Left Behind

The final flight of the summer season–and the last plane till late August–left a few days ago. Now there are 153 of us at McMurdo (and a dozen or so at the Kiwi Scott Base, a mile and change away) and the world beyond the Ice is accessible only online.

Of the 153 McMurdo WinterOvers, this is the bunch I'll spend the most time with: Galley Crew, Winter 2012. I'm in the front row, third from the right, squatting down a little to afford a clear view of the co-worker who thinks Obama and Hitler "have a lot of similarities." (I told him "Yeah, two arms, two legs and a head. End of.") Only myself, Chris (right end of back row), and Brian (on the left end of back row) have wintered before, but I'm excited about our crew this year: fewer drama queens and a notable absence of psycho chihuahuas.

Why do I love this feeling of isolation? I don’t know. I’m sure I’d feel differently about being stuck with the same 152 other people if I was, say, in a prison on the outskirts of Peoria or something. I know a big part of it is that I am unabashedly in love with Antarctica the place, the space, the air, the surreal beauty and uncompromising environment, so I suppose having to share it with a mere 152 others is better than the thousand-plus here during summer.

Wintering at McMurdo: You're doing it right. Four of our fine janitorial staff at the Final Flight champagne toast.

In any case, the final flight itself was not nearly as exciting–and sobering–as last year’s sendoff. The final plane in was the Royal New Zealand Air Force 757, arriving late in the afternoon due to weather delays. They took their sweet time loading the handful of departing passengers, taxied forever as we all stood on the deck of the chalet to wave them off (about 12 miles from the runway) and then…

Then the Kiwi bastards just took off and left!

It’s tradition (tradition, dammit!) for the last plane to make a circle over McMurdo and tip its wings. It’s the equivalent of Shackleton standing at the bow waving farewell to the men he was leaving behind–and yeah, I’m damn sure he did that, because… well, because that’s how it plays out in my head so that’s how it has to be, okay?

Jerks. Kiwis thumbing nose at tradition (plane is above Mt. Discovery summit) and leaving without saying good-bye.

Apparently the Kiwi pilot was oblivious to the tradition, or else he was eager to get back to Christchurch in time to make last call at his local. In any case, I have little to show photo-wise from this year’s Final Flight, and the highlight of the ceremony was our champagne freezing solid in our plastic glasses while we waited (and waited… aaaaand waited) for the plane to take off.

Wintering at McMurdo: if you've got both hands full of drink, you're doing it right. My co-worker Rachel at the champagne toast. Rachel is one of my favorite people on the continent (how often do you get to say that about someone?) which is a good thing because she and I are the A.M. shift in the galley. We worked together my first summer in the bakery and I'm psyched she decided to winter.

A couple days earlier, however, I walked the mile-plus to Scott Base and back, enjoying the clear skies and lightest of winds, just soaking in the place where I inexplicably feel at home. Perhaps I was a skua in another life.

Flight, schmight. The Kiwis may have missed their cue, but it was still a beautiful day to be outside, watching your champagne freeze as friends slowly succumbed to frostnip.

I’ve spent the days since Final Flight moving into my winter room, which involved a great deal of cleaning, tidying, carrying boxes, dismantling, moving and reassembling furniture. I’ll post some photos as soon as I finish fixing it up, but for now, please enjoy some shots of the place that makes me happy.

Ob Hill on 3 March at about 0400


The fancy new sign erected for the VIPs in town this summer to commemorate the 100th anniversaries of Scott and Amundsen reaching the South Pole. One reached the pole first through diligent planning and attention to detail, the other gained eternal fame by being an overproud doofus. I know I've dismissed Amundsen as a humorless killjoy in the past, but I'm getting a little tired of all the hero worship of Scott. The man thought he was going to make it to the Pole with ponies, fer crissakes! Ponies! What was he thinking?!


Mount Erebus, looking all surly under dark clouds, peeking out behind a ridge. I had hoped to get a good shot of Mt. Terror on my walk, but as usual it was shrouded in fog.


Heaps of Weddell Seals enjoying the sun near Scott Base and the pressure ridges, where temporary sea ice bumps up against the permanent, much thicker Ross Ice Shelf, creating ridges much like tectonic plates bumping together create mountains.


Pressure Ridges


More seals! Every raisinet-looking speck in the photo is a seal. Apparently they've been hanging out around the pressure ridges rather than on the sea ice closer to McMurdo because of the number of Orcas in the sound this summer. The green buildings are storage units for Scott Base (NZ).


On the walk back, I couldn't help but notice the Wisconsin dairy tank among the pile of random equipment left up near Ob Hill. The tank is empty, but it was still amusing to see that, no matter where I go, I'm never far from my other home, America's Dairyland.


3 thoughts on “Left Behind

  1. Ohmygosh you’re back! I didn’t get to come say “hi” when I got down here at Winfly 2011 after obsessively reading your blog. Wow, ok, that makes me sound like a total creepster. I decided to check out what you were doing this time of year last year and have discovered that you’ve returned.

    Just to jog your memory, I left a comment months ago when I was getting ready to come down at work at the Firehouse in dispatch.

    Antarctica caught me in her cold icy grip and refused to let me go. It’s ok though, my love for her is just as strong.

    AND it just hit me that you’re the karaoking eggline lady (my all freshie omelet the other day was amazing btw)! These 24 hour shifts they have us on seem to make me sound overly excited about everything.

    Again, welcome back and I’ll see you around –

  2. Hey, you’re still here! Introduce yourself next time you get eggs šŸ™‚ And yeah, people either get the “I love Antarctica. No, really, I loooooooooove Antarctica” thing because they feel the same way or they don’t get it at all. Thanks for reading!

  3. Thanks for sharing the pictures and the joy. I am in Alaska and spend a lot of time explaining to people “Outside” that really, I live here because I *want* to, so this had me laughing like a(n Alaskan) loon!

    Happy wintering!

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