A party, a plane ride and long duration balloon

2019 Apr 4th

I had a lovely day off on the 24th, sleeping in, then going for a nice hike to “Arrival Heights” - a pretty good size ridgeline above the station, which affords nice views. I was on the lookout for penguins! Some energetic folks this morning did the “Ob Hill Uphill” - a running race to the top of “Observation Hill”. 

I have reserved another fat tire bike for the coming week, but it was just too cold today for biking. The wind was howling. I actually wore “big red” (what everyone calls those colossal red parkas they issue to us) on the hike, which kept me toasty and almost sweating.

Alas, no penguins were sighted, although I did see a seal pup pop up out of a hole in the ice. When I got to the top of the ridge I ducked over the side to get out of the wind and enjoyed a snack while contemplating the amazing view. The sea ice is definitely starting to look different - an indication that it may start to break up in the coming weeks. All the diving huts and other temporary structures that have been out on the ice the past few weeks have been towed back to shore.

After that it was back to the station for dinner. The food services staff here seems like a really tight knit bunch. They cook for about 800 people a day. At the end of breakfast and dinner I see all the cooks sit down to eat together and they are all laughing and joking and clearly get along. A highlight of their season is evidently the big Christmas dinner, which is done on Christmas eve. Over the last couple of weeks it seems like every time I walk by a group of food service employees (whether cooks, servers, or dishwashers) and overhear their conversation, it has been about their plans for Christmas dinner. They did not disappoint. 

The food is still served cafeteria style - no way around that - but the serving area was decorated. 

The tables had tablecloths. We brought wine, purchased in the station store. The meal was multiple types of vegetables, multiple types of potatoes, and a selection of deletable meats. Too many different types of vegetable and pasta salads to name. Too many desserts to name (but a special shout out for the truffles made by the kitchen staff). It was all delicious.  I suppose we could have ditched the blue trays. But no one here does. The trays are part of life in the galley.

Our work group, plus the “weather group” and the “geodesy group” reserved a big table together and had dinner at the 7:00 sitting. That meal was great food, conversation, and lots of new friends. It made for an excellent holiday dinner. Oh, and it started snowing outside during the dinner. Perfect - a white Christmas!

Christmas day: A bit of work, and a bit of time off. Finished up the “box” project and some other assembly work.

Let me throw in a couple of other things that I missed along the way. A few days ago we got to take a couple of hours and go out to the Long Duration Balloon (LDB) facility, out at Willy Field. They hang some amazing instruments under these balloons. We got a detailed explanation of X-Calibur. It weighs several thousand pounds, hangs under a balloon at 125,000 feet, the balloon is about the size of a baseball stadium (when it fully expands up at altitude), and the sensor makes x-ray observations of a neutron star. There is amazing technology in every aspect of this device, from the x-ray focusing and detector to the positioning technology. It blew me away.

The whole unit in the picture below, including the white frame that the silver mylar covered telescope is sitting on, will be airborne.

Another pic I didn’t previously post is this shot out the porthole window of the LC-130 Herc on the flight back from Pole. I have no idea what glacier this is, but thought it looked pretty cool.

To end Christmas day I hiked up Ob Hill to enjoy the view. A spectacular view of the Ross Ice Shelf and the sea ice out in front of the station. The somewhat stormy looking clouds and mottled sunlight made for a particularly dramatic view.

The obligatory selfie taken from the top of Ob Hill at 9:00 PM on Christmas (on the top of the peak I am wearing two polartec jackets for warmth - the wind chill makes it “brisk