Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Kepler Track

The famous Milford Track was all booked, so we headed out on the three day Kepler Track, one of New Zealand's "Great Walks." Staying in huts along the way, complete with toilets and propane stoves, all we had to bring was a sleeping bag, food, and clothes. The first day we spent mostly in the forest, climbing up and up and up.

At the end of the afternoon, we were very happy to arrive at the hut. Being one of the great walks meant there were many other people at the hut, but everyone was friendly, and the scenic views were worth the crowds.

The second day we were treated to splendid views as we were above treeline for almost the entire day. The track wound its way over and among the mountain ridges and tired legs did not become tired until we descended back into the trees at the end of the day.

The third and final day of the track was long and in the trees. All in all, a beautiful three days and now it is very clear why the Lord of the Rings movies were made here. This country is fantastic.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

NZ Exploration Begins - Stewart Island


Yes, it's been a while, the adventures are continuing. A few posts to fill you in:
After speding the weekend it Christchurch I had a vessel to adventure with (rented from Scottie's Rental Cars). Name: Scottie. Type: Mazda. Seats: 4. Steering wheel: Right side. Color: Gold. Brakes: Very squeeky. We were ready to go. And yes, I like to have my own vessel.

The New Zealand extravaganza begins. Traveling with my friend Krista from the ice (she was a shuttle driver), we headed south- happy to be out of Christchurch. To Dunedin for a few days of winding down and a bit of hiking, then on to Stewart Island. It was wonderful to be on a boat again and neat to be at the southern tip of the south island of New Zealand. Did some day walks with wonderful tropical views. So nice to have the luxury of free time.

The sunsets were beautiful and it was hard to go inside during the tranisition from day to night, now that darkness, for a long time, was not a given. The maratime air was fantastic. I could stand in the wind, close my eyes, and feel like I was right back on Crazy Horse. I felt right at home. Too bad the haus wasn't there anchored in the cove to go exploring with. Alas, it was time to leave, so we headed north in Scottie to Te Anau, the jumping off place for the Kepler Track and the Milford Sound area.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Hello gang,
Sadly, I did not win the North Pole Marathon contest. I did not expect to win, but it was fun to be in the contest, nonetheless. I want to give everyone who commented a HUGE THANK YOU! I was honored, flattered and everything else as I read your comments. I had a huge smile on my face, again and again as I read the new comments that were posted. And naturally, you all made my mom get teary. Thank you so much for your interest, encouragement and belief in me. Part of the reason I love doing what I'm doing is because I can share these things with all of you. I'd still like to get to the North Pole someday, but I guess I'll just have to wait on that one.

In Dunedin right now, heading towards Stewart Island after a hike today and hopefully some surfing tomorrow. Rented a car and after the five hour drive from Christchurch, feel like i'm getting the hang of driving in the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road. Hope you are all well.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Off The Ice

I have returned to New Zealand! We left McMurdo in a snow storm (winter is approaching) and less than five hours later, we were in sweet smelling New Zealand. The flight was good, I spent almost the entirety standing in the rear of the plane by the cargo looking out of the window, watching night come for the first time in over four months. Earlier in the flight, I caught the tail end of the Antarctic mountains passing beneath us, and they were wonderful. I would like to go back there someday.

Christchurch is lovely and the botanical gardens are wonderful. Just the feel of my hand on tree bark is very soothing. The smells take me back to many different places and they are all enjoyable. I'm headnig to the south in a few days to travel the southern coastline. It is strange now to have to pay for meals, lodging and transportation. But it is absolutely wondeful to have night and day as well as warm breezes without volcanic dust in the air.

I'll keep writing as I go and today I got an email that said the N. Pole marathon winner will be posted by Monday at the latest! Thanks again to commenters. I'll be sure and post the results as soon as I know them.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

An Evening on Ross Island

Went out for a Search and Rescue meeting last night to discuss and then walk on the "late season" sea ice. The afternoon storm had cleared through at this point and the lighting was so beautiful. We played around on the ice's pressure ridges, drilling holes and looking at the consistency of the ice and then back to McMurdo at about 10pm. It was too beautiful outside to head in so I headed to Hut Point (where Captain Scott once lived on his first expedition to the Antarctic) and stood there for a long time, looking at the water, the ice, the snow and the mountains. Didin't want to go back inside. So amazing. And so amazing to be here, strange to be leaving in what is now about 48 hours. Just said good bye to half the GA crew who are flying out right now. The rest of us fly out on Friday.

Many people are ready to leave, but I am savoring these last few days. I finished my last day of work today and tomorrow have a day off to clean my room, and get in gear to make the five hour flight back to Christchurch, New Zealand. It'll be hard to get on that plane and I plan to have a seat near one of the few windows. It'll be a time of much reflection. This experience won't easily pass though the cog wheels of my brain.
Happy Valentine's Day to you all.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

One Week Left

Hello Icers,
I've less than a week to go. Three days of work, then a day off, and then a C-17 five-hour flight back to the land of living things. I am ready to be done with the 54 hour work weeks, but I don't think I'll ever be tired of Antarctica. I was in the library the other day to look for New Zealand books and I got as side tracked as ever by the Antarctic/Arctic book selection. You'd think that after four months here, I'd be less fascinated by it, but perhaps it works the other way in that now that I've been here, I'm even more fascinated by other people's accounts of this continent.

The ships have left, one of my roomates has left, the summer season is winding down. It will be very hard to leave this place and I would definately like to come back for a winter some time, as well as a summer. I imagine thoughts of the ice will be with me for a long time.

Trying to do all the things on my McMurdo to do list. I'll write again when I'm off the ice. I should know the results of the North Pole Marathon within a week or so. Thanks to all who've commented on my profile page!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Vessel Offload / Truck Driving!

Yes, folks, it is truck driving time. The vessel is here and the work has begun. I have acquired an old military surplus "Five Ton" green truck named Jill. Number 656. She and I cruise the town for 12 hours each day.

The routine: Meet at 6:40am. Get in the back of a pick-up, then find our rigs. Get in rig (perhaps a word or two to the night shift worker, or perhaps the truck is just waiting for you). Then drive down to the warf, get in line, eventually drive over the bridge and onto the ice pier. The pier is made totally of ice (now covered with a bit of rock) and is about 30 feet deep. It was made with special coolant pipes to freeze the water down to that depth. When I am first in line, I am motioned to a parking spot beneath one of three cranes. Then a crane picks up what I used to know as a "container" and now know as a "milvan" or "can." The worker crew then guides the can down onto the trailer of my truck, I lock it down on all four corners, get my assigned drop off point, get the weight of my load, and I am off! I get to the sight, a huge fork lift unloads me, and I drive back to the pier. Repeat for 12 hours.

Yes, it could be boring. But no, it is far from it. First of all, I get to drive an old truck with a stick shift and air brakes. Second I get to wear a headset with a radio and therefore feel like I'm again flying a plane. Third, I'm still in Antarctica. And fourth, and far from being the least of reasons, I have friends who drive the other trucks so we endlessly race around the circuits trying to get in front of the other persons truck while in line. Of course, the trucks are not fast, and driver skill has nothing to do with the quickness at which one returns to line up on the warf. The crane crews, the load weight and the drop off location are what makes up the order. Regardless it is endlessly entertaining to scoul and squint and shake an angry fist at who ever got back there in front of me. I also enjoy the record keeping and moved almost 200,000 pounds of loads today.

So now, we continue with the off load. The off loading and then reloading of supplies bound for the states should take about a week. No days off until it is all done. Thankfully, I should be with Jill for the duration. Snake scales on the doors and a seprent tongue on the hood. She's a beaut.


The pipe line:
Last week we moved into the world of 12 hour shifts. It is the end of the year, high pace, time of the vessels. The tanker ship is the first to follow in the ice breaker. And with its arrival, the GA crew moves into the fuels department. Over 7 million gallons were scheduled to be transfered through a few miles of hose and pipes. The GA's jobs: measure the level of fuel in the tank, and specifically my job: "walk the line" which means to walk the length of the pipes from the ship to the tanks. Three of us became line walkers for the day shift. (I was very thankful to be on days.) One person would sit in the little wind screen to be at the "pier valves" ready to shut them should there be a major issue. The second person would be dropped off at the tanks and start to walk down towards the ship. The third person would start at the ship and begin the walk up.

The pier valves:

The round trip journey took about an hour and a half, and with three of us working the line, and two of us always walking, in a twelve hour shift, we walked on loose rock meandering through the station for about 8 hours. To add to that, the weather has been getting worse and we met stiff winds, cloudy skies and cold temperatures.

The view towards the ship from the pier valves:

But finally, the round the clock transfer of fuel was complete. It took around 40 hours or so, and we were happy to have a day off in preparation for the cargo vessel offload.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


Last Sunday, I sacrificed my one day to sleep in for the chance at getting on the United States Coast Guard's largest ship, the icebreaker named The Polar Sea. I guess the station management finally worked out the logistics for "morale cruises." After signing up for the lottery, (upon which moral boosts depended on) I was listed a few days later as an alternate. I made my way down to the pier at 7:30 am (the same time I normally meet for work!) and was happy enough to get called on board. Luckily for me, it seemed too many people had had too good a time the night before and were not willing to suffer the morale decline of waking up early on a Sunday. My own morale charts indicated that overall, I would have a positive net gain if I did get on board. I took the chance and rolled the dice and myself out of bed.

Once onbard, and given our safety briefing, we proceeded to leave the dock. This entailed many back and forths to clear the turning basin of ice. Watching the ice from on deck was amazing. It was like a huge moving piece of art work. Ice swirling, breaking, was beautiful. Then we left the turning basin and headed towards the open sea through the twelve mile long channel cut in the ice. We did not make it out to the open sea unfortunately, but my roomate Greg and I were extremely happy to be back on a sea-going vessel of any kind. Combined with seal, Minke whale and penguin sightings, we were both very happy boys.

Half way through the cruise I asked one of the crew if they had any coast guard academy cadets on board. I had taught two Outward Bound courses with the Academy and was lucky enough to find an Academy grad who was an officer on board! Two years ago we had sailed on a little wooden pulling boat on the coast of Maine, and now here I was on her boat in the waters of Antarctica. It was much fun to catch up and get news of all the other cadets we had been with.

All too soon, we had to turn around and head back to town. Back to another week of hard work thankful that four hundred of us (in two cruises) now had excellent memories wildlife and ice to keep our morales up. More to come later.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

North Pole Marathon - I need your help (not money)

North Pole Marathon: I need your help (words not money)!

Hello folks. I have been notified and have now entered a contest to win entry to a marathon around the North Pole. The short story: Someone paid the $10,000 entry fee to run the race, then backed out and now is holding a contest for his spot on My name and profile are now there: . Scroll down to Benjamin Urmston! Judges pick the winner on February 15.

Here’s where the help comes in: There is a spot for comments, and the judges read and consider the comments when selecting the winner. So please comment away and help me run on the top of the world! The race is April 15, and they want someone who will write a blog, and do audio/visual reports. What could be more perfect!

Thanks to any and all who help! Winner is picked February 15!!!!