Rocky Mountain National Park, South Pole Team Training

As I ran along a dirt running track at the early morning hours of another striking autumn day at the edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park, purple and pink shades of light shimmered across the sky. With limited visibility, I could hear boisterous elk bugling all around me as I ran through vibrantly colored trees, as it was in the height of the elk mating season. After so many months of diminishing sunlight, pitch-black darkness, and absolutely no other living organism besides other human beings for so long, I was overwhelmed by all the sights and sounds around me as I ran through so much life. In fact, I was so distracted by all of my senses that I didn’t even notice the three male elk sparring in the middle of the running path right in front of me as I came careening through the brush at a distracted pace, virtually scaring the living day-lights out of me.

Such was my experience of being in an overwhelmingly superb mountain landscape after being in isolation in Antarctica for so long. Once I got home from San Francisco and my preceding travels, I had a system-shocking turnaround back to work. 4 short days after I landed back home, I flew straight to Denver, Colorado for a team training that I assumed would be riddled with boring corporate meetings about team building and ethics for how we’re supposed to handle ourselves at the South Pole. When I reached the hotel just outside of Denver, I was instructed that a large majority of our team would be going to dinner and the following day, we would all load up into vans to drive 2 hours north into the YMCA of the Rockies, the camp right outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. I was astonished at this, as this was the first time they had ever done this with their South Pole team.

When we arrived at the YMCA, we were assigned rooms; in which I was graciously given my own room to help acclimate to society again, and left to our own devices for the night. I wandered the property, finding the visitors center and buying a map of the National Park. There were elk roaming the grounds everywhere and I took many photos of these gracious creatures that I missed so much. Our food was paid for at the main cafeteria but we were granted access to use any of the 3 vans in our company if we wanted to explore Estes Park, the small town that precedes the astonishing wilderness we were staying at. 8 of us crammed into the van after we got settled and headed into town for dinner and to buy supplies at the store. The food at the brewery we ended up at wasn’t remarkable but after eating the same food for months at McMurdo, I didn’t mind. We also learned that the Stanley Hotel, the replicated hotel featured in the movie The Shining that helped epitomize Jack Nicholson as a legend, was just up the road from us.

As we all ended up back at the YMCA, about 20 of us ended up in a lounge in our building chatting about our adventure to come. There was a team building exercise planned the following morning for 8 AM so with an exceptionally ambitious goal to wake up with enough time to go for a run around the property in the early morning hours and get breakfast, I headed to bed. The run the next morning was exhilarating, as it was the first time in more than a year I had spent any time outside without 20 pounds of cold weather gear on. Our first meeting was a precursor of what was to come within the next week. We were all introduced and we met the man that led our team building exercises. I felt incredibly fortunate, as the company they hired to help us become a well-oiled machine worked with many high profile government entities and private sector companies. Our first task together involved a very lengthy plastic pipe riddled with holes, a bike pump, and a balloon taped at the far end of the pipe. Nicknamed “The Leaky Pipe”, we were instructed that as a team, we had to cover every single hole using only our bodies and breath air into the balloon using the bike pump. Needless to say, we failed miserably that first day. We tried everything each of us could think of but it was clear we weren’t working as a team in the most remote sense of the word. Everybody talked over each other and we weren’t thorough and thoughtful in our approach what-so-ever.

As the week progressed, we had many thought-provoking activities and team building exercises that strengthened our cooperation skills. My favorite of which was a geo-caching exercise that had our entire team scampering around the surrounding mountain sides looking for specific landmarks that were pinged with geological coordinates. We were split into teams and given a GPS device to point us to the landmark that corresponded with a specific clue sheet they gave us. We had 4 hours to try and track down as many of the 80 landmarks we could and have all our team make it back to the conference room we were staged in. We ended up gathering 93% of all the geocaches, above average among the groups the instructor usually does this exercise with. On that promising note, our last day with our team trainer was premised with a challenge to finish the “Leaky Pipe” exercise. At the end of the day, we all got together and systematically went through the steps we needed to do to fill all the holes and blow the balloon up. When we actually tried our first attempt, we were given clear instruction and within 3 pumps, blew the balloon up. Met with a surprising profanity by our instructor, we all cheered in our success in cooperation. It was apparently the first time a group had done it on the first try, which astonished our instructor.

There were also many occasions to decompress during our week of training. Since I hadn’t had a meal that my hands didn’t have some sort of work in cooking for quite some time, the other cook and I went out every single day to a spectacular BBQ restaurant we found. It was so good that we encouraged others in our team to come with us. At one point, one group of us went to lunch at the BBQ joint and filled the whole bar. After we were done eating, another one of our groups showed up at the perfect moment and just swapped our seats out, filling up the bar a second time. After the team building, we were given a day off to explore the park. Another group of us took a van into the park, driving the entire length and finding some extraordinary walking trails with some remarkable views of the high alpine mountains in the area. We were even able to view a family of indigenous mountain sheep along a cliff side near one of the more spectacular viewing points we found.

After our day off, our whole group split off into 2 different trainings. One was a fire fighting training back in Denver and the other training that I was a part of was a medical first responders training. 2 NOLS (an national outdoor medical training program) instructors were sent out to the YMCA where the medical team was. They taught us about anything you’d need to know to rescue an injured person in an extreme medical situation in the wild. After doing this course, we were all certified through CPR and NOLS, which is very handy when you’re traveling the world. Once that course was done, our South Pole training was officially over. We were all sent back to Denver for a final farewell dinner with the entire team. A majority of the group was headed straight to the South Pole for their own Year on Ice while I had to take a mandatory summer season off. Not only did I have to take some time off, I still had all of my physical and mental qualification testing to go through.

Since I was already in Denver near the program’s doctors, I asked to PQ fully while I was there. This meant a few more nights in a hotel and constant medical testing over 3 more days. This included a psychological evaluation that involved a lengthy written exam and an interview by a certified psychologist, a full-body exam by a physician and x-rays of my chest, a gall-bladder ultrasound to check for irregularities, bite-wing x-rays of my jaw with a full dental check-up, and a full panel blood check up. To top all of that off, when I got home I had to do a drug test and blood analysis for certain diseases at a certified clinic. Getting “fully PQ’d” to come down to Antarctica for a winter is an incredibly lengthy and mind-numbing process that can easily agitate the most experienced veteran on the Ice. Luckily, most of mine this year went off without a hitch. After each day, I had a bit of time to wander around the outskirt cities of Denver Proper. I ended up watching The Martian at a movie theater near by, the first movie at a theater for me in a considerable amount of time. I also found a camera equipment store to buy a nice lens for my upcoming trip to South America.

After my PQ process in Denver, I ended up back at another airport with another layover. The only solace in this was that I met up with some of my new-found friends I would soon be wintering at the South Pole with at Denver International Airport. They were just starting their journey to the Ice while I was on my way to some much needed vacation and family time. Next post will likely be about my journey through Peru, starting in Lima and ending in Arequipa, half way through my time spent in Peru. I know this was a lengthy post but I had so many good memories while I was at the YMCA of the Rockies. Along with the experience of team training in the Rocky Mountains, being so close to the autumn wilderness in my favorite geological landscape was exactly what I needed after so much time spent in isolation at McMurdo. I hope you enjoy the pictures!

Bangkok and San Francisco

When I finally ended up jumping onto a plane at the Christchurch International Airport, I was relieved and depressed about getting away from Antarctica. I made it my home for a year of my life and met many friends that’ll likely be in my life for a very long time. I try not to dwell on the past, though. Plus, I was on my way to a very beautiful city that I had high expectations of.

My plans for Bangkok were extensive for the 9 days I originally had planned for it. I not only was expecting to have my 25th birthday there, I had reserved a seat at Gaggan. One of the top 10 restaurants in the world (ranked by the ubiquitous Restaurant Magazine that sets a high standard for the culinary world) was going to be my birthday dinner. To get a seat at one of these restaurants back in the states would cost you upwards of 300-400 dollars by the end of the night. Since the US dollar is so strong against the Thai Baht, it would cost me an incredible amount less to eat at a world-class restaurant. I had also reserved a seat at the 22nd best ranked restaurant in the world a few nights after along with very ambitious plans on hitting every single temple around the city center and the Grand Palace.

Before I left McMurdo, I took a chance at scheduling all of my flights and hotels with very little lee-way for consideration of weather. Since I only had about 2 weeks to get back home and get ready for training in Colorado for my eventual return to the Icy South, gambling on weather at McMurdo was an acceptable risk I was willing to take. If it paid off, I would be eating at a top restaurant in the world by my birthday and have 4 extra days in Bangkok. If it didn’t pay off, I would miss my reservation at Gaggan but I had a back-up reservation at another top restaurant in the Bangkok area, Nahm. I would also have to pay an extra 150 bucks to get my flight changed. In the end I was really only putting my money at risk. Unfortunately, my gamble didn’t pay off. My plane off the continent was delayed but I was lucky enough for it to only be pushed back by a day. I didn’t make it to Gaggan.

I did, however, get to spend my birthday with some Ice friends on their way down to Antarctica for the following summer season and my close friend that I was going to Bangkok with, Panda. I wasn’t too heart broken, as I only lost 3 days in Bangkok. I landed in Thailand at 1 AM and my friend had the foresight to book transportation to our hotel. It’s a good thing he did since the hotel was at the heart of the city on the river-front of the Phraya River, almost an hour away. The hotel was beautiful and the boats on the river were absolutely spectacular at night. As we entered  the hotel, I was met with the best hospitality I’ve ever seen in the world so far.

For the next 4 days, my friend and I wandered the streets of Bangkok bargaining with street vendors for trinkets for our families, meandering through halls of great palaces and old temples with stunning depictions of all different sizes and shapes of Buddha, and eating the incredible Thai food that’s so famous around the world. Hopping on and off the river taxis that costed 15 cents a ride, I saw a majority of the things that were on my list. Not only that but we got to eat at Nahm, another top-ranked restaurant in the world that I mentioned earlier. That included 16 courses and a complimentary course because the restaurant heard that it was my birthday dinner, costing us 80 USD each. It would’ve been quadruple that cost if we ate at a top restaurant anywhere else in the world. When we got back to the hotel, we ordered an authentic hour-long Thai Massage that costed us less than 16 USD, which was very expensive in Thailand. It truly was a fantastic whirlwind. I was sad to leave with such a short time to experience the Southeast-Asian culture.

After all of that, I found myself in another airport on another plane. They flew me through Taipei, Taiwan and as soon as I landed, my next plane got canceled. They reluctantly put me on another plane with a better seat, as I wasn’t about to miss my time in San Francisco. I flew through Los Angeles with no trouble and ended up in a shuttle service driving through the San Francisco Bay area to my hotel at nearly 2 AM. I had a very extensive itinerary in the 36 hours I was scheduled in my hotel room so I was wide awake 7 AM. I took the trolley across town to one of the best bakeries in town, walked up and down the streets and parks while I ate my pastries, and wandered in and out of the various markets to buy some lunch to eat on the pier later on. I traversed much of the subway to find myself on the cluster of piers around the fisherman’s wharf. The Wharf Aquarium was amazing, along with the many restaurants and markets that snaked their way out onto the docks. A small detour off of the wharf landed me in the middle of the infamous China Town. Wandering through spice shops and novelty T-Shirt stores reminded me of Bangkok too much so I retraced my steps back to the pier I left.

After I ended up back on the wharf, I found, with much difficulty, a ferry ticket across the Bay to Sausalito, a small hill town with steep roads and a very touristic biking venture. They let you rent a bike across the Bay, take a ferry to Sausalito, and have a nice bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to the base of the tourist center on the other side. Since I had no phone yet and a very sketchy past with bikes in general, I opted to walk this entire route. Not really knowing where I was going when I landed in Sausalito, I wandered the steep hills trying to find any signs or markers that pointed me towards the Bridge. Many locals gave me awkward sideways glances as they walked by me, as I wasn’t even near the road that took me to the bridge. In fact, I ended up in a wilderness conservation area at the bottom of the town that was nowhere near where I needed to be. The only consoling factor in my obvious lack of direction was that it was a very beautiful walk that had way more wildlife wandering around than I would’ve expected. The good news was I could see the bridge again. Traversing random hills and what seemed like a yacht club, I finally made it to the route that brought me towards the bridge. My excursion across those hills gave me a beautiful picture of the Golden Gate Bridge straight through the arches all the way to the other side with cars bustling across it. Walking the length of the Golden Gate Bridge was a serene moment for me after such a long winter in Antarctica and weaving under the bridge, listening to the hundreds of cars driving over me was an intense experience. The bus that took me back to my hotel gave me a great snapshot of the night life in San Francisco since the bridge was on the other side of town. Little did I know, some friends from back home were bar-hopping around my hotel but I didn’t get back to my hotel until 1 AM, too close to last call for me to track them down.

An early morning wake up call had me on another shuttle back to the airport at 6 AM the next day. The next time I’m in San Francisco, I’ll likely end up staying much, much longer. It quickly became one of my favorite cities in the world just from the small glimpse of the city I got. You would think that if it was my favorite city in the world, I would move there but it’s unfortunately also the most expensive city in America to live in. I’m comfortable with excursions through their streets and waters for now. Once I landed back home in Salt Lake City, I had a very quick turn-around to a team training that started in Denver and eventually ended with an fantastic week-long team building exercise on the outskirts of Rocky Mountain National Park, along with 3 long days of doctors appointments and mental evaluations from psychiatrists to get fully Physically Qualified for where I am now, the South Pole. Next week’s post will likely be about our elaborate sunset dinner that the kitchen crew put on for the community, marking the time where we will no longer see the sun for the next 6 months. I’ll also talk about my time in Estes Park, Colorado and the ordeal of trying to Physically Qualify for the US Antarctic Program. Enjoy the pictures!

South Pole Adventure

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted. A lot has happened since I last posted so many months ago. I’ve missed writing, as it clears my mind. The last time I wrote much was when I was in the depths of a 24 hour bus ride in Peru strapped into my seat as the vehicle careened around sharp, steep corners of the Andes Mountains. Trying to sleep unsuccessfully gave me the time to wrap my head around my last few months in McMurdo. I think it was good to have some distance from Antarctica before I wrote my final thoughts of my season.

Anyway! I’m back in Antarctica. I made it to the continent. I made it to the South Pole. I’m wintering at debatably the harshest environment on earth. So there’s that. There’s so much I’d like to write about from the 4 months I was away from the Icy South. I wish I had kept better documentation of my thoughts during that period, though I did keep a journal. I’ll draw upon that over the next few weeks to compile my thoughts about the thousands of miles I traveled all over South America and the states. In the mean time, the South Pole is a beautifully haunting place.Absolutely no other living thing besides the 48 other human beings can survive here and without our technological developments, we’d all die within days. There’s not much scenery, as the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is centralized on a massive plateau atop the largest shifting glacier in the world. At nearly 15,000 feet deep, it’s the only place on earth that scientists are able to accurately study  Neutrinos; a particle so small that it passes through atoms and cells without touching anything. This particle is also linked to the start of the universe. Coupled with the South Pole Telescope that searches for cosmic microwaves in space that’s said to be residual background effects from the Big Bang; i.e the start of our universe, we can search for the beginning of all of us. They’re able to literally look back in time near when this massive influx of energy poured into nothingness and formed our galaxies, formed our stars, and formed just about everything else in existence.

I’ve been thoroughly listening to any bit of knowledge I can pick up from the scientists and I’ve also been attending a weekly Astronomy class that seems to be equivalent to any college course. I’ve also been here over a month and a half and I’m already starting training on my next marathon in mid-June. On top of the June marathon, I’ve signed up for a marathon in Queenstown, New Zealand in mid-November after I get off the Ice. I’m working an early morning shift that gives me plenty of time to cook some fantastic food on top of all this, which to me is a great bonus. The sun sets only one time a year here, which is going to happen within the next few weeks for a solid 6 months of winter. I’m extremely exciting for the beautiful colored skies of the sunset and the glimmering stars of the Antarctic twilight. Until then, I’ll write on my trip through Denver for training and South America.            IMG_0993.jpg

The South Pole Traverse

Pretty much one of the most sought-after, intense positions you can get here in Antarctica is to get the chance of going on the South Pole Traverse. It’s essentially a caravan of tractors and supplies that track across the ice, over a glacier, and across crevasses to get to the South Pole to resupply them with fuel.

DSC01656Most everything here in Antarctica is supplied by the LC-130 Hercules plane. It usually takes about 4 gallons of fuel that the plane burns per 1 gallon of fuel that’s transported by LC-130 to actually refuel the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. EXTREMELY ineffective. When the Traverse started just shy of 10 years ago in the 2005/2006 season, they found out that it’s a much more efficient way to transport large amounts of fuel, albeit a much more dangerous one for the Traverse team. It only takes 1/2 gallon of fuel to transport each gallon that makes it up to the South Pole. Taking around 140,000 gallons of fuel each year to the Pole while dropping fuel caches and supplying remote camps along the way, this saves on average 65 LC-130 flights a year. In total, they delivered more than 110 tons of cargo in that first year. This number is considerably higher this year since they only made 1 traverse to the Pole that first year and this year they made 3 traverses.  After that first year, they had a 1 year hiatus to build up the infrastructure on the trail leading to the Pole. They made great headway in 2007-2008 at nailing down the routine for the Traverse team and in the 2008-2009 season, they completed the first operational Traverse year. This accomplishment marked a great achievement for the NSF and a mind-altering way of transporting fuel across tundras. This is why a lot of people here on station hold these teams in such high regard.

Essentially rock stars in the eyes of most of my friends, these teams are completely secluded from the world while on the 28 day trip to the South Pole. Once they drop their supplies off, it’s a much shorter return trip. I takes 1 1/2 to 2 months in total after they drop their caches, visit the remote camps, and return to McMurdo Sound. It’s an incredible feat considering the history of South Pole journeys by the human race in the last 150 years. Knowing that we can consistently brave this extreme weather through scientific and mechanical innovation that came from the advancement of the human race with virtually zero casualties is unbelievable to me. I would have never believed that this was possible if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.


The caravan consists of big trailers used for storage and sleeping, Caterpillar and Case tractors for dragging everything over the ice, and huge, long tubular bladders filled with oil. It’s a pretty interesting sight to see. I was fortunate enough to drive by their staging area on my way to work every day. I got to see the progression of equipment getting prepped for the trip every day and I tried documenting all the different stages. The giant bladders for the fuel are exactly as it’s described, a big black long bladder that are strapped to a hitch so the tractors can drag them along the ice (Shown to the left and above). The trail leading to the South Pole is all up hill, climbing in elevation to almost 10,000 feet with the barometric pressure sometimes up to 14,000 feet. It’s approximately 995 miles (1601 km) one way, making it almost 2,000 miles round-trip.

I’ve had the pleasure of talking with several of the traverse team members from past traverses, from SpoT 1 and 2 over this season, and a member of SpoT 2 who happens to be my room mate while he’s in town here. I’ve had a good amount of time to pick a few of these unique individual’s heads about their experience along with one of the managers of the whole operation. They have all said it’s extremely important who your team members are and how their personalities mesh together as a whole. How someone will interact with others is one of the main things they look at when being considered as a potential team member, even. They prefer people that have had at least 1 year of “ice time” (being deployed in Antarctica). This is to ensure they can even handle the lifestyle that contract work entails before setting out on an extremely monotonous, sometimes grueling adventure to the South Pole. They also have to have some kind of specialized skill they could use with a background of mechanics. You don’t necessarily have to be a mechanic to operate a tractor on the traverse but it definitely helps. You could specialize in carpentry or electrical engineering and they’d still let you be an operator but you’d have to have a pretty impressive resume.

I asked my room mate what he thought the best and worst part of the trip was. He said that the best part of the trip was split between how much of an adventure the whole experience was and how excited he was to be driving back into McMurdo Station after sitting on a tractor for the last 2 months. The worst part of the trip was how little scenery there actually was on the nearly 2,000 mile trip. The most scenic views leading through the route they took into Antarctica was the first and last 100 miles in the bay near McMurdo overlooking the Trans-Antarctic Mountains. The glacier they use to access the continent is definitely a lot safer than the Beardmore Glacier that Captain Scott and Shackleton used years ago travel across the continent but the scenery is less than impressive most of the way. The living spaces they have are incredibly small but as comfortable as possible when dragging small trailers filled with bunk beds, bathrooms, and kitchens. They would work about 12 hours a day and park for the night until they get some sleep and food in their stomachs. Then another morning of firing up tractors, getting their sled trailers ready, and fueling their machines. After that, right back on their way on the South Pole Highway until they get to the South Pole. They get a day off at the Pole, with the eventual return trip in sight.

The South Pole Traverse is an incredible statement of human ingenuity in the most inhospitable place on earth. It has always been on the forefront of fascination for the general public and will continue to push the limits of human capabilities as long as we insist on being a part of this environment for the further understanding of science. I firmly believe that the most extreme places and situations bring the best out of humanity with Antarctica being a shining example of that.

Digging Holes on the Ross Ice Shelf

DSC01235Last weekend I had the opportunity to go on a boondoggle out onto the sea ice in a Twin Otter plane. Boondoggles are contractor working morale trips that supervisors reward their employees with during their work days. When scientists need help out on the field digging out fuel caches and weather towers or counting penguins, they enlist a contractor to come along. I got picked to go on one but since most boondoggles are during the day, I had to stay up during my night time to help out a maintenance crew dig out a solar panel by the Tall Tower, one of their main instrumental weather towers. At around 115 feet, it stands somewhere out on the Ross Ice Shelf relaying weather information back and forth between the multiple smaller other weather towers back to Willy Field and McMurdo.

DSC01265DSC01268I started work at 8:30 PM and had an average day at Willy Field cooking for everyone that works on the ice runway. I got off at 6:30 AM and had to report to the shuttle drop off by 8 AM with a lunch and all my ECW’s (Extra Cold Weather gear). I gathered everything and jumped on the shuttle, meeting up with everyone that I was going to work with along the way. There were 8 of us. 4 riggers that climbed the tower to make sure all the DSC01267wires were tensioned correctly so the tower doesn’t get blown away, 2 maintenance crew that made sure all the supporting instruments were working correctly, and 2 boondogglers that I was a part of. I mainly worked with the maintenance crew digging out the solar panel, battery packs, and instruments that powered the Tower.

DSC01284DSC01281The last time they had dug out this particular device was 5 years before. Ideally, each year would’ve piled a foot and a half of snow on top of the solar panel. By the end of it all, it was almost twice as deep as previously believed. Not only did we have to dig a 12 foot hole (Pictured Top Left) into the ice shelf, we had to dig an equally deep trench that was about 20 feet long (Pictured Bottom Left, only 1/4 done) and an ice tunnel to dig out a wire buried in the DSC01248ice that connected the tower to the solar panel. It was excruciating work, especially considering I was usually asleep hours before that. It took 9 hours of hard digging with very little break to finish in time. I ended up back on Willy Field at around 5:30 PM, just in time to see a lonely Emperor Penguin aimlessly waddling around! Ha. Awesome. I loved being out in the middle of no where with this crew that got to do this every day to maintain the various towers around the shelf. After we got done they told me that was the biggest project they had planned for the year and I’d be put back on the boondoggle list because of how hard this one was.

Regardless, I got out in a plane on the shelf. I actually got sunburned and on my way back on Willy Field I saw an Emperor Penguin, in which I aptly named Steve. All in all a productive, yet tiring, day.

***An update on me. I had a phone interview with the South Pole last week to winter over there. According to my status after my physical qualification with the psych doctor in early January, they’ll be sending me to the geographical South Pole for a face-to-face interview. We’ll see how that goes. Even if I don’t get it, I’ll have been to the southern-most point on earth. Otherwise, I may go back up to Alaska to keep saving my money or I may get back into college for another year or so. Who knows? Any advice would always be appreciated. Also, I’m finding a lot of ways to keep busy at McMurdo through volunteer work and other great activities this place has for the average guy like me. There’s almost too many things, as my original plan was to learn the ukulele better while I was down here and that hasn’t panned out yet. Oh well. For now, here’s more pictures!

Robert Falcon Scott, One of the Last Great Explorers and his Legacy

Robert Falcon Scott. In my mind, one of the greatest explorers of the early 1900’s. Behind Shackleton, he’s one of the main archetypes of the golden age of discovery. His legacy is palpable to anyone that’s ever set foot on the continent of Antarctica and just as tragic. If you don’t know the story, it’s full of excitement and intrigue, along with soul-crushing disappointment and catastrophic events that eventually unraveled upon the great captain of the British Naval Fleet.

Captain Scott grew up with a middle-class family that had a small estate and owned a small brewery. He grew up with a bunch of siblings in a stable family. He was also a daydreamer, small and weakly for his age, and extremely apathetic towards everything society saw as normal in that age. He struggled to overcome these attributes that were considered weaknesses all his life, never really shedding these perceived character flaws. Although, in my mind these attributes are what made him such an accomplished and important perceivable character in the history of this place. Nicknamed Con, he will always be in my mind as the toughest explorer and leader to aspire to.

Robert Falcon Scott, Antarctic explorerWhen he joined the Naval Force, he worked his way through ships and rankings, eventually landing himself as an officer having dinner with the Commodore, Albert Markham. The Commodore’s cousin was present, who was a prominent geographer at the time. Con so thoroughly impressed him with his charm, enthusiasm, and pure intelligence. He later wrote about how Captain Scott was the pre-destined man to lead the most scientifically advantageous expedition of their century. After his father died, his favorite younger brother died, and his family became penniless, he eventually ended up getting random qualifying and good paying jobs throughout the Naval Forces. All the while, he had 3 chance meetings with the Commodore’s cousin. In these meetings, Con expressed his restlessness within the Navy and Markham urged him to apply to be a Captain for Naval exploration missions.

He eventually ended up beating out any other contender to lead the Antarctic expedition and led the highly equipped ship, Discovery, to the most harrowing and scientifically significant expedition into the Antarctic. Being the first expedition of the 20th century into this icy wasteland of snow and glaciers and monolithic mountains, he helmed a legacy that was later carried on by his predecessors and grandchildren for the preservation of Antarctica and the science that it contained. After this first expedition, he went on to travel England giving lectures and beginning preparations to write a book, which he felt he wasn’t qualified for. He went on to say that he would probably never return to the polar regions.

It took Con 8 years to return to the icy south and only a year after the Discovery mission to be goaded by the scientific community into leading another expedition into Antarctica. In this time, he became a prominent figure in the British Naval Force, a husband and father to a son, and a respected man in the science community. His expedition had found hundreds of new species of animals and many fossils with plants embedded, persisting on the focus of the mission to be completely scientific. After Shackleton’s first attempt at traversing Antarctica to the South Pole and was knighted, an accomplishment the Captain had missed that caused public outcry in favor for Scott, he started to gather funds and plan for the trip.

1.1_Robert_Falcon_ScottScott procured a ship named the Terra Nova. He also bought 20 ponies, 34 sled dogs, and experimental motor sledges. Undoubtedly, this is one of the mistakes that ended up being his downfall. His plan was to get the ponies to drag the sledges a majority of the way up until they reached the glaciers of interior Antarctica. The dogs would be used for a majority of the way, sending them back with the support crew to help with the return trip. They would effectively kill off each pony along the way, leaving extra caches of food for the return trip. What they didn’t realize was that the pony hoof was less stable than dog paws and sank in the snow much deeper. Only a few ponies actually survived the winter before they even started out for the pole and many of the motor sledges broke before they were able to be used on the journey south.

WhDSC00590en Scott and his men finally made it to Antarctica, they set up their camp on Cape Evans, just north of Hut Point where his first trip was based in. After exhaustive amounts of work by his men, they got the Cape Evans hut set up. Not soon after that, Scott got word that Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer that was charged with reaching the North Pole first but was supposedly beaten by an American Navy engineer, turned his ship towards Antarctica for a race to the South Pole. He kept this quiet among his men until the very last-minute, however, until Roald Amundsen himself showed up next to the Cape Evans Hut with a team of the most highly trained dogs Scott had ever seen. Amundsen said he was going to forestall his efforts until the end of winter for sufficient time to set up, effectively giving Scott reason to keep the scientific mission in place through the end of winter. Unknown to Scott, Amundsen was actually planning to leave a month before Scott with his sled dogs and no ponies.

As winRobert-falcon-Scottter ended, Scott began his journey. Starting out with his whole crew and slowly chipping away at the team at each depot. Each group was used as support crew to help carry supplies to the next depot and would be sent back to Cape Evans. He ended up with 6 total, including himself. After incredible bouts of endurance after the last support crew left, their mental capacities became strained. When he finally reached the South Pole, he found the Norwegian’s flag already embedded in the ground. They had made it to the Pole just 21 days shy of Amundsen, completely shattering all resolve from the tired and beaten men. They also found a cairn made by Amundsen with letters written by his 4 men and a picture. Not only did they lose the anticipation of having reached the Pole first, they also had to drag their sledges back nearly 900 miles to Cape Evans.

Tsledgehe cost to Scott and his men getting to the pole was unimaginable. With almost primitive equipment compared to the gear being developed today, these men dragged their sledges with just chest harnesses through worse conditions than I can even imagine. Their return trip started out dismal and only got worse. The same day they found the flag and cairn at the South Pole, a force 5 gale came down on them and forced them to set up camp much earlier than intended. The temperatures had fallen below -50 degrees and that first night was miserable for the men, giving 2 of Scott’s men major frost bite. The return trip started out fairly well but the drop in temperature with each step started becoming more and more noticeable.

Soon ascott15fter starting back, each man who Scott lead back to Cape Evans slowly started to mentally break. Their mental capacity was so low at times that it left little room for error if anything happened. Even trips and falls walking on the ice would mentally weigh on them more than the actual physical injury should have. One even got separated from the group, being found on his knees with a wild look on his face several minutes later. The next day, this crew member died. This demoralized state was made worse by how much oil at each depot had evaporated from poor sealant on the canisters, leaving them with an alarmingly low amount.

The major disruption in Scott’s original support crew plan was to have a team meet them at a mountain past the edge of the glaciers with a team of dogs to help them get to the next depot but the support crew member that was supposed to lead the dogs was indisposed, leaving a noticeably less apt person in means of navigation to meet Scott. Instead, he posted 72 miles north at the next depot nearest the mountain. The distraught nature of Scott’s men when they found out there was no relief at that point was undeniably the last straw. 3 men had already died at this point, mustering just 20 miles from the depot where the dogs were posted at.

As they approached 11 miles from the depot, an incredible blizzard stopped them in their tracks. Completely out of oil and only 2 days of food left, they were indefinitely stuck in their tent. The blizzard ended up lasting 12 days, effectively obliterating any chance they had in reaching those last few miles. After months of hardship and extreme conditions, they had died for no other reason than how ridiculously harsh the Antarctic climate can be. They just couldn’t tame it. Scott wrote his last journal entry, telling whoever found him to send this diary to his widow. Miraculously, he wrote 12 legible and complete letters despite being 3/4 frozen and half-starved to his closest family and friends. In the letters was a letter to his wife regarding his son. He wrote that she should encourage his son to be interested in natural history since it’s better than any game and how much satisfaction he had from knowing that his dear wife and son are safe. This showed how much he cared for the science that him and his men were doing. When his body was found, within his belongings were hundreds of sketches and writings about every type of science you can imagine all the way up until he died. To one of his closest friends, he wrote:

“I may not have proved a great explorer but we have done the greatest march ever made and come very near to great success”

I believe that because he was able to give himself to the journey no matter the risk, this contradicted his statement on how he proved to not be a great explorer. Also contained in the writings was a letter to the public. He wrote about how the expedition’s disastrous outcome was not due to poor planning, nor was it anyone’s fault. He also wrote:

“but for my own sake I do not regret this journey, which has shown that Englishmen can endure hardships, help one another, and meet death with as great a fortitude as ever in the past. We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of providence, determined still to do our best to the last…Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for”.

This public address showed how much determination and resolve he had, being optimistic until the very end. This revealed his character more than anything else could have. It must have been extremely painful to even write a word, let alone a message to England’s public about his misfortune. The strength he had to have is completely unfathomable.

When the search party finally found their tent 8 months later, it was clearly evident Scott had faced an awful death and was the last to die. His last 2 remaining crew members had seemingly passed away peacefully in their sleep, with hands crossed over their chests and bundled in their sleeping bags. They found Captain Scott half out of his sleeping bag with one arm reaching for his friend that had died next to him. His skin was yellow and he had frost bite all over him. His face was in anguish for his friend that followed him into such a desolate place just to die. The man who found them had said that never in his life would he want to lay eyes on the site he had seen in that tent.

His final resting place became his burial site with a cairn erected and an inscriptional cross posted at Hut Point, at the base of where the present McMurdo Station is. The burial site is estimated to be covered in 75 feet of ice after a century had passed and pushed nearly 30 miles closer to the sea. Eventually, it will be pushed out to the Ross Sea and drift in a glacier out to open ocean. Afterwards, England granted his wife the honor that would have been bestowed upon him, the knighthood they disappointingly refused from his with his first expedition. All the members of the ill-fated journey were commemorated and Scott became an instant national hero for more than 50 years.

In the 60’s, a few skeptics of Scott’s competency wrote books about how his leadership was the cause of the outcome for his men, not nature. Many more came out of the wood works to analyze this and his reputation was cast down among the public after it came to light of how Scott only verbalized his order for his support crew to meet him at the intended depot with the dogs that would have saved their lives. It wasn’t until 2012 that this theory was debunked by a researcher that discovered a written order of where Scott needed the men to relieve his crew.

I got the opportunity to actually visit the Cape Evans hut a few weeks back. That trip is mainly what spurred this impromptu project of mine. I wish I had done this before so I would’ve dove into the moment even more when I was walking through the hut seeing Scott’s bed and belongings. I have plenty of pictures, though. Enjoy kids!

Seals of Antarctica.

Another interesting profile post on an animal I want to know more about! Yay! A few weeks back they had a lecture on Weddell Seals, their behaviors, and their physical attributes. Just this last week they had a talk on Weddell Seal mothers and how they take care of their young in such a harsh environment. I missed both of these due to me having to start work at the same time as the lectures start time, which I’m a little disappointed about. Hence, the impromptu research post on seals. I’m excited for this one lol. Now, in the Antarctic there are only 6 seals that are indigenous out of the 35 species of seals in the world. Out of these 6 species, they make up most of the worlds’ population of seals. I’m going to focus on the Weddell Seal and the Leopard Seal since that’s the 2 species that I’ll likely see around here.

flippers_1_-_seal_on_iceThe Weddell Seal is the most human-friendly species of all the seals and the most studied, since it’s closest to any human habitations of any other sub-species. The population is estimated at around 800,000 seals, making it one of the most plentiful seals in the world due to their living practices. They live under the pack ice away from open water, making it hard for Orcas or Leopard Seals to prey on them.

The Weddell Seal maintains breathing holes on the ice shelf and rests on top of the ice or the shore when possible. Since they’re away from most predators, their general life span can normally reach around 30 years. Weddell-seal-Antarctica-1-XLWeddell Seals are unique in regards to their hunting practices. Their body can absorb 5 times the amount of oxygen in their body than humans. On top of that, they have reserved caches of oxygen in their spleen, making their blood consist of a much higher concentrations of myoglobin. They can dive on a regular basis to depths of 1,000 feet (300 meters) but have known to dive much deeper, for up to 80 minutes.

Their physical metabolic reaction when diving deep stays consistent throughout their dive, creating a build up of lactic acids in their muscles that doesn’t get released until they resurface. This is done by restricting the capillaries going through the muscles which makes for a pretty long recovery time after a dive. They also slow their heart rate and restrict blood flow going to vital organs such as the brain, liver, and kidneys. 591_1weddell_seal_antarcticaThey’re not a migratory species, usually never leaving the vicinity of a couple miles of where they were born. They can be found in groups on hundreds but usually in smaller family groups. Their physical presence and features are likened to cats, with whiskers they use to sense their surroundings and a flatter face that seems to be always upturned into a cat-like smile. Their whiskers are actually used to sense a fish’s wake in the water or any other disturbance around, with more than 500 nerve endings connected to the snout. They use this technique to hunt for fish in the dark winter months where there’s months without the sun. The actual view of these animals on the ice recovering is pretty depressing looking since they’re 1200 lbs. of pure blubber but up close, they’re really cute. lep peng

The Leopard Seal is a completely different story. Anyone I’ve talked to about the Leopard Seal have described them as the polar bear of the Antarctic. They’re the most aggressive of any seal in the world and the 2nd largest in Antarctic. They’ve been known to attack humans in the water if they feel threatened in any way. It’s not a good idea to even get in the water in areas where Leopard Seals are known to exist in. They generally don’t attack humans on land since there are usually much smaller and easier prey to catch, such as penguins and weddel seals. Their behavior towards other Leopard Seals are pretty reserved. They don’t stay in large groups. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see a top predatorseal by itself or in a pair. They remind me of polar bears in that regard. One of the highest apex predators in any area tend to be more solitary than anything.

Their only real predators are the Orca Whale and certain species of sharks, which tend to be few and far between. This helps the Leopard Seal by having no real threat on land and being close to invulnerable in the ocean waters around Antarctica. leopard-seal-1-lgThe outward appearance of the animal is almost reptilian, having a slender head and neck with teeth protruding much like a snake. The teeth are almost twice the size of Weddel Seal. This helps the Leopard Seal since it kills animals on land by grabbing them and repeatedly thrashing them onto the ice until it’s dead. In the water, they can sever off chunks on bigger prey or swallow fish whole. They’re very agile out of the water but when you see them swimming, they’re like torpedoes coming for you.

Offspring of Leopard Seals are extremely well taken care of by the mothers. The only other animal that shows any slight aggression towards the baby Leopard Seal is the male Leopard Seal, usually with the mother putting a stop to any attack really quickly. The gestation period is 11 months for the mother. They dig a hole in the ice to give birth that can take months for the mother to prepare. There’s a lot we don’t know about the Leopard Seal’s mating. Actually, there’s virtually nothing known about this since the mating groups are in extremely remote places. Both of these seals are wildly beautiful. One, the cute seal that looks so lazy laying on the ice everyday. The other, dangerous and insanely gorgeous. I really hope I get the chance to see a Leopard Seal before I leave here. I feel extremely lucky to get the chance to see any of this so even if I don’t, it’s still great my interest got peaked enough to write this.

***Update on me. I’m doing some amazing things down here. I get to drive a big lifted truck on the ice everyday to haul food out to the runway. It’s nice to get out of town from time to time. I went on a pressure ridge tour through the ice ridges made by waves under the ocean, cracking the ice, and pushing them up onto each other. The view from everywhere is astounding and the people here are amazing. I’m still unsure of what I’m doing after I get out of here but I’ve pretty much decided I’m not going to winter-over this year. I’m shooting for next year with that. I don’t know entirely where I’ll be for the summer but I’ve had some interesting job prospects. Keep following me, this next week will resolve a lot of questions. Have a good day! A special thanks to the beautiful Elise for being such a good photographer.

Pics for days…


Awwwhhhh ya. At last. We finally made it. After unimaginable obstacles that culminated from the ridiculous amount of paperwork and medical visits, made all the more difficult by the way I choose to live my life in remote areas, this is it. I finally made it to Antarctica.

As I said in my last post, I finally made it onto a plane after my ninth day in Christchurch. An impromptu, much needed vacation was extremely nice but I was definitely ready to get back to work. My flight into Antarctica was uneventful. I mostly watched movies and talked to some of my new friends that I made while in the Garden City. It was cloudy most of the flight and when we actually reached Antarctica, there was too much cloud cover to see any of the mountains in the area. I did get a small glimpse of a cluster of mountains in a break of the clouds but it was blanketed in a thick cover all the way to Antarctica. As we descended onto the runway, I saw my first view of the Big White South in the form of Ross Island, the place where McMurdo Station is. We landed on the sea ice on a makeshift runway made by packing snow down. As we shuffled out of the plane in our full ECW gear, the clouds split and it became sunny. We saw the megalith C-17 cargo plane that left right before us. I kind of wished I came in on that plane instead of the cushy airline plane they had my group fly in on. It was seemingly majestic in the stark contrast of it’s pure white surroundings.

They herded us into our 70’s style wood-paneled transport bus for an excruciating hour long bumpy drive to the station. The windows ended up fogging up from so many people crammed into one bus so I didn’t end up getting any kind of view of my surroundings. We pulled up to the administration building in the middle of the base to sit through another meeting and orientation. Afterwards, everyone dispersed to their rooms to set up their stuff and wandered over to the laundry rooms to get their bedding and pillows. I got set up, found my way to the kitchen to get a bite to eat and went promptly to bed so I could get up at 7 AM the next morning for my first day.

My first day was very vague and consisted of making hundreds of sandwiches for hundreds of people. It was almost a blur since I found out when I got into work that same day that I’d be one of the overnight cooks until one of the field camps opened up. When the field camp named Williams Field Airstrip opened, I’d be the overnight cook there, too. Any overnight worker on McMurdo Station is aptly called a Mid-Rat. I wasn’t too sure about working the late night shift since I’ve never done it before. I’m definitely a night guy when it comes to work so I was glad I didn’t have to wake up anywhere near the time bakers and breakfast cooks had to wake up but I’ve never had to work all the way through the night before.

They let me off early my first day so I could go to sleep and start transitioning to a different schedule. I found it hard going to bed and sleeping all the way through the afternoon just to wake up at 8 PM and go to work. After a couple of days of that schedule, I found it much easier to wake up at 2 in the afternoon, hang out and get some stuff done until my shift at 8 PM started, and go to sleep right when I got off at 6 or 7 AM. This way I could sleep when everyone’s working, work when everyone’s sleeping, and still be off work when everyone comes home for the day to hang out. It has given me a chance to get to know more people from the community this way.

The Mid-Rat shift has also grown on me, too. My coworkers and I have almost become family on the night shift. The extravagant personalities from several people that work with me compliment my abrasive and outgoing personality every night and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to have worked with them in any faculty. That being said, I’m also extremely disappointed that I can’t go to any science lectures or TED talks that they show at around 8 PM through out the week. One of the reasons I was so adamant to come down here was because of all the sciences that is associated with this place. To miss any opportunity to be apart of that makes my experience just slightly more negative than I was planning. I’m really hoping I can get the day off corresponding to  the busiest science outreach day in the community here. We shall see…

My days have been a constant stream of new experiences throughout the kitchen, the station, and exploring my landscape. I’ve been finding it harder and harder to actually find time to sleep. This forces myself to stop and actually take care of my body sometimes instead of trying to do all the things I want to do. I have done a bit of hiking and walking around outdoors, which has been fun. When most of the snow melts off the island, I’ll be able to be outdoors most of the time. I’m also planning on camping out at the air field I’ll be working at. So many things to do, so many places to see, as always.

I don’t know what the future holds for me within the next couple years yet. The next few months are definitely gonna be pivotal in deciding what I’ll be doing for the next year and a half. Until then, I’m not gonna worry about planning anything until at least January. I’ll keep everyone posted, though. As always, send me stuff!

Kristopher Loosemore-GSC #155/240A
McMurdo Station
PSC 769 Box 700
APO AP 96599-1035

I have a stack of post cards that I need to send out, too. Planes are finally able to get in and out of the bay so keep a look out for those to anyone that sent me their address. Enjoy reading!

MOREEEE PICTURES……….DSC00196 DSC00181 DSC00190 DSC00183 DSC00179 DSC00188 DSC00197 DSC00198 DSC00199 DSC00200 DSC00201 DSC00202 DSC00208

Cathedral Mountain and the Fairbanks-Coldfoot Drive

One of the things I’ve liked about Coldfoot is that it forces me into situations I’m not always comfortable with. Both of these events were apart of me getting out of my comfort zone that turned into something I really enjoyed. My hike up Cathedral Mountain was fun but very hard for me since I’m an obvious novice at trekking through the wilderness. It was painful at times but it really helped get my mind into a better place after my journey down the Dalton Highway from hibernation at the Deadhorse Camp. Everything was still fairly new when me and a group of people hiked up the mountain. It helped me connect with the area on a deeper level and to appreciate the place I’m living in. The other journey was my time in Fairbanks. The reason it was such a hard situation for me is that when an employee gets down to Fairbanks by plane in Coldfoot, they don’t have an ironclad way of getting back up for work, sometimes leaving the employee stranded. That’s what happened to me.

Cathedral Mountain is a medium sized mountain at about 3600 feet to climb. It’s located just south of Coldfoot and you trek into it by the Dalton Highway. Me and about 8 more experienced hikers went up it. The first hour was pretty fine but I fell behind quick. I didn’t care, really. I was just glad to be out in the mountains on my day off. My group would occasionally call out or stop so I didn’t get lost, which was appreciated but I really enjoyed the challenge. Towards the end, it got pretty steep so I fought for pretty much every step up the mountain. I have an incredibly limited background in hiking or trekking, especially considering my house in Utah is about 15 minutes from the mountains. My family never did any of that while I was growing up. I’ve done a lot of research on the subject since I’ve started coming up to Alaska a few years ago, so I was prepared with equipment. I was especially grateful for my water bladder and good hiking shoes I invested a good amount of money in.

This was more than half way up with a great view of the middle fork of the Koyukuk River. We just got out of the tree line and the rocks were covered in slick lichen, making it difficult at times. Beyond this, it got really steep and at some spots I had to almost crawl up the rocks.

When we reached the top, some of us didn’t feel confident enough to climb to the outcropping at the peak so we ate lunch just beneath it. I brought up the artisan bread I made the day before with some butter and some of us shared that.

At the bottom, we all took a picture of the mountain after climbing it. It’s always a good feeling after a hard hike to see the reference point of the mountain you just climbed. We also found a dead wolf just inside the tree line on the other side of the Dalton Highway. 
My next trip was to get supplies in Fairbanks a few weeks later. I got a ride with one of the planes that was going to Fairbanks with some guests that were going south. While I was there, I stayed at a really nice Hostel that a very pleasant Swedish man owned and operated. The sleeping quarters were 4-walled tents pretty similar to military tents but much nicer. They each had 5 beds in them. The middle of the camp had a giant tee-pee you could sleep in with a few other people and they also had private cabins for rent that were much more expensive. They had a main kitchen where you could cook yourself food and store anything you needed to in their fridges. The camp was about a mile and a half away from the stores so I got resupplied the night I got there and bought some lunch meat and bagels from Fred Meyers for dinner. I slept in one of the tents with my sleeping bag and the next morning I walked to the NATC main office, the sister company that helps with coworker travel. When I got there, they said all the flights were canceled, I’d have to stay another night in Fairbanks, and I’d have to come back at 5 in the morning to get a 9 hour van ride up with a tourist group up to Coldfoot. Although it was inconvenient, I was happy I’d get to stay another night because I ended up going to dinner with some old friends that I worked with in South East, Alaska that now live in Fairbanks. At 5 AM, we loaded up and traveled a couple hundreds miles up the Dalton Highway, stopping at a few pretty cool attractions along the way.

This is the geographical Arctic Circle, as close to what they can pinpoint for tourists. The Arctic Circle is the imaginary circular line that encapsulates anywhere you can see the sun at midnight on the Summer Solstice at sea level. You can actually see the sun a couple miles south from here if you’re on a hill since you’re higher than the curve of the earth at sea level. An hour past this point, our tour guide dug down in the Arctic ground and let us feel perma-frost, the permanent quicksand under all arctic tundras that’s always completely solid frozen.

Crossing over one of the only land bridges of the Yukon River. The Yukon is the fifth largest river system in the world in sheer volume, making it an interesting task of actually building any structure across it. A good friend of mine is working at the camp that the company I work for owns off the banks of the Yukon River. That whole area is really exciting and teeming with life compared to life in Deadhorse, Alaska during the winter.

This is half way between the Yukon Camp and Fairbanks. The mountains around this area are really more like hills and the farther north you go, the steeper and bigger the mountains become. The mountains where I’m staying in Coldfoot are pretty close to the size of the Wasatch Mountains in Utah but if you go about 15 miles north, they start becoming increasingly larger until you reach the continental divide. At that point, the mountains slope downwards towards the Arctic Ocean that is the barren desert of the North Slope.