McMurdo: Sights, Sounds, and Tater Tots

McMurdo:  Sights, Sounds, and Tater Tots

I woke up at 5:00 am today to walk over to Crary Lab for a Skype video chat with my 4th graders back in Crystal Lake, Illinois.  Our beautiful weather seemed to have disappeared, along with the sea ice, Observation Hill and anything else I usually see on the way to work.  Heavy fog had rolled in overnight, obscuring just about every view I’ve come to enjoy each morning.

It’s been interesting watching the sea ice crack and move, with pools of water forming nearby.  This was yesterday’s view.


I’m used to seeing the mountains across McMurdo Sound each day.


This morning it looked more like this around town.



What a difference a day makes.  Usually I get a good dose of Observation Hill on the way to Crary Lab, but not today.


And, take a look at the sign for Crary Lab…it’s covered with frost today.


I want to continue to share a bit more of McMurdo with you.  This morning it was time for…(try to guess what these sounds are!)

When I had a roommate (I’ve had three different ones) I’d come in late at night from work and realize that I was unzipping my parka, taking stuff out of my pockets… making so much noise with velcro and zippers.

Listen to the video clip below.  I usually hear this sound on the way to work each morning….but certainly not today!

Early in the season we heard winds like these…this clip was from Happy Camper School.

The winds had died down quite a bit, but today it is COLD and WINDY once again.  Our current temperature is 19.4 degrees above zero, but with the wind blowing at 13 knots, the wind chill makes it feel like 5.5  degrees above zero.  That’s quite a bit colder than what we’ve experienced lately.

Even with a light wind, the flapping of flags is a very familiar sound around McMurdo or out on the ice/snow roads.

One sound that was pretty common back in late December but has since been absent…blasting at the ice pier.

Buildings here in town are built above the ground, to prevent snow from accumulating.


While walking around McMurdo, I hear the sound of  generators or compressors.

Many parts of town remind me of a giant cargo yard.  Things are stored outside when possible, and often lines of cargo are awaiting movement to a field camp or another location.


Let’s move inside to see a few things.  First, let me tell you that Building 155, the big blue building in town, is the hub of the station. Meals are served in the galley (a cafeteria).  There is a small store with snacks, t-shirts and other gift items, movie rental (actually we can borrow them for free!), and other sundry items such as toothpaste, soap, etc.  McMurdo has a radio station, which is located in 155.  Guest DJ’s work throughout the week.   There’s a craft room, The Antarctic Sun online newspaper, barber shop, housing office, recreation, computer area, equipment rental, and two ATM machines.  Some residents even have their dorm rooms in Building 155.


Our housing office posts a weekly update of McMurdo’s population statistics. 


A small library is located on the ground floor of one of the dorms, and it’s really great to have that resource here in town.  I checked out two books to do some research for an upcoming blog.  Books can be returned in 155, right in front of the store.


Here is the weekly recreation board.  Residents can experience different exercise classes, yoga, tap dancing, movie nights, special science and travel lectures, indoor sports (there’s an old gym), knitting groups, and so much more.  This is great for the people who are here for a whole season and it’s probably even more important for those who winter over.  We all need social situations and hobbies or activities to keep us moving and healthy.  Just because we’re at the bottom of the world doesn’t mean we give up everything that we do back home.


One of my favorite places to stop on Highway 1 (the main hallway):  the post office package board.  It is REALLY a morale boost to see your name on the package list.  I’ve gotten great packages and cards from friends and family and that is much appreciated.  Look….”Trummel” is on the list!  I received 3 packages and many cards today.  THANKS!


Every meal starts with grabbing a tray in the galley.  I have to say I look forward to the days of not eating my meals off of a tray.


Friday is “cupcake day.”  Wednesday is “cookie day.”  Check out these sweet cupcakes from yesterday’s lunch.



Personally, I look forward to tater tots!  I’ve eaten more tater tots in this trip than I have in the past ten years of my life.  I’m not excited about the food here.  No freshies and a lack of taste is a problem.  I love to cook, and I enjoy lots of flavors.  I miss being in the kitchen.  At least tater tots are consistent…they always taste the same.  I just had to include a photo of the tots! 


I’ll step back outside; check out the door handle in the photo below.  Many doors have this type of handle, which locks into place.  Doors are less likely to blow open (unless caught by the wind before someone can latch it)  using this set up.


When I first arrived in McMurdo, each time I walked outside I’d hear the crunching of snow under my boots.  This time of the season you are more likely to hear (and see) this…the sound of boots crunching on gravel and loose volcanic rock.

Believe it or not, it’s also common to hear this sound….running water!  The culverts are often full of water running off from higher ground.

One sound I hear many times a day, is the door closing at Crary Lab.  Take a look at the giant freezer door handle, and listen to this sound.

I miss certain noises from back home such as dogs barking (not at 6:30 am), the bells at school, kids’ voices, a doorbell, the sound of rain, birds singing, and trees rustling in the wind.  I’m sure there are more I can’t think of now.  I miss colors…it seems like things here are mostly white, brown, and red.  I miss smells of grass, flowers, or good food cooking in the kitchen. 

Even though I miss all that, I do enjoy views like the one I’ll leave you with today.  This video clip was taken at Hut Point a few weeks back. Enjoy the silence, amazing view of the sea ice, and a couple of Weddell seals lounging around.  I won’t see that in Illinois!

20 responses to “McMurdo: Sights, Sounds, and Tater Tots

  1. Dear Betty,
    Thank you so much for sharing your amazing experiences with us. The pictures you take give us a real sense of your environment, I love the ones with the seals. I am with you on the tray meals, not too much fun at all. I attended a health retreat a while back and the meals were served on trays, I could not wait to leave :). I am sure that when you get back home a wonderful home cooked meal will be waiting for you :).

    • Hi Giannina,
      Thanks for the positive comments on the blog posts. I can’t wait to cook a meal….a delicious meal of fresh ingredients and meats. You and I both love to cook, so you know what I’m going through! I will want to be in my kitchen for days when I return. I can’t wait to cook for Chris and friends and family. I’ll write you an email soon. Love, Betty

  2. Woaaa there a second Betty!!!! Just last night I left the NIU campus at 7pm feeling a bit hungry. As I walked to my car I was stricken an INTENSE appreciation for the McMurdo galley and its chefs! While there you can get any one of 3 or 4 main courses, two soups, fruit, salad, sandwich, Jello, pastry, juice, scalloped/fries or tots, 24×7 cereal, an omelet bar in the morning — all on the house!!!
    Then there’s frosty-boy!!! (I… I, I need to take a moment here…)
    *SIGH* bachelor heaven!!
    Flavor? Maybe that package is a spice-rack? 😉
    Cooking a meal for 1 anything like what we had there (especially dinner) would take at least 90 minutes or cost gawd-KNOWS-what If ordered out. *I* Like the McM galley!! I do I do I do!!!!
    Guess what… I ate like a pig down there and I actually lost weight!
    I eagerly await SLW camp report… day-10. 😉

    • Hi John,
      You left right before our best meal..Christmas! No freshies have made it pretty slim pickings for weeks now. I do appreciate the chefs here… they do a great job with what they have. It’s hard to cook for nearly 1,000 people a day (4 meals no less). But, I love to cook, I’m a good cook, and I miss eating what I make myself. Frosty Boy….okay, just about everyone eats it, but it’s not really a main dish (well, for some it might be!) Give me some fresh veggies and fruit and I’ll be happier. 🙂
      All the spices in the world aren’t going to turn yesterday’s stuffed cabbage into today’s vegetable beef soup! 🙂 Miss you down here!
      Will send word about SLW camp when I know more.

    • That’s okay…glad you guessed it on your own, Isabella! GREAT to see you in class on Friday’s Skype chat. I miss being your teacher, but I’ll be back before you know it. 🙂 Love, Mrs. Trummel

  3. Fantastic blog post, Betty. LoVeD the title and really enjoyed all your clips and pics. You are doing such a wonderful job of keeping us in the loop and I’m learning so much from your writing. Thank you. Miss you. Love you.

    • Hi Mal…
      Miss you, too and thanks for the positive feedback on the blog posts. I’ve learned a lot in the process and it’s fun to have a written record of who I’ve interviewed and what I’ve learned down here. Doing the video clips has been fun! Glad I paid extra for that feature. I’m not professional but it gives my audience a chance to experience Antarctica in another way. 🙂 Love you!

  4. Hi Betty
    All very interesting and amazing experiences. W/ the significant ice melting, are you all having conversations on Climate Change? Or did I miss some important report.

    • Hi Linda,
      Yes, we do talk about climate change and that’s a focus of many researchers here. From seal mummy studies to penguins, geology and glaciology…it has an impact on many areas of science. I went to a great lecture last night which I’ll write more about in an upcoming blog. The researcher has been coming here for 20 years…so she has a lot of data and background on changes here in this Ross Sea region. Stay tuned. Miss you! xo

  5. I LOVE this post! SO interactive and visual. Thanks for offering us a different window to your world down there! 😀

  6. Hi mrs.Trummle! this blog is very interesting! I love the videos! and tator tots! hope to see more blogs soon!

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