So how exactly does one get to Antarctica? Well, over the past week this feat alone was our goal. After all the planning, paperwork, and medical examinations, we loaded up our bags and took a commercial flight from Denver to Los Angeles, then connected with a flight to Sydney, Australia. That last leg was a doozy, and took close to 14 hours from start to finish (I saw 5 movies before my eyes started to burn). After becoming pop culture experts, we caught a plane to Christchurch, New Zealand. Getting this far is good news because the majority of the sitting is (hopefully) over by this point. Once there, we marched through the Antarctic Clothing Distribution Center and gathered all of our extreme conditions clothing which are our primary defense against the elements for the next several months.
Then it is time to wait for our flight to McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
Southbound flights from Christchurch to McMurdo Station are highly dependent on the weather. For example, this year some nasty weather in Antarctica delayed our flight to McMurdo for 24 hours, keeping us in Christchurch for an extra day and threatened to keep us longer. Even if the weather in Christchurch is bad too, staying off the plane is better than taking off and having to turn around after not being able to land. This actually happens regularly enough to have its own term, which is to “boomerang.” As the flight down to Antarctica from Christchurch is about 5 hours, we can assume that one might not be interested in experiencing a boomerang for themselves, though it would definitely improve your Antarctic street cred.
The trip to Antarctica is affectionately referred to as “going to the ice”. This is appropriate, as the C-17 that we came down on actually landed on a chunk of sea-ice outside of McMurdo which is called “Pegasus Runway.” From there, they quickly unloaded the plane and we loaded ourselves into a monster of a machine called “Ivan the Terra Bus” which took us to McMurdo Station.
McMurdo is a U.S. base on Ross Island and is large enough to be a small town. In fact, it has its own post office, gym, ATM, and chapel. For the next several days, we will be at McMurdo performing various laboratory duties, attending additional training, and gathering supplies. Only after this can we depart from McMurdo to the Dry Valleys, where we will be spending the bulk of the Antarctic field season studying streams.
If you are interested in checking out the current weather, as well as getting a glimpse of McMurdo station at this very moment, click on the live webcam!