santarctica 2010

Santarctica at Mcmurdo Station.

the first santarctica, 2003

I would call this the southernmost Santacon, but we’re a good 700+ miles from the South Pole, and there could be a couple of Santas making merry or doing something or other. You might say, “ah, well, close enough,” but Polies take their global position at 90 South quite seriously. So, I respectfully and  affectionately call our little gathering “The Largest Congregation of Santas Furthest from the North Pole.” It’s a mouthful, but someday it will be a world record if I ever get around to contacting Guiness.

December 12, 2010, 2pm, dorm210 lounge. Particpants trickle in and are issued Santa and Elf suits of the finest quality felt. Some have blown-out crotches or armpits, most lack belts, the Elf boots lack soles, and many Santa beards contain goo of an unknown substance. I claimed the one Rudolph suit in the bunch, complete with blinking nose. After we departed the lounge, and before reaching our first destination, we attacked three normal humans and transformed them, willingly, into Santa. Krampus carried the bag which bore their naughty street clothes.

photo by Pauline Yu

Our first stop, of course, is the iconic carved wooden sign that bears the name of our beloved work camp. In the background we see the tangle of power lines and heavy equipment preparing the new ice pier.  Beyond that, at the tip of Hut Point Peninsula, Discovery Hut (1901) stands as a proud testament to the history of Antarctic exploration. Beyond that is the 10 foot thick sea ice that bridges us with the Continent and the majestic mountains of the Royal Society Range. I would like to think that if Robert Falcon Scott or Ernest Shackleton were standing on the verandah of the hut looking north, they would approve of our antics as fifteen of us clad in red, white, and green (of the finest quality felt, mind you) clung proudly to the sign and hip flasks and posed for photographs.

Walking back to the downtown area of McMurdo, we decided it was high time for some reindeer games such as ‘Red-Santa-Red-Santa-send-SANTA-Right-Over.’ The elves, outnumbered, of course were not the winners, but did accumulate some Santas. No injuries were sustained.

photo by Antz Powell

We walked over to Ivan the Terra Bus, parked downwind of Santa’s port-of-call, the Post Office. Ivan is a 56 passenger Foremost bus, a massive beast of a vehicle with tires nearly as tall as I. Legend has it that a song has been written about Ivan. Christine Powell had suggested, when looking at a photograph from a previous Santarctica, that Ivan’s name could easily be changed to ‘Ivan the Merry Bus.’ I found that to be a marvelous and innocently mischievous idea, and led the group over to the bus with the tools to do so.

photo by Antz Powell

We frolicked around Ivan, and wished him Season’s Greetings, and built ourselves a pyramid composed of Santas and Elves. As it turns out, the volcanic grit that makes up the substrate of McMurdo is painful on Santa’s knees and paws, especially with the added weight of more Santas and Elves.

photo by Kristin Martin

Santa decided it was time for a drink, and wandered to intrude upon the mid-afternoon serenity of Coffee House. On the way, a distraction presented itself, and the gym seemed like a good stopping point. Some checked in to the nearby library and quietly looked at magazines while others were curious about the workout regimen. The Elves assisted weightlifters in the gym with heavy weights. A Santa was benchpressed. I bounced about a bit on a yoga ball. Then, drinks.  Bottles of wine were distributed for the more refined Santas and Elves, while I opted for the candy cane taste of Peppermint Schnapps. “Ho’s” all around as we outfitted Peggy the bartendrix in Santa regalia.

photo by Antz Powell

After we left the Coffee House, a couple Santas were found sleeping in the outside cardboard bin.

photo by Antz Powell

We spread some cheer, and pulled them out. Then, on to the galley to inspect that preparations were going on for Christmas. All was well, and we moseyed on to the Chapel of the Snows, a place that I had only visited once before for a yoga class. We respectfully kneeled on the altar and said some ‘Ho-llelujahs,’ then wandered to the back of Hut 10 to crash the Environmental department’s holiday party. One, two, then ten Santas peeked in the windows. We were not invited inside, so we sat on the deck and admired the coastline.

photo by Pauline Yu

Nearby, the sound of a honking front loader at the back of Building 155 caught our attention. What could that be? The sound of the weekly beer delivery from the beverage warehouse to the store? Why yes! Santa, My Elf, and myself found it would be only proper if Santa would assist in the delivery of such a locally treasured commodity. We passed flats of Speights along the assembly line into the storeroom. Santa approves of cooperation.

photo by Pauline Yu

Krampus, My Elf, and myself found that it would be only appropriate to end the Santarctic activities with an ascent of Ob Hill, the little conical peak that watches over McMurdo. I changed into some warmer gear, and performed the Christmas miracle transformation from Rudolf to Santa. We scrambled up the rocky trail to the site of the former nuclear power plant and the remains of a warehouse in the process of demolition.

We signed our names on the blue tray that marked the halfway point, and then made the summit head on into the wind. The cross at the top was erected for the memory of Scott, Evans, Oates, Bowers, and Wilson, and their ill-fated return from the South Pole in 1912. On the cross is inscribed “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” (Tennyson).

photo by Pauline Yu

Photo by Pauline Yu

Thank you McMurdo, for another

fun episode of Santarctica.

Until next year,


First Dispatch

A week ago today, I was in my best friends’ 1920′s period  wedding. The following day, I got on a plane to Christchurch New Zealand. The day after that, we were issued our cold weather gear, and walked around Christchurch. Last chance for draught beer and dark nights.

The day after that, we flew to Antarctica.

In my Antarctic repertoire, I have been a dishwasher, a sandwich maker, a propane inspector and refiller, a forklift operator, and pencil-counter. This year, I am a field technician for a marine biology research team funded by the National Science Foundation. I will be coordinating field operations, organizing vehicles, equipment, and other logistics to help their project run smoothly.

As for the science:

We will be drilling holes in the sea ice about 12-14 miles north of McMurdo, and dropping in hook and lines on little noodle fishing rods. We will be here working on the sea ice and in the lab with the fishes until mid December. By that time, the sea ice around McMurdo will start to degrade and become unfit to drive on.


Our science event number is B-308. We are a team of four: Brad, our PI (Principal Investigator), is a professor of Biology at Portland State University. We met at the McMurdo coffee house in summer 2005-2006 over many games of cribbage. AK and Isaac are both his grad students. AK is an avid D&D player, a wicked country line dancer, professional carpenter, and a knower of things about invasive marine green crabs in the Pacific Northwest. Isaac has a smashing sense of humor, is recently married, has red hair, and is writing his dissertation on Heat Shock Proteins and genetics of cold-adapted fish.

As for me, I have about 30 months (cumulative) experience working in McMurdo, but never on the side of science. I am not a biologist. This is new, and I am excited to be a part of this project.

Our official team blog can be found here.

Go Science!


ivan the terra bus – the music video

sharona came up to me shortly before i redeployed in 2007, and told me how she couldn’t get “ivan the terra bus,” a song bill and i wrote about a 54 passenger bus at mcmurdo, out of her head for months. the band, condition fun, was the silly brainchild of bill (guitar)and i (tuba), and assorted musicians on station who played weird instruments (accordion, banjo, trombone, bass). we mostly wrote kids’ songs about the weird vehicles we drive. they’re all recorded somewhere. on my last day in antarctica, sharona and holly filmed bill and i playing the song in the bandroom and hanging off ivan. i totally forgot about it.

antarctica is home to a few film festivals. the south pole international film festival (SPIFF) is a highlight of the season. mcmurdo hosts one in the summer, and one in the winter (see youtube: antzarctica).  all footage must be filmed and edited in antarctica. i have copies of most of them if you ever want to come over my house and watch them on a rainy sunday. in 2005, my friend brien and i entered a quick flick about a lonely bored pinstetter in the world’s southernmost bowling alley. as it turns out, sharona and holly edited their footage of “ivan” and submitted it to this year’s festival in mcm which i believe was last week. here it is, it’s totally cute. thanks, guys!

(ps, i think i had a cold, so bear with the stuffy nose.)

santarctica 2008.

spreading the polar jolly from afar….. (thanks katie!)

Alright… now that I’ve got your attention…


What is Santarctica, you might ask?

First you must decide if you’re a Santa or an elf and dress appropriately (costumes are provided to the first 50 or so people who show up).  Feel free to show up in your own SANTA or ELF costume.  Reindeer will also be welcome.  Decide on your first place to spread cheer and run, walk, skip there, spreading cheer along the way.  After joy and laughter have been brought to the first locale, move on and continue spreading cheer until you’re tired and nobody notices when you sneak off.


What places are visited?

Suggestions are always welcome!  There are a few other activities planned for Sunday, so appearances could be made at the softball game, burger bar, different drinking establishments, the McMurdo sign behind 209, some workcenters that don’t mind the distraction, Hut Point… who knows?


What if you can’t make it at 4pm?

We’ll plan to meet any stragglers at 6pm in Gallagher’s.  If you want to meet up, 6pm is your chance.


Remember to bring clothes to wear under or over your Santa or elf suit to keep you warm throughout the event.

Remember to have fun.

Remember to puke in Food Waste.  Nobody likes a disrespectful Santa.

Remember to spread the word.

Remember to charge your camera batteries the day before.

Remember to spread cheer.



T3, scurvy, and you.

i just finished writing a 12 page paper on Antarctic maladies.

my favorite passages:

ascorbic acid (vitamin C) was named such because it prevented scorbutus, a condition more commonly known as scurvy.

a quote stolen from a 2008 winterover:

"(T3 is) a mental state reached as a result of living in the dark for six months on a cold, remote island full of depressed bipolar psychos with constant ADD and PMS."

i miss antarctica.