South Pole Diaries 1995    


9th February 1995

From Michael Ashley.....


Three syllables that are synonymous with the worst food that is available anywhere in the inner solar system. The ``coffee'' tastes as though it was strained through the socks of a Tibetan yak herder. And the ``grey casserole'' ... politeness to our American hosts forbids me to go into more details, but suffice it to say that the McMurdo canteen is as much an impediment to the modern Antarctic explorer as any natural hazard on the continent.

With another day to kill in McMurdo, John sought out the MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) centre, situated in a building so drab and dreary as to immediately induce suicidal depression in anyone not already on a flight manifest to Christchurch. His mission was to hire (``rent'' for our US readers) a pair of bicycles to use on a pre-breakfast cycle ride to Scott Base (a New Zealand base about 5km from McMurdo). Why he needed a pair of bicycles is beyond me. Perhaps he was going to use the other bicycle as a bribe to get into the base. Whatever the reason, MWR refused to rent out the bikes, on the grounds that no sane person would attempt to ride in the windy conditions.

During our time at the Pole, Jack Doolittle of Lockheed told us of the existence of two AGOs at Williams Field, and encouraged us to visit them - even giving us the combination lock number to the door. A short trip in the Willy Field shuttle brought us face-to-face for the first time with these little orange sheds which we hope will form an essential component of our Antarctic research program for the next few years. Beseeching photos of John and me standing at the entrance of an AGO will now accompany our next ARC application.

After lunch and dinner we consider the possibility of borrowing a GPS navigation system and returning to the site of Scott's last food cache, hoping to find something that is still edible. Instead we hop on the half-hourly shuttle ride out to Scott Base and inspect the store. I buy a 150g block of Cadbury's chocolate and savour it. For some reason the Kiwis are only charging US$3 for the chocolate - they could charge US$30 and still have a ready market.

Near Scott Base are 20 or so huge seals, each perhaps 4 or 5 metre long. Most of them sit motionless on the sea ice like giant brown slugs, but one flops into the water and swims towards us, making a variety of interesting noises. The scenery here is quite magnificent, with blue skies, and Mt Erebus towering in the distance. There are mountains all around, some of them are well over 100 km away, and yet they all appear very close thanks to the crystal clear Antarctic air.

While walking around the edge of the Ross Sea looking at the seals, one fairly large (0.5m by 1.5m) piece of ice gives way under my weight, with a frightening dull crack. Luckily the piece only drops about 2 cm before coming to rest.

At the end of the day we learn that we are manifested on the next flight out, with 52 other people. We are required to present ourselves and our luggage for weighing tomorrow at 9am for ``bag-drag''.