ANTARCTICA PART 6

 

 

Back to the Salt Mines, New Year’s, Ice Stock, Death on Station, Bits and Pieces, Icebreaker cruise

 

The week after Christmas virtually flew by but not before it laid me low with a nasty cold. It started Christmas evening (and was a reason I almost did not go with Clark on our hike) and by Tuesday I was truly feeling like shit. So much so that I took off a half hour early Tuesday and 3 hours on Wednesday.

I went to the clinic and volunteered to be part of a “crud” study that is an ongoing effort to determine how people get this and why they do. To me it’s pretty simple. It seems to strike whenever we have a big influx of folks from New Zealand bringing with them germs we’re not accustomed to seeing. But I’m not a scientist so I just let them draw blood and take a throat swab.

Just before the New Year was the day I saw the icebreaker, Polar Star. We were in the drum yard stacking 4×4’s in preparation for our 2700 drums when we saw the exhaust stack. I told the guys we should go see it and they readily concurred so we walked out to Hut point only to discover it seemed even further away! It must have been an optical illusion because there’s no way the stack could have looked so close in the storage yard only to be miles further away when we were two miles closer to it!!

Throughout the day lots of folks could be seen walking out to the point to view the breaker. It almost looked like those old military scenes where troops are out in the boonies and counting off the days until their “Freedom Bird” arrives to take them home.

Just as every once in a while I think I spot an insect or expect to find a flower growing somewhere, when I heard the ship’s horn go off just as it drew abeam of Hut Point, I thought it was a fog horn from a lighthouse. The mind plays strange tricks on people down here. Sensory deprivation, of sorts.

One thing is certain—now that we’ve seen the icebreaker, everyone knows there will be a sudden shift in people’s priorities and attitudes. The whole tone of McMurdo changes after cutter sighting. Folks get excited at being able to leave; others don’t want to leave and become depressed; and those staying over the winter just can’t wait until everyone else leaves so they can be left alone. You can almost feel the difference in the conversations and pace of actions. Prior to this we concentrated on figuring out what was left for us by the winter crew, working those items, making our own list of priorities and working those, doing inventories, etc. As soon as the New Year comes around, focus will be on preparing for the fuel vessel, the re-supply ship, getting folks out of here as early as the 18th of January to make room for the winter crew who will arrive about that time to help the loggie community to offload.

New Years’

 
Y2K loomed and no one was sure what was going to happen. To be cut off from the electronic world would really be depressing especially since regular mail is already greatly delayed to us.

Many folks were headed to the Scott base party, some were headed to the Carp shop and others were putting on their own parties in their rooms or lounges. Since I was not fully recovered from my cold I was not sure what I wanted to do so I headed over to the Coffee Shop for something to wake me up. And what should I see in the air? A huge bank of clouds headed towards us over the northern hills. It brought with it fog and snow.

Now there was an interesting thought—climbing to the top of Ob Hill in the snow. Deja vu all over again. But……two hours later the skies were clear.

Feeling the need to do SOMETHING rather than hang around the station, I got dressed and went to the top of Ob Hill. What a beautiful evening for a New Year’s celebration. I brought with me my bottle of champagne with the cork tied to a string so as to be environmentally friendly and also brought both cameras.

2320 hours and I was on top. Sheltered behind a rock it is actually warm enough to remove my gloves and write. Just waiting for the countdown.

From the top I can see lots of folks climbing up to see off 1999. There was a steady stream until 1140; almost as if it were a magical time zone and anyone who may have had thoughts of climbing were deterred knowing they’d never make it in under 20 minutes. Which is basically what it took me to get up here.

One guy brought up his flag and I helped him anchor it on the top of the hill. Almost looked like a shot out of the Battle of Iwo Jima. His flag has been all over. When he was a submersible pilot in the Navy, he put it on the stern of his vessel and dove 2000 feet down. He’s also had it on a French sub and one of our nuclear subs that penetrated the Arctic Ice Cap. Quite a well traveled little flag. We all had our pictures taken nearby it.

At midnight quite a few corks were popped. Mine took off about 30 feet up and over the top of the hill. I retrieved it easily.

What amazes me even now, as I write this several days later, is that seemingly just at midnight, almost to the minute, the sun disappeared behind clouds and it got cold again, down to 15 degrees with 15 MPH winds—–very chilly. We all beat feet off the top of the hill and headed for the warmth of the indoors. Can’t help but think the clear skies and sun up until midnight were late Christmas presents from the “Big Guy.” But then again it could be a harbinger of ill-omens; great end of the decade, shitty beginning to the new? HA!

All in all the station looked pretty quiet from my perch on the top of the hill. Very little movement and little noise. Even at midnight, when we thought we’d hear SOMETHING we heard nothing. We expected the icebreaker to give a blast of its horn but not a peep issued from it. Not even a flare. That would have been cool.

We were not the first to go though the date change but being in the second “hour” was pretty neat onto itself. Of course, it must have been really cool up in the Norway/Finland/Russia corner where in one location a person could experience the New Year three times!

Auckland was the first major metropolitan area that passed through the 2000 barrier with no problems. At least none yet reported. So here it is JANUARY 1, 2000, Y2K? We don’t need no steeeking Y2K!

Well, we made it! The world did not end as far as Antarctica is concerned. We are all Y2K compliant but the internet’s been shut down as a precautionary measure. Since we are so close to the dateline, input from computers here are being monitored stateside for possible problems. To do that, the net’s been turned on periodically but only to a few select sources and input devices.

So here I am in the year 2000. Somewhat surprised to be here but happy nevertheless. Got to see some of the festivities on the TV as they were going on around the world but all we could get was ABC with Peter Jennings and he and his company bored me to tears. I got fed up with the commercials and the constant interviewing of other media personalities when they could have just as easily shut their pie-holes and shown us what was happening throughout the world. Three different times I turned it on or walked by it in the lobby and saw broadcasts from Cuba. What the fuck, over???? Cuba? Why? So what? Cuba is a non-event. Why not show more shots from Moscow, Shanghai, Tokyo, Seoul, Auckland, Fiji, Sydney, Rio, Buenos Aires, etc. Kiss-ass communist bastards! But then again, that’s our media for you.

HMMM, first of the year, century, millennium and I am already on my soapbox! A preview of things to come?

In any case, the world did not collapse because of the Y2K bug. Hundreds of billions of dollars were spent to minimize its impact and although there will be Monday morning quarterbacks and hindsight “experts” claiming it was a big ruse, we will never really know. If nothing else, the mass reprogramming effort created lots of jobs and does not seem to have affected pricing structures around the world.

IceStock


Grabbed a quick snack for lunch and made for IceStock 2000 (our version of Woodstock.) The fun started at 12 with the singing of the anthem by Jessica. The girl was off her form. Not a pretty aural picture. Throughout the afternoon we were entertained by someone on acoustic guitar, Uncle Henry and his Homewreckers, another group of folks calling themselves the “Shackletones”, one guy made an appearance as Baby 2000 complete with an ad across his butt for the new company he hired on with. Rescue 4 and the Rollovers also played as well as several other acts. Quite good entertainment.

The weather was not bad, about 25 degrees, relatively sheltered from the wind, cloudy. I know the musicians must have suffered a bit as there was no heat on stage. I was told having heat would be worse as it affects the tuning of the instruments. Cold fingers was the price they paid. But all of them did a great job.

Bizarre to look around at the crowd and see so many people in parkas, dancing, drinking, eating chili cooked up in a chili cook-off competition. Each stall had their own theme and the skuas made out like bandits, that’s for sure!

I bought a couple of t-shirts from the event as they were the most tastefully done shirts I’ve seen so far.

The whole thing ended about 6 PM.

In between acts I’d go to Bldg 155 and log on to the computers to catch up on email or my journal. I knew no mail would go out until the network was back up but at least the email would be queued up and ready to go. What struck me as hilarious was logging in at 7 AM and seeing the following logon script: “364 days until Y2K” Two hours later it was gone but I found it funny enough to chuckle at. Obviously nothing to do with the processors or networks but a function of as poorly written script.

While we were partying, the ice breaker left to break more ice. The channel it cut was plainly visible and also quite visible were many seals plopped on top of the ice, having taken advantage of the holes cut for them. In conversation with some friends I brought up the point of whether seals have gods they pray to and if they do, is the Coast Guard cutter one of those deities eagerly expected at a specific time every year. Maybe they have “pagan” rituals and dances summoning their “cutter” god to make their access to the ice above easier. Do they have festivals and “ice breaking” parties for their ice crushing god that floats above them providing breathing and basking holes. Surely they must tire of using their teeth to gnaw holes and this “arrival” must be wondrous! HA HA .

On the 4th it snowed all day. Hooray! Lately our weather has been colder and colder and I suspect what we knew to be summer is now over with. We were expecting the sun to melt snow off our gas bottle cages but that did not happen. So we did the next best thing: spent all day moving gas cages into a building to melt the ice. I turned up the thermostat to 85 to facilitate the process, closed the door and left them in there for the “weekend.”

Here’s a little rant…..What the fuck is it with all these people that suck on their water bottles all day long, exercise like hell, eat vegetarian dishes, take vitamins, buy strange herbs to eat and make teas with, gulp down these esoteric new-age concoctions, etc and still get just as sick as anyone else? I’ve yet to see a report that says doing any of that shit prolongs one’s life. Meats, fats, sweets, coffee, drink; all these things in moderation are not bad for you. Period. End of story. So are these people that much sicker than the rest of us who don’t do all this strange stuff and this lifestyle they’ve adopted allows them to be like the rest of us carnivores and non-exercisers? I don’t get it.

Death on Station

 
Heard at a staff meeting that one of Mac Town’s residents, a Canadian, died in his room last night. I’d heard it is not unusual that at least one person will die per year here and last year was the first time in 10 years no one died on the station. So now we start the decade in fine form.

His name was John Beisieda and his roomie (a fellow Canuck named Ron) is really depressed. Seems that at a volleyball or basketball game, the roomie landed hard on John’s foot, injuring it severely resulting in John needing to be sent to Christchurch for evaluation. Ron has also injured two other players on station. John was packing his bags to go back when his roomie noticed he became non-responsive to questions. This was at about midnight. Getting no answer, the roomie went to John and checked for pulse and breathing. He then called 911 after which the breathing slowed, the pulse slowed and eventually stopped.

Some folks think it was a blood clot from the foot injury. The autopsy results will be announced as soon as they are obtained. Of course, all sorts of dark humor abound concerning Ron and his bizarre way of killing people off. But that sort of morbidity is to be expected from a crowd such as this.

(Update: as of 14 January—results came back to show that John did, in fact, die of a blood clot lodged in his lung.)

My third season I’d read about another employee dying except this time it was at Palmer Station. He had just returned to Punta Arenas, Chile after working at Palmer Station, Antarctica. He apparently fell down a stairway on the Research Vessel Laurence M. Gould while it was moored at the pier. He was found unconscious and taken by ambulance to a local hospital for treatment. His wife flew from their home in Arizona to be with him. He sustained serious head trauma, did not regain consciousness, and was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. I knew his name from somewhere but could find no one that recalled him. Hmmmm. So for several days I’d been mentally trying to recall where I’d heard the name and.I even searched my old journals for his name to no avail. I asked around. No one seemed to know who he was.

Then one day I wander into the chow hall and there’s a picture of him. He was my room mate from the year before. DAMN!!!!!! He became my room mate in December. As he worked nights and I worked days, I hardly ever saw him. I’d get up and he’d be getting in shortly after I’d leave. I’d end work and he’d have already taken off. Occasionally on a weekend or one of his days off we’d chat.

I do know (or recollect now) that he was also excited about having gotten the contract to Palmer but not too thrilled with having to tell his wife he was leaving again about 1 month after getting home.

Oh, and did I mention he got drunk virtually EVERY SINGLE NIGHT? Many days he’d look plain awful and considering that I did not see him every day but virtually every time I did he looked awful, leads one to suspect something is not right.

So there it is. My old roomie bites the big one. I’d heard people commenting that he’d probably fallen down from being drunk. A rude comment to make and vicious rumor to spread considering the person did not know him. But I reluctantly agreed this was probably the reason for his falling.

The time is close to say goodbye and the cutter is now going back and forth in the bay chopping up the ice. It’s almost like a lawnmower in that it cuts a path and then overlaps that path a bit as it widens the channel in the ice.

Bits and Pieces

 
Killer whales have been spotted “telescoping” their heads out of the water in search of seals to eat. Or penguins. I believe they call it “spy hopping.” I still haven’t seen any. Tours are supposed to be week after next where we all get to go out on the icebreaker for a 4 hour cruise to the ice edge. One guy went last year and they cut a path in the ice to show the folks how it is done. He said the whole ship trembled non-stop and the vibrations were such that he could not get his eyes to focus!! He said it was like getting repeatedly whacked upside the head in a very fast manner. The old eyeballs never stand a chance.

The cutter also made it to the ice dock. The actual Winter Bay is quite deep and looks are deceiving from when we stand on the road looking over the bay and dock area. It does not seem like it can be deep. This area, by the way, is where we have tons of nasty crap buried in the water. Trucks, jeeps, etc. too! What looks like a dirt dock is actually something that is “grown” every year. The dock itself is called an ice dock. It’s about 150 feet by 250 feet (maybe larger.)

At one point they must have decided to begin “growing” the dock and what they did was bring in dirt, spread it in top of the existing ice, pour millions and millions of gallons of fresh water over it (not salt water), and let it freeze. They then added more dirt and repeated the process over and over, year after year so that now the dock is semi-permanent and virtually impenetrable. The weight of the dirt and water constantly compress the existing ice, lowering its level necessitating adding more water and dirt. These actions make it deeper, heavier, harder, and more permanent. But not permanent enough as last year the re-supply vessel hit it and just as the last milvan was taken off it cracked in two and went ass over teakettle. There were some guys still on it and when the crew on solid ground saw what was going on, yelled at the guys to get the hell out of there. No sooner did they jump across the land bridge than the dock flipped. It is usually anchored to the shore with ropes and hawsers but as soon as it split in two, the integrity of the lashings gave way and since it is very top heavy—-well, it’s like your bread always falling on the floor butter side down.

Going to where I could view the cutter head on, it looked like a huge paring knife the way it would literally carve the ice away, ever closer and closer to the dock’s edge without ever touching it. Pretty deft maneuvering by the ship’s captain.

It’s engines would rev and it would take off breaking chunks of ice off and when it couldn’t break it, would ride over the top of it and shatter the ice by virtue of sheer weight and pressure from the hull. On backing up you could see tons of ice churning and going backwards along the channel, shoved along by the ship.

Breaking out my binoculars to see if anything interesting was developing out in the broken ice, I spotted some tiny bits of movement and focusing better on them I noticed the “spots” were adelies. I also saw several dozen black dots out towards the old ice runway. They looked like animated “dots” all in a row, moving along, destination unknown.

The ones closer to the cutter made their way to the edge of the ice were easier to watch and very humorous in the way they marched along. All in a row, they’d go walking along and then one would flop down on his belly and the others would follow. Soon they’d stand back upright again. I assume their behavior was caused by the condition of the ice. If it was slick they flop down. If it was rough they’d walk. Smooth, they bellied.

About 10 yards away from the edge of the ice they’d stop dead in their tracks, look left and right, ever attentive to leopard seals. Then they’d get a bit closer to the edge and do the same thing. Eventually they made it to the edge but did not go in deciding, rather, to skirt the edge and walk towards the cutter. It got too windy and cold to stay out there observing these shenanigans so I left.

It dawned on me that my fascination with watching those penguins so closely made me no better than those people that go to car races only to witness spectacular car crashes. I watched to see if a leopard seal would chow down on one of the penguins. Or maybe find a killer whale lurking out there waiting to chomp on a seal. The food chain is pretty basic here.

The leading members of the Congressional Science Committee who sets up funding for the NSF were on station getting the dog and pony show. Of course, the first thing people started to say was that we could probably expect freshies to show up so that they’d be impressed with the quality of food we get here.

So I go to brunch, minding my own business, when all of them decide to sit at the same table to include the NSF representative for the whole visit. I felt like asking them what it was like to spend so much money coming down here when they could just as easily have gotten all they need from reports. Plus, why three of them?

On to happier themes: I selected a co-worker to go on a helo ride and she was ecstatic. Of course, I heard grumbling about that because in this person’s eyes she was already selected for two boondoggles. Fucking children. If only they’d realize how immature they sounded when they complained like this. She had a great time, got to land at the ice edge, saw penguins up close, saw whales, and a huge iceberg. It made her day (and possibly her season.)

I was selected for Happy Camper School on the 1st of February. Everyone else has already been so now it’s my turn. What the hell, I may as well enjoy what I can. With basically about two more weeks of being in charge of the operation after which I turn it over to the incoming winter senior, it was fine by me.

Continuing into the month of February, the re-supply vessel arrives on the 5th or 6th. Two cruise ships will soon arrive; one is a Russian ice breaker and then the Marco Polo. The passengers on these things pay big bucks to come down here, go through the ice and getting flown to McMurdo for a whirlwind tour of this industrial-looking burg. They are easily relieved of much money at our store, the Coffee Shop, and Scott Base. I heard the average cost per passenger, just for the voyage, exclusive of shopping, tips, etc is about $7-9K leaving from Australia!! What the hell, we need people spending money like that to keep the economy moving!

Returning to our re-supply vessel, we all work 12 hour shifts. It should take about 6 days to unload it after which we will be kicked out of town. Then the fun begins anew for me.

In the last week or two the temperatures have fluctuated quite a bit and so have conditions. Whereas for the most part the sun is shining, we’ve been down to 20 below wind chill but also as high as 40 above.

Because of all these winds we can actually see the ice breaking up on the bay and clear patches of water are visible from the higher elevations on McMurdo. I still have not seen any whales but look for them when I can. It’s all a matter of timing. The other day I was out by the water plant trying to get a picture of the Russian icebreaker, Khlebnikov, and saw nothing. Rich went out there no more than 5 minutes later and saw killer whales. So I need to be patient.

Walking around one day I felt a chilly breeze blowing by my feet. A quick look determined my boots are falling apart along the stitching. So I went to the BFC and got some shoe goo to glue them back together. So far, so good. It turns out that the stitching wears out because of the fine lava dust that grinds the thread against the leather, gradually wearing it out.

Found out that Indiana Bob, the 73 year old dining attendant and oldest DJ in Antarctica, is not the oldest guy on station. There is an even older man working in Comms. He’s been here many years and until a year or two ago would climb Ob Hill three times a week! Speaking of radio station, here I am doing a bit of DJ’ing.

Icebreaker Cruise

 
Saturday the 29th rolled around and I went on the cruise. There was a nip in the air but I went well dressed for it. Everyone boarded at about 7:15 and at 8 we were headed out into the channel. We all had to gather inside the helo hangar deck for a quick briefing but I hung back knowing that as soon as we were released we’d be free to head to the front of the ship; and that’s where I wanted to be. And that’s exactly what happened.

At first, we did not feel that much wind blowing over the bow since it was coming at our backs.

Right off the bat the Captain sailed into a huge block of ice floating around. It was so cool to peer over the edge and see us ride up on top of it, drive it downwards into the sea and then crack it in two with our weight. Awesome.

Along the way I’d see sheets of newly formed ice riding the bow wave of the boat and acting like a knife as it sliced into other sheets of ice in front of us or off to the side. It was “slice or be sliced” out there.

We also saw lots of seals, both the Weddell and crab eating variety. If they got excited they’d waddle away, looking like huge mounds of rippling fat, slug-like across the ice.

In addition, the Adelie penguins were out in force. Whereas the seals did not really care about us steaming virtually into their living rooms, the Adelies could sense us many hundreds of yards away and they’d all begin to run away. Reminded me of the Monty Python movie, “Holy Grail” where King Arthur’s men would yell, “Run away, run away!!”

In some cases the penguins would jump into the water close to the edge of the ice and porpoise in and out in large groups. When they felt they were safely away, they’d “pop” back up out of the water, like a cork, and run onto the ice and far away from us.

I managed to stay at the bow of the vessel for the entire first half of the trip. It was beginning to get a bit nippy what with the cold of the deck permeating my feet and my lack of physical activity causing my limbs to get cold, too.

Fortunately we were also able to see Minke and Orca whales. A beautiful sight! Having attended one of Norbert Wu’s presentations, I found out there are two types of Orcas which the scientific community is considering splitting into two distinct groups of animals. One group sails the open seas and preys on other animals including penguins. The other group come to McMurdo Sound and do not prey on the penguins. Which accounts for the lackadaisical attitude of the Adelies as we sailed along. The two Orca groups also do not mate nor hang around one another. Nice bit of fact there about Orcas.

As we sailed forward the captain steered the ship directly into the ice. Absolutely amazing how easily we broke through it. Huge chunks of ice would shatter under the hull, floating away revealing dark, cold, inhospitable water. The sounds of the ice cracking under us would reverberate throughout the hull, constantly clanging and banging. Whenever we sailed into ice free water, the sounds of silence would envelope us. Expecting a racket from the engines, I was amazed at how quietly the ship actually ran with its 4 turbines and 2 diesels.

We finally broke into open water and picked up some speed as we floated past huge icebergs on which penguins were resting.

I took the opportunity to get warm by finding my way into the warmer areas of the ship. I also needed to pee!! Feeling warmer and relieved I went exploring. Went to the bridge—impressive! Lots of gear—and lots of people getting warm, too! Then I went to the coffee shop for a very nice cup of coffee.

Heading back outside I witnessed several people in a Kate Winslett/Titanic wannabe contest. Morons! Earlier, the guy to my left got a bit close to the edge of the bow to take a photo and some crew members passed by and told him that if he fell in there would be nothing they could do for him. They were not prepared to do a rescue in the cold water. In other words, fall off and die!

All in all it was a very good trip and a pleasant way to spend a few hours. Of course, after lunch I had to go back to work. Bummer!

My second season I took the trip and the sound was virtually ice locked. Usually winds will blow the ice away but right after I left in 2000, a huge chunk of the Ross Ice shelf broke off. I think the estimate was that it had enough water for tens of millions of people for one year. (or something like that) If memory serves me right it was originally called A-14. One of the pieces that broke away from this beast is called B-15A It is partially responsible for us not having a sound clear of ice.

Here’s how it went. The Ross Ice Shelf is hundreds of miles wide but near Ross Island it juts out a bit further north and A-14 was the chunk that fell off. It was twice the size of Delaware, about 180 miles long and 40 wide. Anyway, it started to float away but got trapped between Ross Island and the chunky end it broke from so, in effect, it kept getting batted back and forth like a ping pong ball going east to west. Winds would shove it west, tides shoved it east. Eventually this caused big chunks to fall off and one of them, B-15A, broke loose.

B-15A started sailing west and in so doing encountered parts of Ross Island which caused it to spawn off other chunklets (huge in and of themselves) which were called names like B-15B, B-15C, C-15, C-16 etc.

So B-15A is cruising along and hits Franklin Island a bit north of Ross. Meanwhile, C-16 floats in just south of B-15A and acts as a chock keeping B-15A’s southern end fixed. Winds then took over and slowly pivoted B-15A westward until it hit another island about 90 miles north of Franklin (yes, 90 miles, that’s how long this leviathan is! And almost 30 miles wide, too!)

How does that affect us?

In many ways. Its north—south orientation effectively keeps the western winds from affecting the Ross Sea waters the way the wind normally does—by stirring it all up and causing enough turmoil that much ice never really forms out there. So the B-15A iceberg now creates a mill pond effect and still the waters.

A little history is in order first.

Sea ice normally gets as far as 10-15 miles north of McMurdo. Usually it breaks away and over the winter reforms and gets as far north as 15 or so miles of McMurdo. However, last year’s record breaking 25 inch snowfall in November created an insulation effect on the surface of the ice preventing it from melting and causing it to get spongy instead.

Coupled with a lack of strong, cold southerly winds resulting in a failure to break up the sea ice (which normally would happen as it would react with tides and break the ice into many pieces and then blow it all out north of here) this raised havoc with the Coast Guard’s ice breaker. Whereas it usually takes one day for the breaker to get from the sea ice edge to town, last year it took 4 days. The cutter would ride up on the ice, slowly sink on it, crack it, reverse, ride up on it again and finally break it. Spongy ice is hated by those guys.

Near town the sea ice is normally 6-9 feet thick (the depth needed to land C-141 and C-17 aircraft) and because it did not blow out last year it is now 9-13 feet thick.

The aforementioned millpond effect caused ice to form well north of where it usually does and so it is now about 100 miles north of McMurdo. It will now possibly require 2 icebreakers this January to get through that mess.

If C-16 breaks or is crushed, then B-15A could, theoretically, pivot further west and depending on the time of year could get anchored to the western point of the mainland and totally block off the bay we have here. No re-supply ships. Nothing. The station would have to close for years and years as it would take that long for it to melt. If it ever does.

Anyway, on our Icebreaker trip we were able to get beyond the ice into clear water but could not dally, saw little wildlife, etc. We were, however, able to see this iceberg. It measured a mile long, 100 feet above water and about 800 or so feet under water. If you want to read more about these icebergs, B-15, etc., click here and here and get linked to my science page.

Additionally, the amount of ice still around the station, coupled with the huge icebergs jamming the sound with additional ice is making it very difficult for penguins to breed and find food since open water is necessary for them to find food for their young. A good article explaining the threat can be found here.

Commies In Our Midst, Safety and Women, Camping, The Boat

 
An interesting little development of late also graced the week. Someone put up a poster asking folks to not forget Officer Faulkner. I had no idea who this guy was. Then a day later the local commie puts up a poster exhorting people to meet and honor Mumia Abu Jamal or some such person. Over the next couple of days, snide remarks were made on both posters. Then a new poster was put up by the commie stating that another meeting was bring held and that those who missed the first one could show up at the second.

I ignored it for a while until I went into the “I” drive looking for photos and found a folder named “protest.” At first I thought it dealt with the ASA protest over awarding the Antarctic support contract to Raytheon but it turned out to be a picture of these liberal whiners holding a banner stating that “The People of Antarctica say Free Mumia Abu Jamal” That pissed me off enough to go look up this character on the web. Turns out he was convicted of killing Officer Faulkner by shooting him in the face.

So I fired off the following email to the commie:

Hi xxxxx,

I was looking at the photos on the I-drive and noticed the ones posted on the “protest” subdirectory. At first I thought they were documents related to the ASA protest so curiosity got to me and I opened them up. (After I began writing this I also opened the “counter protest” document.)

The reason I am addressing this email to you and not anyone else is because I saw the notices on the bulletin boards and they had your email address. I can only assume you are heading this.

I tend to be a believer in free speech but these photos crossed the free speech line when the banners said, “The People of Antarctica……….”

What gave you the right to group everyone here on this station and continent as supporters of your (or your group’s) views?

Just as I would strenuously object to anyone making a similar banner supporting Officer Faulkner (because I have not yet formulated my own opinions on who is guilty or innocent) neither you nor anyone else have the right to make that decision for me. By saying, “The People of Antarctica” you’ve taken away my freedom to decide.

I hope I do not find these photos anywhere on sites related to these two guys. I have a long list of those sites and will be spending some time perusing them. If so, you may have crossed a serious line in misrepresenting others’ opinions and implying we Americans, as well as Russians, Brazilians, Italians, New Zealanders, Australians, etc. all agree with your views.

I am sure neither the NSF nor ASA would appreciate it nor find it humorous either.

Signed…..(me)

I was sitting at lunch several days later, not having heard anything from the commie in return, when he sits down at the table and starts talking to his liberal buddies who happened to sit there, too, about how he’d received an email regarding the picture. I leaned forward and said, “It was me who sent it!” He responded by saying he’d not seen me at the table. BULLSHIT! Anyway, we discussed it. He says he understands how I feel-especially after I asked him how he’d feel if I took a picture with a banner stating, “The People of Antarctica want Mumia Executed Now!!!”

Fucking do-good idealists who have nothing better to do than waste their time on shit like this really piss me off. Why don’t these fuckers go feed the hungry and really make a difference in their neighborhoods?

A few years from now, the following articles should be interesting to re-read and see where the country stands and where I stand politically and ideologically. Especially the one which deal with how our economy, which is in the 107th month of growth, needs to be attributed to Ronald Reagan and not Bill Clinton. It makes good arguments I want to be able to reference whenever I run into a bleeding heart who is in love with our Perjurer-in-Chief.

Safety Issues and Some Irony Plus Women on Ice

 

One of the jobs required prior to arrival of the resupply ship is a complete inventory of all food stocks. This is a large operation requiring the physical manhandling of literally TONS of food stuffs–frozen, canned, dry, spices, etc. Time is limited as personnel are on 11 hour shifts, 7 days a week until it is finished. Two shifts work round the clock. Of course, safety is a big concern but sometimes experience mitigates absolute compliance in the interests of brevity. Here’s a cool little story associated with just such an inventory where I was witness to some delicious irony.

I truly believe this place is getting wussified with all the emphasis they are placing on safety which, to me, gives people a false sense of security in their day to day affairs. Antarctica is a harsh continent and has a bit of the wild, wild, west flavor to it. In the past people respected that. Now, though, with the emphasis being placed on safety, that concept of wildness is lost on people so they get stupid in their day-to-day affairs. Anyway, while on this inventory job in the “freezer” (literally we have a freezer building cooled to -10 degrees by about 8 huge A/C units!) we have aisles of food and crates (4×4) are stacked on top of one another sometimes 5 high. One of the crate tops was not going on properly so I did what we did in previous years–I got a hammer and beat the shit out of it until it fit right. One guy had his hands on the top and I hauled off and wailed on the corner of the top to get it down. It spooked the crap out of him and he thought I was going to hit him. Wuss. Anyway, this gal makes the comment like “safety first!” I looked at her crossly.

Then we had to get up on a second shelf so I just climbed it rather than sit around with my thumb up my ass waiting for someone with a forklift to come by. She made another comment. Now I was getting irked.

So we go to lunch and what happens? She gets nailed by a door in the chow hall and dislocated her shoulder. Of all people, she bitches at me and she could not watch how she exited a building. You gotta wonder!!!!

Later that same day we had to get access to the 5th row of crates so I had the forklift driver hoist me up there. I stood with one boot on each fork and up I went about 20 feet. Amy walks in, sees me (not in a man-cage), says, “I am not seeing this”, turns around and walks out. OK, I could have slipped off but I was constantly aware of my feet’s position on the blades and had a three point grip on the forklift. Plus, it was fun. Having had to do it several times we probably saved an hour in labor so I felt justified. Had I fallen I’d have been screwed but……….

Back to our shoulder-dislocator—she needs to go to Christchurch for surgery and lost her winter-over contract. She’s not a happy camper. It’s got to suck, too, to be counting on hanging around with friends and then suffer a freak accident like that.

Aw, what thew hell, I’m gonna catch shit for this if anyone reads this far but what the hell. Since we are on the subject of women, here’s a story about one of the women currently working here in the waste department.

I went to watch the movie, “Poles Apart” which featured Anne Dal Vera. It documented the trip she, Ann Bancroft, and two others took to try and get from the South America side of Antarctica down to the Pole and then across to McMurdo.

It was a pretty good film but bordered on being one of those “I am woman, hear me roar” films designed to show that women are just as capable as men. A fem flick in a sense especially since there was so much “woman power” commentary and affirmations and other silliness as they tried to prove to the world that 4 women could undertake this trip.

They didn’t make it.

One messed up her ankle, another was an emotional mess. I forget how many times I had to hear about how they cried and cried and were glad they had hood and goggles on so no one could see them.

What bullshit!

But then, that’s why men are from Mars and women from Venus.

At this same presentation they did a partial documentary about two British men who were trying to do the same thing but a bit differently. Whereas the women’s sleds weight 220 pounds each (which they pulled) the men’s sleds weighed in at about 450 each. Plus the men were purposely going to eat less calories than their bodies burned. The object was a scientific study of how the body endures strains and great physical exertion.

By the time they got to the Pole the men had lost 1/3 their body weight. Plus not only were their bodies eating into muscle but the bodies were eating into their heart muscle which can not be replaced. Granted, these guys were a bit looney but I never did understand why these women put them in their presentation unless it was to prove some weird-ass point.

Was it for comic relief as it showed them not capable of handing their sail ‘chutes, mis-weighing their sleds, starving themselves ( their bodies needed 11,000 calories a day and they were eating about half of that!)???

They talked about how hard it was to raise money (I have to give them credit for this part of it though. They spend a lot of time and effort putting the bucks together.) Anyway, they’d be accused of being “lesbians making the trip” and other stories. I wonder, though, as some of the comments Anne Bancroft made on the film left me wondering. Never once were husbands or boyfriends mentioned anywhere on the film. Should it matter? Probably not. But I am really sensitized to all this feel good crap about tolerance, discrimination, etc. that I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t a pitch.

Ann’s group’s trip cost them $450,000 to put on with 2/3 of it just in getting an airplane to deliver them to Patriot Hills and then pick them up wherever they were stranded.

When asked what they’d do differently, one responded that she’d work with weights more and also work with a psychological trainer.

What bull crap! The whole thing seemed hokey to me. But I am not the warm, fuzzy type, either. Geez! They should get a grip! They had all this fancy GPS stuff, satellite imagery, HF radios, etc.

You want to impress me? Do it like Scott and Amundsen did it. Then I would be in awe of their abilities. Other than that, bull!

OK, OK, I feel better.

For a different perspective, read this article about women explorers.

As if that weren’t enough, I did my part today to improve international relations by having dinner with a Russian fellow. He and several others are trying to get out of here and go to Vostok for 15 months. YECH!!!!!! I heard that place is horrible. When they were here they must have thought they were in heaven.

Happy Camper School

 
The fun started at 9 AM which left me lots of time between 530 and 830 to goof off. Then I walked over to Field Training (FSTP) to meet our lead guy and the other members of the group. It turns out there were 9 people total.

We retrieved a bunch of supplies from the FSTP building to include water, flight lunches (sandwiches and the like), some stoves, and a few other items. Then we all jumped into the Nodwell, a vehicle similar to the Delta but tracked, and headed out.

It was a beautiful sunny day, actually warm really, and with no wind. I could not believe our luck.

About an hour after we set out we arrived in Snow Mound City, our camping site. It is located on the way to Willy Field about 2 miles from Scott Base towards the Erebus side (basically east of Scott Base.) We set up camp on 300 feet of ice sitting on top of the ocean! So weird to have so many hundreds of feet of ice underfoot and then hundreds of feet of water underneath the ice. I marvel at how this ice contains the water so well and how it can withstand the force of the tides without breaking all the time.

The first thing we did was go into the instructor hut (where the instructor sleeps after getting us set up about a quarter mile away) and discussed what we were going to do. The hut is a Jamesway building, with insulated canvas walls and a gas fired heater. Actually quite cozy. They use them in a lot of field camps not only for dorms but as offices and labs, too. In the South Pole, people sleep in them under the dome (where temperatures are 50 below zero most of the time) and there are basically three levels of environment within an eight foot tall zone. The bottom zone is the floor—where you do not want to leave neither your boots or your water. It will freeze solid in no time. The medium zone is somewhat more comfortable as it is at bed height. The third zone is the temperate zone and it is at head height and actually very warm. I guess you can only insulate those tents so well at such low temperatures.

Lunch finished, we went to another hut and got our sleeping kits comprised of sleeping bag, liner, and insulated pads. Pretty damn big bags and I am glad I did not have to pack it in on my back. We walked to the “city” and went into another hut where we pulled out some sleds, ice axes, shovels, saws, tents, and a large Scott tent. Then we made like sled dogs and “mushed” them to our camping site.

Once the gear was in place we looked around at all the other snow domes in the area and staked our claims on the one we wanted to sleep in. Then we tried building our own but not having enough sleeping gear bags our efforts were rather futile. Only 8 bags made for a small cavity. The cavity itself is predicated on throwing in all our bags (containing the aforementioned sleeping sacks, insulite pads, and bag liner) and then piling snow up on top of them until the snow is about 3 feet thick all around. You pile on snow to about 1½ feet and then beat it down with shovels. Then you pile on more snow, beat it some more and let settle for an hour or so.

It is absolutely amazing how the snow just cements itself. To give one an idea of the strength, Brennan tried running over one of the domes with the Nodwell and was not able to do so!!

All said, we worked hard, shoveled a lot of snow, sweated, shoveled, etc. Every time we stopped for a break we got cold quickly. So then it was time for hot chocolate and more digging.

Leaving the mound to “settle” for a bit we then moved on to setting up the Scott tent. Now that’s a tent! Wow!! It and can withstand 80-90 MPH winds once it is put up correctly. So we learned how to do that by anchoring the pegs deep into the snow, creating a “tee” about 4 feet out and 1 foot deep and then burying the whole thing under snow. In the process of learning that we also learned how to tie some new knots. The tent is double walled so it stays fairly warm—that’s all relative, of course, but the wind stays out of it which makes a big difference. It has an entry tunnel and a vent pipe so you can cook inside it. Warmth and convenience don’t come without a price, though. The tent costs about $3000 and it weighs a bunch necessitating two men to carry/drag it!

We also set up the two Sierra Designs tents and then started work on the construction of a wall to break the wind. Knowing the prevailing winds are from the South (where all the nasty storms come from) we faced the tents away from that and built the wall on the south side.

After erecting all tents, we moved on to learning how to cut out blocks of snow to make a snow wall for protection from the wind. This was harder work than I thought. At first it seemed simple enough to run a saw into the existing snow and plot out a large enough square from which we’d “mine” our blocks but it was exhausting work for those of us (me) not used to such physical exertion. Basically we laid out a 10 by 10 foot square area and then proceeded to cut lines one foot wide vertically and horizontally within that square. We ended up with 100 one foot square blocks, each weighing about 40 pounds. The first was a pain in the ass to get out so we sacrificed it to the snow block gods and proceeded to “mine” the rest. In the cavity we created by the absence of the blocks we made our “kitchen” complete with a shelf for cooking. The hole was made deep enough so that the cook could stand in the depression shoveled out and his pots would be at about waist level and just below the original surface. Worked quite nicely.

Our guide seemed pretty enthusiastic about his job. I am not sure I could be so jolly if I had to lead people on these little adventures twice a week. I like to camp but to do so in those conditions (sometimes condition one) is not my cup of tea.

Once we had the tents up, the kitchen made, and the camp stove going, we discussed emergency shelters and how to construct one should the need arise. We also found out why snow caves would not make good emergency shelters. Simply this: who in their right minds would bury their sleep gear with a storm approaching?????? DUH!!

The best thing to do in a bad situation is to dig a trench wide enough to crawl into. It only needs to be about 2 feet deep and would serve best if little time was allowed for setting up a tent.

Taking a bit of a break I wandered around looking at the existing snow caves already built. I found one that looked pretty interesting, was large enough to accommodate my stuff, and allowed enough room to maneuver. It had steps leading down into it and a depression was carved out allowing one to stand in about a 5 to 6 foot square area facing a sleeping area (or work area, for that matter) at about waist height. If I had wanted to, I could have used one side of that platform for cooking or working and the other for sleeping. I focused on the sleeping aspect of it.

What is very eerie about these things is the level of silence in them. I’d stand outside and yell at someone inside yet they could hardly hear me. When I went inside to find out what it was like, all I heard were muffled sounds. Incredible

Found out from our guide that off in the distance were two islands, White Island—which was all white due to snow and Black Island which had has less snow and much more exposed dark surfaces. The interesting bit about this is that White Island has lots of tidal action and the ice stays cracked almost year round–just enough to allow seals to come up and breathe. And this is what some of them did one year when the sea ice broke off so much that it extended south past Scott Base and on towards White Island. Unfortunately, the seals were never able to leave because the area jammed with ice and it extended itself so far north that they were not able to swim safely underneath it without risking death from lack of air. So they became trapped there and are now subjects of intense scientific study because of their in-breeding. I was not able to find out how many years they’ve been there but it’s been a long time since the ice broke up that much.

Hunger beset us and we commenced to do some serious water boiling. Our food was all freeze dried stuff requiring only hot water. We put the water in the food foil packs and therefore had no pots to clean up. How nice!! We all ate like famished hogs, devouring virtually anything set before us. It was good.

Fully sated, we stood around and BS’d for a while and then some folks, who’d worked the night shift and had just gotten off work prior to coming out, started looking for places to sleep. As it tuns out, no one slept in any of the small tents.

A couple of folks walked towards the Scott ski hill because their attention gravitated there upon hearing laughing and screeching coming from the skiers there. It’s amazing how well sound travels on the ice. We could hear voices from 3 miles away and also the back up beepers from the trucks at Scott, 2 miles away.

A couple of us were left so we decided to warm ourselves up by doing some exercising: we reckoned we could dig out the snow dome we’d attempted to make earlier in the afternoon. Quite a task it was, too, since we didn’t have quite enough bags to make a large enough inside opening. So while she dug from the inside down, I dug from the outside up and into where she was. 45 minutes later we’d gotten a lot of snow out but it was still way to small. In the meantime, my pants and gloves got thoroughly soaked from body heat and melting snow. Knocked off about 10 PM and ambled over to my dome for a good night’s rest. We’d both taken water bottles filled with hot water in order to keep our bags warm. The only problem was that mine fell from my shelf and the top popped off spilling ¾ of the water onto the ground. Dammit!

One thing for sure, it got cold last night! Had to get up twice and hike to the “yellow” flag (designated urination site) and it’s not a process to be taken lightly. I had to dress, put on boots, and do the hike. If the weather had been worse I am certain I’d have gotten not much further than the opening of the dome.

My water bottle (or shall I say, the remaining water in the bottle) was frozen solid by 6 AM.

When I awoke and began dressing, I felt like I was a member of Scott’s team upon seeing the condition of my clothes. In “The Worst Journey in the World” Jarrard describes how they’d sweat and have to be careful how they set their clothes out at night or they’d not be able to wear them the next morning. That’s what I had…..Carharrts frozen due to my exertion which caused sweat and body heat to melt the snow from the exertion the previous day. I’d folded them up at night and had to force them open in order to get dressed. Not sure if you can break clothes by doing that (I think you can if it’s frozen well enough) but in any case, I walked funny for a while until they molded themselves to me.

We ended the morning by putting away all our gear, tearing down the tents, and then went to the Instructor Hut for lunch. After snarfing down some leftover sandwiches from yesterday, we learned to operate the HF receiver/transmitter by attempting, and succeeding, to contact the South Pole.

Da Boat, Boss, Da Boat!!!

 
Das Boot is two days late—-dammit!

It does not help that the weather is also definitely much colder now. Last night, 4 Feb, it snowed 3 inches. This does not bode well.

I was supposed to leave on the 11th of this month (like I mentioned earlier) and just found out the-supply vessel, the Greenwave, which originally got delayed first for very heavy seas, was then delayed because its engines were failing and it needed to be towed. Emergency repairs were made and they expected it to arrive (assuming no other problems came up) on the 9th. But they ran into more bad weather (25 foot seas and 50 MPH winds) and reduced their speed from the original 18 knots (before problems) to 12 knots after engine repairs (it is on 7 vs. 8 cylinders) to 3 knots now due to sea conditions. So I will not be able to leave here until the 14th and that may change to a later date again. To say I am a bit bummed out is an understatement as I wanted to spend time in NZ. Oh well. It beats the hell out of staying here several more weeks which might have happened had they had to tow the boat back to New Zealand!!

And as the days march on with everyone within the logistics community in eager anticipation of the Greeenwave, it is amazing to witness how the quickly the sun shifts its course in the heavens. A few days ago it was warm and now since the sun has quickly increased its downward pitch in the sky and floats lower and lower, the temps don’t get as high. I wake up with it hidden behind Ob Hill and the town in deep shadow.

We began off-load shifts on the 8th, twelve hours a day until vessel docks and we are finished. It arrived that evening, very late but nothing got taken off as the lashings were still on the cargo. Normally, if weather is good, the crew begins to unlash milvans and other cargo so that on docking, immediate offload can begin.

As is typical for this time of year, the weather was very nice in the morning and I went to take a look at this beast in the harbor. Two hours later the wind picked up to near 30 MPH bringing with it wind chills that made skin feel instantaneously cold. I tried walking around without my hood up and my face felt frozen after just 1 minute. Very painful. All the more reason to admire the explorers who came here and endured the horrible conditions they faced.

Other things are a bit different on the station, too. For one, our routes are now different as whole areas are off-limits for offload. Can’t take the risk of running anyone over with the heavy equipment. Drivers are concentrating on their cargo and with bad weather, many pedestrian folks have restricted visibility and hearing due to their parka hoods being up. Also lots of evening activities are curtailed because all liquor sales are shut down. All bars are closed and no alcohol is served until off load is complete. Quite a few folks are upset at this—so now it is easy to tell the alkies as they are usually the whiners.

Woke up one morning to find the cruise ship, Marco Polo, in town. We now we have 4 ships floating around out on the ice filled bay: Greenwave (re-supply ship); N.B.Palmer (USG scientific ship); the Polar Star (icebreaker), and the Marco Polo (cruise ship.) Place looks like a regular harbor right about now. Expect to see tug boats at any moments.

Soon as the Greenwave arrived the weather went to shit. Had it arrived a week earlier (as it was supposed to) then we’d have had gorgeous weather to unload. Now we have to deal with intense wind and cold.

All in all, it’s quite a feat of logistics to move over 6 millions pounds of cargo from the ship, docked at an ice pier, to all the various warehouses on station. I’m amazed it goes as well as it does. Considering that we have really nasty weather, howling winds, snow, dirt blowing into people’s faces, etc. makes it even more amazing. Of course, there are things that can be done to improve the process but no one will do them as the largest improvement to be made requires a total revamp of the computer system used to track supplies and requisitions. Plus it would be nice to have laptops to sort things out.

Since no one is on night shift in building 174, arrival there in the morning is now a game of, “Gee, I wonder how many 100 cube crates they’ve got piled up in there and will I be able to get to them?”

The first full day of offload I walked in and saw nothing. Made me wonder what was going on. Then on the second full day the shit hit the fan!I tried to in-check the boxes that were dropped off outside the building and not considered DNF (do not freeze) but it was futile due to wind and cold. The temperature is hovering around 10 degrees, the coldest since November, I believe. Winter is just around the corner.

It stays cold all day, too.

My routine is like this: get up at 5:30, have breakfast, go to work at 6, do the chicken without a head act until 1130, eat lunch, return to the chicken act, get off work, go eat again, return to room, shower and crawl into bed, exhausted.

On the 12th of February it snowed at night which was good as it kept the dust down. Incredible how much dust was blowing around yesterday; it saturates your clothes, your hair, you eat it as you walk. If the wind weren’t so strong then it wouldn’t be too bad but I’d rather have snow on the ground for this operation.

My feet are killing me from walking up and down the stairs all day. I check in a box, take its control number upstairs and run it through the computer to determine who it belongs to or where it belongs if it is ours. Many boxes of cargo arrive in the warehouse that are not ours simply because it is a heated warehouse and the material can not be left outdoors to freeze. Then it is downstairs again to move it to the right staging area or process it for immediate shelving. The first day I must have physically manhandled over 5000 pounds of cargo out of boxes and onto shelves and ended up also bruising my chest moving a fork on one of the lifts driven over to pick up mis-directed cargo.

What else can I say about ship offload? It’s a very busy time with all sorts of vehicles running back and forth all over the roads. Grinding, groaning, roaring, spewing exhaust and dust trails. Every pickle forklift, every loader, every pickup, every dozer, every semi runs 24 hours a day. It’s a credit to the vehicle maintainers that these beasts run so well. None sit idle.

Of course, the whole process would have been a lot better had the weather cooperated more but as soon as the ship docked it began to snow, the wind began to howl and it did not let up for two days. I felt sorry for the folks working in the galley pad, inventorying food containers, working inside the freezer, delaying not only with cold but wind, too.

In all my day to day functions, though, I had to be careful of how much I exerted myself so as not to aggravate the rib I’d injured. What with that injury and having to hand jack so much cargo from one end of the building to the other plus forcing the pallet jack under or out of pallets, and pulling thousands of pounds I just plain overdid it, ending up straining not only the chest muscle but my leg muscles and shoulder muscles as well ending up almost invaliding myself. Coupled with the fact that many pallets were off center and made difficult the task of positioning the jack under it (requiring much thrashing and bashing about trying to get it all “just right” for movement) was the requirement to physically move dozens of tons of cargo, maneuvering it into nooks and crannies of the warehouse, tearing down pallets and man handling tons of individual cans of paint and other material, too, 20 to 50 pounds at a time. I’d end the day just plain exhausted often not taking breaks in order to keep the warehouse from filling to the point that movement became impossible with any kind of equipment.

As it turns out, pain was my friend for several days. Having had the good fortune to be working inside, I considered myself very fortunate.

The wind chill got to 28 below. Winter is right around the corner.

PAROLED!!

 
13 February is Sunday. We work. But for everyone else on station not associated with offload it is a weekend. Bummer! I still think that to better move property we should have everyone on station man their buildings so we could drop property off to them. Things would go faster, I think. And everyone can share in the pain and misery! Ha ha

The skies are very darkly cloudy making it look like a thunderstorm was coming. Quite bizarre. Very windy again today and the clouds looked they were building up in the north (which is where the skies got very dark.) I suspect it will snow again.

I stayed busy sorting through boxes. My leg hurt but my chest was feeling better. I guess this was due to my lack of having to physically man handle the floor jack. Then at about 530 PM my supervisor calls asking about something and closes with, “I’ll be there to see you in a few minutes.”

Immediately I think to myself, “Hmmm, what was that about that he can’t talk to me on the phone?” Then I thought he might be bringing good news. Ever hopeful, I was. He shows up to ask if I could leave tomorrow!! After a few minutes I realized two things: tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and the 25th anniversary of my becoming a US citizen; 2.) I had almost no time at all to prepare my stuff for the 9 PM bag drag. Nevertheless, still a sweetheart deal!

I didn’t want to leave my co-worker in the lurch so I finished helping her and finally got out of there about 6:30 PM without being able to finish all that she had but put a big dent in it and anyway, that’s how it goes on the ice when people have to leave. As it turns out, I saw her in Christchurch and she said SHE was not allowed to finish and had to leave, too.

So I hustled into my room, stripped myself and bed, did two loads of clothes, sorted my luggage into carry-on and checked (needed to be sure I had enough to live off of in case our flights got delayed), called transportation and arranged for a bag drag delay (she said I could have until midnight if I wanted! How sweet!), didn’t even bother to eat (too excited) and made it to bag drag at 9:15. YEEHAW!! Time to go home!!

Damn, I’m making it sound as if I’m being released from prison. Well, in a way it was a form of incarceration, albeit voluntary.

I tried to say goodbye to as many folks as I could after I did my bag drag so I started by going to the galley pad and wishing the folks there well, especially those spending the winter. I feel sorry for the folks working in the galley pad where it is all outdoor work or in the freezer. At times it is better in the freezer at zero degrees than outside at 20 with a 25 MPH wind. But they work hard and know there’s is probably THE most important job on station right now.

The morning of the 14th arrived with dark clouds again. No one was hopeful of our leaving today. I got a day off! HOORAY!! Caught up on email and said more good-byes. Met up with Clark in the cafeteria and we talked about future plans.

Conversations with others revealed that about nine years ago the weather was so bad people had to leave the station on the vessel because planes could not take off! That would be pretty interesting. The company shoots for a shut down of around the 22-25th of February but flights can occur as late as mid-March with no problems. It just becomes dicey-er due to the increasing darkness as the sun sets on the 21st of February.

Also got to hear, first hand at a town hall meeting, about some new winter-overs who thought they were better than the rest of us and decided they could skirt the rule concerning black flags marking the trails on and around the island. Seems four of them were walking along, three guys and a girl, on their way to the ski hill when they figured they’d take a short cut. All of a sudden, just a few yards off the trail, the girl disappeared from sight. Just like that. One second she was there, the next she was gone. The guys looked around and cautiously approached where she’d last been, already keenly aware of the deep doo-doo they were in.

She was wedged in a crevasse several feet down. Fortunately, one of them had the foresight to bring a radio along and called search and rescue (SAR). The SAR team arrived within half an hour and, roped off, went in there after her. Before the SAR team got to her, though, the girl was talking to the guys above and basically telling them what to say to her family and friends. Every minute she was in there lowered her core body temperature because the ice penetrated her clothing and by virtue of her being compressed in there, she lost all her clothing’s insulating abilities.

When the SAR guy, got her out her body temp had already dropped several degrees. All were rushed to medical attention and there were no serious injuries.

Upon completion of the “save”, SAR did a check of the area and determined that had she walked just a few more yards, she’d have fallen to her death as the crevasses widened at that point and no bottom could be detected.

“There but for the grace of God…………” I guess

I know they all got a good ass chewing from the station manager.

Here’s another story with a close call.

A while back I wrote about the Sea Ice training I’d attended and what our class objective was—to find a path to Cape Royds to help salvage some fish huts that were out there because the team sent out to do so had almost lost one of their vehicles to the water when it fell through a crack.

Well……..here’s the rest of the story. One of my co-workers (who shall go nameless…….nah…….how about we call that person Jeremy.) Anyway, Jeremy told me, in very hushed tones, of his adventures with his significant other when they went out to clear the ice road towards Cape Evans.

They had a crew in a Delta with trailer (instead of passenger cabin) dragging a scraping trailer along with themselves in a Challenger (bulldozer looking thing that has a blade in front) and were told the roads were good out to where they were headed.

They came to a crack but not having any drills could not measure it plus they’d been told all was well.

So over it they all went. The Delta went over OK and big sighs of relief were heaved. Then it was Jeremy’s turn to go over it in their Challenger. Cracks are approached with a bit of speed. One does not start to accelerate at the crack edge. Not smart, I would imagine. Arguments can go either way.

Thanks goodness for some speed buildup. As they were going over it the back end of the Challenger started to go in and if Jeremy’s friend had slowed down (which can be a natural response), the trailer, the Challenger, Jeremy and his friend would now be swimming with the Antarctic cod.

Why did this happen to them in as lighter vehicle and not to the Delta? Hmmm. Good question.

It turns out there was a weak spot in the ice and this crack had become not only quite wide but relatively unnoticed. Really it was two cracks while in between these. cracks was a big block of ice that somehow had not broken when the delta went over it. So, basically, it was like an ice cube in a tight mouthed glass. Press on the edges of the glass and all is well. Press on the ice cube and it flips upside down. That’s exactly what happened. The nature of that huge “cube” was such that if they had gone in, the cube would have popped back up over them and sealed them in their watery graves.

Scared shitless?? Is that an appropriate term? You betcha!! This person now has a great fear of the sea ice vowing never to set foot on it again. Of course, what will happen when it is time to leave the Ice and get on the airplane—necessitating a trip over the sea ice?? I guess nervousness and sweaty palms will be in order.

The 15th was another day of nothing leaving the station so I did little all day long. However, the 16th was a different story. This proved to be the day I got out. It was one day short of 20 weeks and the weather looked promising from the beginning.

After breakfast I checked mail and at 10 it looked like a go. Had lunch relatively early, went back to the room, got dressed, put my bed clothes outside the door and headed to the depot.

The bedclothes outside the door routine gives the whole departure process a note of finality to this entire adventure.

I find it incredible that I actually did this. Five months at the bottom of the world. What an experience. To think if I’d have stayed in the AF until 30 years I’d have missed out on this opportunity. It’s amazing, really, when one thinks of all the paths and opportunities that present themselves to a person and how sometimes an innocent decision can lead one into a totally different realm, a totally different lifestyle, or if luck is against you, into absolute chaos.

I’ve been blessed with good luck and many good paths to walk down. For that I am grateful.

At 1115 we were packed into “Ivan the Terra Bus” and joined by two airporter shuttles and a van (yep, there were that many people that needed to get out!) made our way to Pegasus. Along the road, Gumby from Recreation stood waving goodbye to us. Pegasus is the hard ice runway that can accommodate large jets. Named after the C-121 Constellation that crashed there 40 or so years ago and whose tail is still visible (barely.) The plane sits about a mile away and can be climbed into but since we did not have enough time no one was allowed to venture out there.

The trip out took 45 minutes and about an hour later we loaded into the 141. All 136 of us, packed in like sardines, knees interlocked in order to get better leg mobility. Of course, this sort of closeness obviated the ability of anyone to “walk” down the aisle to get to the urinals and for the poor slobs at the opposite end of the plane, a potty break meant they’d have to literally walk over other people’s legs, either finding toe holds in the seat framework or climbing up the truss-work and, like monkeys, make their way down.

I was fidgeting after 15 minutes. It was driving me mad. I’ve come to the conclusion that if you want to torture me, tie me down so I can not move. It will drive me bat shit.

Fortunately I was near the tail of the aircraft and did not have to climb over too many people plus after a while others stood up on the seats. Regardless, it required a bit of gymnastics! A very tight fit compounded by the need for us to bring so much arctic gear along with us. Not much storage on those old jets!

At 1430 we took off. Bye Bye Antarctica!! The winter crew are growing happier and happier with the decrease in bodies.

Five hours and 15 minutes later we were in Christchurch. Man! The humidity in the air!! Immediately noticeable even while taxiing. The weather was about 50 degrees and misty. Lovely! On the airplane I was dressed to undress and looked forward to shedding my arctic gear but my bag had no room in it for the gear I was about to take off plus it was not under my seat and readily accessible so I was glad it was not hot. Hot!! HA HA 50 degrees! Hot?!?!

While going through the airport lines I gradually removed all my clothes to just my “normal weather” clothes. Nice!

I didn’t realize how much I missed the smells of earth, flowers, trees, and grass along with the sounds of birds and insects until then. Sensory deprivation in a sense.

Hiked to the company end of the terminal, dumped off my clothing and found out I was going to be lodged at the Armagh Lodge. Got the suitcase I’d left back in September, put all my stuff in there and got in a shuttle bus bound for my night’s accommodations. I was still pretty wound up about being back and in no mood to sleep so I sorted through my possessions to determine what I was going to mail and what I was going to lug along with me for the next month. I ended up with a day pack and my blue canvas bag. Both my suitcase and rollered carry-on will become history tomorrow when I take them to the Post Office and mail them back.
 

 
Continue reading “Science Stuff” here.

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