Well, my fourth season on the ice has come to an end. I've left Antarctica and flown back to Christchurch, New Zealand.
It has been a crazy few days! I had scheduled to finish my field work last Friday, leaving myself a few days in "Mactown" (McMurdo Station) before my scheduled flight back to Christchurch today. I needed to prepare samples for shipment, fill out paperwork and reports, and put away equipment and gear. However, because of the bad weather, I didn't finish my field work until yesterday! So, yesterday, I said my goodbye to the dry valleys, and spent the evening busily wrapping up the season.
Here's the last view I had on the ground in the dry valleys. It's taken from the Bonney Riegel just before I boarded the helicopter. The weather was very cloudy and cold, but there was a small patch of blue sky!
In addition, our crew from Colorado State University joined us on the ice yesterday, so there were more people in the lab. (Though, at this point, we were still missing one person from our group, Ross, who had gotten delayed in Boston.)
Because the first part of the season was so unusually warm, there's been a lot more melting of ice than in previous years. The runway that the US Air Force airplanes use is built on the ice. Last week, a plane taking off damaged the runway because it was too soft. So, they've decided to only land C-17's on it at night when temperatures are at their coldest. This means that Ross, the final member of our group, left Christchurch on the plane at 11:00 pm last night. While he was still in the air, at 2:00 AM, I left McMurdo and rode Ivan the Terrabus to Pegasus Airfield. There, we waited for the C-17 to land. (You can see it coming in the distance.)
At 4 AM, the C-17 landed, Ross deboarded and got on Ivan, then I got on the C-17. We traded places! They keep the incoming and outgoing passengers separated, so I didn't get to say "hi" to Ross, but I saw him in the stream of folks loading their gear onto Ivan.
Because there was a lot of work to do, plus new teammates in town to visit with before I left, and I had to report for transport so early in the morning, I didn't go to bed last night. (Luckily I had company, as Jenn and Mike stayed up with me until 2 AM to keep me company. They're great team mates!) So I am very sleepy! But, it's nice to be back in Christchurch where everything is warm and green. Tomorrow morning I catch my flight out of Christchurch to begin the long journey back to Phoenix.
So there you have it: the end of the field season! Of course, I can't sign off without announcing the winner of this year's Best Camp Hair Competition. The winner is...
Mike will celebrate by eating a favorite food amongst all the dry valleys inhabitants: a beef stick. But that's not just any beef stick. That's a Beef Stick of Victory.
Congratulations, Mike! Your dream of ruling the camp hair competition has finally come true.