ANTARCTICA PART 4

 

 

The second climb, More Notes, Rivers in Antarctica, Idealism vs. Reality, Dinosaurs, Thanksgiving Week

 
One morning found me itching to do something other than stare at a screen or deal with warehouse issues so I decided to climb Ob Hill. I felt I needed an opportunity to photograph Erebus again. Of course, one should never wait for Antarctica to bless you with either constant or warmer weather and that held true when later in the afternoon a chill wind began to blow and the temps went down. But as long as the sun was out, so was I.

It was quite different this time as the majority of snow was replaced by the rocks and dirt underneath yet the going was almost as treacherous since I tended to slip and slide on the gravelly surface.

I ended going up a different trail than I’d taken the first time. It sure seemed easier near the top. Just for grins I went over to where I’d come up just a few weeks ago and I can’t believe I climbed up that way. I must have been nuts. Then again, that’s not saying too much about me at this point.

Ending the climb with photos and expressions of awe at the grandeur of Mt Erebus to the north of us, I headed down—at first slowly and tentatively and then with big bounding jumping steps to end up at the base of the hill 700 feet down.

General Notes and Observations

 
Maybe it’s my somewhat anti-social nature or my cynical nature that generates these feelings I sometimes have here but I can tell I do not fit in with many of these people. I find few people interested in talking about world or national events either at work or afterwards. It’s as if by not talking or reading about something it either does not exist or it goes away. Nor will they engage in financial conversations. Few do any reading. Most seem self absorbed in going to the gym, watching football, or drinking. A far cry from the intellectually stimulating conversations Scott and his men had when they were here. I specifically try to draw folks out by mentioning subjects or asking questions. Few either answer correctly or bother to answer at all. That’s troubling. But then is it me? Or are they just trying to have fun and don’t wish to be troubled by issues that confound them? I am not sure if they smell a conservative in their midst or if these people are a reflection of the apathetic nature of the US population as it relates to news.

I know there is also the fact that the above interests are my interests and I’m not really like anyone else as I hate sports, could give a shit less about television (yet these folks know all the programs and actors, what roles they played, who sings what soundtracks, etc.) Go figure!

I can understand why there is no desire to engage in my topics: It’s simply because they are clueless. The closest I can come to identifying the root causes of these attitudes is liberalism. How else can anyone explain all the vegetarianism, lipsynching about ecological causes, lack of concern for moral decay while justifying it through stating that people have a right to express themselves as they want, anti-capitalistic attitudes, etc? And then we wonder why the country is in the shape it’s in.

There are days it pisses me off. But the question then becomes: Are they the misfits or am I?

A River Runs Through It

 
We now are at that point in time where the weather here is gradually warming up. With warm weather comes melting snow. With melting snow comes runoff, mud, and soggy grounds. And right now snow is melting much quicker and actual rivulets of water are forming, joining one another and turning into streamlets cutting through town making an overall mess.

The point? It’s a return to a scenario quite similar to the little escapade Scott went through on our cross country bicycle trip where water would find the path of least resistance and create runnels for its escape. Except that where Scott had these runnels under his tent, we are fortunate enough to only have to walk over them.

All over the station I see heavy equipment out digging little trenches in the roads attempting to divert the water into the embankments lining the roads themselves. The diversion works well and keeps the road itself from being washed away since the dirt here has nothing to grab onto.

In 1995 up above the tank storage area, a mini-lake had formed and the heavy equipment guys went out there to chip away a small piece of the ice dam restraining the water. They were successful in releasing several hundred thousand gallons early in the morning. Later in the afternoon they went back out to chip at it again except someone got a little over-enthusiastic with the vehicle and shattered the restraining wall.

The next thing heard over the radios was, “Oh shit!!!, over!!” as millions of gallons came screaming through town taking out everything in its path. Whole cargo lines were washed away. Now that would be a mess!

There’s more if you are interested. Click to read a story about another “river” in Antarctica.

Been doing a lot of driving around here and it is amazing these trucks we have were able to last as long as they’ve lasted. The roads are abysmal (regardless of efforts to keep them from being washed away) and any attempts to go over 25 MPH results in fillings being vibrated loose. Granted, there is nothing that can be done. It is impossible to attempt to pave roads here. The best they can do is to bring out the graders and trim the tops off the washboards. It was so bad recently that while delivering a forklift load of 16 nitrogen bottles, I hit a bump and almost lost the cage with the bottles in them—and the cage was angled upwards on the forks, too! Having heard from the gas expert here in town that at a 45 degree angle one of these cylinders, if properly struck, can be launched several miles, I did not even want to think about what would happen if 16 of them were to let go INSIDE a cage! WOW!!

Work goes on all night long moving cargo, spreading dirt to keep the walkways and paths from being too slippery, working on roads, etc. At all hours we can hear the rumblings of big diesels and their backing up beepings.

Idealism vs. Reality

 
The luxuries of civilization satisfy only those wants which they themselves create—Apsley Cherry-Garrard

Wonderful quote. And it makes me wonder what the “idealists” at work would think of that? Given that liberals are just as capitalistic as conservatives (except they hide behind a false mask of compassion and would rather the government give them their possession, needs, wants, desires, etc at the expense of those that REALLY work) I would think they’d eschew that comment. Which brings me to an interesting little idealist vs. realist scenario that took place recently.

There is currently a project going on where a teacher is being paid to be here on the Ice so as to establish a link with other schools and children to increase their awareness of Antarctica and the world. I see it as another ploy to brainwash kids with the drivel, lies, and deceptions from the environmental wack-o groups out there. Hey, I love tree as much as the next guy and can’t stand the de-nuding occurring in our forests but the stuff that comes out of these groups is sometimes too much to believe.

Anyway, this teacher has had her way paid here by the taxpayers and is away from her classroom (necessitating a substitute at further expense to the school district????)— all just so she can communicate with students in the US???

It’s not like she is doing any research whatsoever. So why does a teacher need to be here? What is the selection process and how much money went into that process to select her (i.e. competitions, letter writings, standing in front of panels of her superiors.) All done on school time, mind you. Wouldn’t that money have been better spent on the education process itself? All those people involved in this dedicating hours of efforts that could have been spent tutoring kids and making them smarter (Oh, that’s right, I forgot. Idealists want others to do those things for them since they are too busy standing up for their ideals!) Just how much is wasted taking care of her when all she does here is go on boondoggles and then writes back through the internet what she sees and does here?

Why can’t someone here, or a group of someones, send back that info through that internet link to the group of schools wishing to participate? WTF,O?

Well, my little idealists down here seem to think the teacher project here is worthwhile and valuable for kids back in US. Somewhat like, what, McAuliffe in the shuttle? And these idealists say that the companies working here are greedy? These are the same people that won’t take a salary cut, too, in order to help out their favorite cause? Bigots!

Dinosaurs

 
One Sunday evening was filled with a presentation titled “Jurassic Dinosaurs.” I almost blew this one off but was glad I didn’t.

Sir Richard Owen coined the word, “dinosaurus” 150 years ago. There were 3 genera of such in his time. Now there are hundreds of them. They first appeared in the Triassic period about 200 million years ago (MYA) and the ones studied in Antarctica are from about the early Jurassic period some 75 MYA.

In Antarctica, the southern Trans-Antarctic range near the Beardmore Glacier has most of the bones. There may be other regions but the depth of snow and ice make discovering them virtually impossible.

The first dinosaurs were discovered here in the late 60’s by geologists and after they made their discoveries the paleontologists began appearing on the scene. It was during the 1990-1991 season that the bones were studied in depth and the area better scoured for more evidence.

Studies revealed that the creatures found here were more than likely reptilian featured animals evolving into mammals. This conclusion was reached based on the social behaviors exhibited by them. Most reptiles today are not social creatures. Alligators, crocodiles, lizards, etc do not associate in a community environment like warm blooded animals do.

The reptiles the scientists found suggested quite strongly that Antarctica was, in fact, much warmer back then simply because reptiles are cold blooded creatures and temperature dependent. As part of Gondwanaland, Antarctica was joined together with several other large land masses and situated about where central/southern Brazil is today. The dinosaurs could have very easily have started evolving here and then moved over the land bridges to other continents.

Most of the bones found were imbedded in rocks at the 12,500 foot elevation of Beardmore. The group collected about 35-40 percent of a complete skeleton belonging to a 20 foot or so long dinosaur. They named it cryolothasaurus (“cryo” for cold; “lotho” for the decorative crest on its head, and “saurus” for lizard. They couldn’t name it Antarctisaurus as that was already taken in the 50s by someone in South America not realizing anyone would ever find anything here. To name it austrasaurus would give people the impression that the beasts were discovered in Australia.

They decided it was a therapod which is carnivorous in nature and therapod means “beast foot.” This was gotten from the impression their feet left on the ground and from some ankle and foot bones found.

There is a lot of dinosauric diversity found here in Antarctica. Inside the cryolothasaurus was found a beaver’s ancestor’s tooth and the remains of a small herbivore (prosaurapod) that was evolving into a saurapod.

One creature was found with a rib bone deep in its jaw giving credence to the thought that maybe this particular animal bit off more than it could chew and therefore choked on a “chicken bone.” A really big chicken! It’s really not such a far fetched idea as many scientists believe that birds evolved from dinosaurs.

They also found a bone that was much larger at one end than the other. It puzzled them for a long time until they started studying other contemporary animals to discover that large birds had these same features wherein one end of the bone needed to be larger in order to accommodate and support the mass of muscle needed to move the wind at the point where it is connected to the body.

In terms of therapod evolution, the beasts found here were ancestors of later period therapods suggesting the therapod creatures found elsewhere in the world started here and moved through Gondwanaland to finish their evolution. Examples are the allasoauroids, plateosaurids, dimorphodontids, etc.

I found it amazing how the lecture hall was jam packed with people fascinated with dinosaurs. I guess kids are not the only ones with this sort of fascination.

Thanksgiving Week

 
Thanksgiving week, to include the weekend before and the weekend during, was one of many little happenings which put all together made for a very eventful period. The weekend prior was a benign affair with not much to account for it. No major parties, no major happenings.

All in all the week was rather a slow one devoid of many exciting events. The weather continues to be reasonable with temperatures hovering in the mid twenties and a bit of wind. Generally the wind blows in at 10-20 MPH most every day and this week was no exception. I suspect we are experiencing warmer than normal patterns and others have mentioned the same thing but I have no data to substantiate my theory.

Did hear a rather bizarre story involving some skuas. Since I do not have pictures for confirmation, I will consider that there may be some fiction associated with it but knowing these birds it may very well be true.

Seems two skuas were behind the galley trying to get a free feed by taking advantage of food bits that fell out of trash bags. That’s when they got into a fight over a morsel. Beaks locked they wrestled one another for a while until one skewered his beak into the nasal opening of the other. This resulted in much consternation between them. One guy was yelling for his friends to get a camera. The fight continues until one skua, in an attempt to free himself (or herself) gives a good yank and breaks the neck of the other bird. Fight finished, beak free, he (or she) flies off leaving the other bird to be disposed of by humans. I’d have loved to have been there and captured that little moment.

Everyone giddy with anticipation at the prospect of having a two day weekend to relax, do things they’d been putting off, sleeping, drinking (and recovering from drinking). That’s the best way to depict Friday between 0730 and 1730.

And I was right there with them in that anticipatory glee.

Let’s start with the MEC party. Having spoken to others about it I came away with the impression that last year it was probably the best party put on so, what the hell, I went.

In a bit of a departure from other parties, this one started at 2030 hours. Following the stream of people headed in that direction I came to Building 58, site of the MEC. The theme was “Studio 58”, a takeoff on Studio 54. The front door was made to look like Manhattan’s skyline and was complete with a bouncer/door guard controlling entrance via a rope. Once inside the foyer, there was another person to stamp each individual’s hand with a “58.” Andy Warhol would have been proud.

To the left was a loft area with a fancily decorated swing upon which sat women dressed provocatively, swaying lazily back and forth to the beat of the music. Below the loft area was the dance floor and heading west one came upon a small ramp to the right of which was the bar and at the top of which was a tattoo parlor. The “tattooists” were dressed in late 50’s/early 60’s sunglasses or regular framed glasses to give the illusion of a post-beatnik generation.

There was even a “photographer”, camera constantly flashing for all the photos taken of the girls sitting on the swing or pole-dancing, or go-go dancing. He, too, was dressed for the period—in black shirt, jeans, black framed beatnik glasses.

So that’s what the place looked like.

Now the people in there—that’s another little story. That’s right!!! Guys dressed like women! OH! What a surprise!! But these guys went a step further.

No party is complete without a fairy. And this one was no exception—literally. A guy came dressed as a fairy. Pink tights, wings, and all. He floated around all night. Mingling with the crowd and participated in the go-go dancing.

Another guy came dressed in an extremely short dress which exposed his nylon and pantyhose covered butt at the slightest of movements. He, too, went up to the loft and did some SERIOUS pole dancing. It was hilarious to sit back and listen to those that hadn’t seen him from the front yet comment on how everything was showing, etc. Until he flexed his knees and then there was absolutely no doubt that he was not a woman. Had he taped himself up he may have been able to pull it off (no half-ass pun intended (oops, again!)) but gravity does what gravity does and Mother Nature’s gifts to him were victim to this aforesaid gravity.

More took place but to write about it would reveal the people involved. Sorry! Anyway, it was a good party which I had to leave—again because the music was too loud.

I must have been very tired as I was still asleep at 730 on Thanksgiving morning (One note, we celebrated Thanksgiving Day on Saturday in order to have two days off consecutively.) Proceeding to the galley I could not believe how absolutely, extraordinarily, magnificently, fabulously beautiful it was. The sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky, no wind blowing, temperatures about 30 degrees. Just AWESOME. As if God knew this was the day we needed to have good weather in order to maintain our sanity. Speaking of good weather, how’d you like to see this on your weather channel as a forecast:

TODAY: partly cloudy; high low 20s

TONIGHT: mostly sunny; high upper teens (Mostly sunny? Of course, that’s true but your brain suffers a bit of a synaptic disconnect to read “sunny at night” especially when you’ve never seen it written out before.)

Thanksgiving dinner was really set up well. The chow hall was set up with decorations and lighting to give it a holiday atmosphere; the tables had tablecloths (albeit paper but better than nothing. Plus it was the better, thicker paper tablecloth so it wasn’t so cheap looking); each table had a place card with a note from a stateside church asking people not to forget to give thanks to God for our ability to partake in all this festivity. Of course, we all had to get in line to serve ourselves but that’s no different than in many buffet restaurants in the US. Quite a few people dressed up nicely and others brought their own bottles of wine and the only thing I saw that took away from the whole picture was that folks would still leave all their cups, plates, silverware and napkins on the goofy blue trays we use on a daily basis. You’d think they’d at least put those trays under the table or somewhere other than the tabletop.

For some reason I was not that hungry but was able to taste test most everything on the menu. It makes no sense to describe the menu as it was standard Thanksgiving day fare.

As the evening rolled around I could tell the beautiful weather we were having was going to go away. It got cooler and a bit of wind kicked up from the South (habits are hard to break down here. Whenever it gets colder, my tendency is to think the wind is coming from the North as that’s the way it works in the Northern hemisphere, Not here, though!)

Sunday dawned (ha ha, dawn! Right!) OK, start over. Sunday morning I awoke to a cloudy and cold morning. It also was very quiet with no trucks or heavy machinery running nor any of those annoying back-up beeper sounds we’ve grown so used to. The silence was deafening. We had our nice day and that was that, I guess. So I did some laundry (really need to watch out how much soap I use since it is an industrial grade soap requiring only a quarter cup per load. Folks put in more thinking they need it to get the clothes clean and find that when they pull out the clothes from the washer, the seams get wasted or the fabric decomposes! I can tell the difference in a pair of pants I have which had a small wear spot on the knee. It is now a hole.

In the afternoon I took advantage of a special opening of Scott’s Hut located on the arm leading to Vince’s cross to do some visiting and get to know it better. Walking around the outside perimeter it was easy to tell that occasionally penguins will nest nearby since there were numerous feathers scattered around the whole building.

What a difference between this hut and the ones at Cape Evans or at Cape Royds. This one was not intended to be lived in as it was constructed on a plan for the Australian outback. Big mistake!! No insulation, tall ceilings, and an attic space. The guys in there did not stand a chance of staying warm so it was abandoned. You can tell it was, too, due to the condition of the interior, lack of bed space, poor kitchen facilities, and what not. But as a refuge from the cold it was a sought after haven. Being situated on a bluff was also another mistake made by the Scott boys. But they can’t be blamed as one year weather here won’t be too awful bad yet the very next year will be absolutely miserable. It was all a learning experience for every explorer who set foot on this cold, windswept continent. The hut is now easily accessible on foot but in the early 1900s it sat on a bluff and with the “Discovery” frozen into our little harbor, getting back and forth was an adventure. Most of the time the men slept on board ship as it was warmer.

Here’s a little history about it:

During the Discovery Expedition with Scott in 1901-1904, the Hut was constructed February 1902 of Australian jarrah wood from a design popular in the Outback for its ability to remain cool in the Outback heat. Big mistake!!! It was too cold to live in so the hut was used for storage, a laboratory, emergency shelter and a theater.

Vince, a member of the Cape Crozier Message Party, died after slipping off Danger Slopes in a storm trying to get to Hut Point. Hare, another guy in the party survived 36 hours in the same storm by letting snow cover him and staying put .

It was here that Scott and Wilson aided a scurvy-ridden Shackleton back to Hut Point after their Southern Journey. Shackleton was sent home as an invalid, thus beginning a rivalry with Scott.

During the Nimrod Expedition with Shackleton in 1907-1909, the expedition was based at Cape Royds. The Discovery Hut was used for storage and as an advance base for Shackleton’s Pole attempt.

Shackleton, Wild, Adams and Marshall came within 100 miles of the South Pole before having to turn back due to lack of food. Marshall collapsed from starvation and exhaustion 33 miles from Hut Point 2 days before their ship, the Nimrod , was to leave McMurdo Sound. Shackleton and Wild marched non-stop for 18 hours to reach the Point to flag down the ship before it left. They went so far as to attempt to burn a small outbuilding from the days when the ship, Discovery, was here in order to signal the ship. The ship returned and Shackleton led the party to rescue Adams and Marshall.

During the Terra Nova Expedition with Scott in 1910-1913, the expedition was based at Cape Evans and Discovery Hut was used as an advance camp for all southern journeys. The Hut was found full of snow and ice after Shackleton’s use and after being cleared was occupied by 16 men from March 5 to April 21, 1911 after returning from a Depot Journey to lay supplies for the next year’s Pole attempt. This was the largest group ever to live in the Hut.

Wilson, Bowers and Cherry-Garrard spent one night in the Hut when returning from a mid-winter Cape Crozier Journey. This adventure was the basis for the book, “The Worst Journey in the World.”

The Hut was occupied for short periods between January 4 and May 1, 1912 by parties returning from a Pole journey and parties going south to look for Scott .

Crean, of the Last Returning Party, walked 35 miles in 18 hours across heavily crevassed terrain to get help at Hut Point for the scurvy-ridden Lt. Evans. And the Hut was used as an advance base for a search journey which found the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers.

The Hut was occupied January 20-21,1913 by 8 men building and erecting the Memorial Cross on Ob Hill commemorating the loss of Scott and his men.

During the Aurora Expedition lead by Mackintosh/Shackleton in 1915-1917 expeditions were sent out to lay depots across the Ross Ice Shelf to assist Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition. At the time Shackleton was across the continent in the Weddell Sea aboard the Endurance.

Anchor lines broke in a storm May 1915 and the Aurora and crew were blown out to sea marooning 10 men with almost no food or equipment with which to carry out a Depot Journey so vital to Shackleton’s expedition.

Scrounging supplies from all huts, fabricating clothing and equipment and surviving almost solely on seal meat, 6 men attempted the Depot Journey leaving 4 men at Cape Evans.

The entire Depot Party suffers scurvy with Spencer-Smith dying on return one day short of Hut Point. Hayward and Mackintosh got very sick but Joyce, Wild and Richards get them to Hut Point. The men spend 2 months in the Discovery Hut, half full of snow and ice, mostly huddled around blubber stoves while Mackintosh and Hayward recover.

Only partially recovered, Mackintosh and Hayward attempt to reach Cape Evans traveling over newly formed, very thin sea ice. When a storm blows out the sea ice the two are never seen again.

The three surviving members of the Depot Journey spend another 2 months at Discovery Hut, eventually return to Cape Evans in July 1916 and are rescued by Shackleton, January 1917.

Bowling, Vignettes, Notes, Capturing a Crown Jewel

 
Hey, we even have a bowling alley here! I shot a game and purposely chose the worse lane (it actually is bowed a bit and balls have a tendency to do weird things on it.) Nevertheless I shot a 116. Beginner’s luck!! What a bloody racket!

Brunswick is trying to get the NSF to sell the two lanes as they are the last manually pin-set lanes in the world. They would gladly exchange the antiques for new lanes except if the new ones ever broke down no one could fix them. The antique lanes, however have almost no moving parts and the workers manually set the pins after every roll.

On the worse lane, where the floor meets the foul line, some of the alley’s boards are higher than the floor. On one of my releases the ball got out of my hand a bit quicker than I expected, hit that exact spot, went bounding into the air and bouncing down the alley eventually rolling into the gutter.

Vignettes

 
The first belongs to a guy named Joel. He’s been down here several years and when I asked him what he does while back home he replied that he played music. He’s a guitarist that concentrates on blues. He used to be in a band with a guy named Curt Salgado. Curt’s band name was the Stilettos. Joel told me Curt used to play with the Robert Cray band and that he was the inspiration for the Blues Brothers when John Belushi was in his town filming Animal House. Curt is now in the Portland area and Joel wants to try to move out there from his current home in Long Beach and possibly hook up with him, rejoining the band.

Another interesting profile here is Claire. She currently works as a utility GA. She’s shown up for a couple of our theatre group meetings and lately I’ve been able to get more info on her background. Currently she is jack hammering a two foot wide trench, two feet deep around our two new fuel storage tanks so as to extend the protective barrier.

Turns out that last year was a “beaker.” –our shorthand for a scientist! She spent five weeks here last year in a biology experiment. She was doing her Master’s work and now has a Master’s in the subject wanting to find a college to teach in.

Her experiment dealt with how proteins in the fish here and their abilities to reconstitute and repair themselves when exposed to warmer temperatures.

She told me that amino acids are a long string which when properly folded together make up a protein. They have sticky sides that attach to other strings of amino acids and create the proteins which then turn themselves inside out and into a “ball” obscuring their “sticky” side and keeping other amino acid strings from bonding to them so as to maintain their properties.

She gave the example of an egg. The normal proteins that make it up are constructed such that they appear to be a gelatinous mass. Once boiled or exposed to high temps the proteins unroll and RE-form back into an amino acid string with their sticky parts exposed once again. Having this happen then permits other amino acids to cling and form other than normal protein strings. Which explains why when boiled, eggs whites turn hard. (at least I think I have that right!)

In any case, her experiment dealt with determining whether or not the cod here had to ability to survive if their body temperatures were raised or whether or not evolution had “taught” them to forget that process.

A year later, she’s back as a GA! Granted, her boyfriend is a beaker and she’s here because he is but nevertheless………

We also have a geologist on station working in the galley; we have a full fledged doctor working as a physician’s assistant, and a retired full colonel working as a utility GA.

Then I met Ben Muir who works in the fire department. He is a direct descendant of John Muir, the environmentalist and founding father of the Sierra Club.

On a more disturbing note, you have to wonder if maybe a bit of psychological profiling needs to be done before people get assigned to the Ice especially when there are people that believe we have aliens in our midst.

The big talk of the town centered around the supposed arrival of alien space ships at McMurdo to pick up a town resident and take him back with them.

Say what? Aliens in McMurdo? Will the Ice runway support the weight of the ship? Are they green? Do they have cold weather gear? Are they related to the whales here? Just what the hell is going on?

When I first heard this, I gave a dumb-ass blank look at the person relating the story to me. Was he putting me on?

Turns out people were gathered outside at noon pointing to various parts of the sky looking for the Mother Ship. Posters were posted in the galley (and rapidly torn down—I suspect by the shrink.) Yes, we’re getting closer and closer to what really happened.

Seems all this was a figment of AGO Jack’s delusional imagination. Oh yeah, we had one crack up on us.

The gossip was that he was WAYYyyyyy out there before he even got here. AGO Jack, you say?

Um Hum. He was also called 10,000 mile stare Jack. He was the guy who’d go around trying to get you to tell him about your dreams. He’s the guy who thought dreams would be more intense out here in the wide open, non-polluted areas of Antarctica. He actually gave a presentation on it! And when he did so, people actually left because he was so “out there” with his views.

He’d done and said a couple of squirrelly things and was sent to Christchurch for a psyche eval. That’s extraordinarily unusual for a summer season person. He returned, got weird, and was immediately assigned a “watcher” and then escorted off the station, onto an airplane and back to the states.

Man, oh, man, we get all kinds here.

General Notes and Observations

 
This, the beginning of my 10th full week on station, started out easily and innocently enough. Only 25 more days until Y2K! It is so hard to begin to imagine that another year is close to expiring yet I am excited about the prospects of beginning a new century.

Monday night we had a special showing of the movie, “90 Degrees South.” It was filmed in the early 1900s by the voyage’s photographer, Ponting, and only after almost 20 years was a voice track added (as that technology did not exist at the time of filming.)

What a great movie full of scenes depicting what life was like for the early explorers. Fantastic footage of penguins, sled dogs, and the routine of daily activities. There are also images of ice caves and other Antarctic wildlife.

Outdoors, though, we can tell summer is here; or at least signs that summer is approaching: the ice runway closes this week and all trips to Cape Evans are now cancelled. Next week all trips to Cape Royds will be terminated, too. The ice is becoming dangerous to heavy vehicles and although it is still several feet thick, the tidal action and warmth will soon have big chunks of it cracking off the shelf.

We’re getting lots more runoff, too. The rivulets are running deeper and faster and wider. Plus I can see big bulldozers (I mean, BIG!) crawling up the hillsides pushing snow around and trying to get it down closer to the base and to the exit routes for melt-off.

One of the Crown Jewels

 

I almost couldn’t believe it! A trip to Cape Royds!! When a co-worker first mentioned it to me, she said it was for us in the office plus a couple of others.

As far as I am concerned, Royds is one of the four jewels making up the crown of activities someone can hope to go one while stationed here. The other three are a trip to the Dry Valleys, a trip to the top of Erebus and a trip to the South Pole. Granted, some people’s jobs just naturally take them out to these places but the average jamoke here never goes anywhere. Three other activities either are fairly readily available of not that interesting: a trip to “Room With a View” which is a camping trip to the foot of Erebus. This one is really good if the weather is clear. Other than that it is nothing more than a day off. The others are “Happy Camper School” where we get to go camping overnight on the ice and learn to build snow shelters and then sleep in them and the last is a trip on the ice breaker when it pulls into port. Almost everyone gets to go on a 4 hour cruise if they want to.

As for Royds, though, some folks have been here 4 years and still not had a chance to go. Thank goodness for this co-worker and her friends in the right places!!

The weather was picture perfect, as if God was rewarding us for our patience and appreciation of his grand wonders. There was absolutely no wind, the sun was shining brilliantly in the heavens, no clouds in the sky, and the temps were hovering around freezing. Incredibly awesome!!!

We meet our guide at 630 P.M. and proceeded to walk to the ice transition area to get our snow mobiles. I’d never ridden or driven a snowmobile so was a bit hesitant. We put our gear unto a couple of sledges, uncovered the machines, prepped them, and after a briefing by Ted, started them up. I took one for a test spin. It had one “ski” in front so to turn to the right I had to lean to the left. Absolutely counterintuitive and somewhat discombobulated me but I was able to pull it off. The other machines had two “skis” in the front and they handled normally.

The guide forgot to bring the keys to the hut at Cape Royds so while he went to get them, we had a snowball fight. I haven’t done that in a long time. Upon his return, we fired up the machines for departure. I was in the “sweep” position and therefore last. Of course, I just had to do it—I’d fall behind on purpose and when the group was about ¼ to ½ mile ahead I’d crank it up to see how fast it’d go. They must have been governed as the fastest speed I was able to get was 35 MPH. Cool enough for me, though!!

Had a great time scooting over the ice. Close to the base was a lot of snow cover but as we got further and further out, there was much less cover and we were running on the actual ice itself. That was where I was able to go the fastest. I got the hang driving these beasts soon enough. Along the way I tried driving it standing up, kneeling down, etc.

I even saw what looked like jet contrails (first time I’ve ever seen any down here!) Not sure what flights come this way or if it was a fluke but surprised me enough to comment on it.

We stopped at the very edge of the Barnes Glacier which runs off the Erebus tongue. Brilliant light blue colors made up this huge wall of ice in front of us. We just stood there listening to the water cascade off its face, melting quickly in the afternoon sun. Also heard water running underneath our feet!! Great cracks were visible in the ice and we can tell that soon the tidal action combined with warm weather will break up this shelf and reveal the several hundred foot deep water of the sound.

Scooting right along we passed the two deltas taking people to Cape Evans and as we went by I am certain we all felt a certain exhilaration at knowing we were about to do something they could not. A feeling of being special and privileged. Then we passed a group of three snow mobilers who’d been out to Royds and were returning. They included folks from the recreation center. While stopped we all started doing full frontal drop and slides on the ice to see who could go furthest. We’d line up, take off running (trying not to fall on our faces) and then launch ourselves onto the ice and slide headfirst. On our bellies just like penguins; doing the Adelie thing. What a hoot! If I had had a better parka, like the red nylon ones worn by most of the people, I’’ have been able to go a bit further but as it was, my carharts created too much drag. Great fun nevertheless.

Speaking of Deltas, there was so much more scenery visible to us in a snowmobile than on a Delta. While inside the cabin of that beast you have about 10 people fogging up the windows which immediately freeze and prohibit you from seeing anything else. Having the whole sky for my windshield was infinitely better. Plus sometimes you get stuck in deep snow!

Our next stop was the Adelie penguin rookery. Since it was a Special Scientific Interest (SSI) area we needed to park our vehicles at the base of a hill and then climb that hill to descend into the cove where Shackleton built his hut. Then, over a small rise heading towards the water’s edge, displayed before us, was the rookery. Complete with a strong ammonia smell. Cute birds—but stinky. Had it been warmer, the smell would have been worse. Nevertheless, it was tolerable and the very last thing I’d ever complain about.

Located within the nesting area was a fenced off compound where scientists controlled the entry and exit of penguins in an effort to weigh how much food they were bringing to their offspring. Each bird had a chip embedded in it which identified that particular bird. When it left the compound it was scanned and weighed. When it reentered, the process was repeated. Of course, it is hard to control all the variables like weather and predators but scientists hope to gain more knowledge about how these creatures raise their young and prepare them for adulthood.

We could not get too close to the Adelies because of the SSI but thanks to my zoom lens I was able to get reasonably good shots. All around were skuas soaring and swooping, trying to invade the rookery, distract the penguins long enough to have them leave their nests and then steal the eggs left abandoned.

The Adelies, of course, were also engaged in their little rituals of protecting their nests and incubating their eggs. They were hilarious: yakking at one another, chasing one another from their territories; picking up pebbles and carrying them to their nests only to walk away for more and have someone steal what they just set down. This pebble finding effort is never ending and makes up part of their courtship ritual. Imagine, millennia of evolution resulting in this behavior!

You’d think they’d realize that after a while when they left their nest to pilfer someone else’s, that someone else would be pilfering theirs.

To read more about Adelies, see the Science Page.

But Mother Nature works in mysterious ways and this is her way of giving these creatures something to do to occupy their time. Plus Adelies are an excellent food source for leopard seals, “the most dangerous sea creature in the world: (this is much better said with a heavy, Arnold Shwarzenegger accent.

Some who’d say, “what’s the big deal about seeing a penguin up close?” or “I can get closer to a penguin in a zoo.” True, but in a zoo the penguin is the creature confined. Here in Antarctica, we are the confined creatures attempting to live in an environment intimately familiar to the penguin. An environment that millions of years of evolution has adapted them to.

Walking around the area I saw a penguin skeleton and a dead skua. Also a dead baby penguin and the remains of eggs stolen by skuas. In true male fashion we played, like men will do, with the dead penguins, picking them up and having them “dance” and “walk.” All the while we would be getting our photos taken. The women thought we were gross. What do they know? J

Coincidentally, almost a week later I found this story on the internet at the Antarctic Philately site that has so much info on the explorers: http://www.south-pole.com/homepage.html

Attacked by a Ferocious Leopard Seal

In the supremest of all ironies, it was the moment that Gareth Wood successfully finished his 1984-85 “In the Footsteps of Scott Antarctic Expedition” to the South Pole with Roger Mear and Robert Swan that his troubles began. For that very day, the support ship that would take him home succumbed to crushing pack ice and sank, leaving him and his fellow team members stranded in Antarctica for a second winter in a row. It was during these dark months, while hiking across frozen Backdoor Bay with companions Steve Broni and Tim Lovejoy, that Wood experienced the most harrowing few minutes of his life.

The going was easy and as I moved over the ice I had no idea that I was being stalked from beneath its surface.

Ahead was a working crack which was slightly more than one stride in width – too far to comfortably cross without jumping. It was covered with a very thin layer of unblemished ice. Innocently, I stepped closer. Would it hold my weight, I wondered, or would I have to jump? Stretching one foot down, I probed it with the tip of my crampon, much as I’d done with dozens of other working cracks in similar circumstances.

Suddenly, the surface erupted as the massive head and shoulders of a mature leopard seal, mouth gaping in expectation, crashed through the eggshell covering. It closed its powerful jaws about my right leg, and I fell backward, shocked and helpless in its vise-like grip. Feeling myself being dragged toward a watery grave, I locked my left crampon onto the opposing edge. I knew that once I was in the water, it would be all over.

“Help, help, Steve, Tim, help,” I screamed repeatedly. It seemed an age before I finally caught sight of their running figures.

“Kick it, kick it, kick it, get the bloody thing off me, hurry, hurry for Christ’s sake, you bastard, you bastard,” I yelled hysterically, my gloved hands scrabbling fruitlessly for purchase on the smooth ice behind me as I strained against the seal’s prodigious weight.

For one tiny fraction of a second our eyes met. These were not the pleading eyes of a Weddell seal nor the shy glance of a crabeater seal – they were cold and evil with intent. What fear the seal must have recognized in my own during this brief moment of communication, I can only imagine.

“Bloody hell, it’s a leopard seal,” Steve shouted breathlessly as he leapt across the crack to attack the brute from the opposite side.

“Get the bloody thing off me, kick it, for Christ’s sake,” I screamed again.

“Aim for its eye, its eye,” Tim shouted, his voice verging on panic.

“Bastard! Bastard! Bastard!” Steve chanted in rhythm to his swinging boot.

“Get its eye, blind it,” Tim shouted again.

I watched, dazed, as the front tines of Steve’s cramponed boot made small, fleshy wounds in the side of the beast’s head near its eye. Fifteen or 20 times his foot swung with crushing impact. Blood streamed from the wounds and spattered to the ice with each sickening smack of the boot. The impact of the violent attack vibrated through my body. Stubbornly, the beast continued to grip my leg, which appeared tiny in its jaw. I felt as powerless as a mouse caught by a cat.

“It’s backing off,” Tim shouted triumphantly as the seal suddenly released its hold and slipped slowly back beneath the surface.

Numbed, confused, and mesmerized by the concentric ripples slapping the edge of the bloodstained hole, I stared entranced at the spot where the frightening beast had disappeared.

“Quick, get him back from the edge,” Tim gasped.

Arms had just grabbed me when the seal’s monstrous form leapt once more from its watery lair. Lunging at me, it crossed the ice with an awkward gait, streams of bloody water cascading to the ice around it. Its large, interlocking teeth crushed down on my plastic boot.

“My God, we’ve blown it,” I gasped. “Kick it, kick it, for Christ’s sake, kick it,” I shouted, the fear in my throat threatening to choke me.

“Its eye, get its eye,” Steve shouted as he and Tim again booted its head with the lance-like front tines of their crampons.

Irrational thoughts carreered madly about my brain. What would the ice look like from beneath the surface? What would death be like? As if divorced from life already, I pictured the seal swimming down with my limp, red-coated body in its jaws. I could see pale, green sunlight filtering down through the ice as I descended into the gloom of certain oblivion. It all seemed so real, so peaceful – a silent movie with myself as the reluctant hero.

Tim’s tugging at my shoulders pulled me swiftly back to reality – finally vanquished, the animal had retreated to its nether world. They skidded me quickly over the ice a safe distance from the crack. I stood up shakily.

“Lie down, let’s have a look,” Steve implored, motioning me down.

“No, I’m all right. Thank God it’s not broken,” I gasped, as I tested my wounded leg by stumbling backward, away from the terror I had just experienced. Glancing down at my torn clothing I saw blood on my leg – whether it was mine or the seal’s I was not sure. I unzipped my outer Gore-Tex and fiber-pile pant.

“Oh my God,” I trembled, horrified at the blood and puncture wounds on the front and back of my leg just below my knee.

Excerpted from South Pole: 900 Miles on Foot, by Gareth Wood with Eric Jamieson (Victoria, B.C., Canada: Horsdal & Schubart Publishers, 1996), pp. 178-180. For more information, see http://www.garethwood.com.

Cool story, eh?

It is true that these leopard seals are ferocious animals as depicted in the above story. I’ve seen film footage of Adelie seals hovering at the edge of an iceberg, afraid to jump in because a leopard seal was lurking nearby. Somewhat funny to watch how they’d look around at one another as if to say, “Hey, you going in? Go on! Go first and I’ll go right after you.” After a while one would actually dive in and all of them would leap in, too. Of course, if a leopard seal was there, they’d be history.

There is also a really cool picture in the galley of all these Adelies sitting on an ice floe, way towards the back of it with a leopard seal at the forward edge waiting to make one of them his lunch.

Our guide gave us a great tour of the hut built by Shackleton’s men. We were able to see what it might have been like to live in that hut almost 100 years ago as it had been restored. His presentation was excellent and elaborated on many little details we’d never have heard about. Below are some of the notes he used for his presentation. Many “firsts” were attributed to this trip and they are also mentioned below and marked with asterisks.

Shackleton’s Nimrod Hut at Cape Royds

British Antarctic Expedition – 1907-1909

The men Age Profession

Ernest H. Shackleton, 34 Anglo-Irish, Leader

Lt. Jameson B. Adams, 28 British, meteorologist, 2nd in Command

Professor T.E. Edgeworth David, 50 Australian, geologist

Dr. Eric S. Marshall, 29 British, chief surgeon, cartographer

Dr. Alistair F. Mackay, 30 Scottish, surgeon

Aeneas L. A. Mackintosh, 27 British, 2nd officer aboard Nimrod

James Murray, 43 Scottish, biologist

Douglas Mawson, 28 Australian, physicist

Raymond E. Priestley, 22 British, geologist

Sir Philip L. Brocklehurst, 21 British, assistant geologist

George E. Marston, 26 British, artist

Frank Wild, 35 British, in charge of provisions

Bernard C. Day, 24 British, electrician, motor expert

Edward E. M. Joyce, 33 British, in charge of dogs, equipment and scientific collections

Bertram Armytage, 39 Australian, general assistant

William C. Roberts, 36 British, cook

The transport

10 Manchurian ponies, of which 2 died on the Nimrod and 4 died in winter quarters at Cape Royds.

The 4 surviving ponies, Chinaman, Grisi, Quan and Socks, hauled sledges on the South Pole Journey. Three were shot for food. Socks, the final pony, died in a Beardmore Glacier crevasse fall.

9 Siberian Huskies, which, through litters, increased to 22. Only 8 dogs were used for Depot Journey in support of the returning South Pole Party. Only use of dogs in the entire expedition.

**** 1 Arrol-Johnston motor car, the first use of motorized transport in the Antarctic. Not a success.

Timeline

8/7/07 – Nimrod departs England after a Royal visit

1/1/08 – Nimrod departs Lyttelton, NZ, heavily loaded with only 3 ½’ of freeboard, towed by larger vessel Koonya

1/15/08 – Having weathered a gale and approaching pack ice, Koonya departs

1/29/08 – Unable to make land in the eastern Ross Sea, Shackleton returns to McMurdo Sound, breaking a promise he made to Scott to stay away from Ross Island.

**** 1/31/08 – Surgeons remove Mackintosh’s right eye, damaged in an accident unloading the ship. First surgery performed in the Antarctic.

2/3/08 – Shackleton decides on Cape Royds as his base. Unloading and hut construction begin.

2/22/08 – After much difficulty unloading, Nimrod departs for New Zealand.

3/5/08 – With hut finished, 6 men, pulling a 600 lb. sledge, begin attempt to climb Mt. Erebus.

**** 3/10/08 – 5 men reach summit of Erebus, the first ascent of an Antarctic peak. Brocklehurst, waylaid by frostbitten feet, does not summit. One big toe amputated 4/6/08.

**** 3/12/- 8/12/08 – Winter routine in the hut. Science programs carried out. Equipment for upcoming journeys prepped. Ponies groomed and exercised. Joyce worked with dogs. Aurora Australis, first book written and printed in the Antarctic, published.

8/12 – 10/13/08 – Southern depot journeys to Hut Point and onto the Ice Shelf in preparation for South Pole attempt.

10/5/08 – Magnetic South Pole Party, David, Mawson and Mackay, depart Royds, manhauling their sledge.

10/29/08 – South Pole Party, Shackleton, Marshall, Adams and Wild, depart Royds. Joyce, Armytage, Marston and Brocklehurst in support.

12/4/08 – Pole Party reaches foot of Beardmore Glacier, named by Shackleton in honor of the expedition’s chief financial backer, William Beardmore.

12/6/08 – Socks falls into a Beardmore crevasse, depriving expedition of hauling power and meat on the hoof.

12/09/08 – Western Party, Armytage, Priestley and Brocklehurst, depart Royds to study geology near the Dry Valleys.

1/5/09 – Nimrod returns to Cape Royds, Mackintosh rejoins Shore Party.

1/9/09 – Pole Party gets within 100 miles of Pole, turns around to avoid starvation.

1/15/09 – Joyce, Day, Marston and Mackintosh, with 8 dogs, begin Depot Journey for returning Pole Party.

**** 1/16/09 – Party reaches South Magnetic Pole, starving, frostbitten, hypothermic and nursing numerous injuries.

1/24/09 – Nimrod retrieves Western Party near Butter Point. Begins search for Magnetic Pole Party.

2/4/09 – Nimrod, searching 250 miles of dangerous coastline, finds Magnetic Pole Party by sheer Providence.

2/20/09 – Joyce finishes 2nd dog journey, the technically most impressive feat of the expedition, leaving a huge cache of food for returning Pole Party.

2/22/09 – Pole Party reaches Joyce’s food cache on brink of starvation.

2/27/09 – Marshall collapses with dysentery and exhaustion 33 miles from Hut Point. The other 3 are too weak to drag him. Shackleton had ordered the Nimrod to sail north on March 1.

2/27 – 3/3/09 – Leaving Adams to care for Marshall, Shackleton and Wild set out with no gear and little food to signal Nimrod before its departure. Succeeding in signaling the ship after much difficulty, Shackleton leads the Rescue Party, including Mawson, to get Marshall and Adams, covering some 100 miles in 5 days with almost no sleep.

3/4/09 – Nimrod departs McMurdo Sound, all souls safely aboard.

Summary:

**** The British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909, under the command of Ernest Shackleton, claimed the first ascent of Mt. Erebus, the first journey to the South Magnetic Pole, the discovery of the Beardmore Glacier and came within 100 miles of reaching the Geographic South Pole. The Expedition did not lose a single man.

Shackleton’s record later inspired Raymond Priestley, a veteran of both Scott and Shackleton-led expeditions, to pen the immortal words, “As a scientific leader, give me Scott; for swift and efficient Polar travel, Amundsen; but when all is lost and it seems like there is no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.”

Later Expeditions and Restoration:

Later expeditions visited the hut, utilized stores kept there and stayed for brief periods but never occupied the hut for any length of time. Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition (1910-1914), based at Cape Evans, included among its members Raymond Priestley and Bernard Day. Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party off the Aurora (1914-1917), marooned at Cape Evans, included Aeneas Mackintosh and Edward Joyce. Shackleton himself returned to the area in January 1917 to rescue the surviving members of the Ross Sea Party.

The next recorded visit to the area was by the U.S. Navy icebreaker Burton Island in 1947, which found the hut full of snow and ice. Minimal restoration commenced in 1956 with the arrival of H.M.N.Z.S. Endeavour and in the summer of ‘60-’61, the New Zealand Antarctic Society did an extensive restoration. The hut is now maintained by the Antarctic Heritage Trust, a New Zealand-based organization formed in 1987 with the mission to “preserve and protect the historical heritage of human endeavour in Antarctica.”

Antarctic Heritage Trust, Private Bag 4745, Christchurch, NZ; Information compiled by Ted Dettmar, U.S. Antarctic Program

Among the facts above are a couple of other tidbits: The naming of Beardmore Glacier is not clear whether it was done in honor of Beardmore himself or his wife, with whom Shackleton was having an affair.

It’s amazing to think how close all members came to losing their lives. When the ship came back in early February, it sailed up and down the coastline looking for the Magnetic Pole party. It was very foggy and they were preparing to give up when the first mate recommends to the captain that they passed a small cove obstructed by fog and an iceberg and that they should go back. They argued it for a while with the captain eventually acquiescing. They sailed back and the fog, having lifted, revealed a small cove. No sooner than they pulled in then they saw a small tent. It was the Magnetic Pole crew which had arrived just 2 hours earlier. Had the ship not turned back, they’d have died.

On Shackleton’s return from the Pole, his team was near death and the only hope was to make it to a supply depot and hope that food was there. On arrival they find a banquet of food left by Joyce, who was considered a “moron.” Yet he was the man who trained and raised the dogs that saved Shackleton’s ass.

Having had our fill of the Hut, the “steenking” penguin rookery, the sun, the skuas and needing to get back, at about midnight we headed towards town (with a couple of detours along the way, of course!)

Firstly, we stopped at the iceberg trapped in the ice shelf. It floated into the sound last year and became trapped during the winter. We drove the skidoos right up to it and did some exploring. What a beautiful site! Part of it had split and had started to break off but was still attached at the bottom creating a “V” shape open at the top. We walked inside it to the other side of the iceberg but had to be careful as it was full of melt-off. Even around the iceberg there were big cracks where the ice is starting to go.

Almost through to the other side revealed a picture perfect frame of white, blue, and icicles looking out towards Razorback Island. Absolutely stunning!!

We all got our pictures taken in various poses and made our way to the opposite side where we found this small area to stand in and a big “lake” of runoff water that was very cold.

Then the highlight of the trip occurred. (names changed to protect the guilty)

Derrick makes a comment to Kristin about going swimming and she fires back some reply to which he makes some other comment. I missed most of it as I was looking the other way. Next thing I hear is some comment by Kristin to Derrick to take off his pants to which he raises the bar with her. Anyway, the next thing I know Derrick, Kristin, and Robert are stripping off their clothes and posing for pictures with just goggles and boots on!

Funny as hell.

It actually was very warm so they felt no cold but getting dressed was interesting in that they needed to be careful not to slip on the ice and fall into the pool of water.

Next stop was what I call “Icehenge.” It is where someone had carved out huge blocks of ice and constructed a piece of sculpture remarkably and conceptually similar to Stonehenge (use your imagination here!)

A few Weddell seals were basking there, too and Robert got close to one and lay down on the ice mimicking its moves and sounds. The seal was in a place that allowed me to frame it for some decent shots (except I don’t know if they will come out either. To me it would be the utmost in wasted opportunities if I shot these photos at the wrong settings. I need to a new camera that’s more idiot proof. The older I get the more “idiot proof” I need stuff.

Now it is close to 1 AM and we will not make it back by 130 as originally thought so Ted, our guide and the author of the info on the Cape) calls in to say we’ll be back to 2.

What a sight our 5 machines made as we tore off across the ice, staggered in formation, the sun in front of us coursing its way North to East, snow flake trails rooster tailing behind each machine, reflecting the sun’s rays of light, all of us looking like animated cameos. I’ll never forget that sight—as well as many of the others tonight.

Arriving back on station at 2 AM we put the machines to bed, fueled them up and headed back to our rooms, radiant in our experiences and the fun we were privileged to have. It was approximately 230 when I made it to my dorm and for the day, I witnessed an almost full cycle of the sun across the sky having been up 21 hours. It’s one thing to see the sun filmed in a 360 degree circle as a film sequence but totally something else to see it with your own two eyes.

Awakening after 3.5 hours of sleep, I stumbled into the bathroom only to run into my boss. He asked how it went and all that flashed into my mind was what Kristin, Robert, and Derrick did. This mental image of their outrageous behavior kept running through my head on an endless, incredibly fast loop. Of course I could not talk about that resulting in my having a hard time keeping a straight face while telling him it was great, awesome, spectacular, etc. All very generic descriptions.

Really, now, Just how does a person keep a straight face when asked how the trip was all the while knowing full well 3 of your personnel stripped nekkid in Antarctica? I wish I wasn’t so self-conscience as these are the things that make the stay down here memorable—being able to take advantage of every moment; being outrageous.
 

 
 
Continue reading Part 5 here.

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