L.A. to Antarctica

Five days later and the VeLveT Ice team has made it to McMurdo Station! Deployment to Antarctica is dependent on near-perfect weather conditions, a difficult thing to count on when you're flying over the Antarctic Ocean and the windy continent itself. Our flight out of Christchurch was supposed to leave at 8am on Wednesday, but we were delayed first by 3 hours, then 24, and then 1 more, before we finally took off in a big ole' Safair cargo plane.

 Boarding the plane in Christchurch

Boarding the plane in Christchurch

 Our first glimpses of the Antarctic mountains and ice out the windows.

Our first glimpses of the Antarctic mountains and ice out the windows.

Our travels from the U.S. to New Zealand went smoothly. We ended up on flight with over a dozen other scientists on their way to Antarctica, and had a chance to begin getting to know our Antarctic deployment cohort before we even landed. Our first morning in Christchurch, we went to the US Antarctic Program (USAP) center for some training and the distribution of our Extreme Cold Weather (EWC) clothing. We spent an hour or so trying on all our clothing, including Big Red, the huge down parka issued to each person (with our name on the front pocket!).

That morning, we packed up most of our bags for the next day's flight —one carry-on, one checked bag, and a second checked bag called a “boomerang bag.” It’s called a Boomerang bag because sometimes the plane will fly nearly all the way to McMurdo before the crew determines that conditions aren’t right to land. The plane will "boomerang" all the way back to Christchurch, and only our boomerang bag will be unloaded back in Christchurch, not our larger checked bag. So, people deploying will pack it with whatever might be needed for up to three days.

 Anny gets acquainted with "Big Red" and some super fly boots!

Anny gets acquainted with "Big Red" and some super fly boots!

 Some examples of the Extreme Cold Weather (EWC) gear issued to U.S. Antarctic Program participants

Some examples of the Extreme Cold Weather (EWC) gear issued to U.S. Antarctic Program participants

While we didn’t suffer a boomerang-ed fate, we did end up checking our bags the initial flight day. Once our flight was delayed, we grabbed our boomerangs and headed back into town!

Fortunately, Christchurch is a cool city to explore. During our free time, we walked through the beautiful botanical gardens, visited art and history museums, and checked out restaurants and shops. The city is still recovering from the earthquake in 2011, and construction is happening all over town. Many streets have a dramatic contrast of brand-new, modern buildings right beside crumbling, historic buildings. Rebuilding initiatives like "Greening the Rubble" and "Re-Activate", can be seen all around the city. They were cultivating urban gardens in abandoned lots, and creating public art installations within temporary malls and newly rebuilt streets. There were plenty of interesting things to keep us occupied while we waited. 

Still, we were all excited to hear that our plane was ready for us on Thursday morning (Wednesday for most of you in the U.S.). The flight was about 7.5 hours, and we landed on the ice around 6pm. A huge, red van called Ivan picked us up and delivered us to McMurdo where we had an introduction, were assigned rooms, and then headed off to dinner in the Galley. We fell asleep around 10pm that night with the sun still high in the sky, something that will certainly take some getting used to. Since then, our time here has been packed with lectures and training sessions on how things operate, including: medical and waste facilities here in town, field Safety, lab safety, driving vehicles, and environmental stewardship on the ice.

Most of our trainings are out of the way now, and it's time to go explore "MacTown"!

 The whole team gathered at the Phoenix landing strip

The whole team gathered at the Phoenix landing strip

 Loading up 'Ivan' the Terra Bus, who took us the rest of the way to McMurdo.

Loading up 'Ivan' the Terra Bus, who took us the rest of the way to McMurdo.