So You Think This Is Cold?

Deepfreeze2My brother, who knows lots of things about me that I would prefer not to have shared, is dealing with record snowfalls in Toledo. He “suggested” (as in “Leave the gun, get the cannoli.”) I write about my time in Antarctica.

It was just about this time of year in 1988 when I was picked to be part of the annual resupply of McMurdo Station Antarctica called “Operation Deepfreeze.” We travelled by commercial flight to Christ Church, New Zealand, and after a few days, on to Antarctica. If only I had known then that I was in the vicinity of Hobbiton. Beautiful New Zealand, which at the time had 6 million people and 50 million sheep. The newspaper headlines – “Dog Kills 5 Sheep!” Page 5 – “Earthquake kill thousands – but not here.”

We flew on to Antarctica on ski-equipped C-130s; propeller driven cargo planes; 9 hours in flight. It took us 3 tries to get there.

Now, you have to realize that the military is involved in Antarctica only because no one else (at least in 1988) had the ability to handle the logistics. The resupply was scheduled for the very end of “summer” and included everything possible for the next year. A ship had been loaded in California and followed an ice breaker during the “soft ice” period. We were to unload the supplies and load everything that was no longer needed. Note – you may have to go to the very end of the world to find peace, but in Antarctica you will find it. No claims are honored. Everything you bring must be removed – yes, even the yucky human stuff.

Earlier that year they had a heat wave – 50+ degrees. This meant that the storage buildings for food needed to actually run their refrigeration equipment. For the first time. Unfortunately, the wrong type of Freon (hey – this is 1988) had been loaded, and blew out all of the seals. Bottom line – $150,000 worth of food spoiled, even though they moved everything together to keep the cold and used whatever they could.

Some pencil pusher in Washington, DC probably looked at the report and said, “$150,000 worth of thawed food in Antarctica destroyed? Sounds like fraud to me!”

In any case, I felt like Lowell Thomas and National Geographic all at once.

It was impressive to see the sun make a circle around the sky without ever setting.

And to take a hot cup of coffee from the urn inside the ship and pour it out to watch it immediately freeze on the deck.

Not to mention that in this picture, for the only time in my life, I can say, “I’m the tall one.”


Okay, Jim, now burn the negatives like you promised.

2 responses to “So You Think This Is Cold?

  1. This was also BC (before cell phones.)As I recall the only way to “call” home was via your ham radio & lots of repeaters… or perhaps a message in a thermos jug?

    • Actually we used ham radio and phone patches. When we got a ham close enough for a local call, we could hook to the phone system at McMurdo and the other ham would dial up the spouse, friend or whatever. The hard part was that most people weren’t used to saying, “Over,” so you had to be quick to switch between transmit and receive. As far as phone, we were allowed 1 ten minute call every couple of weeks at about $30, which was big money back then.

      Once again, ham radio proved its worth!

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