Antarctica: December 2008


Tomo is leaving us today, so we all went out to the flight deck to see him off. I think Pete and Evan must be feeling a bit colder than Tomo.

Pete insisted that I be in one of the photos, so here I am with Tomo and Evan.

Continuing to permute the BICEPers, here's Tomo, Yuki, and Evan.

Evan's best yeti impression, with the help of Big Red.

Waiting for the plane to (un)load cargo and refuel takes awhile, so Tomo unpacked his soccer ball. Evan is demonstrating his skills.

It's never too late for one last round of soccer.

Time to board the plane!

Tomo waving in the distance...

...and finally boarding the C-130.

Tomo is being replaced by Hien and Rashmi, who are arriving tomorrow, and he left this set of instructions for them.


Rashmi and Pete are testing the genie lift in the lab today.

Yuki and Rashmi prepare hardware for one of BICEP's final measurements. As of tonight, we're burning off the liquid helium, and BICEP is at its end.


Today's a slow day at BICEP because we're just waiting for the instrument to warm up, so Yuki and I decided to go hole tending for Robert. He's preparing a a snow bucket.

The vault is a short walk from the station, about halfway to ARO.

The hatch is just marked by a small plywood sign that says "V-8." We don't know what it stands for.

After brushing snow off the surface...

...time to open up the hatch door.

Robert climbs down while Yuki and I stand guard at the top. I'm a big fan of the pea hat.

The bottom is about 20 feet down...

...and it was hard to see that day because the ice crystals were blowing around violently.

No, Yuki's not about to be executed, he's just hanging on to the snow bucket.

Yuki, hard at work as bucket operator.

After a short trip down the hole, Robert comes back out with a frozen power supply in the bucket.

We're done for now, so time to shut the hatch...

...and pop into ARO to warm up and check on some other instruments.

Here's Robert and his electronics rack in ARO, which reads out instruments that monitor UV levels.

A quick trip up to the roof to clean off some instrumentation.

All that work is pretty exhausting.

My turn to sit in the comfy chair.

Me, Robert, and Yuki in the ARO ladies' powder room.

Hard at work, or hardly working?

I'm trying out Yuki's bear claws, which are pretty good at keeping your hands warm. They also make good boxing gloves.

I'm ready to begin the fight.

Clearly, I need some more practice at this...

Game over. Robert won one of the gloves.

Yuki reclaims his bear claws and looks at us like we're crazy.

After the fun and games in ARO, time to head back to work. Here's the view from the clean air sector, looking back towards the station.

On our way back, we made a quick stop at the Pole for another hero shot. Robert, Yuki, and the power supply.


After some final accelerometer measurements, this is the last day that BICEP is intact. Here's Hien, Yuki, Pete, me, and Rashmi before we take the telescope off the mount tomorrow.

After returning from the lab, time to go on a camping trip! (Also known as snow school or happy camper.) The pisten bully is our ride out to the camp site.

Our departure was delayed a bit by the C-17 airdrop. I missed the drop itself, but the plane flew by the station a few more times.

There's quite a crowd watching from the observation deck.

Time to head out! There are 12 of us going camping, and the pisten bully has to make two trips to deliver all of us.

Robert is excited because he's the only guy in the first group of passengers.

Our camp site is about 2.5 miles from the station. First task: set up the bathroom. That's the poop tent in the background. We're about to install the bucket and the outdoor pee flag.

Second task: set up tents.

Danny, our instructor, is showing us how to make a dead man anchor in the snow.

After the guy lines are buried in the snow, time to learn how to properly tie them up.

After a short wait, the next group approaches in the distance...

...and the pisten bully finally arrives with the rest of the campers.

Some of the elastic in the poles have frozen, so a few people volunteer to warm them up in their jackets. Flint is having a pole malfunction, and Robert is trying to do a better job.

Once the tents are set up, it's time to build some snow walls to shield the tents from the wind. Some of us are digging trenches to start a snow quarry.

Danny cuts out a couple blocks of snow and illustrates how you can clean up the surfaces.

A nice smooth finish. Our snow blocks weren't nearly as nice.

Another project that we began was a giant snow hut. We started by making a pile of bags and covering them with lots of snow.

Robert's checking the wall thickness. After there's enough snow, we let it harden up before digging out the bags that are buried inside.

Time for a snack break. We have hot water and frozen cookies (they were pretty difficult to eat).

By now, everyone's starting to get pretty frosty. Here's Churchman and his outrageous hat. (He even has cheeksicles.)

That's me getting frosty and sunburned.

A few of us start digging survival shelters away from the main camp area. In the background, from left to right: poop tent, snow hut, two Scott tents, and three normal tents with snow walls.

Flint and his super shiny goggles.

The weather was beautiful for camping. Not too cold (about -20F) or windy, and we even had a sun halo.

Flint and I attempted digging a snow trench, but we only got this far. We blame our lack of success on the crappy shovel. At this point, it's 12:30am and Flint's tired from digging. (So am I.)

We abandoned the snow trench project, and Flint went off to seal the edges of his tent with snow blocks.

A quick break inside the tent to escape from the wind and brush off some eyesicles.

Robert has also accumulated an impressive amount of ice. It's impossible to keep glasses and goggles fog-free.


Kevin's looking pretty icy too. One common problem is the merging of mustachicles and I hear.

At around 3am, we popped into one of the Scott tents and started melting some snow to fill hot water bottles. Robert's getting started here and lighting the stove.

No chance of melting my water bottle.

There's steam rising from Robert's gloves (it's pretty impressive), but unfortunately, my lens is fogged over.

Dan is done digging his snow trench and decides to hang out with us for awhile. I guess he doesn't mind that his legs are out in the cold.

Identifying the owners of water bottles is a difficult game.

Another bottle is done, and Dan's still halfway in the tent.

Waiting for boiling...

We finally finished all the hot water around 5am. Everyone else was already asleep, so the camp site was completely quiet.

A lone Polie and the vast ocean of ice.

About half of the camping group slept in snow structures, but I went for a tent instead. Even though it was pretty warm, the sunlight and wind made it hard to sleep.

After a few hours of restless sleep, time to pack up and do some last minute exploring. I hadn't been inside the snow hut yet, so I dashed inside to take a look.

The "ceiling" is speckled with little holes. I wasn't sure if they were intentional or if they spontaneously appeared.

One last look at the snow walls before we had to knock them down (to prevent drifting). The station is just barely visible in the background.

My final stop was Dan's snow trench, which was truly impressive. The entrance is behind me in this picture, and I'm completely underground.

The top of the trench is covered with these "snow shingles."

The entrance tunnel is pretty small, but it's great for sledding.

Our rides back to the station arrived at 9:30 in the morning, so we had been outside for a total of about 12 hours. All of us were tired and worn out from digging through so much snow, but at least for me, this was one of the best experiences I've had on station. :-)

Here are some pictures of the happy campers that I got from Grace. In the left photo, the front row of folks are Craig, Flint, Danny, Kevin, Brian; the back row of folks are me, Grace, Dan, Amy, Lauren, Robert, Halley, Shelby. It was an awesome group.


Back to the lab in the afternoon, running on very little sleep. We removed the electronics from the cryostat, and the telescope looks naked now.

Afterwards, we positioned the cryoloader in the mount. Pete's checking some old photos, since all of our memories of this procedure are a bit rusty.

Some adjustments to the cradle, and that's enough for the afternoon. Tomorrow we extract BICEP from the telescope mount...


Today we're ready to remove BICEP from the mount. Yuki is ready to go, manning the come-along strap.

Yuki in action as cryo-unloader!

The window appears as the cryostat drops down.

Hien's attaching one of the "ears" so that we can transfer the cryostat to the lab stand.

The high lab stand and the cryoloader.

On the other side, Yuki and Rashmi are working on the other ear.

Seeing the light for the first time in two years.

We had to bring in the genie lift to adjust the cryoloader before transferring the cryostat onto the lab stand.

The improvised brakes for the genie lift are just ever so slightly dodgy.

Finally, BICEP is off the mount. Rashmi's working on detaching the cryoloader.

After the cryostat is off, time to secure it with the chain hoists...

...and adjust the tilt before pinning it in place.

A very tall cryostat.

The best part of cryo-unloading is that we get to bring out the second chain hoist and set up the swing. Pete's having a lot of fun.

In the afternoon, it's time to take the cryostat apart. We outsourced the job of removing the window to Robert.

Robert and Yuki are removing the last few screws that attach the insert to the 4K plate. There's not much room to work down there.

The insert and optics tube are out!

A message in a bottle ("It's vastly improved! -- November 24, 2006").

The opened cryostat attracted some admirers during the afternoon.

A little more work, and the optics tube is separated from the focal plane insert.


We hosted an open house and farewell party for BICEP's the end of an era. Our first visitors are checking out the mount and cryostat.

Churchman, Johnny, and Travis are hanging out with the guts of the instrument.

More visitors...Monty, Pete, Wayne, Damien, Sarah, Danny, Churchman, etc.

Even more visitors, and Abby is trying out the swing set.

Johnny, Sarah, Michael, and James are hanging out by the refreshments and watching the slide show.

We tilted the cryostat nearly horizontal so that people could get hero shots. It was a popular tourist stop. :-)

Here's Damien and the cryostat.

Another popular photo op was the view from the roof. Two stacks of beakers...Yuki, Robert, Flint, and me.

Yuki, Johnny, Marc, Flint, me, and Robert. They're all a ton of fun. :-)

Flint and the swing set. He's the first one of the evening to actually hoist himself up.

Somebody had the idea of wheeling the cryostat over and using it like a mechanical bull ride.

Straight out of Dr. Strangelove. :-)

What's left of the refreshments after most of the crowd cleared out.

We didn't have a corkscrew at DSL, so we used the patented Steffen method.

Just a handful of beers left in our cooler...a trashcan filled with snow.

A few of us stayed behind after most of the crowd left. It's finally time to get some hero shots with the cryostat.

Me and the cryostat.

Brad, Yuki, and Freija. Yuki's worried that Brad's planning on getting a little too friendly.

Yuki and the swing set!

The last few stragglers at the BICEP party...Brad, Yuki, Flint, Freija, me.

The telescope mount makes a great playground when the cryostat isn't in the way.

Four friends. Freija was asking for a serious photo, but only Brad and Flint are complying with her request.

Hanging around the mount...

Flint was a gymnast in a previous life.


I was pretty tired when I woke up this morning, and when I walked by the dish pit, I thought I was imagining things.

...but there really was a giant penguin standing there. Travis and Erin told me that it just walked in and decided to help volunteer with the dishes.

Today it's time to add shipping constraints to the insert and pack it up. One last pretty picture of the focal plane.

And a closeup of the corrugated feed horns.

The focal plane and the insert wall...

...and the 4K base plate. I just finished putting wrapping paper on the JFETs.

A quick diversion in the afternoon...Robert stopped by and took us on a snowmobile ride to the VLF antenna that he works on. It's pretty far from the station, which is barely visible in the background.

Robert and me. Wearing shiny helmets while riding snowmobiles is a new rule this year.

The VLF antenna and the infinite expanse of ice. Looking at the horizon, I can't imagine ever wanting to leave.

Back in the lab, Flint is helping us move the cryostat out of the building. He's putting on a superhero costume because none of us have taken the safety class that teaches proper superhero costume usage.

Pete, Rashmi, and Yuki are lowering the cryostat into the inner crate.

Rashmi edited this message that Denis wrote on the crate three years ago.

Meanwhile, I'm adding shipping constraints to the fridge.

BICEP is ready to leave the building!

Starting to hoist the cryostat over the edge of the building...

...and lowering it into the crate below.

Goodbye, cryostat.

Play time is a requirement when one is wearing a superhero costume.

A ninja in the BICEP lab...


More packing in the lab today... Hien's working on bubble wrapping the optics tube.

The insert is closed up and ready to be shipped out. Goodbye, BICEP.

It's my last day on station, so I'm trying to get in some last-minute fun activities. Here's Keith reviewing Charleston steps with Kricket and Travis.

We had to leave the gym soon because of a volleyball game. On the way out, I saw Shelby and Amy hanging out in the (now functional) greenhouse.

We relocated to the only available space in the station, the area right outside the post office. Keith is showing off by swing dancing with two girls at the same time.

Travis seems to be amused, even though he's sitting out for this round.

Me with Keith and Damien, my swing dancing buddies this season.

One last fancy pose for the camera.

I wandered back to the gym to check out the volleyball game. The blur is Robert.

There's a pretty big crowd playing volleyball today.

After the game ends, time for the final episode of Battlestar Galactica, season one.

...and after BG (and the usual cup of tea + midrats), a visit to the sauna. We're just hanging out in the beer can, but some brave souls are running out to the Pole.

We went down the beer can steps so we could observe the craziness going on outside. A nice way to end the day...


All good things come to an end, and today it's time for me to leave the Pole. By some miracle, my plane was delayed a few hours, allowing me to enjoy a little more ice time (and more than double the amount of sleep in my system). After comms announced that the plane had reached Pole 3 (~25 minutes out), Robert and Flint stopped by to say hi.

25 minutes passed quickly and the plane was soon on deck, so I left my room and walked out into the chilly air one last time. Goodbye, elevated station.

Me and my best friends on the ice...

...I'm going to miss them dearly.

There's my ride home. I was hoping that the cargo loading and unloading would take a long time.

The rest of Team BICEP also came out to the flight deck to say goodbye. Here's me and Pete.

One last look at the dark sector. I remember the feeling of coming home when I first arrived and saw this sight three years ago.

Robert's glasses are starting to fog up (as usual), and he looks like a pirate, yarr.

The plane and flight deck crowd are reflected in Flint's goggles.

Me and the dark sector in the distance.

The flight deck crowd, including Brad, Steve, other parka-covered SPT people, Robert, Hien, Yuki, and Flint.

Brad and Yuki. Yuki is apparently still worried that Brad's going to get a little too friendly.

Just standing around...

...waiting for the cargo loading to finish.

One last group photo of Brad, Yuki, Flint, Robert, and me.

Unfortunately, the red sticker didn't work for me, so I gave it to Robert, who's spending the winter here.

All too soon, it's time to board the plane. One last look outside through the window...

There are only four of us on the flight, so there's lots of room to walk around. (I opted for sleep instead.)

This is one of those pictures that I meant to take three years ago. The seatbelts on the C-130s are kind of confusing.

After a short flight, we arrive at McMurdo. The hatch is being opened to offload some pallets.

The pallets are quickly pushed off while the plane is still moving, and they disappear into the distance.

My first stop in McMurdo was building 136, where my friend Harry works.

Harry does a lot of metalworking in his spare time, and he's always carrying around boxes of treasure. Seriously -- he probably has at least five items of handmade jewelry in each pocket at any given time.

The latest additions to Harry's treasure collection are these boulder opals. He cut and polished all of these, and the colors are spectacular.

In addition to opals, Harry also has a huge collection of Erebus crystals, which are found inside these Erebus bombs.

Bartending is another one of his hobbies. :-)

Another view of the shop. It really is a fantastic work space.

Harry lives in the "corner bar" in building 155, which looks like this from the outside. This room has apparently been handed down for nearly 8 or 9 years.

Half of the room is an impressively cozy bar area, and the other half is reserved for sleeping. On a side note, you can watch TV in McMurdo, which is kind of a strange concept to me.

A parrot hangs out in the corner of the corner bar.

As nice as the corner bar is, we decided to visit Gallagher's, one of the "real" pubs in McMurdo.

It was karaoke night, and everyone was singing cheesy 80s songs.


After a night in McMurdo, it's time to leave the continent. The terrabus took us over to Pegasus field...

...where our plane was waiting. We're on a C-130 this time, which means less room and longer flying time.

The plane was still being fueled and loaded with cargo, so we spent some time wandering around the terrabus and checking out the local scenery. This is the bathroom.

The mountains in the distance are a little nicer to look at.

Some other views of Pegasus while we were standing around...

After a long wait (and some more sleep), the plane's ready for us to board. This one's operated by a South African flight crew.

To my surprise, the plane had normal seats instead of jump seats. It partially made up for the longer flying time.

On the down side, it was ridiculously crowded, and the cabin temperature was cranked up high enough to melt the chocolate in my lunch.

I popped up here briefly to escape from the heat in the main cabin (my seat was right under a heating vent).

Fortunately, by this time, we didn't have much farther to go. Our total flight time was 8.5 hours because of strong headwinds.

Back in Christchurch. Picking out your orange bag at the baggage claim is always a fun game. One last trip to the CDC to drop off our ECW gear, and then it's time to slowly return to civilization.

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