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McMurdo Station Archives - 2020
McMurdo Celebrates the Holidays
January 21, 2020
Photo Credit: Rachel Heckerman
Guitarist Scott Gilbert and Becky Carson on drums perform at Icestock, McMurdo Station's annual New Year's outdoor music festival.
McMurdo Station really came together this past month. Events across the station filled the schedules for the residents of McMurdo, with unexpected occurrences along the way. Adelie penguins have been spotted passing by the station, the musicians that played Icestock 2019 have been heard and the spirit of all the holidays have been felt. Just when it seems that McMurdo Station couldn't get more energetic, it does.
To kick off the holidays, McMurdo held its annual softball tournament. Eight teams took part in the tournament, mostly grouped together by work departments on the station. The competition was fierce, but for many the real fun rooted in the town coming together in celebration of the holidays.
"It felt like a real sporting event—there were announcers, people were outside grilling, and everyone was wearing costumes," said Matthew Cunningham, a carpenter at McMurdo, and a participant in the tournament. "But it's more than a typical game back home, especially when you look out at the mountains of McMurdo Sound and realize where you are."
The first penguins around McMurdo Station have also been spotted. Around mid-December, residents flocked out to Hut Point, a historic viewpoint at McMurdo, in hopes to see penguins bumbling their way along the ice. Some residents saw their first penguins, while others greeted their old feathered friends back to Ross Island once again. Once the U.S. Coast Guard ice breaker Polar Star arrives, a ship that every January clears a path through the ice for the station's supply vessels, residents hope to see more penguins closer to town because of the open water. This time of year Adelie penguins usually reside at their three colonies around Ross Island, only occasionally trekking across the sea ice to McMurdo Station.
Christmas was a much-anticipated day on station. Station residents shared Secret Santa gifts —many of which were handcrafted. For the big holiday dinner, the dining hall served a special feast of lobster and king crab and steak. As part of the celebration, most residents had two consecutive days off—an exciting and rare occurrence on station. Although it is hard to be away from friends and family for the holidays, the celebrations at McMurdo are a great way to experience the season in an interesting and extraordinary new way.
A week later, the clock struck midnight on New Year's, and people were jamming out at Icestock—the annual Antarctic music festival. A tradition that has taken place since 1989, the musical talents of the station come together to put on a grand show. Starting at 2:30 in the afternoon and running past midnight, the main street of McMurdo overflowed with residents enjoying the live music and dance performances. Without sacrificing style, everyone kept warm in fun costumes by dancing the "night" away, despite the 24-hour sunlight. With band names specific to life at McMurdo Station such as the "Uncontrolled Arrivals," and "Snow White and the Hot Dog Rollers," it was a welcome day of celebration with amongst a station of people who have come to know each other well in the past months.
Still more is yet to come. With things to look forward to such as the appearance of orca whales and the arrival of three cargo and tanker vessels, it is hard to imagine life at McMurdo being any more unexpected.
Thankful in McMurdo
January 8, 2020
Photo Credit: Mike Lucibella
South polar skuas start showing up around McMurdo Station during the month of November.
Photo Credit: Brian Bezalel
Station residents participate in the Turkey Trot, a 5k fun run the morning that Thanksgiving is observed at McMurdo Station.
Despite the wintry feeling in the air, it is still considered summer at McMurdo Station. But that doesn't mean the festive holiday spirit stops—in fact it is quite the opposite. With craft fairs creating lots of buzz in the community, secret Santa gift exchanges being planned and the station population now at about 900 people, the energy was certainly lively this past November.
One sign that it is November in Antarctica is the arrival of the skuas, massive, gull-like birds, notorious for having an attitude the size of Antarctica itself. Flying from as far north as Japan, skuas arrive on the continent in search of food taken from Antarctica's most famous animals—penguins. Soaring through the skies of McMurdo Sound, these seemingly fearless birds have no problem waiting for the opportune moment to steal both penguin eggs and chicks alike. In teams, they can distract penguins away from their groups, or harass them until they are weak enough for the skuas to take on. But these birds aren't picky either—they'll gladly take the afterbirth of Weddell Seals, sea kelp and food right off the trays of McMurdo residents if they aren't careful.
However, food was flying off of trays for many reasons other than skuas this month. That's what one would expect from a McMurdo Thanksgiving meal. The station's dining hall hosted five dinners, serving meals from noon to midnight on the Saturday that Thanksgiving was observed. Beginning the day with a beautiful snowfall, the dining attendants put on their best attire, and the kitchen chefs put forth their best dishes. How much food is consumed for an Antarctic Thanksgiving? One-thousand and eight pounds of turkey, 35 gallons of gravy, and 195 trays of pumpkin pie are just a few examples of what was consumed by the station. The entire kitchen came together to serve a dinner that simply cannot be replicated anywhere else on earth.
The delicious meals that were served that Saturday were motivation to tackle the "TurkeyTrot" and "Turducken" runs the day before. They are a tradition on Ross Island—a 5k race down snowy paths through town. The best part about the run are the outlandish costumes that are worn by both the runners and supporters of the race. Many gathered in their best festive costumes, ready to dash the 3.12 miles to the finish line.
But nothing this month felt cozier than residents gathering as a group and listening to an epic story in the galley. There's something exciting about when the world of art meets the worlds of science and history, and Sarah Airriess is able to effortlessly weave together all three. Passionate about the famous historical account now over a century old, Sarah recounted the details of the ill-fated Robert Falcon Scott expedition to the South Pole. A former Disney animator, and now a participant of the National Science Foundation's Artists and Writers Program, Sarah has been working on a series of graphic novels called The Worst Journey in the World—retelling the famous personal account by expedition member Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Listening to Sarah made the history come alive, reminding everyone that if one were to look out on McMurdo Sound over one-hundred years ago, one could watch the very same events she was speaking about in her presentation. Her excitement put into perspective just how special a place like McMurdo Station is.
With more holidays to come, and still more station residents to arrive, it is encouraging to see how much energy can come from such a small, isolated part of the world.