Way Down South, the Sixth

I’ve just arrived at the South Pole for the sixth time (as in 4 hours ago, so I’m pretty oxygen deprived. Please excuse any hypoxia-induced typos). The set of things in my life that have just become normal (I have a favorite breakfast on a continent I don’t even live on) is strange.

Anyhow, not much to say right now, but I wanted to document my trip down from Christchurch. We fly from Christchurch to McMurdo Station, just off the coast of Antarctica, and then onward to the South Pole. The flights are all on military aircraft. At the beginning and the end of the summer season, the runways in McMurdo are hard enough to land wheeled aircraft, so we get to fly in C-17s. The C-17 is a large, jet-engined cargo plane. It makes the flight in about 5 hours. At this time of the year, we have to use LC-130s, since they have skis. The LC-130 is a smaller, propeller driven plane. Similar to the small commuter planes that hop between nearby airports in the US. They take 8 hours of noise and discomfort to get to McMurdo. You may be able to guess which plane I prefer to fly.

It’s not unusual for flights to be delayed, or outright canceled. Predicting the weather is extremely difficult, and the planes are old. This time down was fairly smooth, as opposed to last year when I was “stuck” for 5 days in Christchurch. We were only an hour late departing for McMurdo, and the flight was reasonably smooth. Upon our arrival, we were informed that we’d be heading out for the flight to Pole at 15:45 the next day. However, we discovered at 9:15 that our departure time had been bumped up to 9:55. Of course, we all scrambled to leave, and track down anyone else who was supposed to go (not an easy feat without cell phones). Some time between 9:20 and 9:35, the departure was pushed back to 10:45. About an hour later, it was back to 15:45, so I went on a hike. 15:30 rolls around, and I check to make sure we’re still going, then go to pack up a few last minute items. 3 minutes later, we find out there’s a 2 hour delay. In my mind, this isn’t the worst thing in the world, since it means we’ll get dinner in McMurdo, rather than whatever we can shove in our pockets to eat on the plane. Finally, 17:37 rolls around, so I head out to meet the bus that will take us to the plane. In the 4 minutes it takes me to walk from my room to the check-in, the flight has been canceled entirely.

The next day, we did go out to the plane on time, get in and take off, but we had to turn around about 10 minutes later (the navigation system had failed). Fortunately, there was another plane on the ground, and the mechanics were fairly certain they’d fixed the landing gear problem, so we got on that one. As luck would have it, it made it all the way to Pole.

I would say that trip is about average for delays and turnarounds (“boomerangs” as we call them). I’ve had worse, and I’ve had better. This time around, I at least have a C-17 flight to look forward to on the Northbound side.

I’ll try to post some pictures later.

5 thoughts on “Way Down South, the Sixth

  1. Are navigation system failures common…

    How large is the oxygen difference? Also, you never elaborated on what your favorite Antarctic breakfast is!

  2. A mother is going to love to read this: “the mechanics were fairly certain they’d fixed the landing gear problem”. Oy! Glad it is past tense at this point…

    • As a father, me too! However, I’m just as curious about what size wrench they used and how they torqued it. But if I had my choice, I would have taken my chances with a failed nav system rather than a failed landing gear. Much less painful, though perhaps prolonged.

      Turtle – from what I remember, the effective altitude is around 10,000 ft. That’s about 2000 ft above where I start feeling it. (Hope you’re well, Ma’am!)

      Glen, how are you doing with the cold?

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