Saturday, December 29, 2012

Antarctic Adventure 2012: Exploring New Zealand
After I got back from Antarctica I had a full day to myself in New Zealand. I decided to go on a bus tour of Christchurch and the surrounding areas. It was a three hour tour that had a much better outcome than Gilligan's Island.  I got to see the remnants of Cathedral Square, the Canterbury Museum, Botanical Gardens, Port of Lyttelton, Redcliffs and Sumner Beach.  It was a great way to see the surrounding area in a short amount of time. It gave me a very clear perspective on just how damaging the earthquakes over the past couple years have been. The city is severely damaged and will take years in order to repair and rebuilt.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Antarctic Adventure 2012: Back in New  Zealand
That was an amazing 36 hours down on the ice! I cannot even describe how outstanding this experience was and it was well worth all the long flights. I would like to send a special thanks to the 109th Airlift Wing from the New York Air National Guard for their coordination and helping me thorough every step of this journey.  Today they were able to put me on a resupply flight to the South Pole and even gave me a headset and let me sit in the cockpit for the 4 hour LC-130 Hercules ride to the bottom of the world. The view form the cockpit flying over Antarctic was breathtaking. Once we landed at the pole I had 20 minutes to explore before we took off again. They warned me not to run because the high altitude would tire me, but even after just quickly walking I was out of breath in minutes. I made it to the geographic south pole and saw the ceremonial south pole from a distance. Fun fact, the geographic south pole changes every year. 

As soon as I landed back on the Pegasus Air Strip on the ice sheet outside McMurdo, around 1800, I was told to eat quickly as soon as I got back because they had a busy night planned for me. We walked back over to Scott Hut but this time we had a guide to let us in the actual hut. It was incredible, and looked as if they had just left. There were animal carcasses drying in a store room, boxes and cans of food staked by the walk ways, and gear hanging up to dry. It was eerie, like stepping right back into history.

Scott's Hut built in 1902 with floating ice pier behind it.

Mummified Seal Carcass outside Scott's Hut.
Cross at Hut Point.
Seal Seen from Hut Point.
Seals by a crack in the ice by Hut Point. 

After I got back from Hut Point I headed off towards Scott Base, the New Zealand base close to McMurdo, for a tour of the pressure ridges. Pressure ridges occur where sea ice is being crushed  into the land by the ice shelf. The cracks that occur in the ice are popular places for seals to hang out. I was extremely lucky to be taken out to the pressure ridges because the United States closed them down three days before and the Kiwi's had closed them the day before because people were falling though the cracks in the ice.  Luckily they opened up a trail three hours before now and I was one of the lucky few to be allowed to go out onto the ice. I would like to give special thanks to Master Sargent Brian Marcyjanik who was instrumental in organizing this tour. It was one of the coolest thing I have ever experienced, walking between towers of ice, and getting as close as ten feet to seals. See more pictures on the Pressure Ridge slideshow on the left hand bar.  

 After the three hour adventure onto the ice, I got a few hours of much needed sleep and then was back on a C-130 Hercules for the flight back to Christchurch. I also got to talk to the forecasters at the weather center in McMurdo before the pilots were briefed in the morning.  My trip to Antarctica was a once in a lifetime experience, and with the help of the Air National Guard I was able to have experiences that some people who live in McMurdo for months never get to. Thank You!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Antarctic Adventure: Made it to McMurdo

I made it to the ice! It was the greatest feeling in the world, fours hours into the C130 flight, that I knew we were beyond the point of no return and I was actually going to get to Antarctica. I have about a day and a half here on the ice and, with the help of the unit down here, I plan on cramming as much in as I can. So far I have gone on two hikes, one up Observation Hill to see Scott's Cross and another to Scott's Cabin Point. I got to see Scott's original hut, built in 1902, some live seals in addition to a mummified one. They have me scheduled on the 1st flight out to the South Pole tomorrow and hopefully a tour or two when I get back. I am loving the fact that there is constant day light! Lots of pictures to come! (Random fun fact of the day, camera batteries get used up awfully quickly in the cold) I hope everyone back home has had an amazing holiday and I will keep you updated on my adventures.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Antarctic Adventure: Weather Setbacks and a New Zealand Christmas

Copthorne Hotel Commodore
Copthorne Hotel Commodore
Weather did not allow me to fly to the south on December 23rd. I was all packed up and prepared for the 8 hour flight down to Antarctica. My luggage did not arrived but I had plenty of issued gear to make it work.   I took about a 4 hour L-130H ride out towards McMurdo Station but the weather would not permit us to land so we turned back around. It was my 1st time flying in a C130 and the pilot let me watch the landing from the cockpit which was an outstanding view. It was an unexpected and amazing aerial tour of the Christchurch area. With Christmas so close, they scheduled me for the next flight down to the continent on the 26th of December. I received my long lost luggage when I landed from my boomerang flight and got to spend the next two days exploring Christchurch and enjoying Christmas with the New York Air Guard.  I will hopefully make it down to Antarctica tomorrow, so please cross your fingers for clear skies. I wish everyone back in the States a Merry Christmas!!
Downtown Christchurch, Container Shops. 

 After effects of the 2011 Earthquake that left most of the city condemned. A large part of the city is still quarantined and they are still debating the proper course of action to bring life back to the city.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Antarctic Adventure 2012: Flight Delayed
Both flights down to the ice today have been cancelled due to weather conditions. The flights are currently rescheduled for tomorrow morning. But in good news, they have located my bag!! It should be here sometime this afternoon. I have never been as excited for the prospect of seeing a bag. I am currently back in my hotel and am looking forward to exploring Christchurch this afternoon.
Antarctic Adventure 2012: Heading to the Ice 

After getting a good nights sleep, my day started by getting issued cold weather gear. It consisted off, two fleece jackets, two pairs of wool socks, boots, boot covers, hat, headband, neck guard, gloves, two pairs of leggings, snowpants and big gear warm coat (see picture). The rest of my day was spent enjoying New Zealand and trying to track down my missing luggage. It turns out that about 20 other people who are scheduled to go down to McMurdo the same day that I am are also missing there luggage. Luckily, they have tracked down all their luggage and it should reach Christchurch tonight before the flight out in the morning. However, my luggage decided to be difficult and is still missing. The First Sergeant drove me to the mall this afternoon to pick up enough stuff to get me through my week on the ice. If I do not get out on the flight tomorrow the next flight is not for another week. It is not an ideal situation but with the issued gear and the changes of clothes and toiletries I purchased this afternoon I should be fine for a week on the ice. Currently, I am scheduled to fly out of Christchurch tomorrow morning for the eight hour flight down to McMurdo. I talked to the pilot and navigator of one of the flights for tomorrow and they are not sure if will be able to fly out because of poor visibility  caused by the current weather conditions. Keep your fingers crossed for me that I wake up in the morning to my luggage at the front desk and a flight out to McMurdo. 
Antarctic Adventure 2012
Every year, the Naval  Academy selects one lucky Midshipmen to venture off to the South Pole for an Antarctica Trip over Christmas break. I was very fortunate this year to be selected. My name is Kelsey Ragsdale and I am a Senior at the Naval Academy. Some basic information about me so you know who is talking to you, I am an Honors Oceanography Major. I am an Army Brat and grew up in West Point, NY. I service selected Surface Warfare Oceanography option, which means that I will serve in the fleet as a Surface Warfare Officer (in hopefully Japan or Hawaii) for a few years before I laterally transfer into the METOC community. After watching Titanic and shark week at way to young of an age, the ocean and ice have always fascinated me.  It is a true dream come true to  be given this opportunity to travel to Antarctica  and get some hands on experience and to apply what I have learned in the classroom. 

My adventure became on December 18th as I left my family home in Arlington, VA and headed to Dulles. I had prepared the night before my watching Happy Feet and searching online for anything involving Antarctica. The plan was to fly to San Fransisco have a two hour layover and hop on another flight to New Zealand. However, the presence of a strong headwind lead to a slight change in plans. The plane had to land in Kansas City, MO to refuel, which took longer than expected increasing the delay time from 30 minutes to two and a half hours.  Thankfully CDR Hager came to the rescue and had re-booked my flights routing to me New Zealand through Australia that night.  And that is how I ended up with seven hours to kill in the Sydney.  Australia has a great public transportation system and I was able to get a cheap train ticket to explore the city for a few hours. It was an ideal layover, what could be better than walking around the Circular Quay, eating gelato, seeing the Sydney Opera House.  After that is was a relatively short flight to Christchurch, New Zealand. I arrived in New Zealand around 0100 on the 21st. Unfortunately my bag got lost in the shuffle. I entered New Zealand with one change of shirt a pair of shorts. Not really conducive attire for the ice. The Antarctic Program was extremely helpful and the command First Sergeant picked me up from the airport and brought me to my hotel, the Commodore Copthorne  Hotel. After one long travel day, I finally completed the 1st leg of my travel journey to the South Pole.