Life at McMurdo

We’ve had a lot of people asking us the basic questions; how’s the food, living conditions, day-to-day life. So, here it is in a nutshell.

Everyone works (for the most part) six days a week, Monday – Saturday. The majority of McMurdo has Sundays off – so Sundays are kind of a big deal around here. There’s a big brunch and people spend their time socializing or doing recreational activities.

What sort of recreational activities are there, you ask? Everything from hiking trails, to cross country skiing, there’s a climbing wall, yoga classes, a couple exercise gyms, dance classes, science lectures, snow caves, historical huts, arts and crafts, movie rentals, a music room, language classes, a library, mediation class, there are also a couple bars in town. There’s a night bar and a day bar – they even have Fat Tire, can you believe it? We couldn’t get Fat Tire in Florida – nope! But the bottom of the planet? Sure! Screw you Florida, with your cruddy beer! There’s even a coffee shop, staffed with a skilled barista (all drinks are free).

Most of these amazing activities are possible thanks to the tireless efforts of the McMurdo community. In other words, volunteers keep McMurdo intellectually stimulating and culturally appealing. In fact, pretty much all of McMurdo’s pastime fun is fueled by volunteers. If it wasn’t for the amazing people here, McMurdo would be as lifeless and dull as Furrs Cafeteria.

We have a standard galley, set up buffet-style. Everything from meat and potatoes, to vegan and gluten free dishes. Some days, the food is good. Others…it’s barely edible.There are daily dessert spreads. Everyday, there will be cakes and pastries, cupcakes and jello – there’s a 24/7 frozen yogurt machine dubbed ‘Frosty Boy’ – this is a serious topic on station. “Freshies”, aka fresh fruits and veggies, are a limited and highly sought after. We don’t get them all that often (even less as the season rolls on), so when there are freshies, people are on them like vultures on carrion. There are self serve juices, coffee and teas, hot cocoa and iced tea. If you’re hungry in between – there are snacks available all day. Often times we’ll have service stations where you can request eggs to be made specially or a sandwich. Food can be a touchy topic here so I’m treading on thin ice with this.

There’s a store that has basic toiletries and foods, like chips, soda and coffee. They have a lot of McMurdo merchandise – everything from onesies to wine glasses, stickers, sweaters, magnets, earrings, hats and all the other artifacts you could find in a Disney store. They also stock beer, liquor and wine, with weekly rations on alcohol. Everything here is delegated, therefore everything here is hoarded. We admit we’re guilty, we’ve been hoarding beer and wine in our room in fear of the day when they run out (which they probably will).

Luckily, we’re married so sharing a room is simple. We have a shared bathroom with a suite mate, though some dorms have community bathrooms, like in college. Glad we’re not going that route. All rooms are at least 2-per, some folks have friends they board with, others are stuck with the rando. God have mercy on their souls. The rooms are warm and we get a hot shower whenever we want. For us, coming off the boat, it’s been a luxurious transition – personal showers, food prepared for us, a bed to share together. For others on their first trip, I could see it being a little intense. To live down here, you have to be able to sacrifice. A lot. But its rewards are great. For example, we get to see seals nearly everyday lounging about. I look out over the great expanse of sea ice and view the Royal Society Range. Oh, and I don’t have to wash dishes. I couldn’t say this gig is cherry…let’s call it peculiar.

The people down here are eclectic. There are a lot of folks from Alaska (not surprisingly). The population is currently 64% male and 36% female. The majority of the population are ‘support services’, then the rest are scientists, pretty much. Some people stay all year, others stay for the winter, some stay 7 months, some 5, others only a few weeks. Most of the people who work here come back year after year – they love it. Most of them spend their time when they’re not working on the ice traveling. Others get second, seasonal jobs off the ice. When you start to get to know someone, it’ll surprise you as to their background. Nearly everyone we’ve met has a college degree even though they’re doing janitorial work, some even have advanced degrees. Some came right out of high school. A lot of people have met their husband or wife here. A lot of people here are single and hook up regularly. Some people are reclusive and unsocial, while others party at the bar every night (that’s one of the reasons they love to come down here). Strangely, I have yet to meet someone who has children.

We watch helicopters buzz around everyday and other bizarre looking machinery travel through town. There are live bands that play in the bar Saturday nights. Acoustic solos in the coffee shop weekly. Overall, it’s pretty normal living – but it isn’t at all normal living at the same time.

Welcome to the program.

Here are some more videos:

A Windy Day on the Ice.

Dave’s Happy Camper Course.

The issued Red!

The touch tank at Crary Lab. The spidery looking critter is a Sea Spider, there’s a feeding coral on the bottom left, the sea arthropod on the bottom is a perfect example of the gigantism that occurs in the frigid Antarctic waters due to high levels of nutrients – it’s an oversized Sea Lice. The brightly colored guy on the right is a shrimp. The blob squeezed into the upper left of the tank is, I believe, a type of Cod (don’t quote me on that one).

Some days are beautiful blue skies, others are….

Antarctic sun dog!

Alpine glow in the Transantarctic Mountain Range

McMudo sunrise (or the closest thing we have to a sunrise this time of year).

This is the famous Scott Tent – originally used by Robert Scott, who led a British Expedition to Antarctica in 1901. It’s still used today because of its superior ability to withstand the extreme conditions here.

Some people in the group opted for tents….(no fun).

Dave digging his snow trench for Happy Camper.

Dave spent the night in the ice! Inside view of the snow trench.

One of the lessons during “Happy Camper” school – a survival course for the regional climate. This scene, with buckets over their heads, is to mimic whiteout conditions. You have to navigate your way back to the shelter, and make sure you don’t leave anyone outside to freeze to death.

Mt. Erebus, always emitting volcanic steam. It’ll often times shoot off ‘bombs’ and lava. It’s a shield volcano and poses no threat to McMurdo.

Snow tracks.