Why I love Antarctica
Reason # 1
The continent itself.
Antarctica has to be one of the least accessible places in the world. Just being here and getting to stand on the continent is a pretty special feeling. Knowing that I get to see things most people will never have a chance to see. My very first season I worked at the South Pole station. As I flew from McMurdo (the main station) to the pole, I could hardly comprehend the scale of what I saw. At times glaciers span practically to the horizon on both sides. There were so many more dramatic peaks and valleys than I had imagined.
Once I started working at McMurdo Station, I became awed by the crazy seasonal changes I witnessed. This station is located on a small island connecting into the Ross Ice Shelf. Our main airfield is on the ice shelf (glacier floating on the ocean). We also used to have a temporary airfield on the sea ice in front of station. That first season we went from landing C17’s land on sea ice to beach front property. I would catch glimpses of whales and penguins on my walk to work!
This is just one example of how it changes so dramatically from season to season. Eventually, I became so invested in witnessing how these continent changes that I decided to stay for winter. That was the season I worked in Antarctica for 14 incredible months. People always wonder if winter was dark and terrible. NO! It was amazing. Full of spectacular changes in the sky. Once the sun goes down for winter, the moon becomes a new wonder. It comes up for 2 weeks a month doing circles in the sky. You can watch it slowly wax and wane. Once the moon goes down, it becomes much easier to watch Auroras. Throughout it all, the stars are the most incredible and vibrant thing you have ever witnessed. Words and photos don’t do it justice.
Every season I get at least one ‘National Geographic’ moment. Where the views and experience is so powerful it will feed my soul and sustain me for months.
- One moment was when I got to help a scientist at the Adele penguin rookery
- Another year I flew right next to the Erebus crater and got to watch steam rise out of it
- Making eye contact with an orca whale
- Being in the room when scientist discovered a new species of fish under the ice shelf
- Nacreous Clouds– It’s as if Van Gough is painting the sunsets
Every year it is different, and I LIVE for these moments.
Why I love Antarctica Reason # 2
As my work and job titles have changed, so too has my percentage of breathtaking moments. The jobs I’ve worked down here have enriched my life in unpredictable ways. I’ve gained trade skills, learned equipment operating, and other skills that have come in handy when I’m back home.
My first season I was a diesel mechanic assistant working with heavy equipment. It wasn’t glamorous, and I wouldn’t even try to say I was good at it, but it certainly gave me a crash course into working on machinery. The next season I joined the Fuels Department. This job involved all things with the movement of fuel. Once again, not glamorous but in my opinion- one of the best jobs on station if you want to see things. Everything runs off of fuel down here, from the building heat, powerplant, water treatment, to aircraft and vehicles. This job had me outside. Every day. All day. In almost all weather. I consider the years I worked in fuels to be the BEST teacher I ever had for managing my health and safety in the cold.
This is a video from 2015 showing my layering system:
My work shifted in 2014 and again in 2018 as I began to work in Field Support and Training. My work in Antarctica now integrates my skills from back home. My job is truly an extension of my career and Gut-Z Journey’s mission, but with an Antarctica specific twist. I get to teach about things I find interesting, including cold injuries, altitude and survival strategies etc. I get to think about and implement risk management training and practice my SAR related skills including rigging.
Perhaps most special, I get to apply all the outdoor guide work I’ve done into understanding and working in the unique field environments that Antarctica has. Sea ice has been my main focus of late. It’s has similarities to working on a glacier but is not the same. The hazards are close but different. It truly challenges me (in mostly good ways). Challenge = growth and I am so grateful to continue to grow my outdoor skills.
Why do I love Antarctica Part 3
There are so many amazing people down here. They are smart, interesting, talented, full of layers and really incredible surprises. I get to learn from world class scientists. I work with talented trades folks, who know how to build and fix things in the harshest of environments. We sit at the same tables, sharing stories, jokes and laughs. A conversation could drift from philosophy to techniques on how to bulldoze and fill in a crevasse so that tractors can drive over it. It’s not your typical table talk. I LOVE it.
I am as guilty as anyone of getting into ruts, especially living in an outdoorsy town with a business based around mountains. It’s great to have people and opportunities that remind me of all the other things I enjoy. Like artwork, dancing, jewelry making. Heck, I’ve even been convinced to take up playing cribbage. For those of you who know me well, you know that I DO NOT play games. Oh yeah, and I’m back to teaching yoga again too. All because the community pull is so strong that you want to serve others. Many people volunteer to keep community events happening and boost or moral when far from home.
We all give up a lot to come down here. Our families and friends. The convenience of being able to choose your own food, or quickly buy something and have it delivered with in 3 days to your doorstep. But we gain a new friend and our own sort of ice family. We all become thriftier and learn to make do with less. All good life skills.
I know that I have been enriched by the friends I’ve made down here. Every season I make a new friend that I will be in touch with for years to come. My friends are a big part of what keeps bringing me back year after year.