We are finally on our way to Antarctica. Bad weather in McMurdo delayed the opening of the Long Duration Balloon facility and we were forced to stay home and wait. Henric and I arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand, yesterday after a 24-hour journey. We left the US on Thursday and arrived on Saturday, skipping Friday by crossing the international date line from east to west. Our Japanese colleague, Hiromitsu Takahashi arrived late the evening before. It is spring here with mild temperatures and mostly sunny. Flowers are in full bloom. For me, this is a nice change from the rainy New Hampshire fall.
Henric and I arrived at different times and did not meet until today. We both took a walk around Christchurch exploring the city. Since the last time I was here, the city was hit by a series of devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. Scars from these events are still visible across the entire town, but in particular in the center. The iconic Christ Church Cathedral at the heart of the city was damaged severely and its spire was almost completely destroyed and had to be demolished. The good news, however, is that there has been huge progress in rebuilding the city, and one can see many new buildings as well as a lot of construction sites everywhere.
Today, we were issued our ECW gear, short for Extreme Cold Weather. The standard issue consists of parka, wind pants, gloves and mitts, a neck gaiter, balaclava, snow goggles, and boots. We were also shown training: What do you do if you are caught in a snow storm? What do you do if you encounter a wild animal? How to dispose of chemicals and what to do if there is a spill? The latter was emphasized very strongly as conservation of the pristine Antarctic environment is not just a goal of the US Antarctic Program, but also required by US law.
We will enjoy the warmth and the sun while it lasts. In the afternoon, Henric, Hiromitsu and I went on a hike up to and along Crater Rim trail at Lyttelton Harbor. The bay is a relic of an extinct vulcano, and the steep climb up the hills is rewarded with a beautiful view of the harbor and the hills surrounding it.
Tomorrow we are scheduled to fly to Antarctica. We will be riding a C17 military cargo aircraft operated by the US Air Force. We will be picked up from the hotel at 5:15am, check in starts at 6am, and the flight is scheduled to depart at 9am. Recently, the weather in McMurdo has been good, let’s hope it stays that way.