Monday, January 30, 2012

The ice shelf is indeed the ocean, and the joys of sleeping in a snow trench

 I took this picture as I was taking out the trash after a night of bartending. Still stops me in my tracks every time. You can see open water on the right side of the picture, compliments of the Russian icebreaker that's been milling about creating a path for the fuel tanker and resupply vessel. 
 This little guy (ok, he's really not that little, but the mountains make everything seem really small) has been doing circles for the past week or so breaking up the sea ice. While I've always known that I live on an island, there's an entirely different level of impact that occurs when you actually see a boat come in and turn your ice shelf into actual ocean.

It's been a busy past few weeks on my end. My time down here on the ice is coming to an end, and I've only got 16 days left. This is starting to slowly sink in, but I haven't had time to fully mull it over yet, and I probably won't be able to think about it until just before I leave because I'm deep in the throes of organizing things for the Under the Bed Gallery: Outside Notions of Antarctica show. The opening will be happening on Friday, February 9th from 7:30-10:30pm; feel free to hitch a ride on a C130 and come on down!

A huge thank you to everyone who sent me art: I received far too much to actually fit under my bed, which is a great problem to have. I've come up with a solution that I think will be entertaining for everyone, but more on that later...

A few weeks ago I got to go to Snow Survival School, AKA Happy Camper, AKA "that part in Encounters at the End of the World where everyone puts buckets on their heads." We learned how to make a quarry and use snow blocks to build wind walls, how to dig angled pits to anchor our tent stakes in the snow, and how to construct snow trenches. 

Building our camp kitchen. 

 Tents for those folks who weren't really excited about spending a few extra hours digging a big hole to sleep in. 

Speaking of tents, I'm going to digress for a minute to share with you some of my opinions about outdoor gear. My friend Matt Romero (who also keeps a blog and is better than I am about posting lots of pictures) has hiked the PCT a few times, and generally has some pretty strong opinions about ultralight backpacking. Matt is one of my closest friends down here, and a while back we had a serious test of our friendship because we ended up discussing gear. It turns out we disagree. Strongly. 

Matt gave a clinic on ultralight gear a few weeks ago, and he invited me to offer my opinions as a counterpoint to his talk. This was when I was still putting all my drawing time towards my travelogue, but ultralight disciples are such a pet peeve of mine that I decided I would somehow find time to contribute something. I drew these at the bar after perhaps a few too many whiskey gingers, so they're... uh... maybe a little harsh in their condemnation. But I stand behind the sentiments. 

Ok, back to Happy Camper: I opted to dig a snow trench. My room at McMurdo has four people in it, and there is just enough room for our beds. You can't actually walk from one end of the room to the other if any of our wardrobe doors are open, and one of my roommates is a Midrat (works night shift), so there is always someone asleep such that you can't turn the lights on. It's been fine, because I'm almost never in my room, but at times it does get old having my room be a tiny enclosed space that I must always navigate via headlamp. My trench was the first time I'd had any sort of space that was truly my own, and I relished the privacy of it. I pretended that I was Badger from The Wind in the Willows, and I really didn't want to come out. 

Taking a digging break. 

The view from inside before I put my roof (a sled balanced on two bamboo poles, covered in snow bricks) on. It was probably about 9pm when I took this picture. So many months of full sunlight... My circadian rhythms are all shot. Good thing there's no time to sleep anyways!

The next day we got to learn how to operate an old Vietnam era field radio. 

Yay for getting to actually play outside! I'm going to wrap up this post for now, but I'll give you a sneak peek of the topic I'll be sharing in my next post: 

This is the fuel tanker than just showed up last week. It's bringing us six million gallons of fuel, and they let me take a tour.... 


  1. Woohoo! Thanks for the post! And the drawings! And the pics! (But no buckethead pics?) Regardless, thanks - your blog is making me ice-sick again...

    -pablo (Pole 2010-2011, also ex-Seattle and nursing a love-hate relationship with performance fabrics)

    1. Thanks pablo! I'm curious about pole... would love to make it down there in some future season. Seems like the pace is a bit slower and would leave more time for various art projects? You coming back at some point or was it just a one season thing for you?

  2. It's selfish of me, I know, but I wish you could stay there longer so I could keep getting these strange, wonderful reports.

    1. Hehe, thanks for that. I imagine I will probably keep posting about this place long after I'm gone, as I have about 8 million things I'd like to write/draw about, and once I'm back in seattle, I will (gasp!) have TIME.