Post Palmer Travel

After finishing my Palmer Station winter contract, I traveled on the Laurence M. Gould back to Punta Arenas, Chile to begin my travels. This year I had a very quick turn around and only had about one month off before heading to McMurdo Station for a 10 month contract.

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South America

In south America I relaxed in Punta Arenas with some of my coworkers for a few days where we enjoyed the nice views and good food. From there I traveled by bus to Ushuaia, Argentina where I enjoyed hiking in the beautiful Tiera del Fuego National Park. From there I traveled to Buenos Aires for a week to relax and enjoy the city before meeting my friends in South Africa.

South Africa and Lesotho

In Johannesburg I met some of my friends two who are working for the US Foreign Service and another who joined us to travel. Together we rented a car to see Lesotho and to drive the beautiful Garden Route from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town. Once we reached Cape Town, we traveled by train back to Johannesburg where I flew home to prepare for my deployment to McMurdo.

My time off this year went quickly, but I had a wonderful time seeing my friends and experiencing new places. I am looking forward to working on my assignment at McMurdo this year, which is moving our existing data center to a new building!

Life at Palmer Station

Living at Palmer Station this winter has been a wonderful experience. Our winter crew of 20 have grown very close during our six months together.

Below are some pictures of our time together. You can see some of our social events like our midwinter dinner, forth of July, and Christmas in July celebrations.

We also got out and about to the islands near station and to the nearby glacier. Check out some pictures of our recreational hiking, ice climbing, and science lectures!

Emergency Team Training Exercises

At Palmer Station we perform frequent training exercises to ensure our emergency preparedness. We have four emergency teams – SCBA (Self-contained breathing apparatus), Ocean Search and Rescue (OSAR), Trauma Medicine, and Glacier Search and Rescue (GSAR).

I personally was a member of the SCBA, OSAR, and Trauma teams.

Our firefighting exercises model real scenarios. A fire alarm is triggered and the firefighters and water pump operators report to their stations. All others report to a mustering area where they are accounted for. The fire team captain then gives orders to directing the SCBA team how to fight the fire, perform search and rescue operations, set up hoses, and other tasks as needed.

The pictures below show one of our training exercises where we responded to a simulated fire in a dormitory with an injured person who needed rescue.

We also performed multiple Ocean Search and Rescue training exercises. These exercises focused on man overboard scenarios, using GPS to find missing persons, and how to tow a disabled vessel.

Dealing with the wet and cold environment can be quite an ordeal!

 

Voyage Across the Drake Passage

To deploy to Palmer Station you must take a ship from South America across the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula. The trip typically takes four days. For my deployment, I traveled on the Laurence M. Gould, a United States Antarctic Program research vessel, which can accommodate around 30 passengers and 15 crew. I boarded the ship in Punta Arenas, Chile after being issued my cold weather gear.

The Drake Passage is notorious for its rough seas, and the crew was concerned about poor weather for our passage. Luckily, we were able to avoid the worst of the storm but did have some pretty big swells of about 6 or 7 meters. I spent most of the time during the rough weather in my bunk.

The last day of the voyage we traveled along the antarctic peninsula and we had some striking views of the islands and continent. We safely arrived after four days and we were greeted by the summer crew and a lot of wild life. I am very excited to start my job at this beautiful new place!

 

Palmer Station Fire Fighting and Ocean Search and Rescue Training

For my next contract I will be deploying to Palmer Station, Antarctica for the winter season. Palmer is a much smaller station than McMurdo where I have previously worked. McMurdo has a summer population of up to 1000 and a winter population of about 150, whereas Palmer has a summer population of around 50 and a winter population of around 20.

Because Palmer station is so small, each of us has to take on several additional duties, such as janitorial and kitchen tasking. Additionally, community members are trained to be part of the emergency response teams.

I had the pleasure of being selected to serve on the Fire Fighting and Ocean Search and Rescue (OSAR) teams, and I was sent to training to learn these skills.

I trained with eight of my colleagues for two weeks, one week of fire fighting training and one week of ocean search and rescue training.

The fire fighting training was very exciting. We learned to correctly wear SCBA firefighting gear, how to search burning buildings, how to extinguish fires, and how to work the pump and hoses. We performed many drills in a simulated environment that was used by real fire fighters with real fires. The class and instructors were wonderful, but lugging around the 65lbs of gear was very tiring!

The OSAR training was also very fun. I learned to pilot a Zodiac inflatable boat, how to land the boat, how to pin the boat in place, and how to perform man overboard rescues.

Overall the training was a great experience, and I look forward to continue training at Palmer Station!

New Zealand, South and Central America Trip

After my second winter at McMurdo Station I had 4 months off to travel before heading to my next contract at Palmer Station.

This year I began my travels in New Zealand where I was left off by the Air National Guard. From there I traveled through South and Central America visiting many countries along the way.

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New Zealand

In New Zealand I relaxed in Christchurch for a week and enjoyed the fresh fruits and vegetables. Afterward, I traveled to Stewart Island where I hiked the Rakiura Track, a beautiful three day hike on a remote island at the very south of New Zealand. I was able to stay at camping huts along the way so I only had to bring a sleeping bag and food which made it very convenient. On the hike I met a lot of interesting people from all over who were also traveling around New Zealand.

South America

From New Zealand, I traveled to Santiago, Chile with one of my friends from McMurdo Station. We rented a car to go to the beach at Valparaiso and to see the milky way in the Andes.

Next I traveled by bus from Santiago to Mendoza, Argentina. It was a great experience traveling across the Andes and seeing the climate change. From Mendoza I flew to Buenos Aires where I met a friend from San Francisco, enjoyed the city life, and took some Spanish classes where I met a lot of other travelers. After Buenos Aires, I traveled to Uruguay by ferry to see Montevideo, and then flew to Ecuador to see the Galapagos Islands with my parents.

The Galapagos were very beautiful. My parents and I were there during calving season, and we saw a lot of baby sea lions. We also saw lots of blue footed boobies, sea turtles, crabs, and lizards. On my way out of the Galapagos I said goodbye to my parents and relaxed in Quito for a few days.

From Quito I flew Columbia to see Bogotá and Cartagena. These cities in Columbia have beautiful historic districts and were very interesting to explore.

Central America

From Cartagena, Columbia, I took a sailboat to Panama City via the San Blas Islands. This was a 4 day voyage and was one of the highlights of the trip. There were 9 passengers on board and it was very beautiful being on the sea, snorkeling, exploring the little islands, and eating fresh seafood.

Once I made it to Central America, I saw Panama, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. I would have liked to see Nicaragua but the political situation there made me decide to skip it and spend more time in Guatemala.

The highlights of Central America for me were seeing Panama City and Antigua Guatemala. I had few friends join me in Guatemala, where we saw the striking ruins at Tekal, and then visited beautiful lake Atitlan.

Overall the trip was a huge success. I really enjoyed my time and I left revitalized and excited to head back to work!

Antarctic Search and Rescue

One of the best experiences I had this year at McMurdo was being a part of the Winter Joint Search and Rescue Team (JSART). This is a joint emergency response team made up of members of both the US base, McMurdo, and the New Zealand base, Scott Base.

It was really great to learn a ton of new skills, such as climbing skills, knots, pulley systems, using GPS to navigate in whiteout environments, and taking ice thickness measurements. It was nice to meet and work closely with our NZ counterparts as well.

We had a lot of great training scenarios. We trained climbing up Castle Rock and repelling down. We did multiple stretcher raise and lower exercises on Observation Hill, in very extreme -40 F weather with low visibility. We trained driving tracked vehicles with no visibility by GPS alone. We also did two exercises measuring the thickness of sea ice near cracks, to determine if they were safe to travel on.

Luckily we were never called up for active duty this winter. The most excitement we saw was putting up rope lines between buildings before a big storm!

A lot of these great pictures below are from my fellow SAR member and excellent photographer Josh Swanson. Enjoy!