South Pole Diaries 1999/2000    


Tuesday 18th January:

From Jessica:

Dear hardy Polar trekkers,

Amazing stuff on Monday night! The astronauts have been stranded here at Pole for two days due to bad weather at Patriot hills which is their destination. This has been great for us, as we have had numerous opportunities to chat with them at meals and so on. They are great guys.

However, we have been lamenting that we could not get them to come and look at the AASTO. Fiddling around with the webcam yesterday, no wait the day before, and we get a phone call from the publicity people along for the ride with Jim Lovell. The fox news team wants to do an interview with Lovell and could they use our webcam to get a live updated video image of Jim? Quick as a flash, Andre replied that it would be our pleasure but the webcam (which weighs about 200grams and has been bumped and bashed all the way to the Pole) was unwieldy and delicate and they would *have* to do the interview from the inside of the AASTO.

So they did! At about 3am our time! Poor Jim. John witnessed the entire thing, and got Jim to sign the wall of the AASTO: 

James Lovell. Apollo 13.


Wow, wow, wow. 

All done in our wee little AASTO! With an inflatable kangaroo in the background. Yeah, sorry about that, my fault. I had to go up on the roof the day before the interview and put up an antenna for the iridum phone they use for the link. However, we forgot about the SODAR. The acoustic radar is incredibly directional, in that, if you are under it, in the AASTO, it is barely louder than a phone ringing. Remember though, that pointing upwards it has to be loud enough to reach 600m in the air and get an echo back. So I got about half way up to the ladder and the beam swung around. it was so loud it felt like my ears imploded. I yelled down at John to turn it off. And threw myself on the AASTO roof and clamped my hands on my ears. Every third note was at just the wrong frequency and I could feel my ear vibrate. Ouch. Someone finally pulled out a plug and there was blessed silence. My ear rang for about five hours afterwards.

I ran around on Monday night and Tuesday morning and got a lot of photos of people. I can't believe how many people I have made friends with n two weeks. John took our "hero" shots at the South Pole, Jill and I standing there with a UNSW crest which we had to chase half the time due to the gusting wind. I was getting more and more down as the day went on and I knew I was going to leave. I can't say that I was all down though. I suppose it is reasonably safe to say now that from various people I have met here, it is now almost definite that I will be wintering over here at South Pole next year. [Mum, I really hope you are sitting down]. 

It took me about a week to be sure, and my final day to realise that there is no way I could go on with the rest of my life without returning here. The current, and tentative plan is to begin my PhD with john Storey, and then suspend this for a year to winter at the Pole. The details, the important ones, are yet to be worked out, but I have no intention of letting this opportunity go. One way or another, I will be back.

I am in McMurdo now. I flew out yesterday and arrived here about dinnertime. I will spend six days here, which is great, just chilling out, and hopefully go out with Jill to NZ on the 24th. I have a nice room, and the girl I share with is lovely. And you don't have to walk outside to go to the bathroom!! It has an ensuite and a sauna on the bottom floor. I think I'll investigate that one tonight. McMurdo is so diferent. The place itself is not much to look at, but you gaze past the buildings to the broken pan ice on the bay, and the blackrock, snowcovered mountains behind it. Ice can be so many different colours and when the light catches the blue shelves of broken ice on the water, every imaginable colour of blue dances in your vision. The weather is much warmer, but the winds, which have been apparently nonexistent until just before we got here, are very strong.

I will sign off after the next mail. If anyone wants to hear further, give me a yell and I will reply personally. I have a little time on my hands for the next few days. yay! It is wonderful to hear from the people who have read my mails on the web. I would be happy to answer any questions from anyone.  Thanks to everyone who has mailed and kept me company on this amazing trip. Your support and electronic smiles have been uplifting. I will see most of you when I return to Sydney and maybe Adelaide, or Darwin or any of the half dozen other places you guys are. The ends of the earth are never as far away with friends and family such as I am lucky enough to have. I will finish off with my favorite South Pole quote, from an American chick I talked to in Christchurch, and asked me where I was going. I told her. 

This has to be imagined in a broad Texan accent: "The South Pole, huh? Is that anywhere near the North Pole?"

love, and many warm smiles from the frosty southern land,

Jess :)


Jessica's final diary entry:

I stood near the runway. My head was muddled. I had missed the official shuttle to the plane, and I wonder whether my subconscious had blocked out the announcement, sensing the reluctance to leave which enveloped me. So I had bolted to a second shuttle, and now stood, chest heaving in the rare Antarctic air, watching the plane. I vaguely remember waving to John, Andre and Jill near the Dome. I didn't watch them stride out to the AASTO. I had stared down at my bag. And now we waited, ten anonymous, sexless travellers in identical coats and faceless goggles and gaiters, as the cargo was loaded onto the Hercules. The ice crystals whipped around the propellers and the tracks of the forklift that hoisted our bags onto the flight. My feet felt set in concrete. I loved it here. I didn't want to go anywhere. For a few minutes I could not recall John's assurances. I would be back. I may winterover. I would have plenty of time to enjoy it. All of that faded as I gazed across the white silence of the Plateau, away from the churning plane, and watched the dance of the ice clouds on the horizon. A heavy hand tapped me on the shoulder. It was Juan, a Mexican-American guy with a huge curly grey and black beard, who ran the cargo facility and had spent three winters and five summers on the ice. He was a great guy. He tapped again and then pointed into the sky.

My breath caught. I had attempted in previous emails to describe the ice halos I had seen, but everyone I had spoke to said they had only been mediocre. Not this one. The mist of ice rolled back from the sun and even in my goggles, hurt my eyes. Two sun dogs, bright in brilliant rainbow colour ran along the sides of the burning star, and a huge glowing circle dipped all the way to the horizon. On top of the circle a swirling twist of light glowed brilliant white in contrast to the rainbows of the circle. And above that again, a circular rainbow, almost complete, adorned the actual zenith of the sky, right above the crowning point about which the earth itself turned.

I couldn't believe the timing. I only became aware that I was crying by the surprise as my cheeks burned as hot tears ran in small rivulets down my cold cheeks. I do not think I have ever wept at sheer beauty before. I felt another heavy hand on my shoulder. This time it was a figure garbed in army fatigues, and he gestured towards the plane. I saw other passengers with orange bags making their way across the ice. I was thankful for the anonymity and dignity the goggles and gaiter provided. No one knew of my distress. A I turned towards the plane, I cried harder. This time because I was walking away from the halo, I could not behold it's glory, and it seemed in one blow to sum beauty that I was being carried away from. I realised suddenly how much this place had got to me. My emails had been upbeat and jovial, as had been my manner at the Pole. In a panic I felt suddenly that I had not used my time well. I had not stopped on the skiway enough, and just looked. I had not felt the unique dry snow with bare hands or drank enough of its melted clear waters. I cannot describe how this place changes you, and in fact the only way I can tell you what it did is to say how physical and cruel the pain was as I tramped heavily towards the plane and away from the most beautiful sight I have beheld in my life.

The noise of the propellers filled my ears. As I rounded the nose of the plane, I could not help it. I glanced back. And gasped again. As I stared, and in a matter of seconds, the ice which had cleared only a moment before, whipped up again, and in a blink the halo was gone, the sun was gone, and behind it remained only a glowing white expanse of sky and ice, indistinguishable from the far horizon. I climbed into the plane. And sat down. I closed my eyes. And stopped crying. 

In the blackness behind my eyelids, the afterimage of the halo burned brightly. Every inch of it. It remained there for some minutes and in those moments as we took off and flew north, my panic and pain faded. The halo stoped seeming like a last goodbye and more a promise. The Pole's last gift to me was an image which etched itself on my soul. The afterimage will remain there longer than the one behind my eyes. It will be the passion to return that will ensure that I see and stand on the great white expanse again, and soon. It will be the urgency to do so before the image fades. It will be a profound promise to myself to find other such paces on this earth before these protected frontiers of wilderness and human endeavour are gone forever.

I did not open my eyes again on the flight, and yet I did not sleep. There is a small emptiness in me, where the image was, and where the afterimage glows. I have left a part of myself at Admundsen Scott base, and it pulls me. In its hollows the silence of Terra Incognitia echoes and calls. I will listen and follow it's piper's tune. I wonder a little if I have any real choice to do otherwise.

Thankyou for accompanying me on this journey. I hope only that you my have caught a little of my hope and passion for this place. I am unashamed of it. It is one place where my cynicism and wry disbelief in this world dims and shatters. Even as this place freezes your skin it warms your heart. It is an acceptable trade off. Greetings, and much love from Terra Incognitia.




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