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14 February, 2000

Helicopter top the Palmer

I've had a busy day. I woke up at McMurdo, had a hurried breakfast and got all my stuff organized, as well as a lot of the equipment we are going to use for coring, etc. Then we were ferried out to the Nathaniel B. Palmer by Coast Guard helicopter. I got to ride in the front, skimming through a notch in the hills, then out over the ice, to land on the ice beside the ship. Then a crane from the ship lowered a basket type affair which we hopped onto, and were brought up on deck, fiddle, baggage and all. I've just come back in from being out on deck watching a scene which I'll try to describe. We are about a mile or two from the base at McMurdo. There is a strip of open water near the shore, maybe a quarter of a mile wide. It is dark blue, almost black with three or four foot waves, spray occasionally blowing off their tops. It is about 5 degrees and the wind is blowing at 20 mph.The sky is various shades of gray, about as dark as a winter evening at three in the afternoon. (It is a little brighter in the "daytime" i.e. six AM to six PM, but it is light twenty four hours here) The ice is white and flat, about five feet thick. There are six emperor penguins a hundred feet or so away on the ice, four lying down and two standing up, walking around and flapping their flippers. In the background are the hills of southern Ross Island, gray snow peppered with black rock. A couple of radar domes and a few antennas are stuck to the tops of the hills, but how they stay there I don't know. There is snow blowing around in the air, and three or four inches of it in protected places on the ship. The hills come and go as low gray clouds obscure the view, or blow clear. It is a cold and steely gray world.

We've been refueling from a coast guard ice breaker for the last four or five hours. The Coast Guard Ship had smashed a place up into the ice, maybe a quarter mile or so, and we followed them in and pulled up beside them, running a hose between the ships. When all this was done, the ice breaker pulled forward It actually started from a dead stop into five foot thick ice. We started maneuvering to turn around and go back out to the open water. In the process of doing so, the props and thrusters threw big blocks of broken ice and lighter blue green water up in buckled masses behind the ship. The ice blocks were the size of four or five cars, just rolled over and thrown on top of each other by the power of the ship. As we moved forward, jagged cracks opened and radiated from the ship, blue black lines on a white background. I was freezing cold but couldn't bear to come in off the deck, it was such a wild scene.

That's what this place is like. Labrador is wild, but this place is unearthly. There's so much more I could write but it is late at night here and I'm getting tired.

Following the Coast Guard icebreaker into the pack. The ice is four or five feet thick. The icebreaker goes right through it. The Nathaniel B. Palmer has a little bit more difficult time, but still can handle it.

I was only in McMurdo overnight, but I at least got a chance to climb Observation Hill.The cross was put up in 1913 in memory of Scott and his companions, who froze to death a couple of hundred miles south of here, after making it to the pole. That's Mcmurdo base at the bottom of the hill, the biggest town in Antarctica.

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