Flying South

My stepping off point in early December was Christchurch - a lovely city, still laid low by the devastating earthquakes of 2011. I went to the National Science Foundation’s Clothing Distribution Centre (NSF’s CDC) adjacent to the Christchurch airport to get kitted out with the appropriate extreme cold weather (ECW) clothing that I would need - all I had to provide was my long underwear and socks and the NSF provides the rest!

The height of Antarctic fashion this year.

The height of Antarctic fashion this year.

On December 6th, we all woke at 5am, with our bags sorted and labelled to find out that our flight South had been postponed for 24hrs and that we would get to repeat the whole process the next morning and perhaps the morning after that. Sometimes departing flights can be delayed for up to two weeks with anxious polar travelers never quite knowing from day to day if their trip will happen. Weather is king in Antarctica and rules all comings and goings. Despite the regularity of polar flying everyone is very careful of weather, visibility and runway conditions. At least it is summer in New Zealand, so at 5am I got to enjoy a beautiful fiery red dawn.

The highlight of my stay in Christchurch was the chance to spend time at the Christchurch Art Gallery. A spectacular glass wave of a building with world class work on show. I always enjoy seeing work in New Zealand Museums and reacquainting myself with leading New Zealand artists and seeing their work in an international context.

“Geology” 2016.   Haines & Hinterding

“Geology” 2016. Haines & Hinterding

I was fortunate to catch “Energies: Haines & Hinterding” - a major retrospective of two Australian artists who I’ve long admired Joyce Hinterding and David Haines. We share an interest in VLF radio transmissions and the construction of sculptural apparatus which detect and display the subliminal energies which are swirling around us at all times - but which evolution has selected to ignore (at least in our species). Or perhaps those energies aren’t really invisible to us and we do detect and are influenced by them - some of that subliminal awareness might be classified by us as the supernatural. Haines & Hinterding have constructed a fascinating array of apparatus and installations to help us experience these energies in action. You can enjoy the work virtually here -

“Earthstar” 2008.   Haines & Hinterding

“Earthstar” 2008. Haines & Hinterding

Seeing this work and enjoying their approach to the electromagnetic realm was a perfect provocation heading to the Ice.

Luckily on December 7th, we got to fly. We trooped out to the CDC again with all of our suitably tagged bags. Changed into our ECW (extreme cold weather) gear despite the warm and wet Christchurch weather and after having my bags (110lb) and myself and carry-on gear (240lbs) weighed and approved we got on a bus out on to the runway to climb aboard the Hercules transport plane and strap in.

350lbs of stuff - including me.

350lbs of stuff - including me.

Traveling by Herc is a treat in itself. These planes have been working hard, transporting people and supplies to the Ice for decades, lovingly cared for by their crews and ground staff. The newest of the planes were built in the 60’s and it’s a testament to their crews that they are still flying into the harshest conditions on the planet. We flew on a Royal New Zealand Air Force C- 130, strapped to webbing seats with our stuff all piled around us a huge pallet of freight loaded amidships and the guts of the plane exposed. It sounds painful but I found the 8-hour flight way more comfortable and enjoyable than the cramped coach American Airline’s flight from LA. On the plastic “Dreamliner” all I had to distract myself from the discomfort and bad food was hours of Hollywood crap playing on the back of the seat back way too close in front of me. On the Herc, all of the workings of the plane were exposed, and we could wander around at will and stretch out on comfy down jackets with good reading material (I was enjoying “Mountains of Madness” by my fellow passenger John Long - the recounting of his multi-week deep filed trip into the Trans-Antarctic Mountains in the early 90’s searching for Devonian fish fossils).

The only disconcerting factors were the loud constant drone of the props and the fact that the crew would wander by from time to time and open a hatch and check on the exposed machinery with a flashlight - what were they checking for exactly???

The portholes provided breathtaking views of the white-capped Southern Ocean, followed by occasional glimpses of aquamarine bergs, then huge slab tabular bergs and fractured sea ice and finally the continent itself.

That’ s ice and snow down there, not a cloud in the sky!

That’ s ice and snow down there, not a cloud in the sky!

After 8 hours in the air we approached Pegasus airbase for a perfectly smooth landing on the McMurdo Ice Shelf. Getting off on the ice! It was almost impossible squeezing through that tiny door in our full cold weather gear with all of our bags. But at last I was in Antarctica!!!!!