Tomorrow (Tuesday) is my last "normal" day here in McMurdo, as I hope to be leaving on Thursday. Last Thursday when my roommate Markus left, I realized I had been here for two weeks, and it seemed like that time went by very quickly. I still have the same feeling now, that the past week, and my entire time here, has gone by fast. I'm ready to head back, first to New Zealand for a couple days of R & R, then back home to see the family for a few days, then finally back to Columbus. I'm not sure why I'm ready to leave, I could not think of anything today that bothers me here. My work is going well, I have my own room now, which is nice, I'm eating well, getting regular exercise, and get to watch ESPN and many sporting events. This doesn't differ much from my existence back in the U.S. It may be choice: from what and when to eat, where I live, more retail options, and so on. If I was here longer I would also miss pets: I miss my cat Wendy, along with the two dogs and two cats at my parents house. But I've had a great stay here, and I'm very proud and often in awe of the operation that the United States has in this harsh and remote region of the world. Just another reason why it's is the greatest country in the world.
Here's some of my activities from the past several days:
On Thursday afternoon I spent a few hours with a weather observer (Jen) at Williams Field. This airfield handles the ski aircraft that fly to South Pole and some of the field camps. The observer takes observations every hour and otherwise when needed of standard meteorological variables. I got to see some of the equipment there, along with learning some more on how cloud levels and visibility is taken. It was also fun taking in the take-offs and landings (I still like watching this at any airport). Anyways, here's a picture of the small tower:
On Friday night, I got to help launch the weather balloon. Weather balloons go up at 0000 UTC and 1200 UTC every day, around the world. I went over to the balloon shack with one of the observers, Cliff, who happens to be an Ohio State meteorology undergrad. He got the equipment set up and filled the balloon, and we went outside to launch it. Here's me just before launch:
and here's the balloon, long gone:
These things can go up to about 13 miles into the atmosphere before blowing up. If you ever come across the December 15th 2006 1200 UTC McMurdo sounding, I let that sucker go.
On Sunday afternoon I took a tour of the pressure ridges near Scott Base. These form as two converging ice sheets buckle (at least that's the layman's explanation). Apparently the ice moves up to 3/4 meter per day, so that the field is constantly changing. We walked around the marked trail for about an hour, and got to see some cool ice formations. The overcast sky also brought out the bluish hue of some of the ice. We also saw a couple of seals (I forgot what kind). I got someone to take my picture:
This morning I took the hike up Observation ("Ob") Hill, which is just outside of town. I can't remember the elevation and I can't find it right now, something around 200 m sounds familiar. Anyways, there's a trail up there, and it was another beautiful, warm, and calm day today, so I decided to go for it. Here's a view from the bottom:
The first section of the climb was tough, probably because I had just woken up. Once I got warmed up, it wasn't too bad, although the trail has some spokes and dead ends and I had to backtrack a little bit once. It tested some climbing and hiking skills that I don't have (there's likely no way I'd do something like this elsewhere). It's a great view from the top though, the view down to McMurdo is a near-famous picture. I set up my camera on some rocks, set the timer, and got a crappy picture of myself in my goofy cone-shaped hat:
That's the cross in memory of Scott's 1912 return expedition from the South Pole in the background. The descent was annoying, as I was hoping not to break my knees and also trying not to fall down and gouge myself on the sharp outcroppings.
As I said, tomorrow is my last normal day, because Wednesday I need to get ready to leave. I'll have to clean my room to specifications (it shouldn't be too bad because it was cleaned last week when my roommate left), then turn in my checked baggage that night ("Bag Drag"). By tomorrow we should get a better idea of the weather for the flight back Thursday.