Sunday, September 30, 2007

Another photo for the collection

Every year the South Pole winter crew leaves behind a group photo of the members who spent the polar night taking care of the station and running the scientific experiments. There's quite a collection now since crews have been wintering over since 1957. The photos used to hang in the old Dome library and pool room,which were demolished last year, and now there's a new home for the memories.

This is the new hall of fame with all of the crew photos hanging on the wall between the computer lab to the left and Medical at the far end.
The very first winter crew braved the elements in 1957 and included Paul Siple, a great explorer of the Antarctic who also developed the wind chill factor. The photos above are of the 1957 and 1958 crews.

Just outside the door of Medical are the photos from the last four winters. Even if you zoomed in on this shot, you still probably wouldn't be able to make me out but I'm there in 2003 (upper left), 2005 (upper right) and 2006 (lower right).
So following the tradition, we gathered for one last group photo.

One of the proud accomplishments of this winter is this is the inaugural year of the South Pole Telescope, the 10 meter telescope looking at cosmic microwave background radiation from the earliest moments of the universe's formation. We gathered at SPT for a photo shoot.

Once again, Robert Schwarz was the photographer and we ascended to the roof of the DSL building for a group shot with the 10 meter dish in the background. Unfortunately the BICEP groundshield was casting a shadow over half the crew.
Luckily our other shot came out better as we posed on a big snow mound just outside of DSL with the dish towering over us. I think this picture will look very nice on the wall...
For more information about the early South Pole crews and Antarctic history in general, see Bill Spindler's fabulous website.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mid-level practitioner needed for South Pole summer

As of today, there has been no one hired yet to replace me in Medical for the summer season. A couple of potential Physician Assistants were offered the position but they both dropped out for various good reasons. I’m scheduled to fly out of here on October 29. My replacement is supposed to fly in here on the 18th so that we can have adequate turnover. Now I may not have anyone to do turnover with but I’m still hoping they just let me on that plane on the 29th.

Here's my own job ad: Needed: Physician Assistant or Nurse Practitioner to work at the South Pole clinic from late Oct to early Feb. The pay will be less than you’ve ever made before. The hours will be long as you never really leave work for the day and you won't have any days off except for Sunday and then you'll be on call. Your patients will be your neighbors, your co-workers, your fellow Bingo players. Your commute to work will be less than one minute, depending on if you get stopped in the hallway for a consultation on someone’s rash. You get free, unlimited food and a free membership to the gym which is less than a minutes walk from your office. You’ll meet the most fascinating carpenters, plumbers, cooks, electricians, mechanics, oh yeah and scientists and have bizarre conversations that you would never have anywhere else in the world. You’ll meet people with masters degrees who are taking jobs washing dishes or shoveling snow just for the experience of visiting Antarctica. And you yourself will have the grandest adventure of your life while you’re being paid for it. No lazy wankers need bother applying.

We’re running out of time. In less than a month, we would need to have someone interviewed, hired, PQ’d (the process of extensive medical exams that must be passed before you can deploy), flown down to New Zealand then McMurdo then South Pole with enough time to make sure that the person isn’t going to crump from the altitude or freak out at the sight of this place.
If you are a PA-C or an FNP or know of one who is interested, email me at

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

From my window

These are the views this morning from the window in Medical:

The flags of the 12 signatory nations to the original Antarctic treaty are back flying at the ceremonial pole, which is a few feet away from the actual geographic pole. The station is casting a long shadow that almost reaches ARO in the background.

The skiway is being groomed again as you can see it in front of the Dark Sector buildings MAPO and the South Pole Telescope.

The moon is up too, a faint spector at the end of the skiway.
It's -83 degrees F out and simply beautiful with soft pink light from the sun low on the horizon. We'll still have a few weeks to enjoy this before the summer crowds begin pouring in.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

At long last

Here it is:

The sun finally returned to the South Pole! We waited for the skies to clear on Sep 21 but didn't see it when it was supposed to have risen above the horizon around 6:30pm. We had our sunrise party anyway, with a roasted whole pig, prime rib and game hens (aka skuas) and those who were still up celebrating around midnight were treated to the first glimpse of the orb itself.

For those like me who were too sleepy to stay up, we got our first view of the sun yesterday as the horizon finally cleared up enough to give undeniable proof that the sun didn't change its mind about showing up again. And now it will continue to circle around us for another 6 months and the whole cycle will repeat itself again.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Champ

Who cares about the end of baseball season and the beginning of football season when we have the Nine Ball Tournament and Championship going on at the bottom of the world.

For the second year, Michael organized a pool league where 16 players battled each other for 7 weeks of regular league play then squared off in a 2 week championship series. The 8 Ball league took place earlier this winter and last night, the championship games of the 9 Ball league were fought out.

The pool hall in the B1 lounge still has the decorations up from the last party, an 80's themed party. The carps set up some stadium seating for the crowds to watch the action in grandstand style. Here Jordan and Laura are playing for the consolation match title.

Laura was the lone woman playing the in the 9 Ball league and she made a respectable showing. She had some early wins and upsets in the league play but ended up in the consolation bracket and final match, which Jordan swept to win.

The championship game was between top ranked Brian H. and Jason S., who was an underdog if there ever was one but proved he got game after defeating both Michael and Tracy in the playoffs.

Jason was a model of concentration. He played the table well and made some beautiful shots including sinking a 9 ball on the break in game 4 to give him a comfortable lead. Brian played extremely well as he has all season but his precision wasn't enough last night as Jason capitalized on every opportunity to put away that last ball.
The underdog shot without mercy to take the 11 game series 6-2 and was crowned 9 Ball Champ of 2007.

Tonight we are celebrating the return of the sun with a grand feast and high hopes that the visibility will clear to allow us our first glimpse of our old friend after a 6 month absence.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Emerging from winter

Today was the first "nice" day in a while, with winds finally under 15 knots. I had a mission, to take down my flags that I had been flying at the geographic pole, so I wandered around a bit and took a few photos of what the station looks like after a winter.

Here are my flags with the Scott tent and Dome in the background. I recruited the tallest person on station, Neal, to help me get them down.

The entrance to the Dome is pretty much gone now. Tim the heavy equipment operator is going to have his hands full doing lots of grooming and digging out.
The moon is up now as you can see it above the Beer Can.
These are the back stairs to the A1 berthing wing. Once the sun comes up and starts to warm things up, the frost will melt off of things pretty quickly.

Some pretty impressive drifts formed between the A4 and B1 wings. The prevailing direction of wind is from the opposite side of the station and it's supposed to whip through under the bottom of the station and not deposit too much snow but actually we do see quite a bit of drifting on the front side and parts of the back.
Tim was already working on getting the garage entrance cleared out. Right now it's just messy piles of snow.

Good thing we have heavy machinery to do most of the big snow removal as the shovels just about need shoveling out themselves.

The BBQ in the back corner of the A2 first floor deck hasn't seen much action lately.

And the sun should be popping up in just 3 days now...

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Last Breakfast

All winter long we've been treated to a Sunday Brunch once a month. Michael once again has been the mastermind behind this dining treat, also known as Biggest Breakfast in Antarctica, or BBIA. As we now have one month left to go this winter, we celebrated our last BBIA this past Sunday.

And it was no ordinary meal as we turned the Galley into a formal dining room. The coverings are off of the windows now and we're enjoying ambient light from outside, although a blizard is currently making it look still quite wintery and dark at the moment.

It was a sit-down dining experience complete with menus, table cloths, candles and unique candle holders.

Volunteers were recruited as the wait staff to take orders, serve the diners and attend to their every need. Here's Neal with Katie, Lynette and Dainella as they wait for the breakfast rush.

We also had a BBIA Bar serving up Mimosas, Bloody Marys, Velvet Beer (Guiness and champagne) and red beer (Bloody Mary mix and beer). The bar tenders Dan, Jordan and Paul kept the diners happy, as well as their best customer Dave (seated in front) who had been helping Michael back in the kitchen since 5am.

It was a full house that morning with hungry Polies and busy servers.

The orders came in quickly and Michael had his hands full cooking up steaks, salmon, eggs (made with frozen egg product since we ran out of fresh eggs in the shell). There were also hash browns, home fries, biscuits and gravy and an assortment of baked goods to go with the mains. That's one of my homemade bagels in the background with lox, capers and cream cheese.
Katie was busy bringing orders from the tables and lining them up for the chef.

A crowd favorite: homemade cinnamon roll with cream cheese frosting!

If Neal decides to give up his career in science, he could make a living as a waiter judging by the attention Sven got. Here he is getting some honey for his tea, one of the many drinks Sven ordered, in addition to the sampler of all of the beverages offered up by the bar. We're talkin' full service at this joint!

And one last shot taken from the Galley windows of the geographic pole with a Scott tent set up for intrepid campers. The flags are my personal ones that I'm flying for the winter for some friends. Believe it or not, the sun will be peeking above the horizon in a few days...whether or not we see it on Sep 21 will depend on the visibility at the time. Currently we're having winds of 30 knots and gusts even higher. Old man polar winter isn't quite done with us yet.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Thai day

I must return to one of my favorite subjects: food. We eat so well down here...creative, tasty meals three times a day, nothing but homemade bread, enough cookies and desserts to keep us well insulated for the winter. The chefs have to excel in making just about everything from frozen food, some of it sitting out on the snow berms literally for more than a decade.

One of the biggest treats though is Thai Day.
Michael has been our resident Thai chef for the past couple of years, having mastered the culinary art at a previous cooking job. And now after last year's trip to Thailand, he even has the authentic yellow Thai shirt with the king's emblem that you see everywhere from the streets of Bangkok to the beaches of the Andaman Sea islands.
One of Michael's offerings for the last Thai day was Pad Thai made to order. He whipped up individual batches for the hungry diners using fresh Asian greens from our greenhouse.

The final product brought back fond memories of freshly made Pad Thai straight out of the hot woks of the street vendors on Koh San Road for 25 baht.
But Michael went all out as always and had a whole spread of scrumptious food...chicken satay with peanut sauce; red, yellow AND green curries to which you could add grilled chicken, shrimp or tofu; spicy squid salad and spicy fish balls...and of course plenty of rice to sop up the flavors.

I'd be willing to say that this is the best Thai food buffet on the continent and probably anywhere else outside of the Land of Smiles. Just think what Michael could have done with all fresh ingredients!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Mucho mint

We have an unusual predicament...too much mint in the greenhouse.

We've harvested it before for making mint juleps, mojitos and even mint chocolate ice cream made with liquid nitrogen.

Terry the greenhouse tech is going to hack away the plants soon to make room for something else so we need to pick mint this weekend and do something with it. Any good ideas out there for more mint recipes would be greatly appreciated!

Friday, September 07, 2007


For the past few summers, National Geographic has been sending down a camera crew to film the ongoing construction of the Elevated Station down here at the South Pole. They've finally completely the documentary and it will air tonight (Sep 6) in the states at 9pm ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel. Click here for a preview on their website.

And now for some updates...

Remember the egg oiling party we had in early April? Well, they held their freshness but unfortunately we didn't have nearly enough for the winter, especially for the number of folks here who must have their 2 eggs over easy every morning, and we ran out of fresh eggs in July.

The Race to McMurdo is still going strong. Johan reached the goal before midwinter and is on his way back to Pole, or continuing on to Christchurch, as he would like to think of it. I finished the 840 miles to McMurdo on July 14 and am continuing on myself. I'm now at 1210 miles logged running on the treadmill and elliptical thus far since February.

On September 3 we were allowed to removed the window coverings from the station as the light sensitive experiments came to an end with the lightening of the skies. Our Galley Gallery is no longer up but soon we'll have the polar vista views to enjoy. Right now it's still too dark out to see anything other than your reflection from inside a normally lit room.

We never did reach -100 degrees F long enough for people to run around naked outside for their 300 club membership. The chances for that happening are slipping away, although we were at -98.1 yesterday but now it's warmed up to -92.9F. When the temps outside plunge, sometimes we have a hard time regulating the heat inside the station. This is what one of my window sills looks like:

This is the window right next to my bed (I have 2 windows since I have a double of the benefits of racking up ice-time). It gets a little frost build-up but then again, who was the genius who decided to put metal window sills in an Antarctic station anyway?

We are scheduled to see our first plane, a Basler, on Oct 17. The plan is to use this smaller plane to fly in groups of 18 people for 6 flights in an effort to get people in here sooner without having to worry as much about the cold temp limits that the LC-130s have. Those planes will start flying in here Oct 29 bringing in the masses of summer workers and scientists. After last year's agonizing delayed opening where we were stuck for 10 days before it warmed up enough for the LC-130s, this is probably a smarter plan but you can never depend on the weather to do what you want. It wouldn't surprise me if we hit -100F again right about when we're hoping that our rides out of here will arrive.

Monday, September 03, 2007


We finally hit -100 degrees F for the first time this winter a few minutes ago.

But it's not looking good for the 300's already warmed back up to -98.7 degrees F.

I'll keep you posted...