South Pole Diaries 2001/02



Monday 14th January

From John Storey.....

South Pole at last!

"Great God, what an awesome place..." to paraphrase Robert Falcon Scott, who never seemed to quite get into the spirit of South Pole life. Duane and I arrived around noon, after an uneventful three hour flight from McMurdo. This time there was plenty of room to stretch out, with much of the plane's load capacity taken up by a few very heavy items such as I-beams. Probably if Scott had arrived in an LC130 like we did, he'd have been more cheerful

Tony was very pleased to see us, and came out to meet the plane. It is grey and overcast, that kind of "wrapped in cotton wool" look that South Pole gets when there there is no sun, no shadows, and no contrast. It's also unseasonably warm; around -20 C, hardly cold enough to need a parka. Our welcome orientation was in the form of a video - actually very informative. This year we also had an orientation talk from the doctor, who stressed the importance of drinking lots of water and hardly any coffee, and taking lots of Diamox. The figures he quotes are as follows - last season 10% of people took Diamox, and three people had to go out as a medivacs (medical evacuations) for altitude sickness, one in a pressurised oxygen bag. This year, with 70% of South Pole folk taking Diamox before arriving, there have so far been no medivacs. He then passed around some packets of white tablets, and reminded us we could collect more anytime from his surgery. When I got to my bedroom I found another packet pinned to the wall - there are more people pushing white tablets here than at a rave party.

Once we found our way into the galley I was relieved to find that things haven't changed much in the two years since I was last here. It's clear that South Pole will always be South Pole. It's not just that they play Hendrix and Dylan and serve great food and lots of it, but the whole atmosphere here is extraordinary. Duane was stoked. It is an amazingly egalitarian society. Nothing is locked, everyone takes what they need and contributes what they can to the running of the station. Karl Marx would be stoked, too. Indeed, South Pole Station is probably the purest communist society that has ever existed - a grand socialist experiment that, with delicious irony, is entirely funded by the US government.

Duane and I are sharing a room in the Elevated Dorm, AKA the "Beaker Box". This is extraordinarily luxurious compared to the Jamesways, the Korean-war era tents that offer the very minimum of creature comforts. Tony is sleeping in a Jamesway. The Beaker Box has its own bathroom and laundry facilities, an ethernet, a kitchen and a TV lounge (with a video player, the TV reception not being too good here).

The impending arrival of our Stirling engine has created a surprising amount of interest. Everyone seems to know about it, and wants to know what it is and how it works and why "Stirling" is spelt with an "i". As it turned out, it arrived on the last flight tonight.

In the afternoon we wandered out to the AASTO and re-familiarised ourselves with the various issues. This year, for the first time, there is a Jamesway set up 50 m or so from the AASTO for use as a workshop. There is a fantastic amount of space, and benches and places to put things and life couldn't be better.



Further Information