An October 1998 trip
to Antarctica by John Lamb
Quote: A vast, harsh wasteland in one second and a beautiful, serene untouched wonderland in another. No matter how one sees Antarctica, it stays deep in one's soul as if it were a wound.
McMurdo Station becomes quite populated during the summer months of October through February and becomes a little city of 1,500 people (there are about 200 hundred people there during the winter). There is much to do at McMurdo: bowling, cross-country skiiing, hiking, drinking, etc. After four months, I was never bored.
Each room has a mini-fridge, telephone, two beds, two desks, and two closets. You can only call out and no one can call you from home. A phone card is necessary to call out also and can be purchased at the store. Sometimes it is hard to get line out to call home, especially during the holidays.
Believe it or not, sometimes the rooms get too hot and we had to open the window to cool down. Since it is 24 hour daylight, we made a velcro curtain to block out the sun during the "night." The rooms are of a good size and comparable to any college dorm room, probably even better.
Each dorm is equipped with a communal television and VCR. Their are four stations: a couple of Armed Forces channels, a local movie channel, and a weather channel. There is also usually a ping pong table or foosball table. And some dorms even have a pool table. The bigger dorms have one sauna in them.
Hotel California is a small dorm and bunkhouse for people going or coming into McMurdo Station. It has been used in the past for permenant residence. You don't want to get stuck there because the rooms are very small.
The only other possibly trying part about the accommodations is the roommate. But if you are able to go with someone you enjoy, your stay at McMurdo Station can be a great one.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 28, 2001
During the lunch hour there is a sandwich deli that serves a variety of sandwiches how you please if you get tired of the cafeteria-style food. The killer junk food is the abundance of soft serve ice cream that is available all the time. Not very fair to do to someone who has weakness for ice cream.
Thanksgiving was wonderful and they smoked grilled turkeys all day. The stuffing was wonderful, a corn bread based substance that was to die for. Christmas also really was special with many of the traditional choices and also Antarctic cod, 100 pound, 4 foot long cod that live in the sub-zero temperatures of Antarctica. They were killed during research and then served to us. Kind of a greasy fish.
One thing is for sure, you will not go hungry in Antarctica.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 29, 2001
Attraction | "McMurdo Lanes"
McMurdo Lanes consists of two warped lanes. It takes awhile to get used to because the bowling ball will often follow the course of the worn grooves, but great fun can be had after getting used to it. Bowling shoes and balls are provided. There is no electronic scoring so someone actually needs to know how to add up the pins. Even beer is available, the cheapest being two year old Miller for 50 cents a can. It gets a little crowded, however, after ten people are in there. Even though the pins are set manually, they are set suprisingly fast by the poor guy back there working hard to throw them in the setter. He gets some extra cash for spending his nights there setting the pins up.
A bowling league starts soon after summer season starts. My friends I started the Custodial Artists. We were awful and decided to make up for it by dressing up each week. Togas and drag are my personal favorites. Your quality of bowling is not important. Everyone is there to have fun.
Bowling in Antarctica is one of the funniest things I did on the ice.
Hut Point Peninsula
Ross Island, Antarctica
After a couple of hours of nice photos of frostbitten hands and warnings of the danger of Antarctica, we were driven out to Ross Ice Shelf by our two teachers. The campsite is located past Scott's Base. There is an excellent view of both Mt. Erebus and the Ross Ice Shelf. Mt. Erebus is majestic and beautiful. The Ross Ice Shelf is a flat nothingness that extends for hundred of miles. Just white and flat.
We spent half the day building a snowmound, a basic igloo. We put our bags in a pile, put a tarp over the pile, and then shoveled snow on top. We then dug under the pile and pulled the bags out, creating a easy-made igloo. You have to slip underneath and then rise up to the flat area inside. It is about 10F to 15F degrees warmer inside the snowmound and it protects you from the wind.
That night we had our choice of a tent, Scott's tent (the tall, yellow tent used by the early explorers) or the snowmound. I chose the snowmound. Wrapped tightly in my sleeping bag, I froze the whole night and counted the minutes until it was all over. Since there was 24 hour daylight, I tied a bandana around my eyes. At one point, I had to go the bathroom, but rather than go outside and get out of my bag, I ruined a water bottle. At least, the warmth from my pee kept my feet warm for a little while. I made it and the next day I got to return to my warm room at the station.
If you can handle the cold, I recommend trying to go to Happy Campers' School. It gives you a feel for how the early explorers must have felt and also a new admiration for those explorers.
However, what we called the "mall" is only a mile away at Scott Base. Scott Base is the New Zealand base on the ice. There are about 20 or more people at this base about a mile away from McMurdo Station. Every Sunday, a shuttle bus runs regularly between both bases. Inside Scott Base is a small giftshop the size of shoebox. But there are many more souvenirs available here. There are some books on the region, Christmas cards, patches, pins, etc. All the regular stuff you expect from a tourist area. So this part of Antarctica still provides an opportunity to consume and purchase.
Attraction | "Castle Rock Loop"
There are apples or tomatos along the route that are available for shelter in case bad weather moves on which happens quite quickly in Antarctica. It is important to check out at the fire station before you go so they know where you are (and important to check back in when you return so they don't send out the rescue unit).
Half way through the loop is Castle Rock, a beautiful and huge piece of stone sticking majestically out of the flat white nothingness. It is a 20 minute scramble to the top of the rock. From the top are gorgeous views of the mountains and also Mt. Erebus, the active volcano that sits on Ross Island. Small plumes of smoke rise out of the beautifully sloped mountain. I have never heard silence like I have on top of Castle Rock. No trees blowing or animals calling out. Not even the wind itself. Absolute silence.
The loop then circles down to Scott Base. If you are tired, it is possible to catch a bus back home from this point. All together, it is wonderful hike. Not too challenging, but long and beautiful.
Near McMurdo Stastion
Ross Island, Antarctica
Attraction | "Ice Cave and Scott's Hut Tour"
It is not exactly a bus that takes you out there, but a huge, orange all-terrain vehicle with six-foot tires and a van back. The top speed is about 15 miles an hour. And it is cold in the back, so bring all your extreme cold weather gear. It takes about an hour to reach Scott's Hut, so be prepared for a long bumpy ride.
Scott's Hut was built in 1911 by Robert Falcon Scott, the British explorer. He was trying to be the first to reach the South Pole, but was beaten by Roald Amundsen. And to add insult to injury, he and four others died on their way back. Scott's Hut was home to the crew that stayed behind for a couple of years. The wooden structure sits calmly on the island and remains the same since it was built. Inside, everything remains literally frozen in time. There are still cans of food on the shelves and the beds are still made. Slabs of seal fat lay frozen next to the building.
Part of the structure includes the stables where the Mongolian horses were kept. The horses were meant to take them to the pole but proved useless in the environment. The stables still smell of them. There is great sense of wonder at how these early explorers survived and lived in such an environment in what is basically a wooden shack. The sight of the hut offers great views of Mt. Erebus also. And if you are lucky, a Wedell seal will be sunbathing on the ice. They are monstrous animals and beautiful to look at.
After Scott's Hut are the ice caves. They are on the side of a glacier and often opened up by a chainsaw. You have to climb down a ladder inside the cave which is small but gorgeous. The light is refracted which makes the cave an eerie, rich blue. Huge icicles come down as well as intricate patterns of ice form on the walls and floor. If you hit the certain parts of the walls just right, they make sounds like a steal drum.
A friend and I were there directly after a new room opened up from the shifting ice and we climbed and slid into room where no natural light was allowed in. Our red clothing turned almost purple and our faces dark and blueish. When we moved quickly, red tracers seemed to follow our hand movements. It is one of the most surreal moments of my life.
Both attractions are incredible experiences and will invade your dreams for years to come.
North Shore Of Cape Evans
Ross Island, Antarctica
Gallagher's is the second bar and is also non-smoking. The bar is named after a man who died on the ice of a heartache. It is big and quite populated every night. The drinks are the same as well as the prices. There is more floor space, so there is often dancing. Many events are held here also, like bingo night, swing night and karaoke night. There is a foosball table available also. Dollar bills decorated with writing line the interior, oherwise the decorating is sparse.
The third place of drink is a coffeehouse/wine bar. A glass of wine is always available for around three dollars. A cheese plate is also available. There is a ping pong table for fun. Poetry readings are held here as well as other artistic events. The coffeehouse is quiet and a good place to relax.
A town the size of McMurdo definitely offers an assortment of bars to visit and unwind in.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on November 8, 2001
Colorado Springs, Colorado