Arrival in McMurdo

Planes land on the snow-covered ice shelf at the McMurdo research station. It’s flat. In cooler weather, you can land a wheeled plane on the ice. Passengers prefer this because then you can fly on a C-17, which only takes five hours from Christchurch. Warmer December and January weather makes the ice shelf a little too mushy for wheels, requiring skis on the planes. In that case, you have to take the slower C-130.

We’re still early in the season now, just touching into spring, so we rode in on a giant, military matte-gray C-17. The interior of the C-17 is much rougher than a commercial plane, with plenty of space for cargo. Cargo like a shipping container and a…helicopter.

Helicopter on board the C-17

Helicopter on board the C-17

I must admit, when I stepped out of the C-17 and onto the ice shelf, I was grinning like a fool.

We boarded a long, red, bus-like snow vehicle with thick wheels and a max speed of 2 mph when going uphill. On the hour-long ride we passed rippled pressure ridges in the ice, which gets pushed towards the land and then pushed backwards by sea ice. Getting into McMurdo Station, we lucked out majorly with the weather. It was sunny, relatively warm (-23°C), and without wind. Nearly tropical, compared to what I’d been preparing myself for.

We were briefed as soon as we got into station, a strangely sprawling mass of warehouses, colorful cargo containers, and dormitories. I’d been told to prepare for ugliness, an army-base-like town. It’s not aesthetic, for sure, though it’s also undoubtedly less organized than a military establishment. Perhaps it’s just new eyes, but it looked…happy. Colors and business and purpose.

Being in a dorm gives a distinct college feeling to the place. Our dorm has two to a room, with very decent bathrooms across the hallway. And the mattresses are plush! Way better than what I sleep on at home. All in all, pretty impressed with the place, considering how difficult it is to get materials to the island.