Thursday, January 08, 2009

New Zealand

On the Sunday before our flight home, we took a trip out east of Christchurch to Akaroa. This is in an area with rolling hills and mountains. Imagine a quaint sea side village surrounded by hills right out of "The Sound of Music". New Zealand is a beautiful country with friendly people and low prices. A big bonus here as far as foreign vacations go is that you are not functionally illiterate when you step off the plane like you are in Europe or Asia.

Our first view of Akaroa Harbor. The trip in from Christchurch is not recommended for those prone to car sickness. This is one of the most curvy roads I have ever driven.

We had a very relaxing lunch right on the water.

This is the pier where we took a boat tour of the harbor.

They told us that 75% of the homes in the area are "holiday" homes. It's no wonder. This place is absolutely beautiful.

We had a dolphin escort for much of our harbor cruise.

Two stately cliffs overlook the entrance to the harbor.

This cliff is as tall as the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

After the tour, we took the scenic route back to Christchurch over the mountains.
We drove down to another bay which had a beautiful beach. The place was almost completely deserted.

There were sheep grazing on these hill sides. It was right out of a movie.

This is a view of Akaroa Harbor from above. You can see the entrance to the harbor that we saw from the boat.

On the way back in to Christchurch, we visited a beach that was comprised completely of smooth pebbles. The smallest was about the size of a pea. There was absolutely no sand on it. It was natural, but it looked like it was brought in with dump trucks.

Some of the rocks had very noticeable colors when wet. Some of them actually looked like jade.

This is definitely the most unusual beach I have ever been on.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


I arrived at home about 10:00 p.m. Monday night after 30+ hours of traveling. I will be posting several more posts on our day off in New Zealand and some final thoughts on life on "The Ice". It's been a grand adventure and I would do it again with no hesitation.

More to come . . .

Saturday, January 03, 2009

First Leg of the Trip Home

With monitoring of the balloon performance handed off to the crews at Palestine and NASA/WFF, we can begin our long journeys home. We had a one-day delay of our flight because of a medical evacuation that obviously took priority over our return. Instead of the five hour flight on a C-17, we had an eight hour flight on an ski-equipped LC-130.
Here we are getting on the LC-130. Note the ski attached to the nose gear. Strange - when I looked at this picture today, I realized that stepping off of Antarctica was nowhere near the emotional experience as stepping on. I didn't give it a second thought. I just got on the plane.

I took a seat near a window so I got this great view of the Mt. Erebus area. Look at the huge crevasses at the bases of the glaciers. You can't see these from the ground.

Further into the flight, we saw huge ranges of snow covered mountains surrounded by pack ice.

About three hours before landing, we could see big ice bergs in the ocean. They did not look like much at this altitude, but these are big Titanic-sinking sized ice bergs. I'd love to see one of those up close some day. Click on the picture for a bigger view.
Here are some impressions from our arrival in Christchurch. When we were walking from customs over to the CDC, one of the ladies on the plane was running here hand through the shrubs planted along the walkway and feeling of the leaves. Henry and I asked her and she had not seen a shrub for three months. She stopped and felt of one of the leaves. I was on the ice for only a month, but I also felt compelled to stop and drink in the lush feel of all the living things that surrounded us. On the bus ride into town, we saw a guy running with his dog. She said "Look at that dog!" She had not seen a dog for three months. It was fascinating to think of the contrast between sterile Antarctica and green, lush New Zealand. It might take a little getting used to, but I'm sure I'll manage. I am scheduled for a flight home that will arrive DFW Monday evening. I'm ready to be home.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Castle Rock Hike

Since we are making our final preparations for leaving here, we squeezed in our hike up Castle Rock. Castle Rock is about 3.5 miles from town. It is the highest point on the peninsula we are on. In order to do Castle Rock, you must take an out door safety course and then sign in with the Fire Station. The Fire Station gives you a radio in case you get in trouble and you have to let them know when you are going to be back. If you don't report back in, all sorts of procedures get started, with the eventual dispatch of a search-and-rescue helicopter. In addition to the radio and signing in, we also were warned repeatedly not to deviate from the marked trail or we could fall into a crevasse - that's a big crack in the ice. We were basically walking across the top of a glacier. As you can imagine - this was WAY cool!

Henry and Jill on the trail. You can see observation hill in the left side of the photo.
There are two survival huts along the trail called "Apples" (hmmm I wonder why). The weather can get nasty very quickly out here so these are provided to allow you to jump in and take shelter.
They have sleeping bags, food, a camp stove, chairs, and water. It almost looks like it would be kind of fun to get stranded out here for a day and stay in the apple.

Our objective in sight, we press on.

We arrive at Castle Rock, ready for a great climb.

The whole group, half way up. We got this photo thanks to Henry's timer on his camera. Our group includes Jill, Rich Joss (the LDB camp manager from Raytheon), Dwayne, me, and Henry.

We made it to the top! On top of Castle Rock, there is a Geo Cache. We all signed the log book. There were only a few pages used since the cache was placed in 2003. Jill found the place where she signed back in 2004.
A great view of Erebus from on top of the Rock.

The obligatory "Mighty Explorer Pose".

This was a real live (although not very long) mountain climbing experience. The trail was equipped with ropes to help us get up and down. Surprisingly, the ropes were much more useful on the trip down than up.

Yes, I went down this! (photo by Henry)

We made it down alive!

Gathering at the base.

Just a quick 3.5 miles across the ice and it's lunch time!

About half way to town, a helicopter was heading out to Erebus. They spotted us on the trail and did a low pass over us. Henry was the only one who got his camera out in time. They passed about 10 feet over our heads. Oh yeah, we loved it.

Here's our New Year's greeting from on top of Castle Rock!

Monday, December 29, 2008

ULDB Launch!

Yesterday afternoon we did what I came here for. We launched the superpressure balloon prototype. The whole balloon layout and inflation process felt really good. I got in the zone and literally forgot where I was for a while. I focused on the things that I always focus on during these launches. I guess that's what "getting your game face on" is all about. With the exception of small glitches that you always work through on the spot, the launch was absolutely flawless. The CSBF guys always make it look so easy and I know that it isn't. I have such respect for their experience and knowledge in launching these balloons. It's always a privilege to witness it.

Inflation went as smoothly as any ULDB launch I have participated in. The weather was perfect the whole time.

Here is a panorama of the flight train stitched from four separate photos. Too bad those trucks were in the way. Oh well, this is a balloon launch not a photo shoot.

Just after spool release.

Off the pin! Great job Mark!

Almost three hours later, we were fully pressurized and at float altitude. Thanks once again to Dr. Gorham's telescope, I got some really sharp photos of our balloon at float. It just looks proud up there doesn't it?
Now that we're launched, I am doing shifts monitoring the balloon performance, which is "right down the pike". Everything is working out just as we had hoped. I will be here a few more days and will be getting home some time the first week of January.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Day I'll Never Forget

We had a few things to take care of out at the base so we all took a Delta in. Since there were no shuttles that come out from town on Christmas, today's trip was a "charter". Several of the CSBF guys are qualified to drive Deltas, so it was an all-LDB trip. After an incredible lunch from our galley chef (not a cook, a real live chef), we headed back to town.

The LDB crew about to finish out a half-day of work and head back to town on "our" Delta.

After getting back to town, the hikers in the group headed up Observation Hill or "Ob Hill" as they call it here. Ob hill is an 800 ft. climb and gives fantastic views of McMurdo and the surrounding area.

I found a great little nook to sit and take in the scenery at the top of the hill. We just sat and didn't talk for what seemed like fifteen minutes. I didn't know that Henry snapped this picture of me.

This was my view. The Royal Society Range is on the continent, across the permanent ice shelf from Ross Island.

At the top of Observation Hill is a cross that was dedicated as a memorial to the R.F. Scott party.

This wooden cross is almost 100 years old and the wood is not grey. The lack of mold, bacteria, and other wood eating insects make wood last a very long time here. I guess I shouln't have put my hand on it.

The Hikers: Dwayne, Henry, Jill, and Mike

A few hours later, we were treated to the famous McMurdo Christmas Dinner. What a feast this was! The menu included crab legs, roasted duck, shrimp, scallops, and prime rib. The guys in the photo above are slicing the prime ribs as thick as you want.

The dessert table was fantastic. I've never been on a cruise ship, but I would bet the food tonight was just as good.

These were "Raspberry Cream Filled Skuas". A Skua is a local bird that is a little bigger than a sea gull, but shaped like one. Instead of white, Skua's are a tan color.

The LDB guys sat together for Christmas Dinner. I really enjoy working with them. That's a good thing since we spend so much time together.