Today I stepped from an airplane onto the Antarctic sea ice in McMurdo Sound! The temperature was -42 degrees Celsius with a light windchill. 10 days ago I was enjoying the tropical 28 degree heat of Tonga! (Pinch me please.) I am here to work and live at New Zealand’s Scott Base for the next 5 months of summer in the land of ice, penguins and blizzards.
We awoke at 5am in our Christchurch hotel and made our way to the airport at 6am, went through check-in, had a cup of tea, then bussed to the waiting airplane.
This season’s staff were super lucky! We got to use the Airbus A319 on charter from Australia, which has been fitted with approximately 50% extra fuel capacity. Very different from the usual cargo planes with few windows.
Take-off at 8am was followed by a super-smooth flight all the way to the southern-most continent. At that point, the mostly cloudy sky opened up to reveal the most stunning land of mountains and glaciers that I will ever set eyes on! On the left side of the plane, the first point to come into sight was Cape Adare. 2 years ago, while on board an expedition ship, we did a zodiac cruise all around the cape looking for adelie penguins. So crazy to be looking down on it from 33,000 feet!
After crossing the coast, we flew right along the middle of the Trans-Antarctic mountains. There are countless glaciers, ghostly white mountain peaks, and dark crevasses that look like wrinkles breaking up the icy surface of the land.
Soon the mountains moved away to the right as we flew over the western edge of the Ross Sea and south to the top of Ross Island. All this way, far below us, we could see the frozen surface of the sea, moving in huge ice floes at the mercy of the wind. We passed Colman, Franklin and Beaufort Islands. Back in 2011, on my first visit to Antarctica, I visited an emperor penguin colony on Franklin Island on the Russian icebreaker, Kapitan Khlebnikov.
To our left stood the mighty volcanoes of Terror and Erebus. Cape Evans and Royds were clearly visible as we flew down the middle of McMurdo Sound, with their historic sites of Scott’s and Shackleton’s huts respectively. And in the distance to the west, the dry valleys.
McMurdo Station (USA) appeared below us just a couple of minutes before landing and shortly after that, Scott Base. These green buildings will be my home for the next 5 months!
The last half hour of the flight was spent preparing to depart from the airplane, slowly putting on layers. Last of all came our Extreme Cold Weather jackets. Inside the plane was boiling hot, which all changed as we disembarked, stepping onto the ice.
A huge pat on the back to the pilots of the plane! We touched down on the snow/ice runway without even a bump and smoothly came to a stop. What an incredible flight!
We were greeted by -41 degrees Celsius! which was 22 degrees colder than the lowest temperature I had previously experienced. Steam coming from the airplane and waiting vehicles, along with the snowy background, sapphire-blue sky and low sun, made for the craziest atmosphere around the airfield. That arrival is something I will remember for a long time!
Because I don’t have access to YouTube down here at Scott Base, it will be 5 months before I can upload a video of the flight! Subscribe to my blog on the right of this page to receive email updates during my 5 months living at Scott Base!