Thursday, December 23, 2010

CTAM: Central Trans-Antarctic Mountains

CTAM Camp from above!

I spent last week at the CTAM camp. CTAM stands for Central Trans-Antarctic Mountains. It is a beautiful location with mountains all around, about an hour and half away from McMurdo on an LC-130. It is basically one of the most beautiful airports in the world, with two Bell 212 Helicopters, and a Twin Otter airplane all stationed there. During the day, it is a constant influx and outflux of aircraft and between the three aircraft, LC-130 flights in and out during the week, McMurdo communications and field party groups originating from CTAM, there is lots of traffic on the VHF radios, the HF radios and the sat phones.

The two Bell 212 helicopters. I love helicopters!

We had beautiful weather the entire week and I skied almost every day on the aircraft ski-way. I would put on my skate skiing boots in the morning and ski around camp from tent to tent as a faster way to get around, all thanks to my friend Jay's excellent grooming.

Tent City. Because the sun never sets, tents become greenhouses often 65 degrees F!

My first duty was to take the HF tower down and reconfigure the antenna to reduce the noise that was coming from generator. We ended up moving it farther away from camp and changing the antenna type, which seemed to do the trick.

My shadow form up on the tower.


Once the tower was done and the HF (High Frequency - long range) antennas was figured out, it was time to go flying! We had two repeaters to put up (one to communicate with the aircraft and the other to communicate with field camps. So out to the mountains we went!

Mt. Falla, where we put up a relay to retransmit a signal to and from a repeater.

The relay and helo on the top of Mt. Falla. -25C above 11,000 feet!

The equipment had good enough lines of sight so that towers weren't necessary, just little tripods that could see into the valley. It was fun to be on a mountain top, in the cold and in the relatively thin air. To get to the far peak we needed the repeaters on (Mt. Kinsey), we had to fly over the Beardmore Glacier. This is the route Robert Scott took to get to the south pole only to arrive and find Amundsen's abandoned tent there. It was pretty neat to fly over and imagine sledges, dogs, ponies and men down below finding their route across the glacier 100 years ago.

The Beardmore Glacier, used by Scott to get to the Pole in 1912.

The mountains near camp.

Saturday night festivities: golf lessons...(and "Golf Team" photos.)

For our one day off, we got to explore, driving a few snow mobiles to the local hill, going for a hike with some geologists. We found petrified wood and traces of old forrests from long ago when Antarctica was not so far south. Pretty wild to see wood fibers in the rocks on this slope. Just as wonderful was the views. The Trans-Antarctic Mountains are endlessly stunning.

Looking for the best site to put the repeater...Mt. Kinsey.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

To the Dry Valleys and Moore's Bay

I made it back from Byrd after 8 cancelled flights arriving to town at 1:30 in the morning aboard the LC-130 aircraft. Needless to say, I was a bit tired. But always there was work to do. On Thursday I went to the Dry Valleys to do some work on a few repeaters on the ridge to the south of the valleys overlooking a few of the camps. It is a wonderful place and many memories came flooding back to me.

Looking back to McMurdo Sound. The water is out there!

The following day out to Moore's Bay, past Mount Discovery named for one of Captain Scott's ships about a 100 years ago. The Moore's Bay camp is looking for neutrinos. We spent a bit of time digging out some old antennas and dug out a bit of the tower that was installed a few weeks ago.

Tomorrow I'm scheduled to fly out the CTAM camp on the Beardmore Glacier to put up a few repeaters on the local mountain tops. I'm looking forward to returning to a field camp where life is a bit simpler. It's been above freezing in town for a few days!!

Still working to make contact with Dad on the HAM radio, but I did make contact with Hawaii and Georgia. Getting closer to Massachusetts! Hope all is well! And thanks for reading!

Monday, December 06, 2010

A Week at Byrd

Day 6
Byrd Surface Camp:

What was to be a short two day stay has turned into 6 so far...Erin and I arrived on Wednesday expecting to finish work by Friday evening so we could fly out on the next available flight - Saturday. But our equipment and hardware did not show up on time and we have been left to scrounge around. We did well and we were able to borrow tower sections, uni-strut metal bars for antenna mounting, a wooden 4x4 to be used in place of a tower, extra cable and many other things. Improvising is regular at field camps in the Antarctic Program.
Camp is located on the plateau, there is nothing in sight but what has been brought to the camp. There is a line of shelters used for medical, materials, comms and other such important things. The most important and biggest of the structures is the galley. Past all the structures is Tent
City. A grid of approximately 40 tents that we all sleep in. Shelters, tents, lines of cargo on wooden pallets, outhouses and a bunch of vehicles. That's about it. And a continual wind West.

The temp hovers around -18C which is around 0F. It is quite comfortable with our ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear but when the wind is really blowing (like almost all the time) one needs to keep the skin covered except for short runs to the outhouse or pee flag.

We've now had 7 flights of the LC-130 canceled for various reasons. Mostly weather before the left "the deck" at McMurdo and two have been turned around - one for a cracked windshield and the other, today, came within 80 miles, circled for an hour, and then returned to McMurdo much to the disappointment of the nine folks that have been waiting to head back to McMurdo for what's getting close to a week.

The HF (high frequency) antenna is up as is the irridium satellite antennas which gives the camp a data connection - 1/1000th of the bandwidth of a normal household in the US - for the approximately 50 people who are here. No web surfing, just a simple email account.
To pass the time, something which comes relatively easy to me, I've mostly been learning morse code from my ipod. My dad and I both have our ham radio licenses and being that we're nearly 10,000 miles away voice contact may require more power than we have on each radio. But morse code can make the distance, amazingly enough. Last week, during a test, I could hear him sound out a few signals. So I've spent my nights listening to dits and dahs - and reporting on the sample contacts I've been listeing to, to my partner in crime, Erin...much to his enjoyment.
I like the field camp life. It is colder, harsher and the community tighter. No regular email, no regular phones, just VHF radios (which, naturally I love) throughout the camp. We entertain ourselves with Boggle and speed Scrabble. Lief is simple and I can't complain. But work is all but done here and I am looking forward to returning to "Mac Town" to continue learning the trade of a rigger, which I am quite enjoying. (Only one three hour flight away).

That's all for now. Hopefully two flight tomorrow! I hope all is well.