Despite two more flight delays (and two more days spent at Christchurch’s lovely restaurants and cafes), we finally got a good weather window for landing at McMurdo. I layered on all of my Extreme Cold Weather gear along with other United States Antarctic Program members and boarded the (borrowed) Australian Antarctic Program’s airbus A319 for a super-scenic flight.
The whole flight on this kind of plane takes about four and a half hours. Not too far south from Christchurch, the ocean starts to freeze. First, the ice veils the water in a thin, crackly crust that looks as fragile as an egg shell. It thickens to a solid white surface whose cracks reveal the water hidden below. Wouldn’t want to fall into one of these cracks…even from the plane, they look like they’d be big enough to swallow a semi:
I keep glancing out the window for the first sight of land. This far south in the southern hemisphere, this means I see first Antarctica’s Victorialand peaks rocketing up from the coast, all frozen and beautiful, reminding me what it is about this continent I love most: its untouched places, and the reminder that these places are still out there, somewhere.
As we get closer to McMurdo, everyone’s sprawled across the seats to see where we’ll be living and working for the next five months: Ross Island, Antarctica—home of McMurdo Station and hub of the United States Antarctic Program.
We know we’re close when we see steam rising from Mount Erebus, the southermost active volcano that dominates the Ross Island skyline. At 12,448 feet, Erebus puffs white clouds into the sky and displays some pretty gnarly crevasses in the area around its base:
We continue our descent towards a runway called Pegasus Field on the McMurdo Ice Shelf. As we swing around to land, we catch a quick glimpse of McMurdo Station, a ramshackle settlement tucked into the safety of Ross Island’s (grid) western edge:
And then just before we touch down, I see what I will look at every time I walk outside for the next five months: The Royal Society Range:
I don’t know exactly what makes these peaks so special to me, but I’ve always thought that their power has something to do with the distance. The ice shelf separates the coast of Antarctica from Ross Island, so when I look at them, I’m feel far away. A person can get comfortable anywhere, but these peaks remind me that even when I’m super happy at McMurdo, this place is nowhere near a home.