Category Archives: Fun

Antarctic Thanksgiving 2012

Due to the seasonal constraints of studying flowing water in one of the driest and coldest landscapes on earth, I am obligated to spend the austral summer in they Dry Valleys of Antarctica. The warmest annual temperatures, and highest net solar radiation occurs between November and February in this region. This means that I will spend the holiday season away from friends and family in the continental United States. The idea of spending three major holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years) away from home is a bit daunting. However, I have quickly discovered that folks here in the Dry Valleys know how to have a good time with holidays.

I began Thanksgiving day at F6 camp. Unlike previous Thanksgivings, I packed my bags for a scenic hike to Lake Hoare, instead of sitting around watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. My colleague,  Tyler, and I set off for the six mile treck (turkey trot) under cloudless blue skies. 2.25 hours later, we arrived at Lake Hoare, where we were greeted by 20 of our friends and co-workers, who were busy making final preparations for a proper Thanksgiving feast.

Chris basting the bird

…. all the fixins

The menu was right in line with traditional American Thanksgiving fare. We enjoyed two turkeys prepared on the grill, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potato casserole, cornbread pudding, stuffing, roasted pumpkin and carrots, cranberry sauce, and a nice green salad. For dessert there was a large variety of pies to chose from. Everything was homemade and totally delicious. The best part was the abundance of fresh veggies! It had been a while since I had the chance to chow down on fresh veggies, as they are particularly hard to come by in the Dry Valleys.

dinner inside the main hut at Lake Hoare

After dinner we enjoyed conversation and games over fantastic New Zealand wine. Although nothing is quite like Thanksgiving at home, most certainly nothing is like Thanksgiving in the Dry Valleys. I’m quite grateful for the abundance of good people (and good food) here in the Dry Valleys for the Thanksgiving holiday.

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving, surrounded by loved ones and tasty food.



Outside my tent just prior to turkey slumber

Nov 06 – Nov 08: Happy Camper


Tuesday, Nov 06

Only a few hours after stepping off the C17, I was assigned to attend a mandatory field training course, commonly known here at McMurdo as “Happy Camper.” Happy Camper is a two day course which covers the basics of living and more importantly surviving in the cold, beautiful, yet unforgiving land/sea-scape of Antarctica. We began in the class room discussing cold weather basics such as frostbite, hypothermia, dressing for extreme cold, and understanding the importance of team work. Here is a picture of our two instructors, Ben and Alasdair. Alasdair is the one all bundled up in ECW.

By 1030 we (16 other classmates and myself) had packed our bags for the night and were boarding the bus, which would take us out onto the McMurdo Ice Shelf, where we’d stay the night. Standing on the ice shlelf was a surreal feeling. To the north and south you’re bounded by mountains. However, looking east, the ice seemed never ending, revealing the curvature of the earth. Directly north of our small campsite was Mt Erebus (shown on the left), an active volcano and the topic of some very interesting research. Because there is nothing to provide a sense of scale, distances are difficult to grasp – what seems 5 miles aways may actually be 22 miles away. Also the snow pack acts like a big mirror reflecting the ever-present sun, making snow blindness and sun burn serious threats to ones overall comfort.

several mountain tents sit between two Scott tents, all safely behind a snow wall

Snow walls 101 with Alasdair

Ben and Alasdair showed us some essential field techniques. We learned to tie some cool knots, my favorite was the “truckers hitch,” used to secure tents to the ground. We built a snow wall to protect our camp from the possibility of a wind storm, the worst of which always come from the south (off of the ice cap). We use two types of tents, here in Antarctica: the Scott tent (sorta looks like a teepee), and mountain tents (modern expedition tents). The very first Antarctic expeditions used Scott tents – remarkably robust shelters. Around 1800 our instructors left us out with some stoves, food, and shelter. We spent the night on the ice shelf. Thanks to my -50 sleeping bag and a few wisely place bottles of hot water, I was plenty toasty and slept quite well. Overnight lows likely reached -10 F.

After eating a solid breakfast and breaking down camp, we reconvened with our instructors in a nearby hut to work on some scenario situations. My favorite scenario was as follows:

Your team and you are all sitting around inside a warm hut, when the weather suddenly turns bad – Very high winds, very cold temperatures, limited to zero visibility (known as Condition 1 in Antarctica). You all notice one of your teammates is missing. Maybe they’ve been gone 30 minutes? Someone thinks he/she has gone to the bathrooms, which are located appox 40 yards from the hut. What do you do?

Well, we decided to go look for our missing teammate  So, in order to simulate Condition 1 weather, each team member that stepped out of the hut needed to be wearing a bucket on his/her head. We sent two teammates who held onto a rope, which was fastend to the inside of the hut. After a several minutes of stumbling and fumbling they came nowhere near the out-houses. Lesson learned: Condition 1 is no joke. However, watching my new friends stumble around with buckets on their head was worth quite a laugh (see below).

Snow School was easily the best class I’ve ever taken. I reviewed things I already knew, learned some completely new things, met lots of new friends, and got my first thorough Antarctic experience. I am definitely a “Happy Camper!”

On Saturday Nov 10, I’ll fly to the Dry Valleys to meet my fellow MCM-LTER Stream Team members. I absolutely cannot wait – feeling like a kid on Christmas. McMurdo station is pretty sweet, but it’s time for some new scenery and lots of quality (big)science in the field!




Oct 31 – Nov 03: Christchurch, NZ


After 5 airports and 4 flights, I’ve finally arrived in Christchurch, NZ around 14:30 11/2/2012! Pretty crazy how I time-traveled a day ahead of my friends back in the States, as I crossed the International Date Line. So, while here in Christchurch, I’ll be 17 hrs ahead of ya’ll back in the eastern United States. I stepped off my flight to clear skies and warm weather (~70 F). After being cooped up in airplanes all day, where leg space is more than limited, it was nice to go for a long run to enjoy the warm weather. I enjoyed some top-notch Thai food for dinner and got to bed early for some much needed (horizontally oriented) sleep.

Contrary to yesterday’s weather, I awoke to cold, windy, and rainy weather. At first it was a bit depressing, as I had wished to spend my day trekking about the city under sunny skies. However, I realized that for the next three months, while I’m in the Dry Valleys (a polar desert…), I wont see single drop of rain. So, why not embrace the rain? I headed out from my hotel around 8:00 towards the Christchurch farmers market at Riccarton Bush.

I set out in search of some local Kiwi culture. Food and culture are intimately coupled. Often, food defines culture in one way or another. So to find some culture, I followed the food. Despite the cold and rain, Riccarton Bush was bustling with happy, enthusiastic vendors and market goers.

ImageWet and cold, I was dying for a cup of coffee. Well, lets get some terminology straight, first. You won’t find a cup of “coffee” on the menu at any café in NZ. You will however find “long blacks” and “flat whites.” A “long black” is a shot of espresso, where steam is pulled through the grounds for a longer duration than normal, resulting in a diluted shot of espresso – similar to an Americano. A “flat white” is simply a shot of espresso and poured with steamed milk, a.k.a. a late. Whatever you want to call it, the hot caffeinated beverage hit the spot. Also, turns out, apparently you need to be of age to have caffeine in NZ (see photo)… I have my doubts….?


I’ve been warned that fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to come by in the Dry Valleys. So, I assembled a lunch composed mainly of “freshies.” I snagged some super French bread from a local baker (see photo). Some nice folks from a local farm hooked me up with an avocado, and another veggie vendor provided me with some fresh indoor-grown tomatoes. Being indecisive proved advantageous with the cheese vendor, as they allowed me to sample many NZ cheeses before settling on a beautiful sharp cheddar. Also, I was surprised to find NZ grown olives – couldn’t resist – picked up 100g. The market proved to be a good way to find fantastic healthy food at a more than reasonable fare, while enjoying lots of good conversationwith local Christchurch folk.



With my lunch packed-up, I set out towards the city center to see the sights. Last February, Christchurch was hit by a gnarly earhquake, which decimated many old structures in the downtown area. Sadly, the downtown resembles a war-zone, where many buildings have been reduced to rubble. However, Christchurch seems proud to be moving-on and rebuilding. I fumbled around some shops located in a new shopping center, called Re:START. The shops are housed in box-car storage-unit-esque modules. The place was bustiling with shoppers and hopefully this is a nice start to the long process of rebuilding.


By 14:00 I made it back to my hotel tired and hungry. Good thing I packed a top-notch lunch, eh? Tomorrow I get my “extreme cold weather gear” from USAP and get oriented. Should be sweet. I’ll keep ya’ll posted.



P.S. applogies for any typos. I’m “stickin’ it to the man” and poaching WiFi from McDonalds as my lap-top is rapidly losing power. First world problems? I think so.