This week at the station
This week at Casey: 15 November 2013
Christchurch McMurdo Casey
I was elected for an early insertion, a curious Antarctic Division phrase to mean the first people arriving on station to join the winter team before the summer expeditioners arrive on the first possible flight. I was flying out to Wilkins with the ice airfield opening team; there were five of us on the Airbus A319 Flight Hobart to Christchurch which was bound for Christchurch anyway for U.S. programme charter. Weather delayed us in New Zealand by two days, so we had a chance to see the city, which is still racked by 2011 earthquake where the shocks still roll on.
My next is a flight was on a Globalmaster III Boeing C-17. This is a flying vaulted cathedral. We were strapped in sideways as you see in military films, amongst the United States resupply cargo, which included four helicopters.
The flight was smooth and not too noisy – you hardly felt it turn. There are no windows except a few high up which I suspect are for inspection purposes only.
McMurdo is big, up to 1,200 people, but the United States programme does not think that it will ever need to be that busy, having a mere 900 in the summer and down to 150 in the winter. First established in 1956, McMurdo is in New Zealand territory and as part of the deal the US provide the Kiwis with their logistics and medical cover... they in walking distance over the hill. They share power and NZ windmills.
We were expecting to fly out the next day but I was hoping to stay for a couple of days for a tour. Providence heard us, and then forced us to stay a full fourteen days.
All at McMurdo share rooms, save for a lucky few (including one of the three doctors). As visitors we did not have desk or any place to go. I was lucky as I was given the amateur radio hut key so I had a desk, Internet and a warm hut. Internet is good and all have access, but not to the US Intranet, which means we missed out on some important news. There is TV with films and US Military TV. I visited the medical facility and if we had have known I would be staying for two weeks I would have been enrolled onto the emergency response team.
The US medical team does not have the remote training that AAD does… partly because they have more flights and they also have other support workers. Indeed there is no slushy duty on station as they have janitors employed, as is the professional fire crew.
We visited Scott’s 1903 Discovery Hut, and walked up Observation Hill to get a view of Mt Erebus, which still vents. It was climbed by Shackleton who on return wrote a poem about it, as one does! We visited the shop at Scott Base, the NZ station. The Kiwi station is faces where glacial ice meets sea ice so their view keeps changing.
Eventually we spied the Bassler arriving. Boarding her was a delight. You need the ear protectors all the time, and oxygen for much of the journey. The Transantarctic Mountains are a spectacular site as glaciers try and find a way through. The mountains block the three kilometres depth of ice across much of the continent. After the mountains the plane was still at over 3000 metres, yet it seemed a few hundred feet above the ice for many hours until eventually the ice fell away. The flight McMurdo to Casey by Bassler is seven hours long with is no loo. Bring your own bottle.
Casey is home, bright shiny and it seems so new. I am delighted to be here to meet the winter team again. The two weeks here has given me the idea of what winter working is like, before the summer crew arrived.
Having heard stories about week-long delays at McMurdo, LC130 Herc’s turning around half an hour outside Casey and having spent the week or so previously watching the weather close up on that route (while forecasting to get the Basler and Twin Otters in), I must admit I was pleasantly surprised with how seamlessly (and to schedule!) the whole day went. It’s pretty unusual that the weather lines up for Casey for a date three days from now, let alone for both Casey and McMurdo (and en route) for a date randomly (well, probably not randomly) selected months previously. And what about the myriad of other factors ie. The A Factor that seem to pop up and affect logistics down here? But there was none of that. We were scheduled to fly from Hobart for Casey on the 8 November and on 8 November we did just that. The A-factor was very kind to us and the day went seamlessly.
The day for me started at 0300 for a 0325 collection by the bus, which delivered me and others to the airport by 0400. The check-in queue was short, compared to Jetstar standards anyhow, and we were all checked in and boarded by 0500 for the 5:30am scheduled departure. I’m not really a morning person, it amazes me how anyone really can carry on a coherent conversation before about 8am and without coffee on board, so I don’t really recall too much of the first half of the flight unfortunately, but I do remember the following…
- We were asked to sit at the back of the plane for takeoff, basically used as ballast for takeoff. That’s never happened to me before. Anyhow we did that and we did takeoff. Which I thought was quite good.
- I had to close the shutters pretty early on due to being assaulted by the sun.
- We were served a delicious breakfast.
- The scenery was spectacular, once we hit the Ice, too much sun to look out the window before then. I remember thinking to myself when I looked outside the window about two hours out of McMurdo how lucky we all were right at that moment. People pay a lot of money for what we experienced on that first flight. Clear skies allowed us an unimpeded view pretty much till we landed at McMurdo - ice and sea ice in their myriad of forms, the Trans Antarctic Mountains, Mt Erebus … all with a backdrop of a brilliant blue sky (well largely)! And last but not least.
- The mood was jovial, very jovial.
Our transit time at McMurdo was short – perhaps too short for some of us who were quietly hoping we might overnight there. I don’t want to say seamless again, but I will … it seems to sum up the flow through that day. About an hour in a bus with a chatty bus driver called Kelly, then straight onto the Herc (LC130 Hercules) where we strapped ourselves in, put our feet up and … ahem … sat back and … ahem … enjoyed the ride (?).
It's not the most comfortable vehicle, the Herc, but I am sure we have all been in worse. And not everyone gets to experience being in the back of a C130. Not unless you have been in the military – they all seem to have done it and I thank them all for the tips beforehand – the extra sound proof earmuffs and additional jacket on board came in very useful. Again, how lucky were we? And we were flying back across the Transantarctic Mountains. You did have to clamber over legs, bags, people etc to do get to the windows at the back of the aircraft to see the view, but you weren’t disappointed if you did!
But frankly, twenty minutes was enough really. I don’t want to sound like a princess, but give me a commercial style aircraft any day. (The A319 with it’s spacious and heated interior, hot breakfast and window seats will do nicely, thank you!)
Although I did get a kick out of seeing our luggage ejected from the back of the Herc while we were taxi-ing down Casey ski way (on schedule). That was pretty cool. You don’t get to see that on your standard Qantas flight.
And you don’t usually get included with Qantas a luggage and taxi service from a couple of steps outside the aircraft to your home!
Our Casey gallery this week of birds landing at Casey ski landing area.