Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Return to the Pole!

Monday 5 December 2011

Back to the pole!  Captain Amundsen arrived a hundred years ago, and Captain Urmston returns!  I love this place.  What took Amundsen and Scott many weeks, today took me a handful of hours.  It started with a two minute truck ride from our shop to the shuttles office.  Then a ride in an hour ride in a huge wheeled Delta out to the Pegasus airfield, then a bit of waiting, then a van ride out to the LC-130 aircraft. 

The three hour flight was fantastic, especially considering the historical route following Scott 100 years later.  We cruised over the ice shelf at 22,000 feet and then an hour and a half into the flight, we entered the Trans-Antarctic mountain range.  Naturally I asked if I could go up into the cockpit and subsequently had incredible views.  I loved being in the cockpit, knowing what most of the instruments tell of, knowing from just the binding of the books on the shelves, that they are for in-flight celestial navigation, and knowing that they were getting paid, in part, to fly me to the South Pole so that I can set up a solar system for the people who will visit this fascinating place this summer. 

From our viewing point in the air we could the Beardmore Glacier, which Scott had taken to the pole.  So fascinating to think of Scott, and Shackleton as little figurines with their sledges far below, 100 years ago.

 I could also look down upon the mountain tops and pick out peaks that I’d stood on, from my work last year as an antenna rigger.  I’ve seen a lot of peaks from the air – they are really special when I can look at them and remember exactly what it felt like to stand on top of it way down there.  I imagine it’s sort of like seeing Antarctica from space and knowing one has been there before.  (Yes, I hope this one person is me someday.)

I’m sleeping in the new station this time around instead of being out in a Jamesway, as I was five years ago when I was here last.  I feel important, but it’s really because we’re only staying for a few days.  Nonetheless, it is fun to feel like a real station resident and our rooms feel like ship cabins, which of course I like. 

Flying from sea level to 9,300 feet (with a pressure altitude of over 10,000 feet) in three hours is interesting…so far so good.  I am drinking lots of water and taking it easy.  The work begins tomorrow. 

Around 250 people here currently.  -32 degrees C, light winds, bright sunshine (the sun is 22 degrees above the horizon).  The hour of the day is arbitrary because there is no point where the sun reaches its highest of the day.  The sun slowly spirals up over the course of 3 months, reaches its peak around December 21st (the summer solstice in this hemisphere) and then slowly spirals down over the next 3 months.  The station runs on New Zealand time because it is the same time that its lifeline, McMurdo Station, runs on. 

That’s all for now.  Hoping for a good sleep tonight and good progress tomorrow!! 

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Didn’t sleep too well last night, but kept pounding down the water and take it easy to try to rid myself of the altitude headache.  By morning I discovered the sore throat that had plagued me for a number of days making it painful to swallow, had finally disappeared.  Apparently all I needed to do to get better was return to the Pole!  After breakfast and some more fluids the headache disappeared and I was ready to go.

The days task was sinking the pole five feet down into the snow for our solar array.  Thankfully we had a small back hoe do the trick but it was a bear wrestling in the pipe into our platform at the bottom of the hole.  It will be even more of a bear to get the thing out next month.  Lots of digging and filling and chopping and stomping and plumbing as well as checking lots of other components of the system that will be fully installed by tomorrow. 

The temps were -31°C or around -25°F but the wind was only about 2 knots so it was delightful to be working outside in under the entire southern hemisphere’s blue sky.  (If only I could see the stars!)  Nick was wearing just a tee-shirt at one point while I wore just a long sleeve over a short sleeve.  Quite balmy indeed!  Tomorrow, there shall be power!!

After work and dinner, I went for a ski “around the world.”  Amundsen got here by ski, and so shall Urmston, the last few hundred feet or so.  It is neat to have skied in all longitudes of the Earth, to stand where all directions are north.  These things endlessly fascinate me.  I have a little GPS and since the ice sheet that the station is on is slowly moving about 30 feet a year, I found the new position that is remarked every January 1st of the new year.  Very neat to look down at the GPS latitude and longitude readout and see South 90° 00.000’. 

The station is very cool, I feel like I’m on a space station!  Every time I go out through the doors out into the bright white, I feel like I’m going out into space for a space walk!  Fascinating stuff.  To get internet access we use 3 or 4 satellites at different times of the day.  It’s slow but the fact that there is internet here is amazing.  I sort of wish it was only ham radio, but so it goes. 

Now to sleep to rest up for another day at the South Pole!


1 comment:

  1. Hey Ben: love your blog...almost as much as this one http://cyfyana.blogspot.com/
    the pictures in both places are fantastic and absurdly different. Court