Chapter 2: Christchurch

Our stay in Christchurch was planned to last four days. On the day we arrived, we went for a walk in the city to take in its energy, grabbing dinner in a local food court.

On the morning of the second day we had a shuttle pick us up and other USAP participants to the USAP passenger terminal near Christchurch airport. We did a covid screening, which resulted in negative for everyone there. Afterwards, we received a briefing about how the next few days would go. The schedule would be divided between receiving our extreme cold weather gear (ECW), the details about training for the next day, and the logistics of the flight day.

Next we checked our ECW gear. Each person was assigned a large bag full of equipment. This consisted of all the survival gear we would need to wear when going out in the field. Since this is my first time I had to take all the gear provided with me. Major items included very warm boots, large red jacket, windbreaker pants, etc. We tried on everything and requested replacements for pieces that would not fit or were damaged. In the afternoon we visited the beautiful botanic gardens in the heart of Christchurch featuring all sorts of impressive flora. A must visit if you ever come here. Next day was mostly uneventful. I received online training and I stayed in the hotel the rest of the day preparing my bags and just relaxing for the next day’s flight. 

Left: me at the Antarctica Passenger Terminal in Christchurch. Right: with Geoff trying out our ECW gear. Overview guide of the gear we were given.

Collection of pictures in ChristChurch. Queen Elizabeth II statue. Christchurch Botanic gardens. Peace bell.

At 6:00 am on the 2nd Nov I had my bags packed once again. One of my large suitcases and a duffle bag to take with me to Antarctica. The other large suitcase would remain in New Zealand since it stored only my summer clothes and other items not needed for the ice. The duffle bag was my boomerang bag, which is a very interesting concept. It can happen sometimes that your flight has to return to New Zealand due to changing weather conditions in McMurdo. In this scenario only the boomerang bag would be returned to you. The advice was to pack everything you needed to stay on the ground for 3-4 days. 

Unfortunately as soon as we were entering the shuttle we learned the flight was delayed, with later being confirmed to be canceled. Another day of wait. We ended up meeting a group of ice core drilling scientists that we joined later that day for drinks and dinner. We learned that in their research they are interested in studying very old samples of ice (millions old). This ice includes trapped air bubbles that function as time capsules for the atmospheric conditions (e.g. CO2 amount) at that time!

The second time was the charm. At 6 a.m. on 3rd of November we headed towards the Antarctica Passenger terminal. We organized and labeled our bags. We picked our ECW gear and equipped some of it. The check-in  worked very similar to a regular airline. We gave the officers, all military personnel, the bags that should be checked-in. Then we jumped on a scale with our carry-on and all of our ECW gear. The goal was to know how much each passenger weighs so they could balance the aircraft.

A few hours later we received our final briefing and went through a final security check, again similar to regular aircrafts. After a small bus ride we were dropped next to a C17 airplane and boarded. We were given a bag with your lunch which included water, 2 sandwiches, cookies etc. This was my first time ever in a military airplane and I was curious to see the differences. The major was the noise. It was VERY loud. Thankfully I had my noise canceling headphones that made the trip bearable.

The flight lasted for four and half hours. Before we landed we had the chance to visit the cockpit. At this time we were already over the continent and awe struck me. It was at this moment that it actually sunk into my bones that I was actually flying to the 7th continent. A place visited by very few people. And the view? There are no words to describe it. Best I can do is to share some pictures.One hour later we were told to prepare for landing and started putting on our gear. The landing was pretty smooth. 

Final Flight pictures. Top left: queue to board the C17 airplane. Center: inside the airplane with the USA flag in the background. Right: Just landed in Antarctica. Bottom left: me at the McMurdo Station sign. One of my major goals for the last 7 years achieved.

And just like that I had landed at the Phoenix Airfield, on the Ross Ice Shelf, in Antarctica. I had to put my GOPRO in a head mount and try to recreate my POV as we went down the airplane stairs. It was cold. Very cold. And white. Very white. And I was happy. Very happy. I finally reached my destination.