Ice departure and table tennis flurry

Hi Ping Pongers,

It started with an email from the former McMurdo recreation director, Mike who wrote me from Denver to keep an eye out for a new ping pong table being delivered from the cargo ship a few weeks ago. That led to a note from the current rec director that a crate was delivered behind the gym, and I was welcome to unpack and assemble it if I was so inclined. I gathered up some medical folks and made it our Saturday night project, since we were able to clear our social calendar. What we found as we stood out in the wind and sub-zero temperature was a hermetically sealed 670 lb. crate with over 100 screws holding it firmly together. Our salvation came from the helicopter hanger when a mechanic showed up with a fully charged cordless power drill and spent 30 minutes liberating not one, but two beautiful spanking new ping pong tables with nets ready for some serious playtime. We tested them out and I have returned a few times to route the remaining willing paddlers, but am happy to say I am leaving a champion on the island.

I got to do some final skiing on the glacier on a few inches of fresh snow yesterday with Paul, the flight nurse from Tennessee on his first outing on skis, and he was all smiles. Tomorrow the massive C-17 cargo plane is due to fly out with 70 souls and deposit us in New Zealand for a few days to re-enter the world of trees, grass, fruits, vegetables, dogs and children among other missed aspects of the modern world. It’s been another great adventure here, and now it’s on to meet Pat in Fiji for some beach and sun time. The presses are silent after the final Scallion was printed, much to the relief of the winter admin folks. Hope your blizzards are mild and spring is around the corner.

Cheers,

Ready to bask Bob

The 670 pound crate that finally yielded 2 ping pong tables

The 670 pound crate that finally yielded 2 ping pong tables

Reed, the winter PA and I test out the new table in the gym

Reed, the winter PA and I test out the new table in the gym

Weddell seals next to Scott Base basking on the ice

Weddell seals next to Scott Base basking on the ice

Fresh powder skiing on the Ross Ice Shelf

Fresh powder skiing on the Ross Ice Shelf

New Caterpillar tractors arrived for next year’s 1000 mile traverse to the South Pole

New Caterpillar tractors arrived for next year’s 1000 mile traverse to the South Pole

 

 

 

 

Real antarctic weather arrives

Hi weather watchers,

The weather finally turned into what you would expect for Antarctica last night with 58 mph wind, blinding snow and -24F windchill. The wind whipped water quickly melted the sea ice and the ocean was a frothy, white capped cauldron that was extremely inviting for windsurfing except for the temperature, so everyone hunkered down. It hit Condition 1 outside the station and Condition 2 around town, which meant only essential travel and no flights coming or going. Meanwhile the dental schedule keep plugging on, and I took out 4 wisdom teeth on a bloke this morning to meet my production quota and save him some greenbacks when he heads home in a week or two.

The winds are forecast to die down in a few days and I hope to get some cross country skiing in with some of the medical folks and fresh powder underfoot. Tomorrow is Sunday, our long anticipated day off and it looks like it’s going to be some time for indoor activities like ping pong and Scrabble. The real treat will be if orcas and other whales show up along the ice edge and we can get close enough to have a look without becoming a snack for a hungry predator.

Cheers,

Ski bound Bob

Balmy weather prevailed for the past few weeks

Balmy weather prevailed for the past few weeks

Blowing snow outside the medical clinic

Blowing snow outside the medical clinic

The weather and departure screen shows cancelled flights and Condition 1 and 2

The weather and departure screen shows cancelled flights and Condition 1 and 2

The sea ice melts away to reveal open ocean

The sea ice melts away to reveal open ocean

 

 

 

Dental services expand to ears

Hello hearing fans,

I happened to overhear Faye, our beloved summer doc, mention how she was getting frustrated over trying to relieve the ear canal obstruction on a patient for the past two weeks. I casually mentioned how I routinely used to peer into and remove wax from Lauren’s ears with some dental instruments when she was a little nipper, only after some guidelines from my hometown doc, Jonathon, so I wouldn’t ruin her eardrum. That raised an eyebrow on Faye but also piqued her curiosity, so we escorted the patient, Kate, who happens to be the girlfriend of one of my ping pong buddy’s, coincidentally named Buddy, into my dental suite for further evaluation. I took a look inside Kate’s obstructed right ear with my loupes and light, gently placed the end of a surgical suction tube inside and grabbed a corn kernel sized chuck of ear wax with my cotton pliers as she exclaimed “YES!” like sinking a three pointer from the corner. It was the highlight of my afternoon and I shrink wrapped her record sized wax ball and gave it to her to show her friends and post on Facebook or whatever else young folks do with bodily excretions they want to share with the masses.

In cooking news, I made Eggs Florentine with a side of kiwis and bananas for our medical crew to celebrate a birthday and the upcoming Super Bowl, which everyone watched while I cleaned teeth all afternoon to keep up my workaholic image and the income stream flowing. Paul, one of the air force medical crew that is assigned to our corner of the base followed up with fresh cinnamon rolls which had the whole place oohing and ahhing over the aroma.

The next day I made time to get a updated driving lesson on Delta Dawn, one of the Navy behemoth personnel carriers with Shuttle Bob, a veteran driver and all around good guy to anyone who has crossed paths with him. I’m hoping to take a Delta full of passengers out to the runway in the next week or two to keep my license active, even though the chance to drive a Delta in some other setting is about as likely as ISIS jihadists signing up for anger management classes. Now my schedule is full with cleanings, a root canal this afternoon and some wisdom teeth extractions this weekend, so it’s all good.

Cheers,

Wax-less ears Bob

Kate on the left minus her ear wax obstruction with smiles all around

Kate on the left minus her ear wax obstruction with smiles all around

Finishing up my driving test on the glacier with Delta Dawn

Finishing up my driving test on the glacier with Delta Dawn

Eggs Florentine and fruit for the medical crew

Eggs Florentine and fruit for the medical crew

Paul comes through with fresh cinnamon buns

Paul comes through with fresh cinnamon buns

The Polar Star ice breaker keeping the channel open for the fuel ship

The Polar Star ice breaker keeping the channel open for the fuel ship

 

 

 

 

Ice Grilling

Grilling flank steak on the glacier at LDB

Grilling flank steak on the glacier at LDB

Costumed ping pong at New Zealand's Scott Base

Costumed ping pong at New Zealand’s Scott Base

Touring the LIDAR roof with Erebus, the volcano in distance

Touring the LIDAR roof with Erebus, the volcano in distance

 

Fruit and salad, called "freshies" were a welcome treat for lunch

Fruit and salad, called “freshies” were a welcome treat for lunch

The Ocean Giant brought a years worth of cargo to McMurdo

The Ocean Giant brought a years worth of cargo to McMurdo

 

Hi Bar-b fans,

To satisfy my cooking desires I marked off some time on my schedule last week to spend one morning in the galley at the LDB project site. (www.csbf.nasa.gov/antarctica/ice.htm)  Three Long Duration Balloons have been launched this season carrying 5000-6000 pound payloads around the circular winds of the continent for a few weeks before being brought down and retrieved. The site is located about 5 miles from our little town, sitting across from the airport on a 300 foot thick glacier extending out over the ocean. As you can imagine it makes for an ideal bar-b-que setting, so I helped grill steaks in brilliant sunshine for the 18 or so folks that are still working there as the summer season is coming to a close.

Another field trip I arranged for our medical team involved visiting the LIDAR site on the outskirts of town in the area called Arrival Heights, which unlike imagined images of an upscale neighborhood is a squat green building sitting on a barren volcanic landscape that houses laser experiments shooting light up 80 kilometers (48 miles) in the sky to record conditions left from iron particles from passing meteors. It is an area with big warning signs that it is “OFF LIMITS” except for authorized personnel and reminds me of the “Forbidden Zone” in the old Planet of the Apes movies. I used to play a lot of ping pong with one of the research students, and was usually on the losing end so the head of the project remembers my humbleness and gave us a grand tour.

The big news in town is the arrival of the cargo ship, Ocean Giant, that is off loading all sorts of new supplies and equipment, including boxes of “freshies” that are getting stacked to the ceiling in the galley storage spaces. I scored a banana one day at lunch that was left on the table with the word “free” written on it to avoid any guilty feelings of absconding with someone else’s treasure.

Later in the week my ping pong contacts got us an invitation to Scott Base, the New Zealand station a few miles down the road, for dinner and some table tennis fun afterwards. The dental schedule here is packed but there was a request for me to return to the South Pole to do some cleanings, so I may have to load up some supplies and head back to the polar plateau next week. Otherwise I’m on the 2 ½  week countdown to meet Pat in Fiji where warm beaches and rum punch await us. Hope your winter grilling is not interrupted by a little snow or cold weather.

Cheers,

Medium rare Bob

Scrabble with WISSARDS

Hi friends with words,

The WISSARD project (www.wissard.org ) wrapped up recently and the researchers, staff and drillers have returned to town like little kids after their first trip to Disneyworld, having discovered all sorts of new things under the glacier in the area called the grounding zone. Their lecture last night was standing room only, and they enough new data to keep them busy for a very long time. I foolishly challenged one of the head investigators in Scrabble and found out that not only does he know his glacial geology, but lots of high scoring Scrabble words as well. He trounced me with a smile though, and I’m hoping for a rematch sometime to see if it was just a fluke.

I signed up for a few refresher classes to keep up with the possibility of getting a trip out of town sometime, so I hitched a ride out to the ice runway to get certified to drive out to the airport. When it came time to return home, my friend Bryan just happened to be returning the Kress, which is the biggest vehicle on the base, weighing in at about 85,000 pounds empty, and I got to sit shotgun as we rumbled along at about 18 mph. I made it in time for my indoor “Happy Camper” class where we discussed all sorts of ways to avoid being frozen to death in the event of getting stuck outside.

Sunday was a day off to ski to Castle Rock this time with some of my medical comrades, and a few of us climbed to the top once again to take in the view. Back in time for dinner, fresh pizza hit the spot before a hot shower and bed. Folks are starting to come and go as the summer winds down and winter is approaching, and the new winter doctor is thirsty for some dental knowledge as he faces 6 months here with little dental training and no dentist for 2500 miles.

Cheers,

WISSARD beaten Bob

The Polar Star ice breaker keeping the channel open in the Ross Sea

The Polar Star ice breaker keeping the channel open in the Ross Sea

Research vessel Nathaniel Palmer docked at the ice pier

Research vessel Nathaniel Palmer docked at the ice pier

The Kress was my taxi back to town from the airport

The Kress was my taxi back to town from the airport

Playing Scrabble with Reed, a researcher with the WISSARD project

Playing Scrabble with Reed, a researcher with the WISSARD project

 

 

 

 

Safest place on Earth!

The South Pole Antarctic flag has a weather vane pointing North in every direction

The South Pole Antarctic flag has a weather vane pointing North in every direction

The Super Mario tunnel leads outside from the food building now buried in the ice

The Super Mario tunnel leads outside from the food building now buried in the ice

The cutting end of the ice core drill with 6000 year old ice

The cutting end of the ice core drill with 6000 year old ice

The neutrino project building has copper grounding strips throughout to reduce static electricity

The neutrino project building has copper grounding strips throughout to reduce static electricity

Dr. Will and I in front of the medical center at South Pole

Dr. Will and I in front of the medical center at South Pole

Table tennis in the South Pole gym

I left undefeated at table tennis in the South Pole gym

My Denver hiking buddy Mike helps me to the plane departing the South Pole

My Denver hiking buddy Mike helps me to the plane departing the South Pole

Sunny hike on the glacier to Castle Rock with Mt Erebus volcano in the distance

Sunny hike on the glacier to Castle Rock with Mt Erebus volcano in the distance

Summit of Castle Rock looking out over the frozen Ross Sea

Summit of Castle Rock looking out over the frozen Ross Sea

US Ice Breaker Polar Star docked at the ice pier

US Ice Breaker Polar Star docked at the ice pier

Hola terror avoiders,

While it is nice to be blissfully unaware of what is going on in the rest of the world, the snippets of news I have come across seem to focus on terrorist threats in all corners of the globe except our temporary home on the frozen continent. No jihad has been declared against the infidels of the southern polar region so we tend to go about our lives unconcerned about unattended backpacks or odd behavior among individuals, which is the norm for a place like this.

I made it back to my home at McMurdo from the South Pole after 4 days and left undefeated on the ping pong table among the locals, and was able to take care of all the dental needs of the folks who have signed up to stay for the 9 month winter season of dark and soul crushing cold. The doc at the Pole, Will, was a real pleasure to work with and it turns out he’s a quick study as a dental assistant too, so I was sorry to bid him adieu.

The dental clinic on the main base has kept me busy with folks wanting to spend the winter here, as well as a mix of root canals, fillings and a hearty fellow who decided he was game to depart with 4 of his wisdom teeth. Our Sunday off was sunny and mild so a group of us did the 3 mile glacial hike to Castle Rock, then climbed to the top to bask in the sun and gaze upon the distant icebergs creeping through the frozen Ross Sea.

Later in the week the US ice breaker Polar Star broke a path to dock at the ice pier, which is literally a pier made of ice that was poured earlier in the season. That paved the way for the research vessel Nathanial Palmer which I was able to tour yesterday, and eventually the highly anticipated cargo ship with supplies for all departments, including fresh fruits and vegetable, which are affectionately called freshies.

I’m about halfway through my 6 week deployment and still smiling, and booked tickets to meet Pat in Fiji when I depart, so plenty to look forward to in the immediate future. Hope you’re safe at home and abroad and send some news from home.

Cheers,

Jihad free Bob

Return to the frozen south

The Airbus A-380 double decker flew us 17 hours from Dallas to Sydney, Australia

The Airbus A-380 double decker flew us 17 hours from Dallas to Sydney, Australia

The C-130 Cargo plane lands on skis on a glacier on Ross Island in Antarctica
The C-130 Cargo plane lands on skis on a glacier on Ross Island in Antarctica

 

1942 Bassler flight to the South Pole

1942 Bassler flight to the South Pole

Antarctica 2015 South Pole marker

Antarctica 2015 South Pole marker

South Pole Ice tunnel tour at 50 below

South Pole Ice tunnel tour at 50 below

Ice tunnel debris ready for removal to keep the walls from closing in

Ice tunnel debris ready for removal to keep the walls from closing in

South Pole Ice Cube project

South Pole Ice Cube project

Returning the Piston Bully after a jaunt to the Ice Cube project

Returning the Piston Bully after a jaunt to the Ice Cube project

Fresh ice core sample from 6000 years ago

Fresh ice core sample from 6000 years ago

Following two weeks of fun in the sun with Pat and Lauren in Florida, I started the 4 day journey to Antarctica on the world’s largest plane for the world’s longest flight. The Qantas  A-380 double decker holds close to 500 souls, and 17 hours of flight time left ample time for sleep and 6-8 movies, which I lost track of at some point. We finally landed in Christchurch, New Zealand for a day and a half of orientation, the issuing of extreme weather gear, plus some time for biking, some good Indian and Thai food, plus a run to the grocery store to bring some fruit to the folks further south that haven’t seen a banana in a few months.

The flight on the bone rattling C-130 NY National Guard cargo plane took off the next morning at 9 AM, and a mere 8 hours later we landed on skis on a glacier on Ross Island, the home of 1000 people in the summer at McMurdo research station. Everyone grabbed a late dinner, some linens to go with room assignments and were tucked in a few hours later for a first night’s sleep on the frozen continent.

The next day I was informed that I should pack up to go further inland  to the South Pole, since my dental services were needed there before the flights are halted in a few weeks. That turned into a 4 day wait because of weather delays, so I did a few fillings and a root canal on the locals before flight ops decided that our mission was critical enough to send us off on a modified 1942 DC-3 called a Bassler, which will fly in all sorts of crazy weather. It is unpressurized and requires passengers to wear a nasal cannula delivering oxygen, which is no more uncomfortable than flying with 2 pencils stuck up your nose for 3 hours.

Now that I was going, I became a drug mule for controlled substances to the medical clinic, and a bootlegger for a scotch delivery to a thirsty polie. In four days, I checked everyone’s teeth that needed checked, did a few fillings, and ended with a surgical wisdom tooth extraction on a gentleman that is staying another 9 months in the dark and cold winter months.

That left a day for excursions, so I caught a ride and then was put in the drivers seat of a Piston Bully to the neutrino project called Ice Cube. That was followed by a snow mobile ride to Spice Core, the ice core project pulling up samples from thousands of feet of ice to study the environment trapped in 6000 year old ice. I finished the day at an NOAA research site that is studying the cleanest air on the planet. It was enough science to make my head spin, so a pleasant dinner of lamb chops with mint jelly, vegetables and pecan pie was a welcome end to the afternoon at the bottom of the earth.

Hope your new year is going well and drop a line from life up north.

Cheers,

Bootlegger Bob

Dr. Koff returning to Antarctica for 6 weeks

October 2014

Dear patients and friends,

I hope your summer has gone well and you are ready for another season of cold, snow and our envious sunshine in Colorado. In addition to my dental practice here I have remained the dental consultant for the US Antarctic program since due to budget cuts they have not had a dentist on the research stations since I left there 20 months ago. Recently they offered me a 6 week contract to go down and take care of the dental needs of the researchers and staff at McMurdo and the South Pole, so I am heading south in early January, 2015. My wife Patty likes to joke that most people in Colorado look for a warm climate in January but I am heading to Antarctica. I will join her when I finish and we plan to spend some time on a warm beach before I return to work on March 9, 2015.

While I am away, I will forward my phone and refer my practice to Dr. Jack Matthews, who I have known for the past 30 years and shared an office with since 2003. My phone number of 719 593-9388 will remain the same, and I encourage you to call and take care of  any dental needs that arise while I am away. Dr. Matthews office hours are from 7:30 AM until 4:30 PM Monday through Thursday, and the dental hygienists and assistants that work in his practice have made it a great place to work. I plan to return to the same office with my wonderful dental assistant, Regine when I finish my work in Antarctica.

I would enjoy hearing from you at the email address bobkoff@hotmail.com and plan to post some stories on this web site. Thanks as always for your understanding and loyalty, and I look forward to seeing many of you before I leave in January, or after I return next March to Colorado Springs.
Cheers, Dr. Koff