Hello World!

My name is Danielle and I’ve put together this blog to chronicle my adventures at the South Pole.

In 2021 I wintered-over at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station as a Research Associate (a record of those adventures can be found under ‘Winter 21’). I had an absolutely fantastic year and now, in November of 2023, I will be returning to the South Pole as one of the BICEP winter-over scientists! Below you will find a record of this newest adventure under ‘Winter 24’. I also have a page dedicated to general Antarctica/South Pole information found under ‘Codex’.

I do hope you enjoy following along!

If you would like to receive an email when I add new posts please let me know at danielle@wildantarctic.com.

Or follow on Instagram @wildantarctic

Of Planes, and Things, and Building Teams

First godd*mn week of winter – MacReady

On February 15, the last LC-130 (the big military planes that are the primary cargo and personnel carriers to the South Pole) left with the last 30ish summer personnel (technically 2 people hung around for 4 more days helping offload fuel but eh, who’s counting?) thereby isolating us 41 winterovers (technically we were 39 at that point, 2 more people came 4 days later when the aforementioned 2 people left (the fact that it was 2 in and 2 out is oddly enough coincidental)). Some people consider this to be when the station is ‘closed’. But it didn’t really feel like we had closed as the South Pole Overland Traverse was still here offloading fuel and we had 6 planes and their crews scheduled to fly through to get fuel on their way to the Western Peninsula and the North. Nevertheless, we started transitioning into ‘winter-mode’ (no more brunch on Sundays, very sad).

One of the first bits of business once our full crew of 41 was assembled was to gather together in the gym for team building activities. While I recognize that these types of things are important, I don’t really like making paper (or cardboard, in this case) airplanes. It was, however, nice for all of us to be in a room together and get to know each other a little bit more. And while, in some ways, all of these team building activities are designed to simulate how we’d work together in real difficult/trying times, none of them are really as telling, in my opinion, as the real thing. Which is why it was somewhat ironic that, at the very end of our team building day, the elevator that is used to transport food and supplies from our under-snow storage warehouse broke. Without this elevator we would have to carry, by hand, roughly 1,000 pounds of food up about 7 flights of stairs every week, for the rest of the winter. That sounded awful. So. We took advantage of it still being relatively warm and light outside (mostly because this means we can still use heavy equipment to do most of the heavy lifting) and over 3 days with all 41 crew members helping move over 34,000 pounds of food and supplies to the station where it will be easily accessible over the winter. It was really wonderful seeing everyone come together to accomplish such a big thing (much better than building paper airplanes).

The second bit of ‘business’ to complete was the South Pole tradition of having a movie marathon where we watch all three iterations of ‘The Thing’ (from 1951, 1982, and 2011) when the station closes. Often this means before the last planes finish demobilizing but we decided as a crew that we wanted to wait until we were really alone and no one was coming or going (this was due, in part, to the number of us who would have to be involved in flight operations and we really wanted everyone to get to enjoy the movies together). As a special treat this year, our preventative maintenance foreman had reached out and was able to coordinate an interview with John Carpenter (director of the 1982 ‘The Thing’)! He had evidently never heard of our tradition of watching his movie and he was probably just as excited to talk to us as we were to talk to him.

And now the sun is getting really low! This is one of my favorite times of the year because it is always so pretty outside. But soon enough we will have stars and auroras, and I am so excited!

A Season In Review

To the surprise of absolutely no one (except maybe myself, somehow), I have been incredibly busy.

My days (or rather, working hours, it’s always daytime here) have been filled with learning about the telescope I’ll be looking after over the winter and helping to perform some routine (and not-so-routine) maintenance. The building that houses my telescope if just over half a mile from station and walking out and back multiple times a day in the -20F (this is ok) to -50F (this is brr) weather has led to the over doubling of my pre-Pole daily step count.

My evenings have been filled with all manner of social activities (and some much needed nights of rest/introvert time). I played in a D&D campaign, watched many movies (we started on a disaster movie binge once the summer crew started leaving), sang karaoke, performed in a flute duet, and went to a bubble wrap disco. Not to mention countless nights just hanging out and getting to know the many people who were choosing to call the South Pole home.

I do find myself looking forward to the winter when the population is smaller and the hectic energy of the summer dies down.

But as the summer draws to a close I want to share some of my favorite pictures from the season (with no context :p )

Photo courtesy of Josh Veitch-Michaelis

Photo courtesy of Josh Veitch-Michaelis

Photo courtesy of Kevin Zagorski

Photo courtesy of Josh Veitch-Michaelis

Here We Come A-Caroling

While I realize that there are easier ways to have a white Christmas, both of mine have been at the South Pole. And much like everyone has their own Christmas traditions, we have ours here too. Possibly the most exciting of which is an amazing dinner prepared by our galley staff; they pull out all the stops and we break out the fancy decorations and even have a ‘fire’ to eat by.

Christmas Day kicks off with the annual Race Around the World. Three years ago, I joined the onesie clad racers (I was a unicorn) in the 2 to 3 mile race (part of which involves going around the geographic pole, thereby going ‘around the world’). This year, I joined the ‘marching band’ (and even won the award for best costume!).

Photo courtesy of Josh Veitch-Michaelis

Photo courtesy of Tim Lynch

The last Christmas I was here, a bunch of us gathered together in the Communications room and sang carols with other stations across the continent. This year we all bundled onto a sled pulled by a tracked vehicle and drove out to the tourist camp that is set up not far from station. Once there, we sang carols before heading back home.

Being away from family for the holidays is probably the toughest part of being here. But thankfully with reasonable internet and understanding family, it is still possible to share in the holiday cheer 🙂

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

So Much For Relative Calm

In what should really be less of a surprise, my flight to McMurdo from Christchurch was not delayed (well technically we were delayed a few hours for weather (I don’t know that there has been a completely on time flight all season)). I arrived in McMurdo just in time for Thanksgiving which was observed on Saturday (though Black Friday was still on Friday (yes, there are Black Friday sales, even in Antarctica)). While I had spent two Thanksgivings at Pole, I had never experienced the affair at McMurdo. The large population requires that everyone sign up for one of multiple seatings and a huge line forms waiting to get in to the galley before each one. The food, decorations, and company were all wonderful!

In total I ended up spending four days in McMurdo (significantly less than the three weeks I spent there last time I deployed). I primarily occupied myself with various craft projects I had been working on as well as catching up on some work. And then, in what was an even greater surprise than my flight to McMurdo, my flight to Pole wasn’t delayed either (well technically there was a mechanical delay for a few hours but I’ll take what I can get)!

I had forgotten how exhausting adjusting to altitude is. Not to mention the fire hose of information I needed to absorb for my new role. So far my time here has been a blur. My days are filled with learning how to maintain the telescope I will be responsible for as well as help out the rest of my team on the other telescope they run.

And while I am very tired and busy, I am so happy to be here. Being back feels so good and while it is overwhelming, I am excited for the busy summer season and can’t wait until the winter!

Leaving On a Jet Plane

Well, I suppose it was actually 3 jet planes but who’s counting :p

In all seriousness though, it’s so wild that after months of planning, packing, and goodbyes, I am on my way. My flights to Christchurch, New Zealand were generally uneventful; I even managed to get a reasonable amount of sleep on the long-haul flight over the Pacific. I’m scheduled to be here for a few days, sorting out gear issue and various other trainings (and visiting as many local coffee shops as I can!).

So much of the process is weird to me, mostly because I feel that I’ve done it before, just not quite like this. Last time I deployed, because of the managed quarantine, all of my ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear was delivered to my hotel for me to try on and sort out if I needed new sizes. This time everything is back to the ‘normal’ procedure of going to the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center) at the International Antarctic Centre. Last time, we were always shuttled around together in a rather large cohort. This time I think there will be less than 20 people on my flight and we are mostly responsible for getting ourselves around. None of these are difficult changes but it’s odd to have heard that this was normal and now experience it.

If all goes to plan, I won’t be here that long, so I’m doing my best to enjoy the relative calm while it lasts!

I Survived the Elk Rut

After fire brigade training, we bundled ourselves up and flew together to Colorado where we met up with another quarter of our future crew who had been completing basic EMT training. Since I had been on the fire team last time I wintered, I considered asking to join the medical team this go around, but ultimately I decided that I’m just a bit too squeamish and I’d rather run into a burning building than take someone’s blood. The medical team had completed their training in Denver so they collected us at the airport and the 21 of us drove out to Estes Park for 3 days of teambuilding.

I suppose it speaks to the engagement of the sessions that I don’t really have many pictures. I took some after the fact, but not actually during many of the activities. Except, of course, for the cardboard boat building challenge. Yes, that is correct, we were tasked to build boats that were each capable of transporting a real person across real water using little more than cardboard, duct tape, and plastic sheets.

And so, we built many boats.

Some proved pool-worthy.

Some did not.

And some became motor boats.

At the end of the three days, we hadn’t completed any trust falls or kumbaya group hugs, but we had completed many activities focused on effective communication, planning, and self-awareness. While I had done some of these things before my last winter, hearing them again after having wintered put them in a different perspective. And it also almost goes without saying but being able to do these kinds of teambuildings in person felt so much more impactful than doing them online had. It was so much fun getting to know my future winterovers and bonding over our successes and frustrations. I think we are going to have a really great crew, and I can’t wait!

What? You don’t have hose lines!?

Last time I deployed, I completed fire brigade training in McMurdo (see post here). Since we were being trained in an active fire station and not a training facility and because of other, Antarctica related, restrictions, we focused on learning 2-minute drills and search procedures. So, this time around, I was very excited to go to an official fire school and get to practice with, well, fire.

Myself and several other members of the 2024 winterover crew met in Jacksonville for a week of learning about how fire behaves and how to put it out. The instructors were great and really embraced trying to teach us skills and techniques that would be applicable for us at the South Pole where there isn’t really any water with which to put out fires (though they kind of thought that we’re crazy).

The week culminated with us putting on our bunker gear and watching an incipient flame grow into a roaring fire. Many of the search techniques I’d learned before made much more sense after seeing the heat and smoke layers slowly descend from the ceiling (it’s really obvious when you can/can’t see and when you don’t want to be standing up!).

And, of course, the week would not have been complete without an appropriately epic group photo :p

Since I’ve Been Gone

Before embarking on my new adventure, I wanted to first briefly sum up the time between my last post (in September 2021) and now. My last winter wrapped up quickly and (relatively) uneventfully. I helped make a movie, had a phone call with the North Pole, ran to Mordor, celebrated the return of the sun, and so much more. It all went by in such a blur; it’s crazy to think about everything that happened those last few months.

Then, before I knew it, the 2021 summer crew had arrived and was settling in. I spent the next month or so training the new RAs who would be taking over my responsibilities, helping build and design the 2021 Winterover group photo and frame, and slowly watching the majority of the people I had spent the last 9 months with board planes and fly away. Until, on November 29, it was my turn to board a plane and watch my home disappear into the Antarctic plateau.

Photo courtesy of Martin Wolf

I was very fortunate to spend about a month traveling around (a mostly deserted) New Zealand. While I was very excited to feel rain and go swimming, I was not prepared for how sensitive my skin had become after not being exposed to the sun for a year. I promptly got sunburned all over (even the backs of my hands! I don’t think the backs of my hands have ever been sunburned before). After much hiking, camping, wine tasting, alpaca feeding, and driving, I headed back to Florida.

Photos courtesy of Josh Veitch-Michaelis

I started a new job in Disney’s marketing analytics group. Growing up in Florida, Disney had always been a part of my life and I wanted to give a more traditional job a try. But after about a year I could feel the ice calling me back.

And that (mostly) brings us to now. I will be deploying in November as one of two winterovers for the BICEP experiment (one of the telescopes at Pole). I still have a lot to do to get ready but I can’t wait!

Contact Me!

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact me at danielle@wildantarctic.com 

Some Legal Stuff

This website, www.wildantarctic.com, and all content that is provided under this domain, are private and not intended for any commercial use.

I do not claim any content to be accurate information rather than a product of my imagination or a reproduction of personal memories. The views and opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone.

All contents, including texts and images, are (if not stated otherwise) created by myself and are subject to copyright. If you want to use my texts or images for your non-commercial purposes, feel free to contact me at danielle@wildantarctic.com .

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