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Stuck at the South Pole

November 18, 2008
-39 deg F

SOUTH POLE STATION, ANTARCTICA– South Pole is a constant construction site. The new station is still being finished up, but is very nice inside, sort of a cross between a high school building and space station.

The new South Pole Station, under construction.

Heavy machinery runs day and night to remove the snow that accumulates around camp. Walking between Summer Camp and the main station usually means dodging one or two of the large Caterpillars running around. There is a steady haze that hangs over the station from inversion layers…cold air pressing all the exhaust from the buildings and the machinery down towards the surface.

Part of the heavy machinery fleet at Pole.

We are here at the beginning of the summer season, and so there is a constant influx of Herc (LC-130 aircraft, or Hercules) flights, so far since we have been here there have been at least 3 each day. It diminishes any sense of isolation you might otherwise have. The winter-over crew, on the other hand, are all leaving as this steady stream of newcomers arrives. They seem a little overwhelmed at times, having had the station all to themselves the last few cold, dark months. The station population is now 243 people.

At times, there are more people than seats in the galley at meal times. It’s time for us to leave. Unfortunately, we can’t leave. After getting six of our group and minimal cargo out to Camp Winter, “bad” weather moved in, and the last few days the Basler aircraft that was scheduled to come and take Tom, Lou and I to Camp winter has been canceled. “Bad weather” is reduced visibility, and high winds (around 20 kts), but not a white-out type of storm. It’s actually warmer out than it has been (-38 deg C!), but the wind does make it a little more miserable to be outside than the last few days. To me now, after being here a week, -40 and calm winds feels like a nice day–enough of a nice day that Lou and I will remark to one another, “wow, it’s a nice day out today.” We’ve been working outside almost all day every day, sorting cargo, and somehow have become accustomed to the colder temperatures. It’s a bit of a relief for me, knowing I won’t be miserable working outside all the time when it’s that cold.

Rune and Tom outside sorting cargo on a cold day.

We have been in contact with the group once or twice a day since they left using our Iridium satellite phones. They are doing well, which we are glad to hear. It is a little colder and windier where they are, and can feel the difference in elevation…it’s 350 m higher where they are.

Einar and Tom talk to John at Camp Winter on the Iridium phone from inside our Jamesway.

Now we are stuck here at the South Pole, ready and raring to work, and the group out at Camp Winter has done as much as they can with the tools they have, with the skiway all ready for the Basler to land.

The large, heavy (over 4000 lbs) tent that will be used as a garage to fix the vehicles, in pieces. The rest of our cargo is behind it.

We are all ready to get down to business, setting up an enormous tent so that the mechanics can fix the vehicles, including making modifications to the vehicles which are currently operational. Last year, the vehicles had problems with the differentials. Seven were replaced in the field, in the open, by Kjetil, the team mechanic and medic–obviously, the team super mechanic and medic (although the vehicles, luckily, needed more attention than the people). The differentials have been re-engineered, and things should go better this year. Lou, our driller, and I are going to drill a ninety meter core while the mechanics fix the vehicles (well, Lou is going to drill, and I am going to do the core handling…measuring, weighing and packaging the core to get shipped back to the US from the Pole). Both of us are excited to get started on our hole.

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3 Responses »

  1. When I see your gear, Zoe, I don’t feel so bad about how much we’re bring down. I bow to your (and your team’s) logistics and planning prowess!


  2. Kjetil sounds like an amazing dude–can fix engines and people when they break down!
    Post a picture when you can and say hi to Tom for us.

  3. Great job so far Zoe. Our crew of drillers and blasters here at Franklin Drilling & Blasting in Durango, CO are excited about your project and you and Lou (and the rest of the crew) can join our team when you’ve “thawed out”.

    Uncle Bill