ANTARCTICA PART 2

 

 

Work Stuff, The Coffee House, Wind Chill, Bicycling, Medical Evacuations, and New Arrivals

 
The last day of the work week was one of weather extremes. It started out about 15 degrees (F) with a light wind. Then the temp dropped to 0 (F), really blew with max winds of about 40-45 MPH, cleared a bit, then it snowed again and has been for 24 hours. All the changes occurred within a few hours so if a person thought it was going to be clear and took off, they would have found themselves in blizzard-like conditions within 30 minutes. Dangerous. This continent does not forgive mental lapses. It WILL kill you and not care about it. Much like the peaks in the Western US or Alaska except it’s like this 12 months a year.

It took a while but today I got training on the 930 forklift. What a beast. The weather did not cooperate as it was blustery and cold. But I think I did OK. The only problem I will have is operating it in tight locations. Especially when the ship comes into dock in January.

Spent the better part of the morning doing that then spent the afternoon in one of the warehouses accepting cargo, receiving it, verifying it was correct and so on. Then 415 rolled around and it was time for the weekly safety meeting. Lasted 15 minutes and we were done for another week.

McMurdo factoid: I was told that you know you’ve been here a while when you can identify someone from the back while they are walking and fully dressed in arctic gear. I have not yet reached that point but am getting close.

HOOO HOOO! Another super condensed weekend!!

The chow hall (OBTW, they hate it when you call it a chow hall. They want you to say, “dining facility!” What PC bullshit!) folks did a great job today. Brunch was good with raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries along with all sorts of other brunch type breakfast fare.

I am discovering that I will try lots of different foods as I figure if the staff put effort into it, I may as well give it a shot. Expand my culinary horizons, so to speak. For dinner I tried a Japanese noodle dish that was interesting. No clue what the name was but the flavors were subtle.

Decided today that I was going to grow a beard here; once a week. I hate to shave and coupled with the dryness which already irritates the skin, I just do not want to go through the aggravation of torturing my skin.

The Coffee House

 
For relaxation experiences, I am growing quite fond of our little coffee house! It is a cozy little arrangement of tables and chairs with subdued spot and track lighting in one area and a Quonset shaped building attached as an extension.

Both are decorated in rough cut somewhat darkened timber for walls and ceilings giving the impression of being in a cabin. And if you let your mind wander, the Quonset shape, coupled with the wood interior is almost like being inside an old wooden sailing ship floating around upside down. So cool!!

The décor is “early explorer” with toboggans, sledges, snow shoes, tools, skis, complete with pictures of Antarctica.

Add nice jazz as background music and the effect is complete.

A great place to play board games, cards, chess or just sit around quietly gabbing about your next planned adventure.

Had 45 MPH winds and after lunch I ventured out in close to white-out conditions to find the greenhouse. Wandered around and couldn’t locate it so I headed back to the job site to do some journal writing.

Now, two hours later, the sky is almost clear and we are back to normal. A little wind but not bad. It’s hard to think that in less than three months the snow will be gone and the temps will climb to near 40 with dust from the roads blowing all over the place. Was told that the roads need to be watered in order to keep the dust down to a manageable level.

In case I missed mentioning it, here are some books to read:

“The Worst Journey in the World” by Apsley Cherry-Garrard;

“The Endurance : Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition” by Caroline Alexander, Frank Hurley (Photographer)

“The Crystal Desert” by David G. Campbell

Damn, 24 hours sure fly by even if you try not to sleep too much! But, WOW! What a first day of the work week today.

Walked outdoors into a fairly balmy 15 degrees wondering what the day would bring. It was looking like the makings of a fairly benign day. Considering the amount of work I was facing I thought that might be a good thing as I had a boatload of things to deliver, move, consign, etc.

Then the shit hit the fan and the wind picked up. Man, I was loving life. The storm was majestic and I felt a thrill dressing up and pretending it’s me vs. Mother Nature never forgetting that she is a harsh tutor. So there I was slamming stuff into the bed of the pickup, finding snow in every small opening of every box within seconds of leaving it in the bed, always cautious not to leave cargo out for more than a few minutes so it would not freeze, digging out the snow from the bed of the truck, clearing dock areas, stumbling through drifts……….

Today I won.

Workwise I felt like a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest. Tons of issues, lots of problems with inbound paperwork. The winter guy finally gone.

Much of Scott Base and the runway areas were Condition One: winds over 55 MPH or wind chill exceeding 100 below or visibility less than 100 feet. Today it was visibility causing the call as wind chill never went below 45 below. In case I hadn’t mentioned it, Scott Base is the New Zealand equivalent of McMurdo except about 20 times smaller. It is approximately 2 miles from us up a hill, around a curve and back down to sea level.

It was almost peaceful walking around in the swirling snow and it became easy to imagine the scene when Scott was with his team on the return from the pole and a blizzard popped up . They’d been battling it for days and it was still blowing in the morning when Oates, one of the members suffering from the –43 degree cold, wanted to be left to stay in his sleeping bag. Convinced otherwise, he eventually got out of it and said “I am just going outside and may be some time” and stumbled out of the tent. Scott knew that Oates was walking to his death but could do nothing to stop him.

What a classic line fortunately preserved by Scott several days before he, too, having given up ever finding his way back to camp, collapsed in his tent and died. But not before he wrote almost a dozen letters to friends and family to say goodbye.

You can get like that here. So cold you don’t care and just want to let go. Going back to the dorms from the galley I walked head-on into the blast of ice cold air. The temp had dropped to zero by now and the 35 MPH had me almost in tears from the freezing sensation in my face. Yes, I could have put on a hat but I wanted to see what it was like to be very, very cold in one part of one’s body. Mind you, this was after only about 20 seconds! Maybe I’m a wimp but the wind chill was down to around 52 below. I’d like to see what it’s like at 100 below.

Wind Chill

 
And now for a bit of trivia: Who is associated with developing the concept of wind chill? Answer: The Antarctic explorer, Paul A. Siple coined the term in his dissertation “Adaptation of the Explorer to the Climate of Antarctica,” submitted in 1939. Today there is a small station here called Siple Dome.

Siple was the youngest member of Admiral Byrd’s Antarctica expedition in 1928-1930 and later made other trips to the Antarctic as part of Byrd’s staff and for the United States Department of the Interior assigned to the United States Antarctic Expedition. He also served in many other endeavors related to the study of cold climates.

How is the wind chill index calculated?

Scientists have devised an equivalent temperature scale which makes it easy to determine the wind chill factor. Wind chill factors are supposed to measure the effect of the combination of wind speed and temperature upon human comfort. There is nothing “exact about wind chill. It is an estimation of apparent temperature. It is important to remember that these do not have the same effect on inanimate objects, or even on other animals or on plants. Nor is this effect felt by humans who are sheltered from the wind.”

The following formula is one of several that can be used to calculate wind chill:

Wind chill = 91.4 – ((0.474677 – 0.020425 * W) +( 0.303107 * SQRT(W))) * (91.4 – T)

where W = wind speed (mph) & T = temperature (°F)

Giving the matter of wintering over more thought, if my Dad were in better health I’d like to do it. The thought of the last airplane leaving in February and then not seeing anyone else until the following August could be a bit disconcerting but it’d be about as close to being shot into outer space as I could get insofar as remoteness and isolation from the human race and our normal dependency of others to help us through our travails.

There are about 600 people here right now. We are expecting 500 more in the next few days. Plus, the weather was shit for 2 days and everyone here realizes the sun will soon no longer “set” so many folks were out and about late yesterday taking advantage of the lights and shadows and one of the places to do that is at Hut Point.

Cycling in Antarctica

 
I checked out a cross country bike today after dinner and went out tooling around town to see how it handled in snow and icy roads. I was truly surprised how I was able to get fairly decent gripping power and traction even when going uphill. Never having ridden in these conditions I was not quite sure what to expect. I also wasn’t prepared for the little adventure I had, either.

Went to the room, got my arctic mittens, liners, and a cap. Then I got my pack, two cameras and headed out to hut point to do some photography. The hut was built by Scott in 1902 (it looks brand new from the outside!) and I found a decently desiccated Weddell seal hanging around outside as if a sentinel.

All was well as I continued to Vince’s Cross, a wooden cross serving as a memorial to George Vince, one of a party of 12 men in Scott’s crew who was out exploring in search of a penguin rookery. Not finding it, they split up and a party of eight returned only to be faced with extreme cold and a blizzard at Castle Rock (just a couple of miles from the station here). They found themselves on a steep slippery slope where one of the men, Evans and two others, stepped on a patch of bare ice and tumbled out of sight. All three miraculously came to a halt when a patch of soft snow stopped them at the edge of a precipice with the sea pounding below. A howling dog flashed past and disappeared over the edge. One of the other men, Frank Wild, took charge of leading the remaining five who were left at the head of the slope. He led them off in the direction of their ship but suddenly came upon a cliff with the dark sea below; another step and he would have gone right over the edge. Unfortunately, Vince could get no grip on the slippery ice and, like the dog, he vanished over the edge and into the sea.

This site is only a few minutes walk (and visible from) the station.

On my way to Vince’s Cross I dug trenches in the packed snow to set the bike in so I could get a photo of myself and was trying to figure out how to set it all up when someone walked by and did me a favor by taking my picture.

Then I made it to the cross and the wind came up out of nowhere. Easily 35-40 MPH. So here I am with cameras in hand trying to take photos of Mt Discovery and the Royal Society Range when this little tempest stirs the teapot called my life. I chill off in a hurry and am scrambling to get my glove inserts on, cameras stowed, coat zipped up to the top all the while trying not to lose either the bike, the cameras, the helmet, my goggles and my arctic mittens over the edge. If any of them fell, they’d go the way of Vince as this was where he met his maker. In my case, the sea is still frozen but the drop is fearsome.

This causes me to gain a better appreciation for the mercilessness of this climate. One minute all seems well and temps are zero, then the wind picks up and all bets are off.

I must say that writing this probably does not convey the feelings and emotions one feels while experiencing this place but I developed one hell of a lot of respect for the guys who tried to live here so long ago. The adversities they confronted just can’t be transmitted via the written word.

I was very purposefully taking my time mentally check listing where each object was located on my person: between my legs, under an arm, gripped in my teeth, or firmly clenched in a hand. All the while getting colder and colder. Then I either put in on, put it in my pack, pulled it shut, or zipped it up. One at a time, never loosening my grip until I was done. My fingers got very cold. My face was stinging. But I finished and went for the shelter of a small hill and then pedaled back to the station.

I also never realized how physically exerting it is to pedal in 50 below zero wind chill. Especially when it is blowing in your face! I know I could not have gone more than half a mile and I was panting at the end.

So that was my little adventure for today. The weather is supposed to get nasty again tonight. We’d been getting snow and winds for the past two days so today’s sunshine (and 15 above zero temps) was very welcome (albeit I really like it stormy) so if and when the blow does come, I will venture out again on my trusty steed to see what it feels like.

On a clear day like today, it is possible to see with great depth and definition the Royal Society Range, Kukri Hills, Asgard and Olympus Ranges plus the Koettlitz, Bowers Piedmont, Ferrar, and Wilson Piedmont glaciers. What powerful beauty!!

Wandering back into town I stopped off at work to do a little writing and then headed back out only to run into a couple sitting on a desk!!! set in the middle of the road. They, too, were enjoying the sunset and we chatted a bit. They took pictures of me and I took some of them. So I now have a photo of myself cycling in Antarctica.

I was amazed to be able to actually see drifting, blowing snow off the TOPS!! of the aforementioned mountains 35-40 miles away!!! With the naked eye!!! It was no regular blow going on over there. I’d hate to have been stuck in that mess. The winds must have been monstrous. Reminds me of the story during the Scott expedition where he and two others were exploring on and around the Ferrar Glacier. They got caught in a horrid storm, were terribly lost, in white out conditions, and one of the men slipped and in falling, pulled the others with him. 300 feet lower they stopped abruptly and the sky was a brilliant blue. They were able to see Mt. Erebus in the far distance and were jubilant at no longer being lost. The fall proved to be a miracle and illustrates the tempestuousity of the distant mountains.

Speaking of big blows, we do not necessarily get affected by these but there are things called katabatics in Antarctica capable of achieving over 100 MPH. Are they winds? No!!! Want to know more? Click here.

A problem I had and which probably resulted in ruining several shots was that the camera got cold. Even keeping it in a backpack strapped to my chest with the parka zipped up over it did not help. A couple of shots went OK but then I could actually hear the shutter slowing down from the cold. Somewhat aggravating but I’ll find a way to deal with it.

At about 930 or 10 PM I went back out to photograph the sunset.

There’s something about the snow here that is different from any other snow I’ve ever seen either in Alaska, Connecticut, Missouri, or Virginia. It will fall to the ground and when the wind blows it, the mounds formed are very hard virtually right away. As if the flakes were glued to each other or were velcroed together. Must have something to do with the dryness of the flakes and the small size.

South Pole Evacuation

 
The LC-130’s finally arrived here to get the doctor out of the Pole. What a goat rope that story has been. I’d been following it in Tampa since the early summer and they ran a piece about her that did not place her in a good light. Seems she divorced her husband and to get away from it all went to the Pole. Basically did not maintain contact with her kids or ex but did stay in touch with friends and acquaintances. Heard she also got a bit wild at the Pole.

Here’s what the press said:

Wednesday October 13 10:24 PM ET

South Pole Cold Delays U.S. Medical Evacuation

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Extreme cold Thursday prevented a U.S. Air Force plane from making a dash to the South Pole to evacuate a sick physician from a research base there.

Two ski-shod aircraft are at an airstrip at McMurdo Sound, on the Antarctic coast, awaiting tolerable weather conditions for one of them to make the three-hour flight to the pole and evacuate Dr Jerri Nielsen, who needs treatment for a breast lump.

“It was a little warmer in the early morning hours but about the decision-point time it was minus 69 Fahrenheit and the cut-off is minus 58 F,” a spokesman for the evacuation mission, Peter West, told Reuters.

As a rule, the U.S. Air Force avoids operating aircraft at temperatures colder than minus 50C.

Only one of the two planes will make the 841-mile flight to Amundsen-Scott base at the pole. The other will remain at McMurdo as a back-up.

Nielsen found a lump in her breast in mid-June, in the middle of the Antarctic winter, and medical supplies were dropped to her in July. She now needs medical treatment in the United States.

As well as the aircrew, the evacuation aircraft will carry a doctor, nurse and the commander of the 109th Airlift Wing, Colonel Graham Pritchard.

As senior mission commander, he would decide whether the aircraft took off from McMurdo and whether it was safe to land at the pole, said U.S. Air Force spokesman Captain Victor Hines.

“The negative 50 degrees is a very firm guideline but if there is a judgement call to be made on whether negative 51 is okay, or negative 52, it is going to be his call to make that decision.”

HMMMMM!?!?!?!

Since the sun now hardly sets, or if it sets plentiful light exists for almost 24 hours due to dawn and dusk light, we’ve decided to lower the velcroed blue tarps over our windows to facilitate sleep and give our bodies the illusion of night time. Somewhat like what they do in the Arctic countries to simulate day with special lamps to help people overcome their winter blahs.

Approaching the mid-point of October, I almost felt like taking my parka off today as it was so warm. Or at least it felt like it! Got up to 20 degrees and with the sun shining and no wind blowing it felt almost tropical. Had to go to Warehouse 174 and the icicles were melting off the roof. I’m sure it’s like that in the colder climes of the US but I find it fascinating. There is no doubt that in re-counting some of these Antarctic adventures dealing with cold I am inclined to be impressionable due to my absence from cold climes for so long.

The hills that had snow on them now are almost bare since the dark rock sucks up thermal energy that melts surrounding snow. Basically the same concept that will clear this area within a few weeks. The nasty weather will also go away in a few weeks and we should see no more blizzard-like conditions.

More Supply Toads Arrive

 
My two folks finally came in and, boy, was I very glad to see them! What a hectic day. I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Must have issued hundreds of items and had to run in and out of warehouse 174. Plus I couldn’t locate the keys to the truck which really pissed me off as I was in a hurry to get stuff for some customers.

Clark, the guy who emailed me almost a year ago about this place, also made it in. Working for SMI he is housed in uppercase dorms. They have larger rooms and two per room, too, but they also have a bathroom in between them. The only problem with that is that they have to clean their own bathrooms whereas we get ours cleaned by maintenance. Not sure I’d want one of those rooms under those conditions because if you get stuck with some slob who does not clean up after himself, you get stuck either doing it or living with a nasty bathroom.

The stress of having to learn my job and wondering about how well my new folks will get along must be getting to me. I hadn’t slept well and always awaken tired. That pattern continues and there are days when I battle the sleep gods and emerge victorious (but only after I deceive them by taking a little snooze after the call to battle is beeped out) and there are days I just do not feel like getting up at all.

The 16th of October dawned gorgeous. No wind, zero degrees. Almost warm! Went out in just a sweatshirt to take a couple of pictures of the view from the door where I work. Mt Discovery is stunning. I’ll try to get to the top of Observation Hill to capture a shot of the shadow it lays across the base early in the morning. Saw it today and the definition of the shadow was awesome. Sunrise is somewhere near 4 Am now and sunset after 10 PM but since the sun is so low in the horizon there is no hurry to run out to photograph anything. It stays “sunrise-like” for several hours.

Chats, Carp Shop Party, Climbing Hills

 
Well, management has finally arrived and made its presence known. AARGH! Now the fun will stop. It is similar to what happened when I was deployed to Saudi Arabia. Shannon, who spent a winter, and I were commenting on it about how people like to make a place personalized and then someone comes in and stops all of it. At Elf 1, the base in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, everyone worked really hard and for as many hours as was required but they also played a lot, too. Then the Colonels came in and stopped a lot of playing around and morale went into the shitter. Here the same thing is happening in the sense that folks would name their vehicles or put up goofy signs and similar things but now all that is coming to a halt. We are supposed to get a bunch of new trucks this year and have already been told they can not be stenciled with pet names like many of the vehicles here currently are.

Had a nice chat with a young lady who works in fuels this year and when I asked if she had any fuels experience she said no. She was a janitor last year but was given time to volunteer at fuels in the hopes of getting a job this year. Next year she wants to be a helo mechanic! Makes me wonder how this place will take someone with no experience and allow them to be a mechanic, especially on the Ice. She works during the summer in the Forest Service at a Fire Department just east of Yellowstone. They give her a trailer to live in and she’s just a few yards from work, has a creek running by, a porch to sit on and figures that’s all she needs for happiness right now.

Not sure how we got on the subject but we must have been talking about drinking lots of water (at this point there were three of us talking) and I said I don’t like to as it means I have to get up at night. Then the conversation got into how people use water bottles to pee into at night and the latest rage on some college campuses which is to wear depends and pee into one’s diapers so as not to have to get up. SICK! No wonder our society is turning out weird. These kids are beyond bizarre.

Met a guy who wintered at the South Pole and he mentioned one of the things they do is to try getting into the “300 Club.” To join you need to get into a sauna that is cranked up to 200 degrees and then run outside into 100 below weather and run around the Pole to claim you ran around the world. I don’t see how a person can do that as flesh is supposed to freeze in seconds at that temp but I guess the heat given off by the body allows one to do so. He also said he’d try and see how long he could stand outside in just a pair of pants and shirt in 100 below weather. Longest was just over one minute. Crazy. But then you’d have to be a bit eccentric just to want to winter over at the pole.

Exciting Air Force news: the first C-17 landed here today. It came with only 50000 pounds of cargo and left with passengers. The folks it took were not supposed to have left until the next flight but at the last minute the chose to take them so a mad scramble ensued trying to locate these individuals.

The Carp Shop Party

 
The biting hawk was out today blowing chilly breezes into my clothing. Still a beautiful day out. No clouds to speak of and a fair nip in the air—most likely about 5 degrees or so with 30 to 40 MPH gusts. As I crested this snow hill coming to work I feared being blown backwards and down again. It was persistent enough that in just a few minutes any exposed skin became very sensitive. Plus it actually forced me to walk into it head down à là Mr. Natural (from Robert Crumb’s sick mind.)

Busy, busy, busy today. Good Lord we issued a lot of stuff. Now I can begin getting things done that need to be done here. Hopefully I will turn it over in better condition to whoever comes in for the winter.

The station is really getting crowded now. About 740 people are in and the chow hall is beginning to have long lines and folks begin to scheme when they will go eat or do clothes. Speaking of which I did 3 loads the other night. A real pain in the ass as the clothes are thicker and heavier plus I needed to do sheets, pants, sweatshirts, etc.

The carpenter shop put on the first party of the season in their building. It’s known as the “Carp Shop” party and has become legend. At first I thought it had a fish theme due to the name but I’ll get to that later.

I went to eat then back to the shop to catch up on email and other correspondence to include this journal. Then I headed off. Easy to find as the building seemed to take on the properties of a magnet. From my vantage point on a small bluff I could see people being drawn to one location as if in those old science fiction movies where humans are made zombies and pulled in to become food for the green eyed aliens. Star Trek’s tractor beam concept also works for the effect it seemed to have on folks. On a roll, I’ll venture to say it looked like an aerial shot of the savannas in Africa where you see a watering hole and the animals have their tracks pounded into the ground and you see them attracted to the pull of the relief the water will provide them. The same relief some of these folks were feeling when they went to their own special “watering” hole. Pretty cool, really.

It was packed in there. Margaritas flowing freely, beer pouring into thirsty gullets, sodas left virtually untouched. The music was quite good and folks would jump up on tables and dance away. A treasure trove of costumes were found so folks would be putting on the weirdest colors of wigs, strange clothes, and then parade around having a great time.

The Carp Shop folks even made a mirror ball and hooked it up to a home made motor connected to a lift chain with a small spot light hung off a cargo door. Quite innovative. A DJ booth was set up and guys donated their CD collections for use. Huge Peavey loudspeakers were located throughout, blenders were going, “shot” girls and guys distributing cups of margaritas to anyone wishing one. I had several. Not too strong so I kept my wits about me.

The only difficulty the party presented was for those with weak bladders. The bathrooms were outhouses, unheated. And the wind was still blowing strongly so some folks would be in line anticipating a quick jump into the pissoir only to find themselves ill dressed for it and vacillating between giving up their spot to get a heavy coat or risk getting colder. Then they got smart and started lining up indoors.

The highlight of the evening was the barbecue. 10PM, sun still shining, zero degrees and wind blowing—people were still barbecuing. They had started at 6 with hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, and what not. But then they brought out “THE FISH.” Probably the closest to a “carp” that matched their party’s name, this thing was a monster.

Scientists here catch Antarctic Cod and have been studying them for years in an effort to determine what they have in their system that keeps them from freezing in 28 degree water. If they can figure it out then we may have an environmentally safe solution for all the anti-freeze we use in vehicles, motors, etc.

The fish is also under stress from the fishing industry since many countries are now restricting where fleets may go in and around their international zones, then the industry is encroaching into Antarctic waters. Efforts are under way to ban fishing south of the Antarctic Circle but that’s a tough fight right now.

Anyway, our “delicacy” weighed in at 135 pounds and was caught in waters over 1400 feet deep. They are an ugly species and soon I will go to the station aquarium to see one live and swimming. A very tasty fish, too, albeit a little on the greasy side. So another first for me: partaking of a fish that has natural anti-freeze coursing through its body: a fish that does not freeze.

The music started getting bizarre so I headed off to the Coffee Shop for peace and quiet. There were only a few people there so it was nice. Left at midnight with the sun having set not long before. Still a nice color behind the mountains. I suspect in another week it’ll be up 24 hours.

Vilmar, the Hill Climber

 
YIPPEE!! Another day off! Feels good. The desire to cram a bunch of activities into such a short period in an effort to make up for not having two days off is intense. Not quite sure what the feeling is that makes us so happy to get an extra hour off a week or a day off. I have vague memories of feeling this way in basic training and imagine prisoners feel the same way or maybe even slaves felt the same whenever they get time to themselves.

So to maximize this good feeling, the best thing is to pick one or two activities and do them. The hell with the rest. For me it was to catch up on my journal, climb a hill, and maybe go to the aquarium.

First things first, I got the hell out of my room as the fuel pump went out in the boiler and it was COLD in there. So I spent a few hours in the morning catching up on email. Then lunch. Then a bit of exercise. Then the room was warm again.

At this point, having completed my exercise for the day I can go, “HMMMM…now I know why I will never climb mountains.” But earlier I’d decided that since it was such a nice day (little wind, partly cloudy, somewhat warm) I would climb Observation Hill. Looked fairly easy. Seemed to have a path…..(key word here is “seemed”.) What the hell….why not?

Trudging through the snow and loose rock was OK until I was one half of the way up. Here I found some buildings from the nuclear plant authorized by Congress in 1960. After getting to McMurdo in December, 1961, it became operational in March 1962. It produced 1,800 kilowatts but in September 1972 shield water leakage shut it down. It was dismantled and returned to the United States in 1973- 1975.

Continuing on, it got a bit slick with few rocks for proper grip. I wondered if the soles of my shoes might get cold enough to harden and lose their ability to grip. But I continued to the half way point. Then I looked back downwards into the town and the first tinges of doubt began to creep in.

There was another couple there when I arrived so I commented on how it sucked to be out of shape, proceeded to rest a bit and then headed upwards.

Every step upwards increased the pitch of the alarms going off in my head about what would happen if I took a misstep in this slick, snowy, gravelly mess. This felt like billy goat country to me and I dared not to look back over my shoulder.

It is amazing what drives people to do things they normally are not prone to do which sometimes results in serious injury; simply because we dare not let our pride interfere with our common sense.

That’s exactly what I was doing. Under normal circumstances I’d have assessed the risks in the climb up to this point and I’d have stopped, turned around and called it a day. Not because I am a chicken shit but because this was something a bit out of my league. But those other two folks were behind me. I could not be bested by them. So up I went. Then I did something else foolish. I strayed off the path and struck off on my own up what could not have been more than a 6 inch wide track covered with snow. Sheer walls on one side, sheer drops on another. I felt my coat drag and grab on the protruding rocks. Damn, I was not liking it. Then I broke free and got to an open snow covered slope and finished the climb. Heart pumping a beat to make the wildest tribes of savages proud. To say it was not worth it would be a lie.

So I learned a lesson—I can do this kind of stuff. The question now is: will I try something similar again and kill myself through a sense of false security and confidence? One way to find out. But, OH! What a view from 750 feet up!!

On top of the hill there is a cross, made of Australian jarrah wood, commemorating Scott and his four companions. Erected by members of Scott’s last expedition, they took two days to carry it up to the top of the hill’. Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who wrote the classic, “The Worst Journey in the World”, wrote the following:
“There was some discussion as to the inscription, it being urged that there should be some quotation from the Bible because ‘the women think a lot of these things.’ But I was glad to see the concluding line of Tennyson’s Ulysses’ adopted: ‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.’…

“We went up Observation Hill and have found a good spot right on the top, and have already dug a hole which will, with the rock alongside, give us three feet…. Observation Hill was clearly the place for it, it knew them all so well. Three of the were Discovery men who lived three years under its shadow: they had seen it time after time as they came back from hard journeys on the Barrier [the ice shelf]: Observation Hill and Castle Rock were the two which always welcomed them in. It commanded McMurdo Sound on one side, where they had lived; and the Barrier on the other, where they had died. No more fitting pedestal, a pedestal which in itself is nearly 1000 feet high, could have been found.

“Tuesday, January 22. Rousing out at 6 a.m. we got the large piece of the cross up Observation Hill by 11 a.m. It was a heavy job, and the ice was looking bad all round, and I for one was glad when we had got it up by 5 o’clock or so. It is really magnificent, and will be a permanent memorial which could be seen from the ship nine miles off with a naked eye. It stands nine feet out of the rocks, and many feet into the ground, and I do not believe it will ever move. When it was up, facing out over the Barrier, we gave three cheers and one more.”

As a side note, June 1993 brought with it hurricane force winds to McMurdo which knocked down the cross. In January 1994 members of McMurdo and Scott Base worked together to carry the cross up the hill, erecting it, 81 years and one day after it was originally placed on the hill. Many joined in the task and a small service by the local clergy closed the ceremony.

So having achieved the summit I looked back down at the town. Then I wondered how I was going to make it without killing myself. EASY! I sat down, planted one outstretched foot in front of me, tucked another underneath me and they served as my brakes. The left pounding occasionally into the slick surface to act as my brake, the one underneath did some braking and much steering. My hands grabbed at any rocks available. And this way I made my way down one quarter of the hill after which I walked/skipped/jumped the rest of the way.

Yep, me and climbing do not get along. But I will do it again. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to risky behavior.

Had a really great dinner tonight. Sometimes these guys in the galley outdo themselves. The soup was marvelous, the bread fantastic and the chocolate covered strawberries on brownies was superb. So far I can still fit in my pants so all is well. However, when the pants get tight, I go on a diet. Not like there’s a Wal-Mart or other store to buy clothes anywhere nearby.

Stopped by the Coffee Shop and met up with some folks who told me we actually have folks with master’s and doctorate degrees here working in other, lesser capacities. One doctor came down to be a janitor. Amazing. So when the cry goes out, “Is there a doctor in the house” it might not be so unusual to have a janitor or dining attendant say, “Yes!”

Our room is beginning to take on a personality thanks to all the junk my room mate has acquired. We now have microwave, TV, video, stereo AND boombox, decorations and all manner of stuff on the walls. Plastic palm trees, pink flamingos, a pink mermaid statue, tapestries, liquor collection, huge video collection, a fishbowl with paper fish.

He says he also decorates it for Christmas so I will let him do it as he likes since I really don’t do that kind of stuff.

 

 
Continue reading Part 3 here.

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