A Winter in Antarctica

Scott’s ‘Discovery’ Hut and the Milky Way. Photo by Josh Swanson.

This marks year #4 for us working with the Antarctic Support Contract – and we’re now looking at less than a week left for our fifth season and concurrently, first winter.

At this point, the program is like home to us – for better or worse (mostly better). We function with ease in McMurdo while struggling to fit into the swing of life when we’re back in the States. It’s not to say we prefer life in McMurdo, it has its ups and downs. Back in the U.S., we’ve been out of the game for so long, we feel like we’ve been stuck in a time machine. We’re not up to date with most things at home such as music, movies, trends, fashion and technology. Life in McMurdo rarely changes and when it does it’s amusing to watch how much it upsets people (we are both guilty of this at times). Time often feels like it stopped in McMurdo, a while ago. It’s easy to fall into a more simplistic lifestyle without smart phones and broadband. We make plans with friends by having an actual face-to-face conversation and social gatherings are often through word of mouth. Hell, we still rely on pagers! Paging 1993…

We celebrated our birthdays and anniversary on the ice with an amazing cake that our resident baker, Logan, put together.

The other day Dave and I were laughing at the fact that we’ve been nomadic for over seven years! We’re working and planning and saving and dreaming of building ourselves a house…after so long, it’s an exciting and intimidating concept. We’ll have to own a couch! I’ll have a wall to put up art and a place to store my shoes (I’ll be able to own more than a couple pairs once I have a place to keep them). We’ll need to decide on kitchen gadgets and paint shades, linens and lighting. It’s domiciliary madness!

I cannot wait to have a home; a sanctuary for Dave and myself, a little place that is ours and ours alone. Though, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid at the same time. Both Dave and I had to sever our ties with material life in order to live the lifestyle we live. I don’t mean that in a New Age spiritual way. I mean that we truly had to give away and sell 90% of our possessions in order to live on the boat. In some cases, these were things that we really liked and didn’t want to let go of but it made no practical sense in keeping. It was a difficult process at times, although once we got through the other side it was amazing how liberated I felt. I no longer felt bogged down by the typical pressures of day to day life. When I say this, what I mean is that a lot of us work so we can keep our nice things or better yet, buy more nice things. When you have no place to keep these nice things, there’s no point in wanting them. That’s not to say I stopped wanting things – I just didn’t pay much mind to these things anymore. Since then, most of the things we buy are for practicality reasons. Most, definitely not all. It doesn’t make much sense to cart around a second pair of high heels when space is limited or a set of cutlery knives when you’ve got no kitchen to cook in. Though, we have made frivolous purchases from time to time. For example, we’ve driven around the country with a juicer…yup…because I love fresh juice that much.  Oh, and there’s the food processor because you never know when you might be able to make fresh salsa! I mean, we’re not made of stone…

Winter flight operations. C-17 landing with night vision goggles. Photo by Josh Swanson.

The knowledge that we’ll be getting bogged down again is kind of disheartening. I’d like to think that someday, we’ll get rid of everything and put our nomad shoes back on for a bit. Nothing has to be permanent. We like to keep it fresh.

Marathon Photo 2
Dave participating in the marathon.
Janae - Loader 2
Janae spent much of the winter in this beast.

We’ve now been here for 11 months, by far our longest stretch yet. I think there are a lot of people who expect us to be going stir crazy and to be slightly bonkers after this long (I’ll let our friends and family be the judge of the latter).

During the summer season we lived with nearly 1000 people on station, 24/7 daylight, lines for just about everything and nearly no privacy to be had anywhere on station. Six months later, after the last big flight in February took the majority of people back to New Zealand, we began our winter season.

McMurdo Station under auroras and stars. Photo by Josh Swanson.
Castle Rock illuminated by the light pollution of McMurdo. Photo by Josh Swanson.

The population went to approximately 300 (we’re now down to 150). The days began to have normal cycles of day and night – but this didn’t last very long. Every day has brought more darkness and less sunlight, and now we don’t see the sun at all. It’s the first time I’ve ever been on station and have been able to enjoy silence. I can walk outside and not hear anything; no humming of machinery or the sound of endless people. This will be one of the things I miss the most about the winter season: silence.

Any time I step outside, I look up at the sky. I love to see the stars. During the summer, I would miss the night sky. I have yet to miss the sun. I thought I would, especially being from Arizona – but I don’t. When I look up, I never know if I’m going to be watching auroras undulating overhead, which they do, nearly every day. We’re lucky to be here during an active solar period, the auroras have been beautiful.

Auroras in Antarctica. Photo by Josh Swanson.

I work outside a lot but I rarely feel cold. I don’t know if I’m exceedingly acclimated at this point, have lost my marbles or if it just feels so much warmer because there is often no wind. In the summer, wind is constant. It’s often a bone-chilling, cutting wind. In the winter, the wind is non-existent most days and it’s extraordinarily calm. Don’t get me wrong, there have been days that I have been miserably cold, wondering if my hands are frostbitten and I don’t even know it.

We’ve made some great friends, had some fantastically fun nights, fallen in love all over again and almost hate to see this winter end. It’s been beautiful and such a pleasure to experience.

Joseph&Janae in the belly
Joseph and I in the belly of the plane for loading and off-loading for flight day.
Janae closing hatch 2
Here I am closing the cargo door on the aircraft while working flight operations.

In a week, we leave. We will be spending a month and a half off the ice due to programmatic regulations – they require a minimum of 42 days off ice after a certain period of time spent on the ice. We’ll be returning in August for another summer season. We had not originally planned on signing up for another summer, but the financial hit from the well was enough to make us feel it was worth staying on for more money. After all, one can never have enough when building a house, right?

Last Sunset-2576
McMurdo’s last sunset. Photo by Stephen Allinger.
Last Sunset-0208
Last sunset. Photo by Stephen Allinger.

In the meantime, we’ll be spending our days in New Zealand and Australia – mostly Australia. It’s winter in the southern hemisphere, sure, but in the northern part of Australia it’s 90°F. Bliss! We’ll get a tan, get some much needed rest, recharge on freshies and relish the days as our own. Hopefully this will be enough to easily get us through another six months on the ice. What really matters is that we return tan – so all of our winter friends can bask in the warmth of our glowing skin.

Catch you on the flipside, McMurdo.

*Many of the photos in this blog post are by Josh Swanson. His are too great not to share! To see more of his beautiful work, click here

Thanks also to August Allen and Stephen Allinger for sharing your photos!



Published by Janae

Follow our blog as we travel the world, work in Antarctica and build our own house in the mountains of Colorado!

4 thoughts on “A Winter in Antarctica

  1. Great blog you guys – glad I found it. Hope you get all the rest/recharge you need in Aussie-land! See you when you get back…

  2. Thanks, Janae, for the great writing again. Lately I have been particularly missing ice life and friends, as well as the wider lifestyle. As you know, I relate closely to many of your broader comments. I really appreciate your thoughts, hearing how winter went, and where you “are” with it all. Not missing the sun… interesting (and quite possibly something that I would experience too). Bummer about the well, I get that too having co-built a place in rural Colorado years ago. Nice photos too, both of ice life and you both. Get a great tan and maybe pick up a few colorful Aussie’isms to go with it. Thanks, and big hugs to you both. Suz (Ned says hello as well). (I used a very old email address that I don’t check, because it isn’t entirely clear whether it will get posted along with this comment, so don’t write to it!).

  3. I find the notion of working in Antarctica fascinating. I’m so sorry for leaving this in just a comment, but I couldn’t see how else to contact you directly. Would it be possible to interview you for my blog? (with links back to your blog, of course).

    Here is a previous interview I did: https://arttraveleatrepeat.com/2016/06/23/inspiring-traveler-interview-adriana-duarte/

    If you’re interested, you can contact me through: https://arttraveleatrepeat.com/about-this-blog/guest-posts-features/

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