Geoff Sims @ UNSW
Home South Pole Diaries 2012/13 30th January, 2013


Wednesday, 30th January, 2013

Bag drag (John)

We have just returned from "bag drag" a process whereby we drag our luggage up to Building 141, have it tagged, weighed and palletized, then we ourselves are weighed along with our ECW gear and hand luggage. It's still possible we'll be bumped from tomorrow morning's flight to Christchurch, but being processed through bag drag is nevertheless an important milestone on our journey home.

ECW gear, including big boots and a reasonable collection of accessories in the pockets of Big Red (hand-warmers, snacks, sunscreen etc.) adds almost 20 kg to my body weight. It's no wonder it's exhausting tramping through snow at 4,500 m pressure altitude into a 20 knot wind!

With today being (possibly) our last day in McMurdo, I took advantage of the splendid weather to hike around the Hut Point Loop trail. Starting at the Vehicle Maintenance Facility (VMF), this 2-hour hike heads up towards the "Arrival Heights" antenna farm overlooking the station. The most exciting find on the ridge is our original "AASTO" (Automated Astrophysical Site-Testing Observatory) that started our whole adventure in remote Antarctic site testing, culminating in the current PLATO/HEAT experiment. Originally installed at South Pole in 1996 and opened by the then Senator Hill (in what was the first visit to Pole by an Australian politician), AASTO was decommissioned a few years later, brought back to McMurdo, and has now been re-purposed as a laboratory for some radiophysics experiments. Fortunately, it retains its original green and gold colour scheme, a trademark of all of our automated observatories.

As if trapped in a giant spider's web, the "AASTO" continues to give noble service to science. In the far distance (some 30 km away) is Pegasus airfield.

A photo from 1996 showing the AASTO at Pole, alongside the G-tower that supported its two telescopes.

The trail continues around the ridge and offers sweeping views of McMurdo. For an ugly little town that looks like a cross between a military camp and a mining settlement, McMurdo is actually quite scenic from this distance!

McMurdo, looking her best.

A little further around the ridge the trail descends again to Hut Point, with Scott's historic 1902 hut and a monument to Seaman George Vince.

Vince's Cross.

Tomorrow night, assuming the Pegasus skiway hasn't melted again, we'll be in Christchurch.


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