Posted by: sioglac | Nov 18, 2011

Down the rabbit hole…

After packing some sleep kits in preparation for Happy Camper school, we ate dinner and immediately followed that with a Outdoor Safety Lecture. This ~60 minute video/talk is a requirement for leaving the base to recreate on our own. I had every intention of running after the lecture, but word spread (rumors spread like wildfire at McMurdo to the point we were told specifically in our in-brief to verify rumors with a supervisor) that the “ob tube” was closing at 8AM the following day (or in 12 hours).

Now you might ask, “what in god’s name is an ob tube?” And the answer is simple: it’s a huge metal tube that goes from the sea ice surface to the ocean below, with an observation room at the bottom. By huge, I mean about 2 or 2.5 feet in diameter. A picture might be easier:

The hands are in the picture for reference, of course

The sea ice is ~1-2 meters (3-6 feet) thick and the ocean below has the possibility of a wide variety of really cool animals (e.g. orcas, penguins, etc.). Although I’m not the most biologically savvy person, it’s not everyday you get to see the sub-ice world. Obviously this is high on my list of priorities and my run got put on hold (and is somehow still on hold).

The OSL lecture (of course it has a three letter acronym) ended at 8PM. My field team and our McMurdo friends (okay mostly our Whillans Ice Stream friends– Paul Winberry and his two already-in-McMurdo field assistents (Angie and Tarun)) decided to meet at 9PM to let the post-OSL riffraff filter off the sea ice before we headed out into the gorgeous evening:

By gorgeous, I mean it was just freaking incredible. As a cherry on top, I turned to my right as we were walking and saw hut point, home of Robert Scott’s Discovery Hut (have you figured out I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to the race to the South Pole?):

The big ol’ cross you see is in memory of George Vince, who died during an expedition in the area in 1902. Anyway, we get to the ob tube by 9:15 or 9:30PM and find this:

Now I need to interrupt here to tell you a bit about myself: I hate lines. I can’t stand waiting in (on?) them. And the only thing I dislike more than a line is a long line. I just don’t have the patience for it (it’s a pretty serious character flaw). I can’t really remember the last time I waited on a line longer than 15-20 minutes. Seriously. I don’t do it.

Now here’s something totally insane: I waited on this line for TWO AND A HALF HOURS.

OUTSIDE.

IN ANTARCTICA. 

You might rhetorically ask, “Hm, how many people have waited on a 2.5 hour line exposed to elements on the coldest, driest continent on Earth?” And I will answer this rhetorical question: 10.  Because that’s how many people were in my group. I really would find it hard to believe that anyone else has had the perfect confluence of incredible weather and limited-time opportunity to make this feat exist at any other point.

I know I’m supposed to keep the outlook positive for my dear readers on the internet, but I have to admit I was pretty jaded and bitter by the time our group found ourselves at the front of the line. Lucas went first. Hee went down, then he came up:

Okay fine, Lucas looked pretty giddy coming up. But I’m a stubborn one. I still didn’t believe that anything was worth a 2.5 hour wait (with the POSSIBLE exception of a Sweet Mandy B’s cupcake). I went next. Before I went down, I said something along the lines of “I think I need to see a killer whale eating a tiger to make this wait worth it.”

And man was I wrong:

Pictures obviously cannot even come close to doing justice to this experience. I would have waited two hours just to see the blue underside of the sea ice. The bioluminescent things (really, I’m awful at biology. They aren’t animals. Can I say sea-creatures??) took it a big leap past “worth it”. I didn’t see a single organism more than about an inch long and I didn’t care. I could have stayed in the tube for hours if I didn’t feel badly for those “upstairs” that hadn’t seen it yet. Sadly, none of the pictures looking down into the ocean came out, but that too was mind-blowing. The third picture gives me goosebumps just thinking about being back down there.

I’m still in awe that I climbed a ladder to the world beneath the sea ice. I would wait on a four hour line to do this again. Who knew that it would take traveling to an inhabitable continent to come to overcome my hatred of lines? Totally bizarre.

-matt

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