Text and pictures © 1993-2020 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2020/03/19
"You want a real 'Survivor' show ? Oh, we'll give you the real thing. But sometimes we do wish we could vote people off the island." — Grant about wintering over at McMurdo.
McMurdo, the main American base, is also the biggest Antarctic base, holding up to 3000 persons in summer. Picture showing Duncan (NZ helicopter pilot) on the top of Observation Hill. MacTown, as it's locally known, is ugly, anonymous, the ground is made out of volcanic dirt, the weather is misty, there aren't any penguins, the food is bad (is that why there aren't any penguins ?), you have to pay for the beer and they have karaoke parties. That about sums it up ! I spent only 3 days there and already that was enough.
AlejandroAnonymous emailed me from McMurdo a couple years after I wrote the above and he disagrees with my assessment: "But that uncharitable description should bear the caution that it comes from an outsider. An insider could tell that McMurdo is also burdened by a top-heavy administration and is large enough to have a largely antagonistic class system at the core of its culture. Just a tip. he he..."
From left to right (or click on the picture): some storehouses, the Nathaniel B. Palmer, the small wooden Hotel California for passing personnel, the big science building, the 'center of town' with Post office, radio and such, plenty of outside storing area, big fuel/water tanks... For more details about McMurdo, check here or here.
If you want to jump in the past, I also have some even older pictures of McMurdo, and if you are interested in McMurdo's strange subculture you should definitely read Nick's Big Dead Place book.
For most people who come to Antarctica for other destinations than McMurdo, there is still often a brief stop-over at the airstrip, as both McMurdo and the Rothera airstrips as the major hubs for flying in and out of the continent. In case of poor weather you can get stuck there for days, while on good days you don't even have time to stretch your legs before being crammed from the noisy C130 onto a tiny Twin Otter before the rest of the trip. Here are a few pictures taken in a hurry at the airstrip.
Above: Panoramic view of Mt Erebus, the only active volcano of Antarctica, also the largest, and the most typical landmark of McMurdo.
Above: Panorama of the McMurdo airstrip with several Italian and British Twin-Otters nearby.
Above: Panorama of the McMurdo airstrip with the town in the background.
Left: Helicopters flying before Mt Erebus, and being overtaken by our own Twin-Otter.
Right: Helicopters landing on the McMurdo airstrip, shortly after the arrival of the Twin Otters
Left: Mt Erebus in the background of the landed C-130s
Right: One of the many McMurdo vehicles, parked on the airstrip.
Left: The italian expedition leader, trying to keep everyone in check.
Right: The team of italians arriving from Terra Nova and listening for instructions before their outgoing C-130 flight to New Zealand.
Left: One of the monster trucks for which McMurdo is renown.
Right: A few of the airstrip control tower and workshop areas (off-limits to passing travelers).
Left: C130s parked on the airstrip. There can be as many as 10 of those, ferrying people and equipment back and forth between Christchurch (NZ), McMurdo, South Pole and, rarely, other Antarctic stations. Even foreign nations like Italy land their (rented) C-130s at McMurdo before continuing the trip in Twin-Otter of helicopters.
Left: An italian expedition member, dressed in typical red garb, with the many McMurdo buildings in the background.
Right: C130 getting ready for departure, with Ross Island in the background.
Left: Sleeping inside the cold C-130 on the flight back to the green world: New Zealand.