Tuesday, January 13, 2004
Stairway to end all stairways
the carpenters at Pole do *not* mess around. When they said they'd make some stairs for the AASTO I pictured some well-used, now-discarded plywood things. What we have got is some brand spanking new (if slightly rejected) parts from the station under construction. The stairs may be slighty longer than the AASTO itself, though I haven't yet measured it. They have big steel sides, railings, and lovely yellow grated steps so the snow falls out from your boots before you walk in. Ahhhh. And the yellow perfectly matches the color of the AASTO. Magic stuff. It is akin to putting a chandelier in a fishing hut (no offence to fishing huts intended).
Today I disassembled one of the telescopes and put it in a box made by Crazy Billy, the chippie. Billy gave me a ride out to the tent where the 'scopes are kept warm, and I made the mistake of sitting backwards (which is comfy and out of the wind) and perfectly fine when anyone other than this bat-out-of-hell is driving. With legs braced against the railing I feared for my life as we actually got some airtime over the fuel lines. He topped off the end by playing bumper-snowmobiles with the parked one near the hut - we crunched into it at great speed, and I hopped off a little quicker than usual. Nothing broken though.
Also today was rush-hour for NGA (non government approved) visitors to Pole. This time of year sees a surprisingly large number of crazy people ski, walk or fly into SP, for a day, or just an hour or two. Yesterday a british woman set the record for the fasted solo ski trip by a woman from some part on the coast, doing the trip in 42 days. Today we have seen no less than three twin otter planes, full of tourists in two cases and in the other, a charity trip by an English guy with muscular distrophy who is raising money to help research into the disease. They flew in and he walked, with the help of a minder and his cane, the last few hundred yards to the Pole. He has already done the same in the Arctic.
Most people on Base have mixed reactions to these visitors. There is generally respect for those who ski and walk in, but it is a strange bemusement as we watch people pile out of the Twin Otters, having paid a minimum of $40,000 (US) for a seat, to jump out at Pole take a few photos (in a cheeky groups case today, they dressed in ski suits and posed with skis as though they'd skied there!) and then hop back in again and fly off. I worked out for the number of people in his twin otter, the pilot earns about $30,000 an hour.
The official policy to these visitors is uniform and quite firm. They are allowed to go to the Pole Store (to buy memorabilia) and into the comms unit if they require emergency contact with their support group. That's it. Every other type of help (food, water, showers) and all parts of the base, are off limits. One of the scientists invited the solo skier woman to lunch yesterday and the powers-that-be went up in flames. I do understand the reason for the policy and also agree with it, especially in the case of the five-minute Polies, but it is quite sad to see someone turn from a dot on the horizon into an exhausted person with skis and a big sled, who then pitches their tiny little tent on the other side of the skiway and chews their 43rd powerbar while you chow down on your three course meal...
It makes me realise how lucky I am to be here - someone at dinner said that while the tourists fly in and can claim to their mates that they "were at South Pole" they can't have really experienced it. And the experience really is something else...