Goodbye South Pole

    We were scheduled to leave the South Pole Friday morning. In true South Pole fashion, our flight was delayed and then cancelled. But, there was another McMurdo-bound flight coming in Friday evening so we were bumped onto that one.

    We waited around the station in suspense – would this flight be cancelled too? Part of me was excited to leave the South Pole, the first step in returning to my life back home, the other part of me wanted to stay for the winter. I’ve really grown to love the South Pole!

    As it turns out, the flight did come in with no problems, despite the rare snow that was falling at the Pole. We packed up, cleaned our rooms and said our goodbyes. Everyone from the IceCube team except Yiqian (who will leave in another few days) and the winter-overs (James and Martin) left on this flight.

    Group picture
    The IceCube gang. (From left to right): Francis Halzen (as a head), Martin Wolf, Yiqian Xu, Keiichi Mase, Kate Miller, Samuel Flis, Michael Larson, James Casey, and Ming-Yuan Lu. (Credit: Nicholas Huan)

    We left the station and walked to the runway. A crew was pumping fuel off the plane, leaving just enough for us to get to McMurdo. This is one of the ways South Pole gets its fuel supply.

    I glance back at the station and think about all the memories I made there – watching movies in the lounge, learning to solve a rubix cube, sharing meals in the Galley, playing games with new friends, doing yoga in the gym, working at the IceCube Lab… The South Pole will forever hold a special place in my heart.

    Leaving Station
    Looking back at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station as I head to the airfield.

    We boarded the LC-130 and settled in for a three-hour flight to McMurdo.

    LC 130 and Kate
    In front of the LC-130 "Hercules" plane that will fly us to McMurdo.

    Boarding LC130
    Boarding the LC-130, McMurdo-bound.

    Plane window
    A view of the Transantarctic Mountains as seen through the window of a LC-130.

    Hello McMurdo

    After doing what felt like airplane acrobatics as we came in for the landing, our plane safely landed at Williams Field. “Willy’s Field,” as it’s called here, sits on the portion of permanently frozen ice on the Ross Ice Shelf. That’s right, the runway is on top of ice that is floating on top of seawater. Pretty cool.

    A large bus, affectionately named “Ivan the Terra Bus,” met us at the plane to take us into town. On our 45-minute ride in, we all came to understand why Ivan has such a bad reputation. Imagine a school bus going over speed bump after speed bump and you have a good day for Ivan the Terra Bus.

    Ivan terra bus
    Ivan the terra bus is built to handle the ice, rock, and steep inclines of Antarctica…it is NOT built for comfort.

    We made it into town at 3am, but of course the sun was still up. We grabbed some infamous pizza from the Galley (available 24/7!), headed to our rooms, and slept.

    A Glance of McMurdo

    The next day we got a chance to explore McMurdo for a bit. It’s much different here. The population has increased (140 people at the Pole to 969 people at McMurdo), the Galley is easily five times the size of the Galley at South Pole, there are locks on the doors, the ground is covered in rocks instead of buried under permanent snow, and there are birds (skuas) flying around! I didn’t realize how accustomed to Pole life I had gotten.

    McMurdo from Ob Hill
    McMurdo Station, as seen from the base of Observation Hill. Notice the vessel towards the back of town – right now crews are busy offloading cargo to stock up resources for the winter.

    Galley McMurdo
    The Galley at McMurdo is so large I can't even capture it all in one photograph. Much different than the Pole's Galley!

    A helicopter comes in for a landing at the McMurdo "helipad."

    A sundial in the center of town tells time - it's about 17:45 or 5:45pm.


    Coffee house
    McMurdo's coffee house, complete with internet, games, and lots of beverage options.

    Crary Lab

    We stopped in Crary Science Lab. On the top floor in the library is one of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen. A long window perfectly frames the mountains on the other side of the Ross Ice Shelf. Placed below the window is a picture that labels each mountain with its name. A telescope allows you to get a close up view of the scenery.

    Crary Lab
    The entrance to Crary Lab.

    Crary view
    A view through the telescope in the Library of Crary Lab.

    Telescope close up
    A view through the telescope in the Library of Crary Lab.

    Observation Hill

    The gang and I decided we wanted to hike up Observation Hill, called “Ob Hill” here. On top of Ob Hill is a memorial cross for Scott and his expedition crew who were coming back from the South Pole and died near this point.

    As we hiked, we stopped every little bit to take in the stunning view…and also because we were very tired – Ob Hill is steep!

    Ross Ice Shelf
    Looking out over the Ross Ice Shelf towards the mountains on our way up Observation Hill.

    Seals warm up in the sun, but never stray too far from their hole in the ice.

    The Cross on top of Observation Hill, memorializing Scott and his expedition team who died on their journey back from the South Pole.

    Top Ob Hill
    At the top of Observation Hill the view was incredible! 360 degrees of glacial and sea ice. (Credit: Richard Osburn)

    Scott Base

    Only a 10-minute drive from McMurdo is the New Zealand station called Scott Base. We were able to visit while their store was open.

    Scott Base
    Scott Base is known for its buildings made of green shipping containers.

    Scott Base sits right on the Ross Ice Shelf. You can walk right up to the coast and see seals and skua all around. Pretty incredible!

    A skua flying over the Ross Ice Shelf in front of Scott Base, with a seal in the very right of the picture.

    Mount Erebus
    Mount Erebus, the southern-most active volcano on Earth, as seen from Scott Base.

    Movie Night

    After a nice long shower (no two-minute limit here), we settled in for the night. We found a lounge with several movies on the shelf. Of course, these movies were VHS.

    Recognize these? That's right, VHS tapes galore in the McMurdo lounge.

    After rewinding the film to the beginning (haven’t had to do that in awhile), we started our marathon of oh-so-bad movies. “D.O.A.” was first up. If you’re like me, you haven’t even heard of D.O.A let alone seen it. It was fantastically awful. We followed this up with some pizza. At McMurdo you can order pizza in the Galley anytime…and it’s really good! Next up, “Army of Darkness,” another fabulously horrible movie. We’re hoping to top off our marathon with “The Thing” tomorrow night.

    Bag Drag

    In a few minutes we have “Bag Drag,” where you pack up all your bags, take them to be weighed, and drop everything off except your carry-on.

    Bag drag
    My name on the Bag Drag manifest, projected on monitors around the station.

    We’re scheduled to fly to Christchurch tomorrow on a LC-17 (hooray! These planes are known for being faster than LC-130s! Only five hours instead of eight!). My Antarctic adventure is sadly beginning to come to an end.

    Weather Summary
    so warm i'm wearing flip flops
    Wind Speed
    14 knots
    Wind Chill


    Jackie Monette

    I see you are in a sweathsirt on your hike to Ob Hill - what's the weather like there? Good thing you watched "The Thing" on your way home! Creepy, right?
    Have a safe trip home!!!

    Kate Miller

    Hi Jackie! The weather here at McMurdo is MUCH warmer than the South Pole. Right now it's 25F (no minus sign). When we were hiking Ob Hill the temperature was a little colder (18F or so) and the wind was really minimal. Combine that with a steep incline that gets your heart pumping and all I needed was a sweatshirt at the top! I still wear my base layers and had a warm puffy coat in my backpack, but it's not bad at all! Reminds me of Michigan in Novemeber :)
    Just finished watching "The Thing" (the 1998 version). Oh my. That was...something. I think I would've been okay watching it before or at the South Pole, but watching it after did allow me to make fun of all the inaccuracies. Glad I saw it though!