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From South Pole:

Oxygen

Tuesday, Nov. 29 2011 UTC

Nov. 29, 2011 17:30 NZDT Crary Lab, McMurdo Station

Made it back to McMurdo where liquid water runs in the streets, mountains can be seen in all directions, helicopters take off and land every twenty minutes or so, and the oxygen flows thick and warm into your lungs.

Our flight to McMurdo had only five passengers. After packing a lunch and waiting with bated breath for the announcements from Comms indicating the plane’s arrival, I headed out, with Carlos, Sven, Ralf, Gary, Martin and David coming out as well to say farewell (thanks guys!). We took a few group photos in various combinations of cameras and individuals, and then those of us who were leaving headed onto the plane. There were no instructions of any kind from the crew (indeed, it would be hard to hear anything anyways)... just strap in and off you go… and so, in a few moments, we were aloft over the Polar Plateau.

Leg room

I managed to sleep a bit after take-off (I’ve been up since 4 AM), slumped over and wrapped up in Big Red, with no shortage of leg room (the plane was nearly empty). Read a bit, ate my makeshift burrito-and-cookie lunch, and then took pictures out the windows for 45 minutes or so.

After ten trips, one thing I do not tire of or take for granted is the view from the plane of the Trans-Antarctic mountains. As a Midwesterner I have always found mountains to be a bit alien and fascinating, but mountains in Antarctica are ever more so. I think I’ve probably taken the same photos of the same features over and over again, but the terrain is stunning. It feels like looking down from orbit onto another planet — a land you know you will never set foot upon (and, in many spots, nor will anybody), but you cannot help but wonder what it would be like to see it up close.

Arriving in McMurdo

We arrived in McMurdo to a buzz of activity. There was a mass casualty drill just before we arrived; they are also packing up the Ice Runway in preparation to move out to Pegasus airfield, much further away from town. We had to wait for a shuttle into town for half an hour or so. When the shuttle did arrive, both passengers and crew from South Pole piled on, as well as other airmen, and crew and passengers from a Twin Otter flight arriving from somewhere out in that aforementioned crazy terrain. I had to ask around to figure out where I would be staying the night — finally I found my room, got some linens, headed off to Crary Lab for Internet access and now am about to head off to the dining hall for dinner. Tonight we weigh in with our bags and gear and should get the flight schedule for the trip back to Christchurch tomorrow.

Starting tomorrow, hopefully, I am going to get spoiled with a week of summer before heading back to the beginning of Chicago winter. But first, dinner.