Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More Crozier Pictures

Here are some more pictures from my recent trip to Cape Crozier. I didn't take the one of the leopard seal, it's from USAP.gov. (It was shot at Crozier.) In one picture you can see all of Mount Erebus, with its ever present plume. In that one we are over a shoulder of Mount Terror, headed back to Mac Town. The other mountain picture is Mount Terror-- the summit is a little hard to make out. In the picture that shows the Ross Ice shelf, you can just barely make out a dirty edge to the sea ice, way down in the distance. That is actually hundreds of emperor penguins. For scale, the ice shelf is about a hundred feet high over the sea.

Another Cool Ride

About a week ago I got to go for another really cool ride at work. We have been having a hard time getting the wireless data service to the penguin camp at Cape Crozier working properly, so we went to fix it. We dropped two people on top of Mt Terror, and I was dropped off at the Crozier camp with a network engineer. Cape Crozier is the site of a HUGE penguin rookery. There are around 300,000 adelie penguins there, and a few hundred emperor penguins. Turns out we didn't have to do much on our end, so we got a chance to look around. The penguins are hatching right now, so we couldn't get very close, but got close enough to take a few telephoto pictures of some adelies. In the distance we could see the emperors on the ice edge, but didn't get close enough to photograph them. We saw a few minke whales playing in the bay. Some of the other techs are jaded after a long history of flying around in helicopters, but I'm still really stoked at the opportunity to get out of town. I'll continue to post pictures of my summer adventures. (Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Crozier http://noahstrycker.com/blog/2009/01/27/helo-to-cape-crozier/ http://volcano.oregonstate.edu/vwdocs/volc_images/antarctica/terror.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Terror_(Antarctica))

Friday, December 11, 2009

Ride in the Blue One

It's coming up on a month now that I've been back at McMurdo. It's going pretty well, but there have been a few down sides. One my cohorts on the trip down infected all of us with the "McMurdo Crud". It's really just a cold or flu, but for some reason down here it packs more of a whallop. I've had it for over three weeks now, and I'm finally shaking it. I have a great immune system, and I can't remember EVER having a cold for more than a week. I pretty much got sick the day I hit the ice, so I'm really looking forward to being healthy.

The job is way different in the summer. Now we have helicopters, so a lot of the time we are flying around to various exotic mountaintops to fix or install radio gear. In the winter it was more just hanging around the shop, fixing radios and charging batteries and stuff-- not too exotic. That's one of the reasons I decided to come back for the summer-- it's a much sexier job when the sun's up.

Earlier in the week, I got a chance to fly in the fanciest of the five helicopters we have down here. The regular stable consists of two Bell 212s, and two A-Stars. The Kiwis brought this beautiful new blue one down to replace their old 212. I believe it is a Eurocopter EC-130. We had to fly out to the top of Mt Aurora, to fix a VHF repeater that had stopped working. It was a very windy day, so the helos had been grounded for most of the day, waiting for calmer weather. In the afternoon they decided to make a run for it. We loaded up our gear, and took off from the helo pad. The blue helo is very quiet-- I guess they are used exclusively at the Grand Canyon for that reason. We flew out across the sea ice and the Ross Ice Shelf at about a thousand feet. Mt Aurora is the highest point on Black Island, where McMurdo's satellite earth station resides, along with a bunch of other communications gear. (http://tinyurl.com/y878bt2) We landed the blue bird near the top of the mountain in howling winds. The pilot shut down and waited for us to do our work. After a bit, he started back up again, and landed in a more sheltered location. Coworker Mike and I replaced the broken dipole antenna on the repeater-- it had failed from constant exposure to the insane winds that Black Island sees (we saw through our remote monitoring system that winds had exceeded 200 MPH at one time last winter).

After checking to make sure the repeater was happy again, we schlepped our gear down to the helo, and loaded up. That's probably about the sixth time I had ridden in a helo, and it was definitely the spookiest. The pilots here are incredibly good, ours included, but taking off and landing a helicopter in high, gusty winds is just scary. I will surely get to do some more flying this summer-- I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Back at Mac

What a strange and interesting life I have. Six weeks ago I left McMurdo, for a period of wonderful traveling. Seems like the blink of an eye, and here I am-- back again. It is so much warmer than it was when I left, and it's light all the time. The work will be quite a bit different, too. A lot of flying around in helicopters, installing and maintaining mountaintop repeaters and stuff. It'll be a nice change after the relatively mundane wintertime work routine.
I wasted no time in contracting the McMurdo Crud. There are always a lot of viruses making the rounds on the ice, and it's pretty much given that we will all be exposed to them, until we gain our immunity. I felt funky right on arrival, and it has escalated into the strong sensation of having a colony of rabid prairie dogs inhabiting my lung tissue. I went to the doc to get some cough medicine this morning, and he recommended that I take a couple of days off of work. There really isn't much to do in the daytime, so it's not a big treat to play hookie. I've been reading a good book about Lewis and Clark's expedition, which has helped to pass the time. Fingers crossed that the germs will subside, and I can go do some work.

(The first picture is Conan at his new/old home in Helena. The other are taken in the C-17 I took to the ice.)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dog Parkin'

After leaving Kauai, I headed to Oahu for a couple of days. I stayed in a big, funky backpacker on the north shore (near Sunset Beach). On my way out, I decided to have another little urban adventure. I stayed at the Honolulu YMCA. It was old and funky, and very cheap for Honolulu. I don't think I'll stay there again, but it was a fun experiment. I had a single room for something like $42.
My plane leaving HNL had mechanical problems, so American footed the bill for a nice room on the 19th floor of the Waikiki Beach Marriott. Not bad! I hung around on the beach for a while and nursed a bad sunburn from Kauai.
I came back to the states, and picked up Conan right away. We've been hanging around at dog parks near my dad's place in Louisville, Colorado. This morning we're back in Helena-- I'm sadly dropping him off at his parents' house for another few months. I got an offer to do a short summer contract back on the ice that I just can't pass up.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

More Na Pali Pics

These were taken by the "first mate" on our Zodiac.

Na Pali to the Big City

I was so thrilled by my brief (but painful) hike up the Na Pali coast on the north shore of Kauai, that I thought it would be worth another day to take one of the cruises that see the coast from the ocean. There are different kinds-- sailboats, catamarans, helicopters, and some that use small rubber Zodiacs. I picked the last one-- sounded like more of an adventure. It was-- holy cow! We loaded about twenty of us, plus the captain and the first mate up at the boat launch (it isn't really a harbor) at Waimea. We had to blast through 5'-6' surf for about an hour to get around to the north shore, which was calmer. It was so calm, in fact, that we got to go into many sea caves that are almost always inaccessible due to high surf. I estimate we entered ten sea caves, including two that had a separate entrance and exit. I can't put in to words how awesome (and scary) it is to drive a boat into a pitch black cave with the surf surging up and down, navigating around to a separate exit. At one point Chris, the captain/pilot pulled in to a very cool cave with a waterfall splashing down through a "skylight" in the top of the cave. We took some pictures there. Chris said "this view was the photo that was on the cover of National Geographic’s special book on the most beautiful places on earth. I believe it. We then backed out of the cave, and proceeded back up the coast, where we entered a pitch dark cave. Turns out it was a "U" shaped cave, and we came back out where the skylight waterfall was. That was one of the most awesome moments of my life. You can see photos and videos at their web site: http://napaliriders.com/. In addition to the cool caves, the peaks and cliffs of the Na Pali coast are some of the most awesome geological features anywhere, and the clarity of the water is completely amazing. It is the color of Windex, and you can see the bottom through forty feet of water as though it were a bathtub. We went snorkeling with tiny Spinner Dolphins, and stopped at one point to tie up, bait some fish, and snorkel around them. Never having worked a snorkel before, it was a little frustrating for me. I haven't figured out the part of not drinking a gallon of water through your sinuses yet. It'll probably be more fun when I master that part.

After Na Pali, I explored some more of Kauai by land. I drove my slick rented Mustang convertible all over the place. The surf at Hanalei was very weak, or I might have spent more time there. I'm no surfer, but I love watching huge waves crash. It stayed dry for my entire visit on Kauai until the last day, when it rained almost all day. I used that as an excuse to explore by car some more. I spent my last night in Lihue to be close to the airport, and flew out without incident. Because of the way my tickets lined up, I was forced to spend a couple of days in Oahu, which I didn't really relish. I pictured hanging around all day downtown, trying to evade the tourists. What I failed to take into account is that these Hawaiian islands are TINY. I drove all the way up to the north shore of Oahu in less than an hour. I stayed at a big, funky backpacker at Shark's Cove, adjacent to Sunset Beach, and the famous Banzai Pipeline. I spent a little too much time on the beach yesterday, and I resemble a lobster today. A local bloke struck up a conversation about surfing and dirt bikes, and I stood around in the sun like a brain-dead lizard for an hour and a half chatting with him. When I got home, I was the color of a pomegranate. I checked out of my backpacker this morning and drove down to Honolulu, where I scored one of the strangest berths yet. I'm staying at the Central YMCA, right next to Waikiki. It's a dingy, ratty old building, with peeling paint and a lot of funk going on. I didn't see any bugs or anything, though, and the price is right-- $42 a night. Sometimes I like to take these little adventures-- get away from the tourists and hang with the locals. Plus, I can soak my lobster bod in the cool pool...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I'm melting. It is so much warmer here in Hawaii than it was in New Zealand or Australia. It's been between 80F and 90F and muggy since I got here. I won't go into great detail, but I've been to beaches all over the place, hiked the Na Pali coast, and have driven up to Waimea Canyon. I've had really good luck with accomodations, finding a very nice hotel room right on the beach in Kapa'a (first two nights), for a very reasonable rate. My travelling style has changed quite a bit from the start of my trip. At first, I was eating out of grocery stores, staying in backpackers in New Zealand. Now I'm cruising around in a rented 2010 Mustang convertible, eating in restaurants and staying in B&Bs. Part of the reason for that is that Kauai is just not geared up for backpacker-type travellers. Also, I've travelled quite cheaply so far, and I just want to spluge a bit. I was really craving a nice piece of fish, and drove around in the bigger towns looking for a promising place. Nothing looked inviting, so I decided to take my chances back here in Waimea. Right across the street is the Wrangler Steakhouse. Hmmm. Not the normal best bet for a vege-fishy-tarian like myself. I just had some of the best fish I've ever had there-- moonfish rolled in crumbs, cooked in butter and served in a creamy caper sauce with garlic mashed potatoes. Yikes!
I'm taking a raft trip back up the other (western) end of the Na Pali coast tomorrow, which leaves from Waimea. I have to be there at 6:30AM tomorrow, so I wanted to stay as close as possible. The only accommodations I could find were in a B&B. It's a HUGE suite (three rooms) with a Jacuzzi, and a king size bed. It's only $160 a night (which is way more than I would like to pay, but for this place it a bargain). The downside: no AC! It's right on the beach, so it should cool down nicely at night. It's already quite nice outside, but a little warm for sleeping inside. I have all the windows open, with fingers crossed. If nothing else, I can dump a bag of ice in the Jacuzzi, and sleep in that...

Saturday, October 24, 2009


I flew back to Sydney from Melbourne today, saying goodbye to my funky Chinatown pub. The flight was uneventful, and I'm right back in the middle of good ol' Sydney. Not necessarily intentionally, I'm in Chinatown here, too. This part of Sydney is full of Asian students-- not sure where they go to school, but they're everywhere.
I had a nice visit with an Ozzie named Russell at a pub (Paddy McGuires) in the Haymarket district this evening. He related how he likes to go pig hunting in northern Australia, and what a rush it is. They bring two or three dogs, and track down the feral pigs. They loose the dogs on the boars, and the dogs capture them by grabbing them by the ears. In the summa, they just castrate the peegs, so they get noice and fat for next ye-ah. Then they'll catch 'em again, and dispatch them with a noice noif to the lungs. In the winta, they can sell them by dumping them in pig boxes, and get as much as AU$1.60 a kg. Profitable, that. He related how some (expletive deleteds) had captured peegs and cut one ear off. That means that when the dogs go after the peeg, they can't get a hold, and the peeg will sometimes gore the dog to death. I asked Russell why someone would go to all the trouble to go to the bush and capture a wild pig just to cut its ear off, and he replied that they do it just because they are (expletive deleteds).
An interesting country, this. (Note: Picture is not from here, it's a cool beach on Phillip Island, near Melbourne.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

More signs

More crazy, random signs...


I am so crazy about my funky little Chinatown neighborhood here in Melbourne. There are weird little alleys and sub-alleys all over the place, with weird little noodle shops and God-knows-what down there. I had greek food for dinner, and took a little sub-alley shortcut from the Greek Precinct to my Chinatown home. At one point I found both sides of the alley covered with the most bizarre signs. No way to tell what they mean, or who put them there. This has to be one of the coolest things I've ever seen.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


I've been having quite the urban adventure lately. I flew from Sydney to Melbourne yesterday. I had pre-booked a room at a hotel here, not knowing much about the place or the area-- it was just relatively inexpensive and available. It turns out to be the coolest place. It's an old hotel upstairs from a pub in the middle of Chinatown. Melbourne is great, and this is one of the coolest parts of town.

My favorite coat ($200 Marmot softshell) was stolen out of my room in Sydney, so I was on a quest for a new jacket. It was fairly cool out (probably 50F), so the idea of travelling more with no coat wasn't too appealing. On my quest for a gear store, I heard a smoky saxophone calling to me from a dark side street. Turns out there was a fantastic jazz trio playing at a tiny cafe, just outside Chinatown. I sat for a while and soaked up the tunes. It was by far one of the highlights of my vacation so far. Today, there were a couple of guys playing Bolivian music outside the Queen Victoria Market-- also great. The QVM is a huge bazaar, with all sorts of different booths selling everything from leeks to leather jackets. Very cool to wander around looking at all the bizarre bazaar stuff. I even found a smoking deal on a new jacket. Now I'm ready for more adventure.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

$300 Seashells

I have been having really good luck with travelling. Pretty much everything has gone smoothly. Until now. I seem to save up my bad travelling mojo, and experience it all at once. Today must have been the day. I was set to fly out of Wellington for Christchurch at four o'clock this afternoon. I still had the rental car, so I had to some time to kill. I have several friends who make musical instruments (mandolins, mostly), who do inlay work with abalone shells. New Zealand is the home of the most exquisitely figured and colored abalone shells in the world, so I've been meaning to pick some up. I hadn't gotten around to finding a source for some during my trip-- I've asked around at jewelers, with not too much luck.
With my time to kill today, I hit a cybercafe and Googled "Paua Abalone New Zealand". I found out that a big supplier and processor is right near Wellington, where I was! I called them up, and told them I'd be right there. I hopped in the car and headed up to Carterton to Paua World. I got a smokin' deal on a whole load of paua pieces and six whole, unprocessed shells. I headed back to my guesthouse in Wellington, knowing I was pushing my luck for my flight. I had seen the airport bus many times going right near my hotel, and I know right where the bus stops are, so I thought I was golden. I gathered up my stuff, locked the key in the boot of the car, and headed down to the bus stop. I sat down there and waited for a bit. No airport bus. I finally asked an elderly gentleman if I was in the right place to get a bus to the airport. No, he informed me, I should be waiting a half a mile away on Courtenay Place. I hustled down there through pouring rain and driving wind-- got completely soaked. I got to the bus stop just in time for the airport bus. But it never came. I waited for over a half an hour, and finally it got there. I hopped on, and hoped for a quick ride. The bus wound through all sorts of random neighborhoods, getting caught in traffic and not heading anywhere near the airport. Finally we got to the terminal-- I ran inside and headed straight for the JetStar departures counter. One clerk was helping a very disgruntled customer, and it looked like it would be a while. The other clerk was shamelessly flirting with her boyfriend. I was starting to get perturbed. The flirter caught my stare of death, and dismissed Romeo. I told her what flight I was on, and she informed me that my check-in had closed fifteen minutes ago. I was really screwed. Their next flight was 4:00PM on the 15th, but I am booked on a flight from Christchurch to Sydney at 1:30PM on the 15th. All the tickets are non-refundable, and they are booked out of Denver, which due to the time difference could be of no help. My stress level escalated. I pulled out my itinerary, and realized that I didn't have any phone numbers for the Christchurch travel office, just Denver numbers. I headed over to the Air New Zealand counter, hoping that they had some more flights to Christchurch available. The counter was manned by one person. The worlds slowest man. He...helped...the...guy...in...front...of...me...for...an...eternity. Finally, I got to speak with the slow man. Turns out that they did have a couple more flights leaving for Christchurch today, and I could get on one for only three hundred dollars. I really didn't have any good options. I handed him my card. Declined. Turns out he wasn't using the machine right-- it did go through after...four...attempts. The plane I missed cost me $69NZ (about $50US).
So my little side trip to pick up some sea shells cost me $300NZ, or about $230US. I was very grateful to get a flight, though-- it would have gotten really ugly for my travel plans if I missed my NZ-OZ flight.
Now that we have gotten all the bad luck out of the way (knock wood!), I'm ready for some smooth sailing!

Sunday, October 11, 2009


I’m in the middle of the north island of New Zealand now. I hung around in Christchurch for a couple of days, soaking up the sun (and rain), and communing with the baby ducks at the Botanical Gardens, right across the street from my hotel. I indulged in Thai and Indian food, and walked around a lot, reacquainting myself with the town. The weather was kind of up and down—two really nice days and some not so nice. A big storm came in and dumped a bunch of snow on the mountains, so I made my decision to head north. I took a bus from Christchurch to Picton, where I got on the ferry to Wellington. I had never been to the north island before, except the Auckland airport. The south island is much more wild and interesting for hiking, and the north island is much more populated and less mountainous. That’s why I had never been as interested in the north island, at least until I ran out of things to see on the south island.
The bus trip was actually a lot more scenic and interesting than I thought it would be. The trip to Picton is composed mostly of rolling emerald green fields full of frolicking sheep, alternating with endless vineyards. Just about every place you could stand and take a picture on the south island looks like it could be a postcard. There were towering snow-capped mountains in the background all the way—it was incredible. (I’m at a backpacker with no SD card reader on the computer, so I can’t post any pictures just yet.)
The ride was pretty twisty, and at one point the kid sitting in front of my suddenly and without warning lost his breakfast all over the stranger sitting next to him. It was quite gross. I felt bad for the kid, as well as his victim.
We got off the bus and onto the ferry boat at the Picton ferry terminal. The boat was HUGE—almost six hundred feet long (http://www.interislander.co.nz/Our-Ships-And-Services/Kaitaki.aspx). The terminal had posted that the ride over to Wellington was expected to be quite rough. The straights between are famous for being stormy and turbulent. I thought such a huge boat would surely be immune from a little wave action. Think again. The boat pitched so violently that I needed to hang on to railings to even walk around. I saw many people doing their own quite disgusting impersonation of the poor kid on the bus. There were cookies tossed and chunks blown in all directions. I think I even saw someone praying to the Porcelain God, Ralph.
I hung around in Wellington for a couple of days, where I ran into a group of ice friends. We took in an Irish music set at a pub last night, which was nice. Decent food and culture, too. I could get used to this.
I rented a car and headed north this morning. I’m staying at a little town called Turangi now, near the south shore of huge Lake Taupo. I did a great day hike around an emerald green mountain lake, got some groceries, and headed back to my hostel. It’s a smokin’ deal if you’re ever in the Taupo region. $26NZ (about $18US) dollars a night, for a single room. It’s called the A+ Lodge. It’s in a quiet residential area. A little old and run-down, but very clean and well kept. They also have a dachshund puppy, which is a major bonus. That’s one of the worst deprivations of living on the ice. I didn’t get to so much as pet a cat for eight months. That puppy might have a bald spot by the time I get out of here!

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Well, I'm back in the real world now. I got into Christchurch a couple of days ago, and I'm enjoying the baby ducks at the Botanical Gardens, and snorfing Thai food to my hearts content. I'll post more pictures as I take them. More soon.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Well, the big invasion is finally here. After our invasion of 300-some folks at Winfly, we kept a stable population of around 480 through September. The first flight of mainbody was supposed to come on September 29th, but some bad weather caused a delay. The Air Force tried again the next day, but had mechanical problems. Between the weather and mechanical issues, the first flight was delayed for five days. That is a really big deal, because the train of people flying into Christchurch doesn't stop, causing a huge pileup of folks there. I was set to leave on the fifth flight out, but the delays caused the schedulers to put all the northbound folks who were supposed to leave on the first four flights on the first northbound plane (yesterday). 140-some new folks came down, too. After a long winter of unlimited privacy and fairly mellow energy, it is quite unnerving to have a bunch of loud-talking tanned people invade. I'm ready to get out of here. My plane takes off tomorrow (weather permitting), so today is the big packing day. I'm not planning on coming back next winter, so I'm not leaving anything here. I am trying to travel as light as possible, so I mailed a bunch of stuff to the states, and I'm giving a lot of stuff away. I made the difficult decision to put my mandolin in the mail. I'd like to be able to play while travelling, but it is such an incredible pain to schlep a lot of stuff through all those airports and hotels. I think I made the right decision.
It was a relief for a lot of people that that first mainbody flight finally arrived. It's really a drag for folks to go through the emotional goodbyes, and find that they aren't leaving yet. Plus, quite a few of the winterovers did what's called a "winfly-summer-winter", meaning they have been here for fourteen months straight. Those people are READY to get out of here! I'm glad to go, but not in that big a hurry. Here the food, gas, and housing are all free, and it's a rude shock to transition to a life with so many expenses and no income. I'm definitely not craving that, but a little salad would be nice.

(These pictures were taken on one of my last working days. I drove a PistenBully up to the top of Crater Hill to repair a sick data circuit. Where you see me walking downhill, I'm decending from a tiny hut called the Doghouse down to a comms shelter called building 65.)

Monday, September 21, 2009


We're about 3/4 way through Winfly now. For those unfamiliar with the Antarctic program, an advance group of people come down in late August while it is still winter, to get the station ready to officially reopen. In between the last flight of Winfly and the first flight of Mainbody, the station is technically closed-- no flights in or out. Unfortunately, one of our Winflyers took ill, and a medevac was ordered. A Kiwi Herc (C-130 cargo plane) landed out at Pegasus field yesterday, and spirited the sick folks away. I happened to be out there at the time, and got to see the plane take off and land.

There were also some Aussies out there, working on their UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). I stopped in the hut they were working out of, and got to talk to them for a bit. They had three UAVs in the shop, and were rigging them up with electronic instrumentation. It's really fascinating-- the little planes have a wingspan of about nine feet, and are only about six feet long, weighing thirty pounds. The can fly them in hurricanes, though, and have flown them clear across the Antlantic ocean several times. They are equipped with Iridium phones for guidance, and regular radio remote control for when they are within fifty miles. They have GPS on them, and telemetry to track various functions of the engine, etc. The group lost one on the sea ice a couple of weeks ago. They knew from the telemetry data that it had lost fuel pressure. It's sitting out on the rough sea ice, miles from McMurdo. They are going to leave it out there, because it's just too hazardous to land a helo out there to retrieve it. The guys said that with out any special instrumentation, the bare planes go for about $70,000US. They don't have any landing gear, so they launch them from a special rack on the back of a pickup. The science group is studying sea ice. Instruments on the little planes measure light and radiation reflected from the ice between here and Terra Nova Bay, the location of an Italian base a couple hundred miles north of us. I don't know much about the grantees on this one-- I'm going to be looking into it.