Monday, September 12, 2011
Two blogs in one day, you lucky people you. The main reason for the second blog post is to share my most excellent experience with you.
Today, at about 1600, Pam and I decided to hike down to Hut Point. It’s about a mile and a half hike from McMurdo. I was supposed to go with a few fire department people early in the day but never caught up with them so I decided I would wait and go with Pam once she woke up. It’s a very good thing that I’ve been in this field as long as I have and understand night shift sleep schedules. Although tempted, I did not call and wake her during the middle of the day.
So she met me in the main lobby type area of 155 and we called the firehouse to let them know we would be OOPR (Out of Pager Range). Technically, we would still be able to get pages if something was going on, but our response time would be more than the required 10 minutes. We headed out through town, passing the two main intersections that have four way stops. Next time I’ll have to remember to get pictures of the stop signs. On the way back I DID remember to get a picture of the 15 MPH speed limit sign.
We trekked down the slope towards Hut Point, passing the ice pier that is under construction. Thankfully we were able to get a contract with a Russian ice breaker so the fuel shortage that we were planning for SHOULDN’T be an issue. The ice pier is between Hut Point and town and has to be constructed this year. Last year was a warm year so the ice pier is going to be on first year ice. Honestly, it makes me kind of nervous and very glad that I don’t work in that field. We watched as the different vehicles scurried along, moving mounds of snow out of the way. With all of the bad weather we have had lately, it’s been difficult getting this task finished. This is Pam’s second year down here, so she was explaining the different functions and tasks that I was observing. She also pointed out some oblong red buildings set on pallets and told me that those were the emergency shelters that will be set out along the Armitage Loop Trail and possibly the Castle Rock Loop. Both of those are between 10 – 15 mile trails and they want to make sure that people have a place to stop and warm up if needed.
We also passed several small orange buildings that reminded me of beach shacks in the Bahamas and in the Turks and Caicos. These are actually dive huts that are taken out on the ice. A large hole will be drilled for divers to enter and exit the water (no I’m NOT that crazy). Last year, Pam volunteered to help the divers exiting and entering the water. She had to don a drysuit and go up and down the ladder leading into the water (the ice was eight feet thick) to help the divers remove their tanks when exiting. Honestly, my hat is off to her. I’m admittedly clumsy and I’m afraid I would fall in.
Continuing on past the huts, we had to climb up a snowy slope and I fortunately was on solid ice covered snow and Pam stepped into the fluffy snow that was about a foot deep. It’s ok, there was solid ground underneath, we weren’t in a black flagged area, but I was amused. I felt like Legolas walking across the snow while everyone else trudged through it. That’s probably the only time I will compare myself to him. We got up to Scott’s hut and outside is a seal. Not an alive seal, one that is probably 100 years old. It has been preserved naturally over time thanks to this lovely freezing cold weather. Today wasn’t too bad. By the time we left, the temp was about 12 degrees and the windchill only brought it down to 2 degrees. Above zero. I was wearing a pair of polypro long-johns, silk long-johns, fleece pants, sock liners and wool socks on my lower half. Upper body clothing consisted of a quick-wik shirt, cashmere sweater and parka. Oh and lightweight gloves and dad’s camo fleece balclava. I was quite comfortable and most of the time I kept the balclava converted into a makeshift hat. By the time we got back to the station, I was actually sweating. Quick-wik material is amazing. You can’t wear cotton because if you sweat, the cotton will freeze and your core temp can drop quickly.
Now for the exciting part. We started up the 50 yard slop to Vincent’s Cross, when I look over to the right and see something black on the ice below us. There, down the hill, were 4 seals lounging about. IT WAS AWESOME! There were three big ones and one smaller one. They were grunting and making noises and just wallowing around. I started trying to get Pam’s attention as she was walking towards the cross. I was speaking in what would be called a loud whisper and probably sounded like a rat on crack due to the speed at which I was talking. She didn’t see them until she came down to me, asking me what I was saying and I just threw out my arm and squealed “SEALS!”. I, of course, proceeded to switch out camera lenses and got down on the ground so I could balance myself. I’ve found that I need to prop myself against something when shooting with the larger lens and I didn’t bring a tripod with me. So I laid down on the lava rock and shale to get some better shots. It was a tricky area because the slope, although it looked like it extended another 10 feet past where I was thanks to the snow, actually went out only 5 feet and then quickly descended according to Pam. We stayed and watched the seals roll around, flip up their hind flippers, scratch themselves with their front flippers and make their grunty seal sounds. Oh I love them so. I feel much like a seal during the morning hours when I don’t want to go to work. It is not my inner penguin that I channel, it is my inner seal.
After a while, I got up to walk up to the cross to see if I could get a better view. Finally I have a picture of me in Antarctica doing Antarctica-y things. Pam’s toes started getting cold and we started back down towards town. I promised the seals I’d be back. One of them peed. I’ll take it as a welcome invitation to return any time. It may have thought differently but chose not to correct me.
We stopped at Scott’s Hut for a few pictures and then made our way back to town. When we passed by the Tower of Power (not really a tower but it’s the spot where all of the information regarding ice pier clearance) I saw one of my buddies out working on some welding. I know he’s glad to finally be working. The weather has been too nasty lately for them to get any of the outdoor work done. We waved. He waved. We continued on.
Upon returning to town, Pam and I walked over to the Firehouse to tell everyone that we saw seals. We were shot envious looks from people who had previously walked down to Hut Point and had only seen seal poop. After being told that seals are actually farting when they arch their backs and flip their tails in the air, we decided that we had spent enough time at work when we were off duty and headed to dinner.
I’m ready for cargo planes to come in. I want freshies (fresh fruits and vegetables). The roasted vegetable medley that they served tonight was TERRIBLE but the Coq au vin was excellent. They also had lemon meringue pie that everyone was scarfing down. I tried it. The meringue was too sweet for me. Since I had the sweet taste I decided to make some sweet tea. The looks I received from several people around me were interesting. I offered some to my surrounding dinner neighbors and they all refused. Oh well. Their loss.
So yes, an exciting day was had. I’m hoping that tomorrow is just as nice because I want to spend more time watching the seals. I know they don’t do much but it’s nice seeing other life around here. I’m hoping that once the ice breaker comes we will also get a chance to see Orcas. If we get reports of them, I may end up spending an entire off day at Hut Point just to see them.
Take care dear readers and have a great week.