Exciting Adventures with the Janitor

This post was originally written around mid-June, I’ve just been too lazy to upload the photos and actually hit publish on it!

Most of the station gets Sunday as their off-day. For a few departments, the galley being one of them, this is not the case. People still need to eat on Sunday so we still have to operate at full capacity. Thus, my weekly off-day is Thursday.

It’s been stormy, windy, cold, Condition 2 weather every day I’ve gotten off early or had a bit of free time so, for me, leaving town hadn’t been previously been an option. This Thursday I was on a mission to get out and put a couple miles in on one of the mapped hikes.

Hiking in Antarctica

Steve (the only janitor on the entire station!) and I filed an online “eFoot” plan. This is an online tracking system that lets the station know that we plan on leaving the town for a little while, where we were going, and what time to expect us back. If one fails to show back up or radio in to extend their hike time, the base gets activated and a search and rescue team will be sent to find them. It’s a really awesome system that I’ve seen activated only once since I’ve been on the Ice… and they found the missing person pretty quickly. After checking out with the fire station to activate our eFoot plan and secure a radio, we headed out.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get very far.

Have I mentioned that I’m really, really, really out of shape?

We climbed halfway (if that) up Hut Point Ridge and I decided not to continue. My calf muscles were burning and my heart rate was through the roof making it hard to breath in the super cold Antarctic air. I was starting to lose my footing on a hike that would have been easy to moderate back home. I listened to my body and said no more. We sat on a rock overlooking town for a while chatting about life at McMurdo Station before climbing back down the ridge and heading back into town.

The day after our attempted hike, I spent the whole day shadowing Steve yet again. Either I’d completely missed it in conversation or my employer forgot to mention that one week a month during the winter I’d be working as a janitor. Soooo… guess what week it was!

That is, until a Condition 1 storm hit town.

Condition One Weather

McMurdo Station, or so I’ve been told, lays in a valley so it is shielded from most of the worst weather Antarctica has to thrown at us. The airfields and areas out of town seem to frequently hit Condition 1 in the winter but within Scott Base and McMurdo proper it usually stays around 2. I’ve taken the following block of text from 2odiac:

Condition 3 – Wind less than 48 knots AND visibility greater than 1/4 of a mile AND wind chill temperature warmer than -75F.

Condition 2 – Wind between 48-55 knots (sustained for one minute) OR visibility between 100 feet and 1/4 of a mile OR wind chill between -75F and -100F (sustained for one minute)

Condition 1 – Wind greater than 55 knots OR visibility less than 100 feet OR wind chill less than -100F

By the way, 10 knots is 11.5 miles per hour so to hit Condition 1 the winds need to be about 63 mph.

When this happens, travel between buildings is severely restricted. Sometimes it’s not allowed at all. I hear this happens if things are coming loose and blowing around that could hit you. In the case of our storm, we were allowed to travel as long as we stayed on rope lines. [I assume the fire department] attached ropes between the main dorm buildings, main workstations, and the galley. To travel between buildings you had to:

  • have 2+ people
  • radio in to the fire station to let them know when you leave
  • be fully geared up before you step outside
  • continue holding the rope all the way to your destination
  • radio in to the fire station to let them know you have arrived

In this way, they can start looking for you immediately if you something happens on your way to your building.

A few people took videos of the storm – I’ll see if I can steal them.

Matthew Raven took this video which is currently posted as public. If that changes let me know and I’ll see if I can post the actual video. Nick Beckius took the below photos of a door that wasn’t opened once during the storm…the wind simply blew everything in through the cracks.

With the day cut in half, the second day of jano we had to finish up the training that was supposed to happen on the first day.

We happened upon the bathrooms in the weather building (I’m sure that building has a more official name, but our weather folks have their offices there so that’s what I will continue to refer to it as) right as they were about to launch the weather balloon today. We decided that it was right about time to take our morning break and headed down with Nick to watch him launch it. Here are some photos and a video of the launch itself!:

2017-06-17 11.39.592017-06-17 11.39.432017-06-17 11.36.482017-06-17 11.34.22



This video doesn’t exist

Remember that storm? It blew some snow right up to the door we had to exit!

2017-06-17 11.39.142017-06-17 11.32.412017-06-17 11.31.24

featuring Steve for size references

The balloons launch from the waste water treatment plant so we bothered Will for a tour. Will sits in this building all day pretty much alone so the “bothering” was probably welcomed as I think he appreciated the chance to have some company too.

I got to learn all about “water bears” aka hypsibius dujardini. You can read more about them here but basically they are a tardigrade that can survive in the vacuum of space, cosmic and solar radiation. Like, in theory we could send these bad boys to Mars and they’d be fine.

2017-06-17 12.07.04-12017-06-17 12.02.512017-06-17 12.01.38

Oops! We pooped out some seeds and now they’re sprouting!

2017-06-17 11.52.10

Kaleigh made Will this lovely water bear painting!



This video doesn’t exist

A cute little water bear swimming around! He’s about 0.5mm in length.

2017-06-17 11.48.01

Will prepping some slides!

My week cleaning toilets was also the same week I completed one of my bucket list items for down here: I saw my first aurora!! You can see pics of it on my other post here.


The first few days of working jano was a nice break from the routine of cleaning dishes, but around day 5 I was over the monotony of cleaning the same toilet every day that I know no one has used because the building population is low.

Fortunately/unfortunately (I’m not really sure which) I will not have to work jano again this season. The last flight brought down my new suitemates – Meghan and Becky. Becky is going to be working jano full time meaning the stewies don’t need to anymore!

So, this was my first and last time working jano 🙂

featured image of Steve taken at Midwinter dinner by either Chris Simon or Steve Allinger…not really sure which


  1. Only you could make reading about janitorial work interesting. As a writer, I appreciate that your voice and your technical skills. Your blog is fun! On a side note, I’ll bet your cousin out hiking the Appalachian Trail would love reading about your ‘hike’!!


  2. * oops! “As a writer, I appreciate that your voice and your technical skills.” meant to type: As a writer, I appreciate your voice and your technical skills.” I tend to do my best editing after I push ‘Done’😜😜😜


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