'It was surreal': Saskatchewan man documents adventures at research station in Antarctica

It's nearly summer in Antarctica — but that doesn't mean it's much of an escape from the Saskatchewan winter, says a Saskatoon man currently stationed there.

Daniel Leppington says it's 'like something out of the Planet Earth documentaries'

Daniel Leppington, an aircraft maintenance engineer from Saskatoon, is currently stationed in Antarctica. He is sharing his adventures on a Facebook page called called Antarctic Shenanigans. (Antarctic Shenanigans/Facebook)

It's nearly summer in Antarctica — but that doesn't mean it's much of an escape from the Saskatchewan winter, says a Saskatoon man currently stationed there.

Daniel Leppington, an aircraft maintenance engineer from Saskatoon, has taken to sharing his daily adventures on the continent on a Facebook page called Antarctic Shenanigans.
Leppington says landing in Antarctica was 'like looking into a wall of white.' (Daniel Leppington/Facebook)

Those "shenanigans" began near the end of October when his crew flew the plane they would be working on from Calgary to Antarctica, stopping in Texas, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Chile along the way.

It was surreal.… It's just like looking into a wall of white.- Daniel Leppington

After over 60 hours of total airtime, they flew into Rothera Station, a British Antarctic survey base.

Leppington said the first thing he noticed was how difficult it is to see the ground, because there is no contrast between the snow and the white clouds in the sky.

"It was surreal.… It's just like looking into a wall of white," Leppington said during an email and online instant messenger interview with CBC News.

"As we crossed over the mountains, it opened up over the bay next to the station and it was like something out of the Planet Earth documentaries — there were glaciers everywhere, gorgeous mountains, icefields, crystal-clear water and a tiny little outpost for us to land at.

Leppington posts his wildlife photos on his Antarctic Shenanigans page. (Daniel Leppington/Facebook)

"I just remember descending into the harbour and trying to take pictures out of the window but constantly having to catch myself from practically hyperventilating and fogging up the window."

'Desolate' terrain, unique wildlife

Leppington said there are about a dozen countries that have stations in Antarctica. The crew he is with is based at the Novolazarevskaya Station, a Russian camp, which he calls "functionally rustic."

The camp includes about 20 mobile shacks on an icefield where about 30-40 people stay. About half are Canadian at the moment, Leppington said. The other half, who operate the base, are Russian. Each station is pretty much self-sustaining.  

"It's very desolate, as it's really just ice with a few small hills poking out of it," Leppington said. "There isn't any soil, plants, trees, bugs, and there's only a single bird here so far."
Leppington said he was only about five metres away from this wild Weddell seal. (Daniel Leppington/Facebook)

Leppington said the best part of being in Antarctica is the wildlife around Rothera. During a hike not far from the base, he got to see some Adélie penguins playing around. On a piece of ice about five metres from him, a Weddell seal climbed out of the water and lay down to sun himself.

Teaching the next generation

The terrain is quite dangerous due to wind, snow and crevasses, so Leppington said he can't go very far to explore. He said he's been busy with work but has taken some time to walk around and talk to the researchers and base personnel.

'It gives them a more personal connection with some of the wilder places on the planet.' - Daniel Leppington

Leppington is currently working on a forum with his son's Grade 5 class in Saskatoon so they can ask him questions about his time in Antarctica.

He said it gives him a chance to be involved in his family's life while he's gone. He also hopes to inspire the students while teaching them a thing or two.   

"I think that it's just such a great opportunity to share with kids as they learn about the world," Leppington said.

"It gives them a more personal connection with some of the wilder places on the planet and a chance to interact directly with it and [that will] maybe inspire some interest in someday doing something similar."

Leppington says the area where he stays is desolate. It's mostly ice with a few small hills poking out of it. (Daniel Leppington/Facebook)

–89 C?

If you're wondering how cold Antarctica really is, Leppington said it varies wildly, depending on where you go.

The coldest recorded temperature in the world was taken at Vostok Station in Antarctica, at just under –89 C — without taking the windchill into account. In contrast, temperatures at some places along the coast vary from 0 to –20.  

In the interior, Leppington said it is significantly colder than Saskatchewan and much windier. It's almost summer there but he said it is about –35 with the windchill.

He said the biggest difference is that most of his work and life takes place outside. The winds are constantly strong and there is no shelter anywhere, so there is nothing to break the wind.
During a hike, Leppington came across some Adélie penguins. (Daniel Leppington/Facebook)

Leppington said his first rotation will be done this week and he will be back in Saskatoon for a couple of weeks. He'll return to Antarctica in early December for another six-week stretch.

He said his time in Antarctica so far has been a humbling experience.

"The scenery is vivid and colourful but is also reminding you constantly that you are just there as its guest, and it will remove you if you don't respect it."