One Last Hike, then Home from Antarctica

We got to go on a guided tour of ice formations jutting up from the ice sheet, then a couple days later I was on my way home. What an experience!

Near the New Zealand base, the ice sheet over the frozen ocean is under pressure from ocean currents flowing in the liquid below, and pressure from the ice itself freezing. Or at least that’s what I remember our hike guide telling us…you’d have to ask him more about the physics of it all! Anyway, the result of all this is beautiful pressure ridges, striking formations of blue ice that change even day to day in response to the pressure that forms them. We got to take a guided hike around these formations, being careful of course to avoid falling into the cracks!

We started right by the New Zealand base, with its distinctive green buildings. Off behind the buildings and the shipping containers, are some of the pressure ridges we walked among. It’s so hard to see because of the camera and the lighting, but they are in reality a deep blue color not the pale white. The later pictures show this more clearly, but take my word for it these are blue too!

After walking a little further away from the base, and around behind some particularly tall pressure ridges, we came up to a group of sea lions! The rules from the Antarctic treaty state that we’re allowed to look at them, but if we get close enough that they start reacting to our presence we need to get away immediately. Sea lions appear fairly laid back, so following this rule actually allowed us to get quite close to them and really see their faces. One even had a child, I don’t think I got a picture of that but it was really neat to see. We’re all bundled up in our extreme cold weather gear, but from their perspective it’s a nice warm day to lay out in the sun to heat up!

Walking a little further than the sea lions took us into the more dramatic pressure ridges. At one point we were completely among them, looking in any direction all you see is ice.

Anyway, it was a wonderful hike, and I’m really grateful that there are people in McMurdo who know how to guide people safely through it, and that they’re willing to take the time to do it.

So, a few days after the hike, it was time to start the journey home. Sort of a strange feeling, seeing my PhD thesis experiment actually working really well after all our hard work, nearly ready to launch as I write this. Because there’s plenty to do back here in Arizona, and because I already did the tasks that I can uniquely do, it was time to come home. I’ll be watching the launch on youtube just like everyone else, and tuning in remotely from here to watch the data come in during the flight. There’s so much more excitement to come with Spider, in analyzing the data we hope to collect, and getting ready for our next flight in a couple years. But, this moment in Antarctica for me…I’m still looking for the words. It was fun. It was with the best people you could ask to work and live with. That’s as much as I’ve got figured out right now! Thanks everyone, go Spider!