Monday, November 29, 2010

Byrd Surface Camp


The season continues to go well. I've been climbing and inspecting towers, putting up antennas, and flying in helicopters...and of course, asking the helicopter pilots LOTS of questions. I'm scheduled to fly to Byrd Surface Camp on Wednesday morning for a few days with another rigger to put up a tower with irridium sat. phone and data antennas, and ground to air antenna so the camp folks can talk with the pilots, a wireless cloud antenna and a local VHF antenna for regular voice communications. We'll be way out there, taking a LC-130 to fly out there into the interior of the continent.

Scott's hut in the foreground. McMurdo Station behind. Three wind turbines on the hill behind the station.

Otherwise this past week, I had a wonderful Thanksgiving meal, a real TWO DAY weekend, put up a dipole for the HAM radio club, checked out Robert Scott's hut from the early 1900s and climbed down into an Observation Tube below the sea ice.

Into the Observation Tube.

Under the sea ice!

Below is a link to an article written about Byrd camp and below this is the info I receive about life at Byrd this season for those who are interested.

Byrd Surface camp is at an elevation of 5,270 ft and is located at S 80.01 W 119.64. It is one of the oldest deep field establishments in the USAP program. Initially constructed as Byrd Station in 1957 and then reconstructed as New Byrd Station in 1960, it took the form of a relatively large network of arches lying approximately 20ft under the surface of the ice. Abandoned 10 years later, it has been followed by a number of different surface stations and camps, the last of which was decommissioned in the ’04-’05 field season. Last year, in November 2009 it was reincarnated as a 12 structure, 30-60 person research camp with the purposes of supporting a variety of geophysical research projects over the next five years.

In order to help you enjoy your stay here at Byrd, the camp staff have put together this document to outline the features of Byrd camp, its layout, amenities, operational areas and a few rules and policies that have been implemented to ensure your safety while here at camp.

Camp Layout and Facilities

Below you will find a map of the camp detailing the various buildings and Tent City. Following the map is a description of each of the buildings and how best to use them while here at Byrd.


The galley is open 24/7 for snacks and drinks.

Official meal times are:

Breakfast: 6:30am – 7:30 am Lunch: 12:00pm – 1:00pm Dinner: 6:00pm – 7:00pm Midrats: 12:00am – 1:00am (for night crew only)

Please let the Chef know if you have any allergies or food preferences.

House Mouse:

Everyone is asked to participate in House Mouse duties when staying at camp for longer than a period of 3 days. House Mouse duties include such tasks as washing dishes, filling the snow melter, refilling supplies and cleaning the Galley. Your name will automatically be added to the roster when you arrive. Please check the schedules in the Galley to determine the time of your house mouse shift. If you are unable to make the time assigned to you, please contact one of the chefs to arrange an alternate time.

Galley Info Board:

There is an information board in the Galley that contains a variety of information about camp, from official camp documents to daily weather forecasts and flight information to current recreational activities, etc. Please check it regularly for updates.


The Medical Tent will be staffed from 8:30am to 11:30 am Mon – Sat for drop-ins or appointments. The PA will be available throughout the remainder of the working day, as needed and is on call 24/7 for emergencies. The PA sleeps in the medical tent to respond to any medical emergencies that may arise during the night. Feel free to stop in; it is only asked that you knock to preserve the privacy of patients.

Wash module and Outhouses:

The Wash module contains a cubby for each member of camp to store their toiletry items for the duration of camp. In the wash module, you will find showers, washing machine and sinks. Instructions for the operation of each of these systems will be posted inside. Due to the limited amount of water available at Byrd Camp, a shower schedule may be needed and will be posted similar to the house mouse schedule. There are a set of outhouses located in line with the cargo berm, behind the galley. Additionally there is another outhouse in the center of Tent City. The camp at large is responsible for the cleanliness of our facilities, so please clean and resupply toilet paper or hand sanitizer as needed.


The Communications tent is generally where you’ll find the camp management staff, if they’re not out and about. If you need either the camp manager or supervisor and they are not in Comms, you can have one of the camp staff get a hold of them via radio. Additionally, the comms tent is where one must check out from camp for recreational purposes. Someone there can provide you with a radio, GPS and will handle your check out and check in (much the same as the McMurdo Firehouse).

Tent City

Tent City is laid out in a grid formation of 40x40ft numbered lots. Each of the green flags represents the center of a lot and the area where you should erect your tent if you will be staying for three or more nights. To select a lot, simply remove the green flag, place your tent where the green flag was and bring the flag to either the camp manager or supervisor. Each flag has a number (an address) that will be recorded and associated with your name. You are responsible for shoveling the area immediately around your tent and it would be wise to orient your tent to minimize drifting (we get a lot of this at Byrd) by facing the tent door into the prevailing wind. It is also important to note that the areas between the tents will be groomed by heavy machinery and so it is advisable not to leave anything (bamboo, shovels, personal gear, etc.) in the area around your tent. If you see a vehicle grooming tent city while you are on your way to or from your tent, please use extreme caution, as the driver might not be able to see you.

For guests staying less than three nights, there will be a tent in tent city already erected and assigned for you. Please contact the Camp manger or Supervisor for your assigned tent address.

Restricted Areas

KBA Berthing and Science Tents are restricted access tents for practical and safety reasons. Yes, waking up a sleeping KBA pilot is a very unsafe act. You will know in advance if part of your job requires access to these tents.

The snow mine is off limits to all except those who are tasked with getting snow from it. Without the proper orientation it is difficult to tell what areas of the mine are for walking and what areas will become tomorrow’s drinking water. If you really want to wander around in the snow mine, please let us know and we’ll give you a shovel and a big bucket.

The Taxiway (during flight activity) is restricted to all except those who are actively working a flight or performing maintenance. There are a variety of dangerous and hazardous materials in this area, not the least of which is the pilot of an LC 130 who spots you wandering around their plane.

The Skiway is open to all during non-flight hours and closed to all during flight rotations (1 hour before landing and up to an hour after off deck), hopefully for obvious reasons. Should you decide to use the skiway for any reason or if you are working in the vicinity of the skiway you are required to carry a radio with you so you can be notified of an unscheduled arrivals or departures.

Additional Documents

In addition to this document, there are a variety of other documents that should be read during the first day or two at Byrd Camp that will answer a lot of questions you might have and provide valuable information that will help to make your stay at Byrd camp more enjoyable and safer. These documents include:

Recreation Opportunities Alcohol Policy Storm Protocols Emergency Response

Thank you for your cooperation and efforts to help keep Byrd camp a safe and enjoyable work environment. Please let us know if there’s anything we can do to improve your stay here this season.

Byrd Storm Protocol

In the case of deteriorating weather conditions and/or a predicted storm, we will take measures to be sure that all persons in camp are safe and sheltered and that we’ve accounted for all personnel. As conditions worsen, be prepared to gather in the Galley tent and remain there as long as conditions dictate. Provisions will be made for food, water, temporary toilets and berthing as needed.

Weather Conditions

Condition 3 - Fair to marginal weather; approximately 0-20 knot winds

Condition 2 – Marginal to stormy weather; approximately 20-40 knot winds, visibility reduced to 500 meters or less; initiate “Storm Warning” throughout camp via VHF radio if storm is predicted to worsen.

Condition 1 – Severe storm weather; approximately 40-60 knot winds, visibility reduced to 20 meters or less (can’t see building to building consistently); all people to remain stationary in main camp structures.

Population Management

When winds reach 30-40 knots and are forecasted to increase, then everyone in camp should be prepared to gather in the Galley until the storm abates. Camp management, principle investigators, team leaders, shift leaders, and foremen should account for all members of their team/crew throughout the duration of a Condition I storm.

Preparations for a Condition I “lockdown” would include setting up ropes lines between buildings, gathering radios and spare batteries from all groups in camp, collecting sleep kits from tent city, having human waste/urine containers available in the Galley, and filling 5gal water jugs (located in the storage shed) in case of power outage. Ensure there are sufficient AN-8 drums staged by core camp buildings and propane cylinders by the Galley to last through a three-day storm.

Tent city dwellers should be aware of their row and tent position. A map of tent city should be kept in Comms. A perimeter flag line encircling tent city proved helpful in the past. This perimeter line was in a contrasting color to the main flag line leading from camp into tent city.


A cache of emergency storm equipment is located on the side of the galley. The storm equipment cache includes: Rope line for upwind side of basic camp buildings Rope line from upwind door of Galley to Outhouse Central

Urine jugs, urine funnels, Human Waste buckets, toilet seats, and toilet paper wool blankets A spare bundle of flags is stored in the Storage Shed for storm use.


Fire hazards increase during storms. Attention should be focused on keeping egress routes open and areas cleared around heaters. The downwind doors and vestibule doors become easily jammed open then vestibules become packed with snow and useless as an exit. Keep shovels both inside downwind vestibules and outside outer door. Downwind vestibules work great as makeshift outhouses.

Water should be conserved. Showers and laundry should be restricted.

Byrd Surface Camp Recreation


RnR Opportunities at Byrd

Despite being a remote and austere field camp, there are plenty of opportunities for recreation at Byrd. As with any deep field camp however, some of the recreational activities can become dangerous if not properly planned and prepared for. Below is list of recreational activities available at Byrd camp, along with the necessary precautions and procedures to help mitigate any dangers or injuries

Recreational Travel

Byrd camp has a variety of ski (hiking) routes that extend out from camp in all directions. There is ski equipment available from the comms tent that can be checked out, as well as a GPS and VHF radio. All ski routes are both physically flagged and marked as routes in the camps’ GPS systems. Conditions for travel outside of camp (traveling further than 0.25 miles from camp) are as follows.

Travel is limited to condition 3 days only Each party must check out with comms and provide an estimated time of return. Each party must take a radio and a GPS and inform comms as to which route they are planning to

ski Although travel is restricted to flagged routes only, new routes can be created by people who are

interested in doing so, provided the procedures for creating these routes are fully discussed with

camp management first Some routes that extend beyond the visible range of camp must be traveled in groups of two or


Vehicle Usage

All vehicles at Byrd camp are for work related activities only. However, there are opportunities to accompany the vehicle operators during work related activities for those who are interested in learning more about vehicle operations at camp. Please contact camp management if this is something you are interested in doing.

Educational Rec

Members of the Byrd camp staff will be holding classes in their areas of expertise throughout the season for all camp residents who are interested. Such classes may include cooking, cpr/first aid, advanced medical treatment, vehicle operation, etc. If you are interested in hosting such a class please let us know and we can help set it up


There will be a variety of events planned at Byrd from once off parties to regularly scheduled events, such as Sunday morning coffee bar, TV/Movie nights, etc. Please see the Rec board in the Galley for details of upcoming events. If there is an event you’d like to organize please let the camp management know so that we can get it scheduled and help you with any resources you need.


Byrd camp has a variety of recreational equipment ranging from skis to board games. Some of the equipment is readily available in the galley whereas other equipment requires checkout. Please see camp management to check these out.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Week one back in Mac Town!

On the job.

My address, should anyone want to send something (regular US postage rates) to (and therefore receive something in return from) the Antarctic.

BenUrmston, RPSC
McMurdo Station
PSC 469 Box 700
APO AP 96599-1035

On Saturday, I was sent north 20 miles or so to Tent Island. Scientists at Cape Royds need their internet and the repeater system (to retransmit the signal from the cape back and forth to town) needed new antennas. So I got to climb my first tower, albeit a wee one at about 10 feet high!

The new yagi antennas installed.

With me came Chuck, a comms tech. He would check the equipment at the base of the tower and I would swap antennas if need be. We left were dropped off near the apex of Tent Island and told we had about three hours.

The equipment was checked, and need be. I put on the harness and up I went, all of 4 feet! But a tower I was on, doing the job I got hired for. Off came the cylindrical antennas going both directions and on went the small yagi antennas. I managed to not drop anything, though this would be the tower to drop something on, since the comms tech could simply hand the thing back to me. I got everything tied up nicely with copper securing wire and then down I came - my first space walk completed. (Yes, I'm practicing for future space walks, of course.)

Chuck working on equipment.

We were there for another hour and a half or so. The wind had started out at near 20 knots and when we left was perhaps over 30 knots! It was chilly, but I kept warm (push-ups, small hikes, jumping jacks, lots of food and water) and was thankful for all the Outward Bound and NOLS training that has made me able to care for myself, as I listened Chuck say on the radio, "We're ready to get the hell out of here." I thought, "Speak for yourself..."

Helicopter came back and away we went back to town. Helicopters are truly amazing machines. Blows my mind.

Things are going well in McMurdo. Slowly reintegrating myself into the community and my work team. It's Sunday right now, my one day off a week. Went out for my first skate ski out on the road to Williams airfield. It was a beautiful day and I had a very nice ski. Soon to bed for a good sleep to start the week!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Job Description

Responsibilities:The Antenna Rigger assists in the development, installation and maintenance of all guyed towers, freestanding towers and antenna support structures in the USAP (United States Antarctic Program). Installs and performs maintenance on various solar and wind-turbine power generation sites throughout the Antarctic continent.

Additional Responsibilities Include:
- Installs and maintains USAP HF, UHF/VHF, microwave & satellite antenna systems
- Installs and maintains solar and wind-turbine power generation systems
- Installs and maintains antenna radomes
- Develops and fabricates systems for securely installing antennae and other tower-mounted hardware
- Designs and installs technical rigging and rope-access systems
- Performs annual inspections and maintenance on antenna systems at USAP facilities: Palmer, South Pole, McMurdo, and deep field sites
- Maintains inventory and assists with re-supply
- Ensures that work areas meet all RPSC and USAP safety standards
- Frequently climbs towers up to 150' feet in height to perform all normal rigging duties as required
- Frequently lifts 40 pounds

Putting together my tool kit:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Back on the Ice!

More ice ! I love imagining Amundsen and Shackleton down here navigating their ships!

Pack ice! We're getting closer...

After a week of travel and trainings, I find myself back in McMurdo Station! Two and half days in Denver for OSHA trainings and general program orientation, a few hours in L.A. with brother Will at a funny comedy club, 13hours 10 minutes in an airplane flying over the Pacific, a day in a half in New Zealand for training and marveling at the most beautiful trees I have ever seen (Christchurch's Botanical Gardens) followed by this morning's 5 hour flight south and I am here.

It is wonderful to be back. Four years seem like nothing and I feel ready to pick up where I left off. Rumor has it, by joining the Antenna Rigger crew, I have one of the best jobs on the station, perhaps only second to helicopter pilot. I am in a small double room in building 210, though strangly there is noone else in the room right now. I thought I'd get put with at least one roomate! Probably tomorrow, someone will show up. I also have a window, which opens! That might take some getting used to, but I'm excited to have a little more space to play with this season.

I've met my team, they seem excellent, I think we're going to have a lot of fun while working hard. I'm scheduled to head out to Byrd field camp sometime in the next week or so. More to come soon!