Sunday, February 25, 2007

My 15 minutes of shower

It’s better than 15 minutes of fame.

Even though we’re surrounded by frozen water, it’s very expensive to make liquid water that we can use. We have to burn jet fuel, which costs about $16 a gallon just to fly it here, to melt the ice and therefore, we are strict about conserving the very expensive resulting water.

We’re limited to taking only a 2 minute shower twice a week. As awful as that sounds, it’s very doable and you just end up spending most of the time in the shower with the water off.

Summer Camp is about a 5 minute walk from the station and it’s where many of the summer folks live in cozy Korean war era Jamesways.

Summer camp Jamesways

They have head modules where there are bathrooms and washers and dryers too. The water out there comes from a snow melter that is fed snow regularly then the water is stored in huge tanks. As part of the winterizing process for Summer Camp, the water tanks are emptied before the power is shut off but this year, we just happen to still have 2500 gallons of water ready to go in the tanks.

Summer Camp water tanks still with about 800 gallons of water each.

Thus the 15 minute shower. Word got spread around over the weekend to head out to Summer Camp and take a shower for as long as you want because we have to get rid of the water soon.

Brien in the window of the Men's room.

Those of us willing to make the trek out there were treated to unlimited showers - I washed my hair (twice), conditioned, shaved, exfoliated and pumiced my heels until my fingers turned pruney. It was only about 15 minutes but it seemed like a heavenly hour.

I feel like a new woman! I just may have to take another shower tomorrow!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

And the winter begins

The day has arrived…

Summer folks leaving on the last flight of the season. Note the wicked contrails due to the colder temps.

The last LC-130s came today and took away the remaining summer workers and scientists before the temps dropped lower than the -47C weather that we're now experiencing. The station seems quiet and relatively empty now, compared to the crazy bustle of just a week ago. I can walk down the main hall of the station, which is the length of a football field, and not see another person the entire way.

There are now 54 of us staying behind for the 8 month long winter. A dozen or so scientists will have a busy season of operating telescopes, collecting data, troubleshooting problems. The rest of us are keeping the station running, keeping the people well-fed, treating the sick, counting the inventory, making sure the generators keep running.

My jobs this winter besides being the PA will include running the store, managing the station finances, doing the flight comms and helping out with some recreation events. I like staying busy and love the variety of jobs that I have here. No where else would I have a work day consisting of treating patients, talking to a plane in the air, restocking beer on the store shelves, handing out wads of cash and planning an event for the evening.

Speaking of which, we’ve had a long standing tradition of watching the movie, “The Thing” on station closing day. The original campy 1950’s version features James Arness in a vegetable monster suit stumbling around terrorizing well-dressed, clean shaven crew members at a station in Alaska. The remake by John Carpenter is a gritty, teeth clenching horror movie taking place in Antarctica featuring hairy, dirty, bourbon swigging, ill-tempered bickering workers with guns and flame throwers. We're more like the latter bunch, minus the guns and flame throwers. The best line uttered by Kurt Russell when all hell starts to break loose is, “First goddamn week of winter!”

"The Thing" captivates about half of the crew in the galley.

So hopefully there are no aliens lurking among us now that the doors are figuratively closed, although we're already taking bets on who's going to be the first one to crack. No front runners this year and if I start wigging out, it should only make for a more entertaining blog.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Because I can't sleep

Sometimes it's hard to sleep around here but since our satellite window currently goes from 8:35pm to 8:05am, it's not a bad time to be up if you want to access the internet.

There are 3 fascinating points to this photo:

1. I had no idea there was such a thing as oven roasted beef jerky crisps. I hear they're awful.
2. Sealed bags that make it down here end up so bloated from the pressure change at this altitude, they're as dangerous as unexploded ordinance in a war zone.
3. The best by date is Aug 22 2006 yet these are brand new products this season for our little store, Polemart. I only paid a dollar for it.

And this says it all for the summer folks, most of whom have departed now, making today's population 123, less than half of what was when I arrived here:

The lower left sign says, "Lost: My Mind. Description: Not large but well used, somewhat addled after a summer at Pole. Obviously in need of a break. If found, bathe in warm salt water and put it on the next flight off the ice."

Who can sleep when there are so many intriguing things to blog about?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Changes around town

As we landed here a week and a half ago, the biggest noticable change to the landscape around station was this white behemoth dominating the Dark Sector.

The new 10 meter South Pole Telescope is as tall as a seven story building and was erected over the summer. It was pretty amazing to come back and see this new veritable sky scraper looming in the distance. SPT is going to be gazing into the very distant universe trying to detect cosmic microwave background radiation that is evidence of the Big Bang.

Another change around here is that most of the windward side of the Elevated Station B pod has been clad in the finishing paneling and that the bottom of the building has had the slope added to it which in theory should funnel the blowing snow under and out from the building.

Here's what it looked like a year ago:

And in March 2005:

Every the New Year's Day the actual geographic pole marker for 90 degrees south latitude is relocated because the ice sheet that we sit on moves about 30 feet a year. Now the actual pole is closer to the ceremonial pole (which didn't get relocated this year) and the sign honoring Amundsen and Scott got turned around so that it all makes for a better photo.

Notre Dame has gargoyles but South Pole has its own icons.
This trophy from a whole roasted pig of some past feast is hanging above the outside entrance door to the Elevated Station's Vertical Tower, or Beer Can as everyone calls it.

And the last two remaining members of the winter crew arrived today.

It was a happy reunion with Brien, who managed to land a winter contract just two weeks ago.

So let the winter begin!

Monday, February 12, 2007


I'm working on putting some new photos in a post but in the meantime, here's an oldie:

I had forgotten about this one until Jack the UT emailed it to me. It was taken by Robert Schwarz in September 2003 as we were preparing for a late winter medevac. I was on a crew working to set up the skiway flags for the soon to be arriving Twin Otter. We had been outside for a couple of hours at temps around -90F already and I was frozen cold and miserable. I think the expression on my face behind the iced over balaclava is something like, "Take the @#$%& picture already!" Note how the station in the background has only the part of the B pod finished and the A4 and B1 wings aren't up yet.

OK, I'm working on something from this year now.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The forecast

Copied from our weather watcher this morning:

SOUTH POLE WEATHER for Feb. 11th 2007

Skies: Going to hell.
Temperature: Going to hell in a hand basket.
Visibility: Going to hell in a banana sled.
Winds: Going to hell through the sewer bulb.
Weather: Going to hell on a DOM cable.
Better get out and do your skiing, jogging, Frisbee golfing, etc, early.
It’s going to start getting ugly by the evening.
Enjoy your day off!

Tomorrow’s Outlook: Even worse.

Historical Data for Feb. 11th 2007
Avg. Daily Temp
-39.8 C/-39.6 F

Record Max -25.0 C/-13.0 F 1980
Record Min -48.1 C/-54.6 F 1982
Strongest Wind 27 Kts / 31 MPH 2005

MCMURDO WEATHER for Feb. 11th 2007

A hell of a lot better than here.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Made it back

Well, I'm back at the bottom of the world. After a 2 hour delay at McMurdo due to some weird fog, we finally got airborne in an LC-130 headed to the South Pole.

There were only 5 pax on board and we had plenty of space to wander around and take in the views of the Transantarctic Mountains from the little windows.

Jack and Dan, two of the UTs for the winter.

We also got to go up into the cockpit for some great views out the front windows.

The best part was being up there for the landing at Pole. We could see a little scratch on the snow when we were about 50 miles out and it gradually got bigger and more recognizable as the station as we got closer.

It felt good to touch down and to see familiar sights and then the many familiar faces. Jay the summer PA and Bruce the doc came out to greet me and haul my orange bag for me, as I struggled to get used to the elevation again. Inside the station, it was nice to see old friends who had been there for the busy summer and to catch up with them on their season.

I had a lovely dinner with some cargo folks and Robert and Denis were there to entertain us all. They had arrived here a few days before me, although Denis sadly is only staying a couple of weeks. Robert brought out one of his latest toys, a little remote controlled helicoptor which he flew around our table and crashed into our heads, water glasses, the rafters and chairs. I can tell already, it's going to be a fun winter.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The neighbors

The Kiwi station, Scott Base, is just a couple of miles away from McMurdo.

On Thursday nights they host American Night, an open invitation to the McMurdites to come over, shop at the store and have a drink in the bar.
Erik and I headed over last night and found our buddy, Scotty, or "Rooster", one of the mechanics at Pole last winter. He's working for ANDRILL this summer and will be leaving soon to go back home to Christchurch. He's also set with his UK visa and will be heading off to go work somewhere over there this year.

Rooster gave us a nice tour around the station, including his berthing room. And here's part of the new Hillary Field Centre, named after New Zealand's most famous resident, Sir Edmund Hillary who was just down here last week for a visit.

Scott tents drying in the Hillary Field Centre.

It started really blowing and snowing and by the time we left there was a nice coating of snow on the ground. It was a short visit but nice to get out of the big city for a while. With any luck, I head to South Pole tomorrow. Good news - as of this morning, we officially have a doc for the winter! Bruce Staeheli, who has been there all summer, is now staying for the long, dark night.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Antarctic history

McMurdo Sound has long been an outpost for the early explorers in their forays deeper into the continent.

The original hut used by Robert Falcon Scott is still standing just a short distance from the modern day buildings at McMurdo Station and serves as a reminder to the rich history that surrounds us today. Scott, of course, came in second in the race to the South Pole, where the station is named after both his nemesis Roald Amundsen and himself.

Scott named it Discovery Hut and used it a base of operations in his earlier expeditions in 1901-1904. His ship, the Discovery, became trapped by sea ice here and for that reason, Scott built another hut at Cape Evans, which was the launching point for his ill-fated journey to the South Pole in 1912.

It's largely left intact as it was a hundred years ago with many of their belongings and supplies left behind. Carcasses, tins and crates of food, clothing and blankets are laying around as if their owners are expected to walk through the door to reclaim them.

Fortunately today we live in more comfortable digs but it gives you an appreciation of what these brave explorers endured in their quests to understand this continent. To stand in the very same space as Scott did is a remarkable experience and I'm glad that they paved the way many years ago to the place that I've been calling home.