Saturday, March 28, 2009

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Back in Punta Arenas

Hi All!

It is great to be back in Punta Arenas. Left Monday the 14th at 3PM and arrived in Punta the next day at 6PM after stops in Miami and Santiago. Staying at the very lovely Patagonia Hotel up on the hill and have been joining fellow staffers at daily meetings and dining out at the Punta Arena restaurants, which after a few early stumbles have been delightful.

The communications person here in Punta has already left for Antarctica although his replacement has not yet arrived. So I have been taking on that role here while waiting to depart for Antarctica myself. It has been an interesting experience handling comms traffic from the South American side, after three months on the Antarctic side when I was down two years ago. An entirely different perspective.

Yesterday afternoon we took the day off and visited a penguin rookery about an hour and a half from Punta Arenas. It was a chilly and rainy afternoon but the region was quite beautiful in its simple splendor and is reminiscent of the Scottish highlands. On the drive out to the rookery we passed the British Antarctic patrol ship Endurance, which was sitting at the dock at a disconcerting fourteen degree angle to port. Published reports indicated that she hit a rock at the entrance to the Straits of Migellan not far west of here, although reports this afternoon through a Royal Navy connection are that she blew out a seacock, flooding the engine room and necessitating an embarrasing tow into Punta Arenas by a frigate of the Chilean Navy. Evidently British engineers have already been flown in and it will take three weeks to repair the damage.

This afternoon we headed out in buses to the airport in hope of a flight to Patriot Hills. Unfortunately, the winds were too strong to allow a landing and after waiting several hours in hopes of a change we returned to Punta for a great dinner out. The forecast is for better conditions in Patriot Hills tomorrow and we have hopes of making it in.

So that brings you all up to date. Hopefully the next blog entry will be from Antarctica!


Friday, November 07, 2008

QST is Publishing My Article About Antarctica!

Hi all!

At the request of the editors at QST, the official journal of the American Radio Relay League, I wrote an article about my 2006-07 experience at Patriot Hills and it is slated for publication in the January 2009 issue. It is available by subscription or at stores catering to amateur radio operators. My favorite store? KJI Electronics, 394 Bloomfield Ave, Caldwell, NJ 07006

To the left is a copy of the QST cover article by my friend Nick Powell NH6ON who wrote a cover story on the US South Pole Station in the November 2001 issue.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Surviving Disasters at Sea

Last week, I attended classes for professional mariners at the Maritime College of the State University of New York out at Fort Schyler, near the Throgg's Neck Bridge. The classes were a requirement of my officer's rating in the US Merchant Marine.

As part of the course, we fought oil fires aboard the
remains of a tugboat at a fire fighting training field out on Long Island. The fire chiefs who operate the facility put our class through all kinds of simulated fires, ranging from oil fires on deck, engine room fires below deck, and fires in sleeping quarters. The fires were hot and immensely smokey. It was 80 degrees F outside and the clothing was heavy. But the fundamental lesson that we learned is that if you keep your wits about you, act rapidly, stay low, and use the right tool and have the right people on your team, that these fires can indeed be put out and your ship saved.

The day before (slightly out of order), we practiced abandoning ship and survival at sea while floating in the ocean waiting for rescue. The fundamental lesson of that experience is that if one has hope, and focuses on living long enough to be rescued, one greatly increases the odds that he will survive. Lacking the will to survive and a spirit of cooperation, the odds are that even the heartiest seaman will die of exposure before rescue arrives.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Independent Spirits (Part 4): The Mechanics

Chris, a motorcycle maven back home in Britain and mechanical genius; a veteran of the British base at Rothera on the Antarctic Peninsula. Pictured below tending bar on Christmas Day is Scotty, a fellow British Antarctic veteran and a magician with metal and diesel engines.

Boris (above) and Pato (below) kept everything from falling apart during blows and made steady improvements to the place during the course of the season. Boris is pictured while installing a heater in a Weatherhaven used by visiting climbers. Pato is in the shop fabricating a wooden shelf for the privy.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Independent Spirits (Part 3): The Chefs

Christmas Dinner and Gift Exchange, 2006

Whatever hardships you might think the folks at Patriot Hills might endure, hunger is not one of them. The food is fabulous. Fresh produce and meats are flown in regularly, and I doubt anyone on the Antarctic continent ate as well as we. A devotee of curry, I was in seventh heaven when the Indian Navy expedition arrived and we were treated to one excellent Indian dish after another. Otherwise, lamb, steak, fantastic desserts, and more were the order of the day. I have never dined so well in my life, and certainly not in such excellent company. The chefs were accomplished outdoorsmen of their own. Whether running in the Antarctic marathon, leading an expedition on the last degree to the Pole, ski kiting in the vicinity of the base, or unloading drums down on the runway, the chefs at Patriot Hills were an integral part of the team.

Ronnie, chef, polar guide and world-class kite skier

Gavin, Australian chef, indefatiguable table tennis player, and marathoner

Malin, Norwegian chef, cross country skiier and dangerous "Sequence" player

Kim, now-Australian kitchen hand and enthusiastic rookie roller of fuel drums down on the runway; came down to join her husband Alan who installed and maintained the base's communications systems

Independent Spirits (Part 2)

These four women are so special that they rate a blog entry of their own. Tracy, Katie, Shelly and Liza operated the communications system at the US Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole during the 2006-07 system with cheerfulness and aplomb. We communicated with one another frequently whenever an expedition was approaching the Pole or when we were sending a flight their way. They hail from Alaska, Colorado and Massachusetts.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Independent Spirits (Part 1): The Pilots

(Above) My good friends, the nine-man crew of Ilyushin 'Sugar Mike Juliet' - Ukrainian veterans of the Soviet Air Force and a very agreeable and courageous bunch of fellows

Up on Martha's Vineyard we have an osprey nest a few hundred feet from our house. The male and female osprey find one another at the beginning of the season, bear and feed their young, and fly off in the fall. A few years ago, a scientific group decided to figure out where they went in winter and attached collars with radio directionfinding devices. To their surprise (but not my wife's), the pair separate for the entire winter. Our male osprey went down in the direction of Cuba while the female spent the winter in Venezuela. The scientists reported that even had the male and female ended up in the same spot, they probably would not have recognized one another. Yet each year they return to the same nest here on the Vineyard and raise their chicks.

Well, the denizens of Patriot Hills have likewise scattered to the four corners of the earth for the off season. I will not see them this coming year as I will not be going down. Here are some photos of them in the blog for posterity:

Lindsay , an Otter Co-pilot from Vancouver
Dave Leatherdale, veteran Antarctic pilot

Amy and Steve , Otter pilots

Friday, August 17, 2007

'QSL Cards' for my fellow amateur radio operators

For a century, it has been a lovely custom among amateur radio operators to exchange 'QSL cards' to confirm radio contacts between stations. When I returned home from Antarctica I found hundreds of these marvelous cards stashed in a box in a corner of the kitchen, mailed by many of the operators I spoke to while at Patriot Hills and in Punta Arenas. The cards arrived from all seven continents and from most of the US states.
In the spring, I sat down with some of my favorite photographs, developed a card of my own using Adobe Photoshop, and had them printed by my friend Oleg in Russia. This weekend, up here on Martha's Vineyard, the boxes arrived. I promptly sat down with a pen, a box of the cards and the large box of incoming cards and filled in hundreds of them on the dining room table, remembering long, friendly conversations on a cold but beautiful Antarctic nights.
Thanks to all of you who called me on the radio or sent me emails while I was down there.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Departure from Antarctica

Last night's flight with 49 passengers went without a hitch. I was at the threshold for the landing when the beast came in.

The weather looks great today. Mostly clear sky and light winds. The Ilyushin should take off from Punta Arenas this afternoon and arrive this evening. I have dug the valances of my tent out of the snow and ice in anticipation of dropping it at a moment's notice. Now in the process of packing up. Last thing I do at the base when the plane arrives is drop the antennas, unplug and box the radios, and off we go.

Have a day of debriefing and a staff dinner before departing Punta. Will send my flight arrival information when I learn it.


Sunday, January 21, 2007


Last week we were smacked with the first Antarctic storm of the season. For all intents and purposes, the camp was shut down for four days. Even the young hotshot pilots - who are here to rack up flying hours in Twin Otters in hopes of a job with an airline some day and will it seems do anything to get into the air - wouldn't consider going out of the dining tent.

So for four days, it was indoor activities only around camp. Clean up paperwork, repair some of the machinery, cook dinner, catch up on some missing sleep, and yes, drink some Chilean wine, play card games and engage in lengthy conversation. Happily for me, one of our guests was a nuclear physicist from San Diego who has spent the last thirty years on fusion research and is an active ham radio operator. We had plenty to talk about and radio equipment to play with. No need to suffer in Antarctica, at least here at Patriot Hills.

The storm was comprised of a heavy snowfall, followed by sixty knot winds. After a day or so, the snow formed into corn (hard round snow crystals) which felt like small buckshot against any exposed skin. At night one slept amidst this wonderful racket, the tent being machine- gunned by the corn snow while at the same time shaking like an old airplane straining to take off on a runway with potholes. That is about the only way I can describe the experience, except to say that throughout the night, I was certain that I was soon to go the way of Dorothy and Toto.

One morning during the storm, our high frequency wire antenna snapped in the wind, and I went to the downwind end of the camp to inspect the damage. This necessitated a two-minute upwind return leg back to the Comms box in the lethal sixty knot breeze. One of my friends caught me in his camera as I stepped in the door. The expression on my face, in case you are wondering, is awe.

See you later.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Korean Expeditioners Visit Patriot Hills

South Korean amateur radio operators Hankyoo Yoo HL1TJF (left) and Jongwoo Park HL1TR (right) visited me at Patriot Hills as members of KoreaMet, the 2006/2007 Korea Expedition for Antarctic Meteorites. While visiting, they briefly operated the Patriot Hills station as KC4/HL1TR and KC4/HL1TJF in communication with my friend and their colleague, Kim, HL8KSJ (DT8A,DS4NMJ), the radio operator at King Sejong Base on King George Island. I have set Jong and Yoo up with an HF rig and dipole and they hope to get on the air with 40 and 20 meter SSB from their expedition campsites in the Pirrit and Martin Hills, Antarctica, during the month of January, although their time will be extremely limited. QSL via Adam, K2ARB.

I have also received visits this season from Bill NA5P, and Kurt KE6WWB, both came to Antarctica to climb Mt. Vinson, the tallest peak in Antarctica.

The other night around 3AM, I found myself handling a flight of Russian helicopters down the Antarctic peninsula toward Patriot Hills. I was working a handoff with the British base at Rothera when I found myself conversing with radio operators from two other Antarctic bases with an interest in the flight. It took a couple of seconds to realize that they were my ham radio pals Oleg R1ANF, at the Russian base at Bellinghausen, and Mike VP8DJB, at the British Base at Fossil Bluff. Only in Antarctica!

As for my own ham radio activities, which are limited to late at night to avoid conflicts with work, the propagation to North America has improved dramatically during the last two weeks although it remains weak to Europe. As the workload decreases toward the end of the season, I hope to be able to be on the air more frequently during times when European openings are likely.

73 and HNY to all!

The Russians Are Coming!

Those years of suffering in Mr. Reilly's high school Russian class came in handy this week.

The day before yesterday, two Mi-8 military helicopters dropped in (literally) as the advanced party for a group of Russian officials who were on their way to visit the American station at the South Pole. As the closest thing to a Russian speaker here at the base, I spent a great deal of time with the crew, who ate and socialized with us for two days.

Last night the VIPs arrived aboard and Antonov 47. They included, among others, Arthur Chilingorov, Deputy Chairman of the Duma and a major figure in Russian polar exploration for over three decades, and Dr. Alexander Bedritsky, president of the World Meteorlogical Association. I had a chance to chat with them as well as a good number of their associates. Unfortunately, a planned ham radio operation by one of the members of the group did not come to pass, as the party was far behind schedule due to highwinds (up to 60 knots) at our location.

The photo above is with Mr. Chilingarov. In case you cannot tell us apart, he is the one with the warmer hat...

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Base Camp at Mt. Vinson

Yesterday Adam flew to Base Camp at Mt. Vinson. He was so happy. I would like to give a big thanks to Scotty, who gave up his seat on the plane so that Adam could go.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

"Cache Management"

Dec. 19, 2006

While one of the secrets of survival back in North America may be "cash" management, for over a century the key to survival in Antarctica has not been cash - which is worthless here - but "cache". It pervades Antarctic life.

In a nutshell, here's the story. Once one leaves the coast, Antarctica is incapable of sustaining life. It has no water in liquid form and little precipitation, and is technically a desert. This means that one cannot live off the land, and must carry all sustenance with him. Proper management of the necessities of life becomes an imperative.

In the days of the early Polar explorers, the technique was to carry all of one's needs on a sled, and lay aside supplies for the return trip in clearly identified locations known as "caches". If one planned things right, on the way home you would find your cache and be all set for the journey to the next cache. If one was unlucky with the weather and traveled slower than planned, you could make it to your objective - the Pole - yet die on the way home having failed to reach the resupply cache. This is what happened to Robert Falcon Scott, who led the second team to reach the Pole in 1911-12, froze to death on the way home and was perhaps the most adored failure in British history. He and his remaining men died 11 miles short of their cache...

Roald Amundsen, the man who beat Scott to the Pole by a few weeks, had a different philosophy of caching. Unlike Scott, who used ponies and hauled his sleds by hand, Amundsen used sled dogs to take him to the Pole, and then - as planned - began eating them one by one on the way home. I don't think Disney will make a movie about that one.

Nowadays, things are done differently. Except for the few stalwart souls who walk and pull sleds to the Pole (and with whom I talk every day on satellite phone as part of my job), the key to life in Antarctica is not sleds, but airplanes, and the key to airplane travel is of, course, jet fuel.

Jet fuel is the main currency around here. Government bases trade it or sell it reluctantly at exorbitant prices, or in the cases of unexpected private visitors, refuse to trade or sell it at all. Everyone who has fuel, hoards it. It is so precious that at the American base at the South Pole, fuel is brought in by Hercules C-130 aircraft that consume two barrels of fuel for every one that they bring in!

Here at Patriot Hills life similarly hinges on the availability of fuel. Every few weeks a massive Ilushin 76TD aircraft makes a ten-hour round-trip flight with a load of eight tons of fuel - jet fuel for aircraft, propane for melting snow into drinking water, gasoline for ski-doos, and fresh food for the human population. (BTW, our electricity is generated entirely by solar panels). Life here would be impossible without these flights.

The jet fuel we receive is brought from the main ice runway about a kilometer away up to our snow ski-way alongside camp. At the skiway - which is groomed by machines designed for ski slopes in Aspen and Innsbruck - are two leased DeHavilland Twin Otter aircraft chartered from Ken Borek Airways in Calgary, Alberta. The Otter is the Chevy Suburban of life on the Ice. Each has a load of ten passengers, a range of about 600 miles, and with skis they can land just about anywhere down here provided the surface is well-illuminated. Sastrugi (hard wind-blown lumps of snow up to 3 feet in height), crevasses, and poor visibility do not seem to discourage the intrepid Otter pilots. By the way, when they are not flying ski-planes in Antarctica, the Borek pilots - all from Canada and including both men and women - are flying floatplanes in the Maldives.

The main limitation of the Otter is its range. A six hundred mile range means that without a source of refueling, the aircraft would be limited to destinations within 250 miles of Patriot Hills, which given the enormous expanse of Antarctica is limited indeed. Here is where caching comes into play. Twice each season, we send a team of three with a tracked vehicle pulling two enormous sleds loaded with jetfuel on a 300 mile journey to a location in the middle of nowhere near the Thiel Mountains, roughly halfway to the South Pole. Here the team offloads the barrels of fuel, grooms a skiway suitable for Otters, and returns straight away to Patriot Hills. The first roundtrip this season of 600 miles took approximately 87 teeth-jarring hours of non-stop driving through massive fields of hard sastrugi.

With the aid of the cache, the Otter crews can set about flying expeditions and resupply missions in the direction of the Pole, with refueling stops in each direction at Thiels.

Other caches, much less extensive than Thiels, are regularly resupplied by air from Patriots to enable occasional flights in other directions. A great deal of attention goes into the maintenance of these caches during the course of the season.

Food is also cached by government programs in refuges at numerous locations around Antarctica to aid expeditions in distress and they are carefully listed by international agencies with detailed GPS locations. One recent visitor to Patriot Hills - a veteran British Antarctic explorer - recalled how during the 1960's, he and a hungry group of fellow scientists feasted on an unexpected cache of Hershey's candy bars left behind by Admiral Byrd and his crew decades before.

Here at Patriots, we store our food in what is known as the "Ice Cave". It contains not just food brought in this season, but the uneaten food of years past - some of which tastes just fine. And in case we have a problem getting resupply one season, the kitchen reckons that they have enough food stored in the ice cave to feed the staff and guests for months, albeit without beer, Coke and chocolate bars, which seem to be consumed as fast as they arrive.

So there you have it. Bet you didn't know that Antarctica was the world's largest supply depot and refrigerated warehouse, the result of both necessity as well as humankind's evident innate propensity for stashing things away.

See you all later,

SCPZ 131100 175M 16G24 9999 NIL 2/8 1CU3000 1SC5000 M09 Q995 STY C=G H=G JW

Dec. 14, 2006

In my last entry I described the process of getting dressed for Antarctic cold in a small one-man tent each morning. After a sound night's sleep, I emerge into the breathtaking (literally and figuratively) and remarkably quiet white world of Antarctica. I zip up my jacket, adjust my sunglasses and head to the Comms box to make my first utterance of the days, as follows:

SCPZ 131100 175M 16G24 9999 NIL 2/8 1CU3000 1SC5000 M09 Q995 STY C=G H=G JW

Catchy, isn't it? Well its actually full of meaning, and spoken in a language called METAR, known to aviators and meteorolgists all over the world:

Here's a translation:

SCPZ is the not-so-picturesque international designator for our runway which is unpaved and consists entirely of glacial ice (more on our runway in a future email).

131100 means it is the thirteenth day of the month at 1100 Zulu (otherwise known as Greenwich Mean Time or Universal Coordinated Time) which translates into 8AM Chilean time or 6AM in New York, the beginning of the work day for the Comms and Meteorolical staff at Patriot Hills.

175M means that the wind is blowing from 175 degrees magnetic, which is pretty much in the direction of the South Pole. This is the prevailing direction from which the wind blows most days.

16G24 means that the wind is blowing 16 knots and gusting to 24 knots. These winds are known as katabatic winds. They are formed as the cold air on the Polar plateau descends from the Pole's 9,000 foot elevation to sea level, which is the altitude of the Ronne Ice Shelf about twenty miles north of here (open ocean is hundreds of miles away, however; hence no cute penguins anywhere near us). As the cold air descends from the Pole it tends to pick up speed and substantial blows can and do occur here with reasonably frequency. When occuring at night, they are a soporific. The sounds of ice crystals pelting off the fly and the contrapuntal vibrations of the shaking tent are - contrary to expectations - very restful sensations.

9999 means that we can see forever - unlimited visibility

NIL means that we are experiencing no weather events (were it to read +SN - a snow blizzard, it would be time to crawl to our tents and hunker down)

2/8 means that the sky is covered with two-eights cloud cover. Eighths of sky are called "Oktas" down here - don't know the origin.

1CU3000 means that one Okta of sky is covered with a layer of cumulus at 3,000 feet above the ground. In the US we call these "few" cumulus. 2 to 4 oktas are "scattered", 5 to 7 oktas are "broken", and 8 oktas are "overcast". But the international system used by many down here sticks with the numbers.

1SC5000 means one Okta of sky covered with Strato-cumulus at 5,000. Catching on?

M09 means that the temperature is minus 9 degrees Celcius, which is roughly 14 degrees Fahrenheit. Actually very pleasant. The air is dry, lots of solar radiation from the sun, and one always dresses in layers before leaving the tent so there are rarely unpleasant surprises (except when cruising in one of the Ski-Doos, when it can get REALLY cold).

Q995 is the measure of air pressure in hectoPascals, which is a fancier name for millibars. Q stands for QNH, the international designator for barometric pressure. Back in the US, we describe pressure in inches of mercury ("Hg"), but that seems only to be the custom down here at the South Pole Station and McMurdo Base, both operated by the National Science Foundation.

C=G is perhaps the most important part of the report. Aircraft down here don't get to land on gorgeous paved runways with instrument approaches and all kinds of approach lighting or indicators. Sometimes they have no prepared runway at all and they land on snow, or ice. And these surfaces tend to be less than perfect, covered with hard wind-driven lumps of snow called sastrugi and occasionally crevasses. Either can spell disaster for an unwary pilot, particularly when there is an overcast and hence no shadows. So C=G means that the contrast is good, which is as good as it gets. From there, contrast can decline to Moderate, Poor, and the dreaded Nil. As a matter of fact, low contrast resulting from a low overcast is pretty tough on people on the ground, too. Surface irregularities become invisible and tripping is a constant hazard. As my friend and fellow radio operator Alan Cheshire VK0LD reported from our base camp on Mt Vinson last week, "I feel like I am living inside of a ping-pong ball."

The next item, H=G is also important to our pilots. It means that the Horizon is Good. A poor horizon is, as you can imagine, very disorienting. The scale also runs down to Nil.

The report concludes with the initials of the individual who took the weather observation. In this case, it was my good friend Jaco Wium, who sits with me in the Communication box (an upscale shipping container with insulated walls and windows, which the folks around here have taken to calling the "White House"). I will talk more about Jaco and his work in a future letter, but suffice it to say that Jaco, a South African and a seven season veteran here at Patriot Hills, is a maestro at reading downloaded satellite images of Antarctica and can usually be seen taking long strides around camp searching the skies for omens of weather to come.

Oh yes. I forgot a column. It is the one before Jaco's initials. It is entitled "Remarks". Let's recap what you have just learned about our day down here: few clouds, bright sunshine, 14 degrees F, light winds, unlimited visibility and snow covered mountains on two sides and endless ice on the other two, no nasty weather, good horizon and good contrast. My "Remarks" about this?

"Bloody gorgeous!"

See you all later. Adam

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Morning in Antarctica

Dec. 5, 2006

After three weeks of great weather, it has taken a turn. Temperatures have dropped to subzero and winds have kicked up, producing a lovely moving carpet of snow about a foot above the ground.

The outer shell of my little green tent is held down by extra wide flaps of fabric called valances that are placed on the ground and covered with blocks of snow. (Note: This is not one of the large multi-colored tents that one finds on the web sites written by our clients, these are the little ones you see on Everest. BTW, these are warmer!) Proper loading of the valances is critical to the survival of the tent in strong winds, which are very common around here. I also built a low curved snow wall upwind of the tent that deflects the snow drifts around the tent. Well, for a time it does. My little green tent is slowly being surrounded by a wall of snow, which must be removed by hand every now and then in a manner intended to avoid ripping the outer shell.

The tent has room inside for a narrow mattress and my duffel bags. On top of the mattress is a light thermarest foam mattress about a half-inch thick. My minus60 sleeping bag made by Feathered Friends of Seattle sits on theThermarest. It is quite toasty and I sleep in the nude in a light fabric liner (cocoon) which fits inside the sleeping bag. A wool hat and eye shades completes the night-time set up. And I sleep with a VHF radio tuned to the base working frequency and an alarm clock set for 7:15am.

It never gets terribly cold in the tent. Last night was about 32F inside the tent. During the warm weeks when we arrived, the tent in daytime was above 60F and rarely below freezing in the evening.

My mornings remind me of a butterfly struggling to get out of a cocoon. It all occurs whilst I am lying on my back. I wiggle out of my sleeping bag, wiggle into my clothes. Grab my radio and dop kit and head for the toilet tent. There we have a throne, comprised of a wood platform with a toilet seat covering an open drum. My advice to myself each morning in availing myself of the facility is the same advice I recall from climbing radio towers: "Don't look down!" Thence to the urinal, which is comprised of a drum whose 2" orifice is connected to a sheet metal funnel-like contraption that was evidently designed for very tall people, or at least people taller than I. Both drums, pee and poo, are flown out of Antarctica on each outgoing flight so as to avoid polluting the pristine Antarctic environment.

If you are wondering about what underlies our tents, ie where the things I drop in the snow and can't find are going, our camp sits on a glacier that is moving northward at about six feet a year. Twenty miles down glacier of us is the Hercules Inlet, a part of the Ronne Ice Shelf. At six feet a year, my lost items will reach the Hercules Inlet in 15,000 years. Beyond the Ronne Ice Shelf is the Weddell Sea, about 600 miles. So in about450,000 years (Jacob check my math, please!) my lost items will calve into the Antarctic Sea and float northwards on an iceberg. So I won't be waiting around for them.

After taking care of business, I brush my teeth and head to the Comms Box (photo to follow) for our morning scheduled contact at 8AM with the home office in Punta Arenas, in which we exchange weather and discuss upcoming flights and the day's schedule. Then off to breakfast, which is toast, eggs and such. At 8:45 we have a staff meeting during which all the department heads discuss their plans for the day, make requests for assistance, and are given direction by the Field Operations Manager (FOM).

By 9:15, we are ready to begin our regular duties, the subject of a future email.

Regards to all my friends and readers, from this very, very beautiful place, which seems to change its attitude and the quality of its light continuously throughout the day.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Calls from Antarctica

Dad has been able to call us every few days on his satellite phone and he regrets that he is not able to add to his blog more often. He sounds great however there is a slight delay between our voices. The temperatures in Antarctica have been fluctuating almost everyday. A warm day would be 0 degrees F and a cold day would be -20 degrees F. Yesterday the temperature was a broiling 28 degrees F. All day around the camp everyone wore T-shirts because of the intense heat :) The average windspeed in Patriot Hills has been an incredible 40 miles per hour and Dad has had a hard time getting to sleep at night because of the noise.

Dad has also had many fun experiences such as a ride on a snow-mobile and many conversations with interesting people. He had drinks in the Canadian pilots' tent the other day, and was able to watch a tractor filled with 100 barrels of fuel begin its journey to the refueling station about halfway to the South Pole. It will be dropping off the fuel so that the planes traveling to drop people off at the South Pole can refuel on the trip back. Dad also says that the food is really good and the people there are very interesting. He has spoken with the Antarctic mountain climbing guides and they have told him about their experiences climbing Mt. Everest.

Dad's job is to keep track of all the people who are traveling to the South Pole and climbing Antarctica's highest mountain, Mt. Vinson. He has met all these people, some of whom will be walking for fifty-eight days to the South Pole in high winds for fun. He also has to keep track of the weekly plane flights from Chile shuttling supplies and expeditioners onto the continent. Sometimes he has had to stay up during the night and manage the plane flight because it was delayed and could not make the trip during the day. Fortunately it is allways light there so he has no trouble seeing.

One of the more difficult activities at the camp is showering. His showers consist of melting snow in a pot and pouring it over youself. then you soap off and pour a second pot of water over yourself. Not exactly the best way to shower, but it works.

Most importantly he is happy and he is doing something he never expected to do.


P.S. You are all welcome to send Dad an email but it must be short. two sentances max. No attachments or files. He can only recieve very small amounts of data. You can send the emails to

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Getting ready to go!

Hello All!

Here is a photograph taken yesterday of runway snowblowing operations at Patriot Hills.

An advance party flew into Patriot Hills a few days ago on a pair of Dehavilland Twin Otters and found a great deal of snow on the ice runway. So they are spending this week blowing snow and otherwise grooming the 7500 foot ice runway for our arrival, which may be as soon as tomorrow. It is a monumental task for a small number of people.

We have spent the past week oranizing radio and other logistical gear and meeting with expeditions here in Punta Arenas. Now our bags and the equipment are stowed on the Ilyushin 76 jet waiting at Punta Arenas airport. The pilots - all Ukrainians - are former officers in the Soviet air force - Zdrastbyi! Kak ti pozhivayesh!

When we arrive at the base we will set the camp up from scratch. All gear is either is stowed in an under-ice cave last season or that which we bring with us. I imagine that it will be gorgeous but cold - yesterday the temperature at the base was minus 4 Fahrenheit.

First thing we will do is set up our mountaineering tents - one per person. I will additionally be working with the others to get the communications tent set up as I will need to go to work immediately - four expeditions set out the moment we arrive and the Ilyushin needs to be followed on the way home less than two hours after it arrives.

That all for now from picturesque Punta Arenas. Going down to the pier to say hello to the Americans aboard the MV Gould, an icebreaker heading to the US base at Palmer Station on the Antarctic Peninsula

Cheers, Adam

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Greetings from the Straits of Magellan

Punta Arenas, Chile

Flew down on LAN airlines from Santiago yesterday morning. Argued with the airline beforehand about the excess baggage charge, in addition to the one I paid in NYC. We compromised. Then I sat down on the plane, and a young woman twice my weight sat down beside me. Go figure.

I arrived yesterday afternoon and met up with those members of the team who have arrived already. Great bunch of people from all over. We had lunch at a local Croatian restaurant - fully 30% of the city of Punta Arenas is of Croation origin, then Italian for dinner. Never ordered lasagna in Spanish before.

Staying in a small local hotel. I was chatting with the night desk clerk who turns out to be the owner. Turns out he was an American Field Service exchange student in Troy Michigan in 1982. Then went to law school in Chile and got his masters in maritime law in Britain. Was then hired by the Mengistu government in Ethiopia to draft a maritime code. Worked on it while living in Geneva, where he met his British wife. Mengistu government then fell, Ethiopia lost Eritrea and became landlocked, and Ethiopia continued nonetheless to keep working on the maritime code. When that was done, he moved his wife and children back to Punta Arenas where he practices maritime law by day and manages the family hotel by night. AFSers, everywhere you go!

Love to all. Adam

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Hamming it up in Santiago

Hi All
On the flight down, the plane stopped in Lima, and a very pleasant, handsome Peruvian fellow sat next to me.  He was trained in Lima as an electrical engineer and worked for the United Nations Development Program.  He retired and became a consultant - he looks around forty - and his wife took a job with 3M.  He works at home, she has a five minute commute so that she can take advantage of the Peruvian law allowing her one hour each day to come home and nurse their baby (in addition to one hour for lunch).  Now isnt that civilized?
He was flying to Buenos Aires via Santiago on an interesting mission.  The Argentinian government put out a tender for 50,000 computers for students.  Evidently every computer dealer in Argentina was bidding on the deal but the government wanted to avoid any suggestion of favoritism.  So what did they do?  They decided that they were only going to ask for advice from experts who lived OUTSIDE Argentina.  So he was flying in for five days to help make the decision.  Brilliant, yes?   Reminds me of the scene in the movie version of the "Untouchables" where the Judge at the last minute exchanges the tainted Capone jury with the one hearing the unrelated trial down the hall.  I would love to try that out with a couple of Pentagon programs.  Bring on the Canadians!
I arrived in Santiago this afternoon, checked in at the lovely Hotel Diego de Velazquez on Guardia Vieja in the Providencia District.   The drive from the airport along a superhighway passes through five miles of tin-roofed shantytowns.   Then the road leads into a very beautiful tree lined city, surrounded by towering snow-capped mountains.  I am sure the folks who came from Bavaria sixty years ago found it just like home.....
The first thing I noticed is that other than my two ham radio friends here in Santiago - Dr. Giordano (Dino) Bosami CE3PG and Roberto Vargas Del Villar CE3CDV - not a single person I have met outside the hotel speaks a word of English, and their English is nothing to write home about (well, actually, I guess it is).  Furthermore, nobody - not the hotels, not the kiosks - sell maps of the City.
The way to get around is by the subway, the Metro.  The subway is sensational: clean, quiet, orderly, and it runs every two or three minutes.  Since I cannot find a map, I have taken to using my GPS to locate my hotel and the nearby subway stations, so that I can find my way back in a Hansel & Gretel like fashion.   So far, it has worked.   By the way, my Iridium satphone costs one-half as much per minute as the phone in the hotel.  My cellphone, on the other hand, doesnt work at all.
After checking in, I picked up Chilean radio licenses for my Antarctic compatriot Alan Cheshire VK0LD and myself and went over to visit the Radio Club of Chile, in another part of town.  Fired up their radio, and spent an hour or so as CE3/K2ARB chatting with hams in Uruguay, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and of all places, Guinea, Africa.  Had they not closed the Club at 7PM, I would have been operating all night.
Going out to dinner now and maybe a movie if I can stay awake.  The stores are fully stocked and not expensive but I have no room in my bags at this stage of the trip.  Will report in tomorrow.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Rescue at Sea

I thought you folks would be interested in seeing a photograph of the rescue at sea that we coordinated the month before last. We were sailing down from Maine in choppy seas when we found by chance a yacht in distress at dawn in the middle of the Gulf of Maine, far from the shipping lanes. Using our VHF radio, we remained on the scene for three hours to coordinate communications between the stricken vessel, the Coast Guard shore station, the Coast Guard cutter dispatched to the scene, and a nearby vessel in contact with the family of the crew of the dismasted yacht. My brother Dave snapped this photograph of the moment when the Coast Guard arrived, a happy moment for all of us!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Polar Expeditions from Patriot Hills

The base at Patriot Hills is a well-known launching point for expeditions travelling to the South Pole. The trip from PH to the Pole takes anywhere from 40 to 60 days, and since the season is only 87 days long, the expeditioners come in early in the season to get a head start. In fact they will be flying in with me on the first flight on or about November 8th.

Once they jump off, I will maintain a daily schedule of shortwave and/or satphone contacts with each party to make sure that they are safe and on track.

The website at briefly lists this year's Polar expeditions flying into Patriot Hills. More about them when we meet up.

Kiwis on Ice– 2260 km

Kiwis Kevin Biggar and Jamie Fitzgerald will depart from Hercules Inlet hoping to ski to the South Pole and kite back, without resupplies. This would be the first time such a trip is done without airdrops - the 2005 Kites on Ice expedition completed the same 2200km long itinerary, but had a resupply at the Pole.

Kevin (37) and Jamie (26) have not done any polar trip before. But they are used to working as a team – not as polar skiers, but as ocean rowers: In 2003 they won the Trans-Atlantic rowing race.

Expedition’s website:

Polar Quest - South Pole – 2260 km

Polar Quest team will be the first British Navy group to ski to the South Pole since Captain Scott's expedition in 1912. The current Captain Chapple's team however is determined to enjoy a better fate than their predecessors.

The team will conduct a 2,800 km, 65-day, return ski from Hercules Inlet to the geographical South Pole. The team plans on reaching the SP unsupported, and then kite all the way back (it is unclear if they will get a resupply upon arrival at the Pole though).

Members have been selected among the most experienced ranks of the British Naval service. The Polar Quest South Pole expedition members are Sean Chapple (leader), Pollyanna Hatchard, Craig Hunter, Paul Martin, Ross Cane, and Andrew Brown.

Earlier this year, Captain Chapple led four Royal Navy novices to the Magnetic North Pole. The team arrived on April 30 after a 26 day, 240 km trip.

Expedition’s website:

Hannah McKeand- solo, unsupported for Geographic South Pole (1130 km)

After reaching the South Pole in 2004/05 season as member in a supported team, British Hannah McKeand is back to Antarctica – by sea and ice.

In October Hannah will board the Blizzard sailboat off the southern coast of Tasmania for a trip to the Magnetic South Pole. Right after, she will go for the “other” South Pole – the Geographic one.

The plan is simple: Ski the 730 miles to the South Pole, solo and unsupported in a record time of 40 days.

Hannah plans to land at Patriot Hills and practice for two weeks; skiing to Hercules Inlet and back - before going for the Pole.

Hannah's website:

Southern Reach - 1130 km

Southern Reach, a team of 7 British Royal Air Force men, will attempt to reach the Geographic South Pole unsupported. The team hopes to complete the 700-mile trek in 50 days: If everything goes according to plans, they will depart from Hercules Inlet on November 8 and will reach the Pole by December 27, just in time for a Polar New Year’s Eve.

Southern Reach team leader is Warrant Officer Al Sylvester; deputy leader is Lain Kirk; other members are Flying Lt. Kevin Scully, Squadron Leader Kev Eaton, Corporal Phil Mainprize, Sgt. Ian Stewart and Corporal Mike Beveridge. Some of them serve in rescue corps; and all are keen outdoorsmen.

Expedition’s website:

Measuring Antarctica

In August, the USGS Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names (ACAN) approved 48 new names for features on and around the Vinson Massif in the Sentinel Range including 4 mountains and 14 peaks. Nine of the peak names were proposed by Damien Gildea. Now the Aussie climber and skier is returning to Antarctica for the seventh straight year; to again measure the mountains he climbs. One of the summits he hopes for this season is the highest unclimbed peak in the Sentinel Range.

Teaming up with Damien is usual climbing mate Chilean Camilo Rada - a newcomer this year is also Jed Brown from Alaska. Jed is a climber but also a math wiz who works at UAF with computer modeling of the Antarctic ice sheet. A fourth member might be confirmed later.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Sunscreen and goggles - 6,000 miles south of the Equator?

As today's satellite photo from NASA demonstrates, an enormous hole in the ozone layer of our atmosphere continues to persist over the Antarctic. Within the outlines of this hole, ultraviolet rays fall on the surface of the Earth with full force.

Epidemiological studies by the World Health Organization have demonstrated that excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the Sun materially increases the incidence (among the unprotected, at least) of malignant melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma of the cornea, and cataracts.

I figure that with a lifetime of sailing, I had used up whatever exposure allowance I had coming. So with the advice of a dermatologist and mountaineering experts, I purchased the highest value sunscreen I could find (70 PSF), the darkest sunglasses available (with 100% UV protection and 95% reduction in sunlight), and a noseguard.

The hole in the ozone layer is entirely man made. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's) released from air conditioners and aerosol cans are the culprit. Scientists recently reported that international treaties agreed to in 1996 have stabilized the amount of CFC in the atmosphere and they hope that this wound in the earth's atmosphere will ultimately heal itself.


Julbo Colorado Alti Spectron X6 Sunglasses

Hawaiin Tropic Sunblock SPF#70 4 oz.

Beko Nose Guard


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Thursday, September 07, 2006

USGS Topo Map of Patriot Hills Region (Oriented North)

Here is a US Geological Survey topographic map of the region immediately surrounding Patriot Hills, which I hope to explore in my rare days off. The base camp is in the center of the map, about a third of the way down. I hope to help install a VHF repeater up in the hills to increase the coverage area for VHF handheld radios used to communicate with staff and expeditions.

As it will be difficult to send images once I reach Patriot Hills, I will refer to this and other online maps and photos as a reference in future blogs. I recommend that those of you following along download the detailed and far more useful (not to mention beautiful) version of this map found on the Web at

US Navy Aerial Photo of Patriot Hills: Facing Northwest

Patriot Hills is the small set of hills in on the right. The katabatic winds come whipping down from the 9,000' elevation at the Pole (left to right in the photo) and blow the snow off the ice on the downwind side, creating one of two "blue ice" runways in Antarctica.
This one is 7,500 feet long by about 160 feet wide, enabling it to handle craft as large as the chartered Ilyushin 76 jet that arrives weekly (weather permitting). The jets are flown on their ten-hour round-trip journey by Russian crews with whom I will be speaking enroute from Chile via HF (Shortwave) and Iridium satphone.
What makes it complicated is that the katabatic winds blow perpendicular to the runway and Ilyushins, with their big tails, do not cotton to crosswinds above 18 knots, so the key decision is the "go or no-go" one that must be made before the plane departs Chile. Patriot Hills has a full-time meteorologist on staff who will sit in the same hut as I. He will rely on various sources of weather information, including automated weather stations set up by Stanford University a hundred miles or so upwind towards the Pole.

Gigi Says: "Good Thing They Didn't Ask Me If You Can Cook!"

The folks in Antarctica had a pretty definite idea of what they were looking for. Aside from cooking, Gigi said that this was a job I had preparing for my entire life. Here is the hiring criteria they had prepared:

· Native English language speaker. If not native, then a demonstrated high oral proficiency in
English with no heavy accent that would impede clear voice communications over radio

· Previous experience with aircraft operations involving fixed wing aircraft and / or helicopters using long haul HF SSB and short haul VHF AM or FM voice circuits.

· Demonstrated ability operating modern HF Single Side Band & VHF radio receivers and transmitters.

· Demonstrated ability with standard ITU radio procedures, codes and log keeping

· Demonstrated ability with standard ITU Distress, Urgency & Safety communications procedures

· Demonstrated ability to operate satellite equipment for voice and data calls. Understanding of satellite orbits, especially differences between geostationary and polar orbits and associated advantages / limitations.

· Ability to touch type (or otherwise type reasonably fast)

· Commercial Radio Operator License, Unrestricted (Full) Amateur License.

· First Aid certificate

· Understanding of HF (ionospheric) and VHF (line of sight) propagation & limitations

· Understanding of HF & VHF antenna theory. Able to diagnose and rectify simple antenna faults using basic test equipment and tools

· Familiar with and able to use basic radio test equipment such as Voltage Standing Wave Meter, Power Meter, Volt Meter etc.

· Demonstrated ability to use a soldering iron

· Able to understand block and circuit diagrams and diagnose major equipment & component faults (such as blown transistors, short circuit diodes, open fuses, short circuit capacitors, burned out resistors etc.) using basic test equipment

· Understanding of solar panel technology & its limitations (such as max. current per unit of solar radiation / insolation angle etc.), DC Voltage regulators DC – AC converters

· Understanding of different types of batteries (Lead Acid wet & gel, Nicads, Nickel Hydrides, Lithium Ion, Lithium Polymer etc. and the different charging regimes.

· Understanding of Specific Gravity & able to use hygrometer to diagnose when a battery has past its “useful service life” (i.e. not holding charge, not able to deliver sufficient power at a specified current etc.)

· Able to diagnose and rectify simple faults in power supplies, voltage converters, chargers & batteries.

· Understanding of (and able to tell the difference between) natural and man-made interference, how it is caused and general methods used to reduce or eliminate it

· Computer skills: Intermediate computing knowledge. ALE uses PCs, mostly running Windows OS, some using LINUX.

· Computer skills: Proficiency using Microsoft Office suite (Word, Excel etc.) Able to assist others in ‘helpdesk’ style tasks.

· Computer skills: Familiarity with main web browsers (Internet Explorer, Mozilla, Netscape, etc.)

· Computer skills: Familiarly with main email clients. POP3 and similar

· Mechanical skills such as able to repair or make simple metal or wooden articles using basic mechanical tools (drill, hacksaw, file, taps & dies etc.)

· Understanding of and / or previous experience using HF data modes such as Pactor, or Amtor.

· Computer applications knowledge in common packages such as Microsoft Word & Excel (i.e. “help desk” type skills – assisting staff & clients with problems associated with using a particular applications package, rather than dealing with a software bug or loading problem).

· Computer networking skills, knowledge of Ethernet, TCP/IP, Ping command & Wireless LAN,

· Able to set up peripherals such as printers, scanners, digital cameras etc.

· Understanding of data protection and confidentially issues

· Rigger experience, e.g. able to use a gin pole, swage machine, turnbuckles, bulldog grips, D shackles etc. Understanding of mechanical stress, strain, guying techniques, pulleys etc.

· Language abilities in Spanish or Russian

· Proficiency in Morse Code (any speed)

· Communications Tower Rescue training or experience

· Mountain Rescue or similar “Search & Rescue” type training or experience (such as Fire Brigade, Police, Armed Forces, National Guard, State Emergency Services)

· Understanding of meteorological instruments & observations, experience with AWS

· Cooking Skills

· Advanced First Aid / Paramedic skills

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The E-Mail From Australia That Hooked Me

To: Antarctica List
From: Alan Cheshire
Subj: Job Opportunity - Antarctic Radio Operator
Date: 8/14/2006 10:00:25 PM Eastern Standard Time

I am looking for someone for a temporary position as a radio / communications operator at Patriot Hills, Antarctica this coming season. The job involves maintaining voice communications with Twin Otter aircraft and mountaineering parties on HF, VHF and Iridium satellite. This would suit an experienced HF amateur radio operator and is a paid position with airfares to/from Punta Arenas provided. Patriot Hills is located at 80 degrees South, at the southern end of the Ellsworth Mountains and is serviced by a weekly 5 hour flight on an Ilyushin 76 cargo jet from Punta Arenas, Chile. Accommodation, food Patriot Hills is provided free of charge. Dates are approximately mid October 2006 to end of January 2007, but a shorter period may be negotiated for suitable candidates. The position requires very good English language skills and a reasonable level of fitness. Initial expressions of interest to me via my email address.
73, Alan VK6CQ / VK0LD / VP8PJ / 9V1DX

Monday, September 04, 2006

My Journey

During the third week of October, I am heading down to the Antarctic interior for three months where I'll work as a Communications Officer at a remote field camp called Patriot Hills, about 600 or so miles from the Pole. I have dreamed of working in Antarctica since I was fourteen years old, and when the possibility of fulfilling this dream came 38 years later in the form of an email from Australia about two weeks ago, I was powerless to resist. Gigi and the entire family have been enthusiastically supportive. There is no Internet access at the base but there is limited access to email, so I have established this blog to keep you all up to date. Please feel free to post comments. Adam