Origins ANTARCTICA, Scientific Journeys from McMurdo to the Pole
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The green gardens of Christchurch. Click for a larger image


South to McMurdo
by Paul Doherty and Noel Wanner

November 30, 2001

What do you see in your mind when you think of Antarctica? For us, no matter how much we've read about it, we have no way to accurately gauge what's in store. Antarctica exists as a great white space in our minds, a blank-- like a sheet of ice. So we pack our stuff in San Francisco and wonder: how many pairs of socks should you take to the South Pole? What would you pack?

Once we leave San Francisco, it's a mere 13 hours in the air, and then we're in Christchurch, New Zealand. Everything here grows green and lush, and this green seems precious, as it's the last vegetation we'll see for six weeks-- Antarctica is one of the driest places on earth, despite being covered in ice. We wander the streets, picking up last minute items-- a few cartons of milk as gifts for the scientists we're going to meet, as the milk at McMurdo Station is of the powdered variety.

Racks of Extreme Cold Weather Gear. Click for a larger image

The day before our flight, we go to the U.S. Antarctic Center to try on our Extreme Cold Weather clothing (ECW for short). Then we have a last dinner, a nervous celebration, and early to bed. The shuttle arrives at 5:45 a.m and takes us back to the Antarctic Terminal, where we don our ECW gear and sit around sweating, until the New Zealand Air Force C-130 transport plane is ready to take us across one of the wildest stretches of ocean on earth, to Antarctica.

The cheerful Kiwi crew wedge us in to the tiny spaces left in between the huge pallets of cargo headed for the ice: scientific instruments and food, plus our video gear. The big engines roar, and the crew hands out earplugs. We sit pressed against our neighbors, our feet interlaced with those across the aisle, and we sweat in our bulky parkas. Once we're off the ground, the old Antarctica pros sought out the first class cabin--stretched out on top of the boxes of payload! (This is only allowed on New Zealand aircraft, not U.S.)

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