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Camp Winter

December 5, 2008

CAMP WINTER, ANTARCTICA– What can I say about a place named Camp Winter? Of all names, it is appropriate: desolate, cold and windy. It’s mind boggling sometimes to think how remote we are, the eight of us, and what minimal buffer we have between us and the vast, cold ice sheet outside.

But more often than not, I am focused on the camp, on the four vehicles, the garage tent, and the two modules we have for living in, the sleeping and the eating module—just running between the modules and garage tent with my head down against the bright, 24-hour sunlight, the constant biting wind, and the cold.

The view from a Basler aircraft of Camp Winter.

The garage tent, erected for the three mechanics who will be fixing and modifying the vehicles which had problems last year on the traverse (7 differentials and 2 gear boxes had to be replaced), is warm and huge. Inside, it is sometimes easy to forget where you are…it could be any large tent, any garage, anywhere. The guys listen to music all day, which switches between songs I know (Prince, for instance, and Purple Rain), and strange Norwegian songs I didn’t know existed (a Norwegian version of YMCA).

The garage tent and vehicles.

Outside, it is still -40 deg C and very windy, and as I run between the eating module and the garage, I am reminded of where I am, especially if I look out towards the horizon, over the snow surface covered with large, rough sastrugi. I spend some time everyday looking out from camp at where I am, just because it is so alien and strange, and try to figure out what I am doing here and what it means to be here. These things I haven’t figured out, on any level, existential or not.

Camp Winter from a distance, with sastrugi.

The three mechanics we have with us are amazing. Kjetil is a firefighter and EMT from Norway who was on the traverse last year. He is the one who replaced the seven differentials by himself throughout the entire two months they were traveling, out in the open and in the cold. Rune is the head mechanic at Troll, the Norwegian base near the South African coast. He worked with Berco, the manufacturer of the vehicles we are using, in order to help engineer a solution to all the broken parts last year. Svein is the third mechanic who will be on the traverse the entire way this year. Rune’s wife is pregnant and expecting soon, and Kjetil promised his family he would be home for Christmas. Together, they have a great deal of experience with these vehicles, and in Antarctica—I can’t imagine a better team to be doing this work. All of them are working hard, long hours, to get the four vehicles fixed.

The garage tent, vehicles, and living module.

There are one and a half tons of parts to replace in the four vehicles we have. Two are now broken, and all four need to be modified to keep the same problems from happening. The mechanics are replacing all the differentials in the vehicles, and two gear boxes in two of the vehicles, and installing planetary gears on both axels of all four vehicles. It’s a lot to do, for sure. We try to make sure they are well supplied with coffee, tea, and when I can manage it, brownies. They all seem to stay in a good mood, even with all they have to do.

While they are working on fixing the vehicles, I am working in a two meter snow pit and drilling 12 meter cores by hand with Tom. The snow pit measurements I am making will help determine what the physical properties of the snow—the grain size and structure—are like in this area. It’s my little secret that it’s actually quite nice in the pit. The main advantage is that I am out of the constant wind that blows. Everyone else thinks I’m tough to be hanging out all day outside, and I’m not going to disillusion them.

These two videos are time lapses of the guys working in the garage tent.

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One Response »

  1. Very cool, Burley Girley! Are these the same areas you’ve drilled cores from before? I think if you dig deep enough, you might find the meaning of life. Much love!