Monday, January 31, 2011

Back To Byrd Camp

Back to Byrd camp to take down the tower and antennas for the season which is all but complete. Many of the camp staff has left and all the buildings are being taken apart and stored on a winter burm, which is a raised section of snow to minimize the burying in the winter blowing snow. I spent three days there, we had splendid weather for the most part. -15 to -25 C which was cold, but I was still able so skate ski and run on the skiway.

The outhouses.
My tent.
My yellow spaceman adventurer friend.

And a video for the kids at The Learning Center for the Deaf and for Bruce B.!

Wind Generators and Rhomic Antenna Towers at Black Island

A Black Island visit was next on the list to service wind generator towers, the big high frequency rhombic antenna towers and to check the outer covering of the dome that protects the big satellite dish inside.

We had to shut down the entire station's communication with the US. Woke up at 12:30 am, while most of the station was asleep, to repair a few rips in the super strong fabric that envelopes the dish. It is super strong but the wind tears over Black Island and this combined with little volcanic rocks can sometimes do some damage.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cape Royds

This past week, I was sent to Cape Royds to remove all the comms equipment off the tower there. Cape Royds is the home of hundreds of Adelie penguins and was also the home of one of Shackleton's expeditions. The hut that his crew built there in the early 1900s is still there. So I was excited to be out there - to see the little penguins, and to be in the presence of Shackleton. (Endurance was the book recommended by my sister, Farley, that first got me interested in Antarctica.)

We pulled the antennas off tower, dug out some cable from under the snow and ice and then had some time to explore. Shackleton's hut was very neat, though I was not able to go inside as entrance is strictly controlled by the international conservation agreements. It was very neat to see the hut though (with canvas on the outside as restoration is in progress.) We could see the doghouses, the toilet, the trash heap, which I really would have liked to go through... and the weather station. Now I need to go back to my books and read about the hut and life at the hut. It's sort of like being where the astronauts walked on the moon!

The little Adelie's did not disappoint either. They are very curious, but used to researches who spend a season at the cape. Endlessly entertaining they are. They make a lot of noise and go to and fro, walking and sliding on their bellies. I think it is the way they walk upright that makes them unique and enjoyable to watch. They're almost like funny little kids. I'll let them speak for themselves:

It was wonderful to see the water up close and to really be on the coastline of a non-frozen ocean. We took some time to hike along the water and enjoy the area, and the views. Most of the time I was dreaming of sailing down here from New Zealand. We even saw one rise of a Minke Whale!

That's all for now! Three of us are currently at Black Island which is the satellite receiving station for all of McMurdo. (McMurdo can't see the satellites because Mt. Erebus is in the way. Black Island, a 15 minute helicopter flight across McMurdo Sound, can.) Climbed a 90 footer a few times today to restring a big HF four tower antenna. Here for a few more days.

Thanks for reading, hope all is well wherever you are!

Mt. Erebus

Last week, three riggers, including me, went to Mt. Erebus. Our job was to put up a 20 tower and then mount a 300 watt wind generator on top of the tower. We had tried to do this project a few weeks before but it was one cancellation after another. So from sea level up to 12,000 feet we went, in two separate helos. As soon as we arrived and started to organize our gear the clouds came in and we had doubts as to whether we were going to be able to leave that night. There was the Lower Erebus Hut not too far below us, but we weren't too keen on spending the night 12,000 feet higher than we had been that morning.

We had a little time to spare so I took a hike up to the crater rim. I could not see much, but I could see the steep drop that eventually would lead to a bubbling molten lava lake. It was neat to be on the rim of the most southern active volcano in the world and to be at the top of Ross Island! On the way up and down I passed many interesting frozen lava bombs that sometimes reminded me of ringwraiths from the lord of the rings.

We finished the job, had the generator working and everything packed up and ready to go. Though we could see downwards a few miles, we were in a cloud and the helos could not reach us. Eventually both helo pilots told at two separate times, told us to grab what we could and get to the helo as fast as possible. The helos can make their own cloud as they take off at that height and with a lot of moisture in the air, and we could hear the importance of hurrying in the pilot's voice. We had to leave a bunch of gear on the mountain but these were recovered a few days later. Next Cape Royds!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tall Towers

Two weeks ago we went up to T-site (short for Transmission site) to fix the rhombic antennas. They are used for talking with New Zealand, though these days with satellite phones, the rhombic antennas are a back up communications system. Four 80-90 foot towers make up the antenna with three wires hanging one over the other between them making what we call a curtain. One of the curtain wires had broken so we needed to string a new one.

This is Observation Hill in the background. "Ob Hill" is mentioned in many early explorer books of 100 years ago and was the scene of the Up Ob Hill race of Christmas Day. My time: 7 minutes, 11 seconds (of suffering).

Our next mission was aptly named, "TALL TOWER." For a week we had been trying to fly out to a site about 100 miles to the south located on the Ross Ice Shelf. Unfortunately, the weather was cooperating and we had a lot of time on standby. With time running out, it was decided that we would traverse to the site to put up the 100 foot tower. The site is along the over-land route to the South Pole so there is a relatively groomed road out to the site.

We had three tractors with us and rode in the "kitchen module." This is much like being below decks on a ship, everything always moving, sometimes crashing around the mod, sometimes flying across the mod but thankfully nothing broken except a bottle of soap. It took a day and half to arrive at the site.

For the evening, I chose to sleep in a tent by myself rather than in the sleeping mod with other folks. I like sleeping in the cold air, and it gives me a quieter space to read and relax.

The following day, we arrived and after the tractors helped dig out our anchor spots, they helped us raise the first 40 feet.

Then the climbing began. Section by 10 foot section. 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100. We use a gin pole to extend above the highest section we're working on, then haul up the next section from a pully on top of the gin pole, while the tractor pulls the opposite end, very slowly. Slowly it went up and thankfully nothing was dropped from such heights!

Once everything was all up we had to put the horizontal science and weather monitoring mounts at heights of 12, 25, 50 and 100 feet. (The equipment will be put on later this season or maybe next year).

When all was done, we took pictures and headed home!