Moai on Easter Island

Moai on Easter Island

Thursday, January 31, 2013

I Never Want To Be A Polar Explorer

Hanging off the bottom of the world

The pilots checked the weather every morning for days before we actually flew out to the field sight.  The weather forecast came from Charleston, SC.  We had a secret weapon against the forecast.  We had a weather station and a webcam at the field sight.  Every morning the Charleston forecast said it was windy and cloudy; every morning our weather station and webcam showed almost no wind and completely clear skies. 

South Pole Station from the Twin Otter

The problem was the refueling depot called AGAP South.  The weather was often good there, but the Charleston forecast usually shows that this area is clouded in too.

With good webcam images and a cloudy and windy forecast flying that day was finally seriously considered.  As we sat there drinking coffee and eating the same exact South Pole breakfast of eggs and bacon and hash browns that we had eaten for weeks Craig asked me about setting up tents in the forecasted 30 mph winds.  I said it wouldn’t be fun, but we could do it—mainly just because I was tired of sitting at the Pole and couldn’t wait to get into the field.  This was a conversation that we would remember while our fingers and toes were freezing for the next week or so.

Typical view at Ridge A

We got on the plane and 4 hours of flat white nothingness later we landed at Ridge A.  The flag next to our pile of cargo was flapping wildly.  The plane engines were still running so I assumed the flags were just catching the prop wash.   The pilots turned off the engines and came around to open the back door of the plane and the flag did not stop flapping.  With a grimace our pilot Darren said, “Well Charleston was right.”  John got out of the plane about 30 seconds before I did.  I stepped down the ladder onto the cold ground and noticed his nose.  It was white—already frost nipped.  That’s when it hit me that this was the real deal.  A few days later we got the data from the weather station and the temperature when we landed was -80*F.

The camp we built at Ridge A.  The orange tent on the right houses the radio telescope.  The white tent is the instrument module and the green module in the back is there the fuel and generators are.

 I wouldn’t go back for the life of me, but I’m glad I made it out to the Antarctic plateau.  I began to get used to everything being completely frozen and sleeping with batteries and everything else that I didn’t want to freeze with me inside my sleeping bag.  Every drop of water froze when it left the kettle.  I couldn’t touch anything metal without gloves on.  I have stood in one of the most remote places on earth and somehow, even if only momentarily, felt at home.  But I will never ever go back.

Flight back to the Pole

Countless hours were spent digging drifts out of the runway.

Our highest temperature at Ridge A was -24*F.  That felt warm at the time.  After nine days in the field we landed back at the South Pole.  I was hoping that is would feel warm.  I figured after that long at Ridge A I was toughened up and could handle the cold.  It was still -20*F at the Pole and it was still freezing.  A few days ago I finally made it back to McMurdo and it is +28*F.  It feels cold.   The cold has sunk in and will probably stay for the next 8 months down here.  Luckily there is a warm building with a warm bed to crawl into every night.  The first official day of winter is less than a month away.  I feel like my 26 days at the South Pole and Ridge A have stolen a big part of my Antarctic summer.  It is still sunny, but the air feels like it is on a cooling trend.  The days are getting colder and shorter to slowly ease us into winter.

Somewhere between Ridge A and Pole

Hopefully for to New Zealand tomorrow for a week of R&R before the winter.

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