Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Element of Snow

Yesterday probably ranks in as one of the hardest hikes I've ever done... Sadly. Some friends and I decided to go make an attempt on Mt. Sherman from the fourmile creek road. Snow drifts had covered parts of the road that caused us to stop short of the trail head by vehicle. GPS readings showed that we started at about 10,500 in elevation.
As always, I was well prepared for anything. I had my medical kit, big enough to treat a small mass casualty incident. My tent fly, poles, and ground pad, for a quick shelter should it be necessary, also included lots of utility cord to tie the thing down, as I was expecting high winds in the afternoon. I also had a complete change of clothes for all 3 layers I was wearing. On top of that, 4 liters of water, and my camp stove, fuel, and a pot to melt snow for water if we needed it. I probably had enough food to last 2-3 days as well. Add the snow shoes in to the mix when on my back, and my pack weighed in at 40 pounds. Why do I always do that to myself? I need to stop. 40 pounds for a day hike is ridiculous, even if you are preparing for the worst. My 5 year old son weighs less than that!
Anyway, we found a place to park after getting the Jeep un-stuck from a snow drift in the road, I put on my Gaiters, wool sweater, balaclava, and coat. Threw the pack on my back, and we headed up the road to the trail. It wasn't long till we figured out we did the right thing by parking where we did. I was soon post holing in the snow to mid calf. The Jeep would have never of made it through (at least not without a lift kit, and some much larger tires). After about 1/2 mile of pushing through this stuff, we got the bright idea of actually using the snow shoes we brought. I was getting really hot, sweating and beginning to feel my inner layers get a little damp. so it also seemed like a good time to shed all those layers I put on back at the jeep (sweating in cold weather is very dangerous, and can eventually cause hypothermia when you stop moving). The snow shoes made the going a lot better. However, after about another 3/4 of a mile, the road/trail became windblown and not much snow lay on it. Instead of taking off the snow shoes, we hiked uphill in the ditches, where some snow remained. Eventually we took a break and took of our snow shoes, for the remainder of the hike up. There were only a few areas that were deep with snow, that didn't warrant the time and effort it would take to put the shoes on and off again. Through all of that, I learned that snow bails would have been great to have for my trekking poles, as without them, they didn't provide a whole lot of support. Fortunately, the snow wasn't super deep, and extending them beyond my normal length seemed to do okay.

After about 4 hours of hiking, we made it here, to one of the old mining shacks, situated right around 13,000 feet. You can see the peak of Mt. Sherman in the background. I was finished. Every step forward/up with my pack yielded a wonderful burning sensation in just about every muscle in my legs. My back and shoulders were tired from carrying the load. The altitude had gotten to me. It wasn't that I was out of breath, but more that my body just couldn't get the oxygen it needed to my muscles, putting them in anaerobic respiration, for every step. So we stopped at this old mining shack (above) and ate our lunch. The rest was good, the food enjoyed, and the company most excellent. Despite all the work and pain to get to this spot, it all goes away when you turn to enjoy where you are at. Having had no expectations to reach the top of the mountain, I was glad to be where I was.
We sat on a small wooden plank, with the wind at our backs (along with the building) and the sun on our faces. One of my hiking partners (John, though they were both named John) had mentioned that he thinks that this is what the light at the end of the tunnel is like. I have to agree, I don't think its far off. The sun shining on us in the cool weather certainly didn't help negate that feeling.

After lunch, we turned, and looked at the peak ahead of us (above), looked at trail options, and considered the time. We all agreed that heading down back to the Jeep was in our best interest. I repacked my pack, slung it around to my back, and we started to head down.

The view was great, and it was quite a relief to be going down. There were a few spots we contemplated doing some glissades, but decided not to. Oh well. Carried the ace axe all the way up and down for nothing, except maybe the feeling of safety that I had the tool should I actually need it (much like the rest of the stuff in my pack). We eventually made it back to the snowy section of the trail and stubbornly pushed through it for a ways without snow shoes again. Becoming quickly exhausted, we put the snow shoes back on and continued out to the Jeep. I don't remember this section seeming so long on the way in. It seemed to just keep going and going. The extra weight of the shoes on our legs made every moment harder, but it was still easier than post holing. With much relief and about 6 miles of total hiking round trip, we made it back to the car and headed home.
This trip was the first time I've ever had a pair of snow shoes on my feet. I have to say, its pretty neat to be able to walk on the snow like that. I had rented a pair from a local outdoor shop. I have to say I was impressed with how easy they were to put on, especially compared to the brand my hiking friends had. Mine were made by Atlas and I would have to say if I were going to buy some, I'd probably get a set of these, after this experience. They seem to be on the pricey side, but I really liked how they worked. They fit well with my boots, were a snap to put on and take off, and seemed to support my weight, including my 40 pound pack, above the snow. Now all I need to do is keep up the exercise so that I can do this kind of thing again, and not feel so bad afterward. I suppose getting up in altitude to keep my body adjusted to it would help too.
On a side note, I have an interview with the alpine search and rescue this coming sunday, if I make it past that step, I'm sure they'll give me the opportunity to spend more time in the mountains :)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Home and Adjusting

Made it home from Christchurch last friday, the absolutely longest day I've ever had in my life. I did after all, land in Denver about 3 hours after I took off from Christchurch. It's nice to be home again, and even better to be on vacation from work until January 5th. I'm still trying to readjust to Mountain Time schedules, but I'm improving, should be better by Christmas :) I spent most of this day messing with all the pictures I took, and selecting some of my favorites for all of you to view. So please enjoy them, and have a very merry Christmas!

If you are interested in prints or anything, let me know. Feedback is always welcome as well!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Top 5 Restaurants in Christchurch, NZ

I've spent more time in Christchurch, NZ that I had originally intended to. As a result I've had the opportunity to sample several of the restaurants within walking distance of the Heritage Hotel, which is located on Cathedral Square, in down town Christchurch. Several of these restaurants certainly stand out in my mind as ones I would certainly love to return to, and a few that I have. Listed in no particular order.
  1. Octagon Live - This place, is far and above my favorite restaurant here. Likely mostly because of the atmosphere it provides. Don't get me wrong, the food here is great, but they have live music, to go with it. It's mostly in the form of either piano, organ, or guitar, with the occasional vocal accompaniment. The restaurant is setup in an old church building, and houses a 1400+ pipe organ that is older than the building is (by only a few years), which dates back to the mid/late 1800's. The service there is very good, but my American standards is certainly not speedy. In my opinion though, its not needed. You should go there expecting the experience, not to get in, eat a meal, and get out. Everyone is very friendly, and the host (whom I think is the owner) is very willing to share a story with you. It's certainly not a cheap meal, but I don't believe its unreasonable giving there's live musicians playing. Make reservations (bookings, as they say in NZ) ahead of time, is it pretty much seems, once the tables are filled, there's no hope of waiting for someone to finish their meal and leave. There's a lot more I could say about this place, but simply put... My favorite, a must if your in the area, especially with a significant other.
  2. Strawberry Fare - The name of this place gives away its specialty. Dessert! But it doesn't skimp on the main course either. I had my doubts when I first walked in. It seemed rather "diner-esque" in setup. Looks can be deceiving though. The menu here was top notch as well, offering a wide variety of dishes and drinks. Make sure to leave room for dessert though. I had a piece of chocolate cake that was soaked in raspberry syrup, with a chocolate frosting and a raspberry glaze on top of that. For those of you who know me, you can probably understand how much I enjoyed this. I might have to go back tonight, before I leave for good. Service was excellent. I would also recommend a booking here as well if you wish to have full service. The place quickly filled up with people, and there was a line when we left. The only drawback I see of this place, is it did get really crowded inside, and became quite loud. If you are looking for a quiet romantic evening, this probably isn't it. Get the dessert 'for takeaway' (that's how they say "to go" down here)
  3. Cook-n-With Gas - This place is like a little house they converted into a restaurant, and a top notch one at that. The food here was absolutely superb, and they had a very extensive spirit, beer, and wine list. The wait staff was always on the ball, despite how busy it seemed, and the atmosphere was nice. The "compartments" created by the rooms never have you feeling that the place is packed and busy, even though it was. There are plenty of accoutrement's on the walls to liven up the place and provide atmosphere as well. Bookings are also recommended for this place.
  4. Cafe Roma - My favorite place for breakfast (they only server breakfast and lunch). The restaurant seems kind of tucked away, and if you are walking next to the building you may not realize you are walking past a restaurant. Its up off street level a bit, but is on the first floor of the building, best I can tell. It required you to ascend some stairs, go through a very large set of wooden doors and hang a left to get to. Upon entering, you find yourself in what could have once been a sort of living room. Its not terribly large, and there is a fireplace against the far wall with some chairs and a couch around it for those there to just enjoy some coffee. There are also some tables cantilevered out of the windows for a couple to enjoy the view that overlooks the Avon river that flows through town. Wait staff are very friendly, food is served piping hot and soon after ordered, and is obviously made from very fresh ingredients. Every time I've gone here I've been asked if I have a booking, as if most people are expected to have one, but had never had to wait to get a seat.
  5. The Tap Room - This place was well enjoyed because of one style of dish in particular, that I've never run across before. They call them "stone grills." It's probably about an 8 inch square stone, maybe 1.5 - 2 inches thick that has been heated to some insanely hot temperature. You then get to choose the meat of your choice to put on it (I had Kangaroo and Wild boar). The dish comes out with the hunk of raw meat(s) sizzling away on the stone. Its up to you how you want your own meat cooked. I took the strategy of searing the whole thing, then cutting little slices off the big chunk and cooking them. It was a fun experience. This place seems to get packed during peak eating hours too, so I would either recommend showing up at opening time, or making a booking.
Runners up
  • Bailies - The only place I found that serves Kilkenny beer. If you've not had the opportunity to have some, and are in the area, I recommend stopping by for a pint.
  • Drexels - This place only serves breakfast, and you often need a booking to get in, especially during peak hours. The food excellent and well worth the price.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Home Stretch

Well, its Monday here in New Zealand, and back to work I go. I had to learn how the Christchurch Metro system works, so I could get transportation from the city center to the Antarctic Center at the airport. Its not to bad, and they have handy little RFID based "MetroCards" you can buy, and deposit cash on them as needed. The bus fares here are pretty cheap, at least with the exchange rate. It cost me a little over US$1 to take the bus here, which is probably about a 15 mile ride.
The flight back from McMurdo was pretty low key. The way the flight schedule got all jumbled up resulted in me getting bumped from my original flight on an LC-130, and I ended up catching the next flight out on a C-17, along with 17 others. It was kind of weird to be in this monstrous cargo plane with so few people on it. For cargo, we had a good sized drilling rig tied down to the floor, but that's about it. The flight was also 3.5 hours shorter this way too.
I've been enjoying the darkness that comes with the night time sky too. I never thought that 24 hours of sunshine would mess with me as much as it did, but I'm pretty certain it messed with my sleep while on the ice, simply because my body is responding so much better back in New Zealand again. I'm sure a nice big bed with no snoring roommates helps a lot too though.
So other than the news that I'm back in New Zealand, finishing up my work, I don't have a whole lot to report. Nothing plan
Publish Post
ned as far as sight seeing goes here. Mostly I'm just looking forward to getting home and not working. A lot of the tasking I have that provides a business justification for this trip, I don't really enjoy to much, and it wears on me, so it will be nice to wrap it up. I also have had some comments made to me that stating something along the lines of it seeming like I enjoyed my trip to the Antarctic peninsula more than I have to the South Pole... Truth be told, I probably did. I've sat and thought about my past 2 trips pretty seriously over the last few days and have tried to analyze the differences, some of them are subtle, some of them are not. There's a quote from a guy named Chris McCandless that has had some real meaning to me on this trip: "Happiness isn't real, unless it's shared." Despite being surrounded be people for most of the trip, sharing the experiences has been difficult at times. I'll just leave it at that.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

to fly, or not to fly...

My time has come to leave this place, and head back to Christchurch. Overall, I have to say that this place is pretty amazing. It's unique, harsh, and beautiful all at the same time. Outside the confines of 'Mac Town,' you can find yourself in a peaceful surrounding with refreshingly clean air, crisp blue skies (with no contrails), and a quietness to still your soul. Mountains (and volcanos) rise in the distance, and demonstrate thier majesty to all who view. the layering of clouds form various strata in the cold dry air. Winds almost always originate out of the south and have a cold to them that can penetrate the smallest of opening in fabric exposed to it. To have come here in the early 1900's as Scott and Amundsen had done most have been breath taking.
Life in town is a different story, muddy, wet streets leave me wishing for gaiters where I go, so as not to get my pant legs dirty. The "dirt" is ground volcanic rock that forms a dust that blows everywhere in the wind. With no ogranics present in it, abrasive and sharp, it's like a course rough sand running through your fingers. Think of those lava rocks you can buy to put in your gas grill... now just think of those rocks, in the sizes varrying from small stones to a fine dust. There's almost the constant drone of an engine running somewhere, vechicles moving people or equipment. Helicoptors inbound or outbound to a field camp, carying cargo beneath, science equipment, people, or both. The smell of burnt Jet fuel (JP-8) diesel and gasoline lingers low to the ground in the cold air. The streets are busiest during the day time, but night never really ever comes, with the sun circling overhead, making a complete cycle every 86,400 seconds. The oportunity to enjoy the outdoors can never be excused to the lack of light. Instead, its excused by the lack of energy.
The community here is tight, not perhaps in terms of the relational connectedness of all the inhabitants, but in terms of the quaters in which all 1200 of us live. Eating facilities are comunal, as are the bathrooms, depending on your housing situation. You are rooming with at least one other person, but potentially up to 5 others. There's a curse that lingers around station called "the Crud." With every new arrival of a plane and its contents, comes the introduction of a new Crud varient. It comes with runny noses, caughing, pains and general feelings of blah. Can one avoid it? Your only defense is good heigene. Wash your hands before you do anything, especially eating. Wash your hands after you do anything, especially when it involves handling surfaces that others have handled. But at the same time conserve water, its expensive here. Only 4 showers a week, but feel lucky, because at the South Pole, you only get 2, 4 minute showers a week.
The people are friendly, and willing to help, but you can't be shy. If you wish to isolate yourself from the rest of the world, you can do that here too. News and information must be sought after, should you wish to stay connected. Rules and Regulations from up high prohibit certian items and activities that are otherwise allowed in the states, but theres a strong "underground" community that knows how to get things done, you just have to ask the right people. Those people are usually those that have been around for a while. Is with the rest of the world, your success can depend a lot on "who or what you know."
So anyway, after all that, I'll return to what I was previously saying. Tomorrow I'm supposed to fly back. The end of my trip is starting to sound a lot like the beginning. The posibility of not actually getting on a plane tomorrow is significant. While it is apparently a rarity to see delays on this end, this time of year, Murphey has made herself known. A C-17 was supposed to fly out with passengers (PAX) today, and was going to be the last C-17 flight for a while). This meant we would be flying a slow, noisy flight back on an LC-130 tomorrow. I've heard the 8 hour flight in an LC-130 in the military style cargo seating is about anything but enjoyable. Well, turns out the C-17 had mechanical problems in Christchurch and never made it here. So, those C-17 PAX now have a higher priority than us to take our plane out of here. Which means we could be delayed. However, there is the posibility the C-17 gets fixed, and flys here tomorrow, and then we are on its return trip back to Christchurch, we just arrive later. The flight however would only be 5 hours long, be less packed full of people, and a bit quieter. So in the end, it could turn out for the better. Here's to hoping so.
Once I arrive in Christchurch, I'm to remain there until December 19th, when I finish out my flights in commercial jetliners, straight back to Denver (via Aukland and Los Angelas) The interesting thing is I will be landing on the same day I leave, thanks to crossing over the international date line again, despite flying through the night. Once there I get to figure out how I get home from the airport, as I really have not yet arranged anything, but that's fairly trivial. I'll be glad to be home a few days earlier than planned, and better yet, ready to enjoy the 2 weeks vacation I have scheduled through the holidays.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

same old...

Still alive down here at McMurdo base, finishing things up. Work is work. My after work activity involvement could certainly be more interesting. I've been having a really hard time sleeping lately though, which hasn't left me with much motivation to go do anything. You can rent cross country skis here for a few bucks a day, and go skiing around, but I just haven't had the energy (as I sit here yawning as I type).
I took a significant hike last Sunday, which was nice, but other than that, I haven't done a whole lot. I've added a few more pics to my McMurdo Album on Picasa, if you are interested. Currently, I'm scheduled to fly back to Christchurch on the 13th (this Saturday). Then I'm in Christchurch for another 6 days, as that's the earliest flight I can get out, since travel told us that the flight out on the 17th is full. I'm ready to come home, for various reasons I won't really dwell on here. Overall, this experience has certainly been eye opening. From a business perspective it has been useful, and will help me do my job better. From an experiential perspective, its really cool to see this "other world" and the types of things it has to offer. The science being performed down here is truely amazing, and I wish I could be a bigger part of it. Maybe someday I can.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

South Pole Pics

Well, here are a few pics of the South Pole that should give you some idea of what its like down there... I'm not sleeping well, and have been pretty exhausted this whole trip, and it feels like its really starting to catch up to me. Probably doesn't help that I hiked about 8 miles yesterday either. Oh well... Enjoy.

Friday, December 05, 2008

No where to go but North.

Its been a few days since I posted here, not entirely by choice, but somewhat so. Last Thursday I took an LC-130 flight 3 hours south to reach Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The flight was pleasant and we see some interesting terrain from the air. Most of it was quite desolate though. Recent changes in orbiting satellites, more specifically, the de-orbiting of one has left the station with an approximate window if Internet connectivity down to about 10 hours every day. and almost 50% of that window is currently during most people's sleeping hours on station. On top of that, the station lives at 9,300 feet in elevation, however the atmosphere is thinner there than on the continental US at similar elevation, so the "real feel" there is close to 11,000 feet. After living in Denver for a year and traveling through the mountains, I usually don't have problems at such elevations, but it would seem that the time I spent at sea level on my way here has made my body unaccustomed to such elevation change in such a sort period of time. I opted not to take any diamox (Acetazolamide) to help with altitude when it was offered to me at McMurdo station, I don't really like the way it makes me feel (dexamethasone is my preferred drug, but hey, that stuff makes you feel good, diamox does not). Anyhow, what I'm getting at, is the fact that the altitude got to me, headache, nausea, lack of apatite, and not much motivation to do much of anything, include post here. But here's proof none the less that I was there:
Overall, the experience was good, and I would have to say that I wouldn't mind going back there. Though, if I had to pick what my favorite station is, it would have to be Palmer, which I visited last spring (northern hemisphere spring). The facility is pretty much brand new, just being dedicated last year, and some rooms still have that "new building smell." So just how cold is it down there you ask? Well, the temp usually hovered around -25 degrees F with a windchill right around -50 F. It was surprisingly not as bad as I imagined it, though I have to say winter down here must be pretty harsh. The air is EXTREMELY dry, at around 5% humidity. I don't think I've ever been so thirsty. Just talking to people for any period of time made my throat sore. The snow is fun. Its pretty hard, and it makes a hollow squeaky noise when you walk on it. If you pick it up with your hands and crush it, it runs out like sand when you open your hand up again. There's always some amount of ice/snow crystals flying around in the air from the winds. The terrain itself is awe inspiring. I've never seen so much of just "nothingness." Flat snow in every direction, the only variation in it is caused by the community immediately surrounding the area.
Community wise, there were 255 people at the South Pole doing research, or supporting it when I was there. Most of them lived in what is known as "summer camp" outside the main station. They are a bunch of little half dome buildings... pictures coming soon, they're still on my camera. The other half live in the station itself. I was lucky enough to get a room in the main station. The rooms there though are anything but roomy and spacious. I think I've seen walk in in closets with more room. There's a sauna, a gym, workout room, library, arts and crafts, and other things to do while there too. About all I did though was read, as I didn't have much ambition for anything else.
Today I returned back to McMurdo. Our time at the pole was cut short due to the delays in flights coming down here, and the need for the bed space at pole. It was a mixed blessing. It was nice to get into the plane and almost immediately have my headache go away once they pressurized the cabin. There's a lot more science stuff I wanted to see at pole that I never had the time or opportunity to go check out though. Oh well. Guess that's it for about now. I'll work on some more pics and stuff for you all to see soon.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

McMurdo Life

Well, life at McMurdo has given me a throw back to my college years, kind of. Many of my colleagues have described this place as a cross between a College campus and a mining town and I would have to agree. From what I understand, do to the fact that I am staying here for a relatively short period of time, I have been placed in a building houses people who are also in for similarly short periods. What this means is that my room is about 10'x30' has 6 beds, 1 desk, 2 night stands, and one closet/wardrobe thingy. There are currently 4 of us in this room, and any attempt to control the temperature in the room fails. Its crazy hot, and no, I cannot open the window (without breaking it anyway), and that would be wasteful of the fuel spent to heat the place.
It was time to go to bed last night, and I can't say that I was all that tired, so, I figured I would take advantage of the 24 hours of sunlight here, and go on a walk. Well, I guess after sitting in a dark plane and dark buildings all day, exposure to the sun created the wrong balance of chemicals in my blood to induce sleepiness. I was more awake than ever. Oh well, off to bed I went anyway, only to interrupted by one of my roommates sawing down the Amazon rain forest, and at the rate he was going, it should be about gone by now. It took me a while, but I finally remembered that my ear buds isolate outside noise, and I figured a nice come album might help me fall asleep. Seemed to do the trick for a while. The "shutters" for my window don't stay shut, so there was a good amount of light flowing into the room. Once I woke up and noticed that I had a hard time falling back asleep again, any beneficial sleep from that point on was questionable.
The food, while not that bad, is not all that great either. Its buffet style, a lot like we had in the Lottie Nelson Dining hall, for any of my college classmates reading this. Yup, all you can eat, though you really ought not to eat all that much of this if you value your health. I should cut them some slack though, I'm only coming to this conclusion after 4 meals, and breakfast really shouldn't count. Anyhow, I don't think it would be hard to gain weight here if you aren't careful.
Life outside of work seems active, though I haven't gotten involved in to much yet, there seems to be plenty of choices. There are 3 bars, a gym, bowling alley, tap dancing classes, martial arts classes, a band, hikes, tours, clubs, etc. Lots of stuff posted to do. You just have to be extrovert enough to make an effort to get involved. I think if you really wanted to draw inward here and not be noticed, that too is possible.
So with that, I'll leave a little slide show of some pictures... as I had mentioned before, I have been taking a lot more, but don't really want to post them until I've processed them to look the way I want, and I don't have that software with me.