light at lunchtime now, almost like daylight on a cloudy day. The nacreous clouds were especially spectacular on Saturday, lit from behind by the sun sitting a couple of degrees below the horizon.

Tuesday, 15 August 1995
The only thing predictable about the weather is that it isn't predictable. The morning started off utterly foul; it wasn't the temperature, it was the winds and the lack of visibility. Willy Field was in Condition 1, but in town, it was Condition 3. I went over to Weather and peeked at the chart recorder; the winds in town were a sustained 30-45 knots with frequent gusts in the 50's, peaking at 60 knots. By evening, the winds died down and the air warmed up to a staggering +16°F (-9°C)! It's been wonderful out ever since, even though it's cooled off a bit.

Thursday, 17 August 1995
I was invited to a special "End of Winter" dinner at Scott Base last night. Our hosts set out a fine wine bar with several varieties of wines, Cabernet Savignon, Chardonnay and Savignon Blanc, to name a few. The dinner itself was excellent, as are all of Scotty's meals. We had Spaghetti Bolognaise, grilled fish and roast pork for main dishes, accompanied by braised greens, glazed carrots, corn with bacon and baked potatoes. We lingered over dinner and over dessert (ice cream, apple crumble and a Kiwi dessert called "Wellingtons"), so much so that we didn't get home until 22:30.

In the middle of all the revelry, Juan (one of the shuttle drivers) mentioned the aurorae he'd seen on his way in. I rushed outside with my camera and shot half a roll of varying exposures. For half the shots, I braced myself up against a guy wire that was securing one of the outbuildings, for the other half, I was on the ground, looking up, trying not to breathe while the shutter was open. I have Kodak Ectochrome 400HC in the camera right now, so I'll be able to develop it while I'm down here. The aurorae weren't as spectacular as they were a few weeks ago, but they were still very good.

Friday, 18 August 1995
WinFly is almost here. By the time all nine flights land, we'll have nearly doubled the station population. Several science teams are due in, including the group who study the ozone hole. Right now is prime ozone-killing time; it's been cold and dark all Winter and the sun is just starting to come up, providing just the right mix of conditions to drive the reactions that eat away at the ozone layer. It's suspected that polar stratospheric clouds (like the nacreous clouds that are amazing to look at) are sites for massive ozone depletion.

After dinner, I dropped by Crary to watch Joe Longo fire off the LIDAR again. There wasn't very much particulate matter in the air; I had to get very close to see the emerald beam punch straight up into the night.

I threw in the inter-station darts match for the first time in weeks. Some of our best players were throwing rounds under twenty. We never had a chance. Still, it was fun. We had the largest team ever: nine people - three from Scott Base and six from McMurdo.

Saturday, 19 August 1995
I stopped by the bagdrag this morning to drop off three rolls of film with Scotty, who's going home for a couple of days to visit his Dad in the hospital. He's made arrangements for a photo lab to pick up 100 rolls of film from all the winter-overs, process all of it and get the results back in time for him to bring down with him on his return flight. I know my pictures of Arrival Heights are in this lot, but I don't recall what else.

Sunday, 20 August 1995, Sunrise and First Flight
The first LC-130 just flew over town on the way to Willy. By now, the new arrivals are probably in town. Winter, for all practical purposes, is over. We're having a hell of a day to greet the new arrivals: -30°F (-34°C) with 35 knot winds... -88°F (-67°C) windchill, in town. I have no idea what it's like out on the ice, but it's never warmer there than here.

The movie last night was "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert", a great movie about three female impersonators and their trek from Sydney to Alice Springs. There are some amazing scenes of the Australian outback, turned surreal by the vivid antics of the trio in their eye-popping Vegas showgirl costumes.

Monday, 21 August 1995
I just got off the phone with Dave Cooper at Cooper's Lake Campground. We didn't talk long; it's Sunday morning at Pennsic War XXIV and things are still hectic there. I did pass along a weather report and a message of greetings to the Great Dark Horde.

Wednesday, 23 August 1995
The weather cleared up a little bit; they flew three flights in today. I saw one go by around 10:15. There are only two more fly-days and WinFly is over - no new cargo, no new mail, no new freshies until October.

Glen McPhail and I developed more Ektachrome slide film in the lab. Unlike my last batch, this batch came out great. My attempts to photograph the LIDAR laser were not entirely successful; all I've got is a few frames of the emitter rig bathed in green light. I was hoping to photograph the beam, but I need a much longer exposure. My flash photography is improving, but now I need to work on minimizing overexposure and flashback.

Thursday, 24 August 1995
When I came in this morning, the building was positively packed. We've had four people up here all Winter; we've doubled that in one day. By the time WinFly is over, we'll have as many people up here as we did last summer.

Friday, 25 August 1995
The mail is in and I hit the jackpot. In addition to a much-needed package of essential supplies from home, I received a gift package from John Copeland (one of the "Babylon 5" Producers) and postcards from people at the Pennsic War.

Because I received the B5 tapes at airdrop, I sent a letter to J. Michael Straczynzki, asking him for his view on the best epsiodes to show new viewers. We exchanged a letter or two; in the middle of it all, John Copeland asked me for my FPO address. In addition to a T-shirt and baseball cap, I got a Season 2 gag reel. I'll be showing it this coming Sunday, along with the next two episodes of my collection.

I wasn't expecting to see any Pennsic postcards until October. Now I can show the people down here pictures of the battles and an aerial view of Cooper's Lake as I'm trying to explain what it is I do every August. Loren Duilliath sent me a poem about scientists and penguins (the "Widdle, Waddle Penguin Song") on nine postcards.

Saturday, 26 August 1995
The helos are flying again. One just buzzed B-133.

Sunday, 27 August 1995
After brunch, Andrew Crowley and I headed up to Ob Hill because we could see the sunlight falling on the hillside even though the town was still sprinkled in diffused light (the land rises sharply in the direction of Arrival Heights, so the sun has to be pretty far above the horizon to be seen over the terrain). The Condition 2 weather kept us from attempting to go more than about halfway up; we stopped at B-89, one of the warehouses that overlooks the town from above. We took a few pictures and took the long way home (down the road, not the way we came up - climbing straight up the slope).

Monday, 28 August 1995
I finally saw the sun today for the first time since April. It's still big, it's still round and it's still bright. Thwarted yesterday by winds and cold, when I saw the light bathing the top of Ob Hill, I decided it was a good time to complete a long-postponed errand to deliver some defective computer monitors up to the warehouse at B-87. I paused for longer than I belived I would, sneaking side-long glances at the sun as it hung over the ridge behind RadarSat. I'm told the sun won't be visible from town until mid-September, so for now, we have to go up the hill or out to Hut Point.

Thursday, 31 August 1995
I finally got my offer letter for my Summer position. After a two week leave in Christchurch, I'll be back here until mid-February. By the time I'm out of here, I'll have been down here about thirteen months.

My helo trip to Marble Point has been delayed until next week. I'm scheduled to install a computer at the base camp out there, once they ship over all the people and all the cargo.

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