Geoff Sims @ UNSW
Home South Pole Diaries 2012/13 12th January, 2013


Saturday, 12th January, 2013

One day later... (John)

A lot can happen in 24 hours.

Yesterday evening ended on a quiet note, with the 5pm LC130 flight from McMurdo cancelled. However, well after all decent folk had gone to bed, the flight was reinstated and arrived around midnight carrying Craig's long-awaited cargo! Now we can move full steam ahead with our Ridge A deployment. After what must have been a very long day for the crew, they took the unusual step of parking the Hercules on the flight line and turning off all four engines. Normally they are very reluctant to do this, to the extent that the engines are run for the entire time (sometimes over an hour) that the plane is on the ground. Presumably it is sufficiently warm today (back up to -26C) that they are confident they can restart engines the following morning.

We spent the morning in our daily two-hour meeting in which we work through the tasks we'll have to do at Ridge A next week. It's a slow and meticulous planning process, but from the moment we land with our brains fogged up by the altitude, a tightly orchestrated script will help us to avoid silly mistakes.

After lunch I headed out to MAPO to find Steele proudly dismantling the South Pole marker that he had made 18 months ago, so that it can be placed in the display case. Because the East Antarctic ice sheet is slowly sliding into the sea (but is continuously being replaced by precipitation), South Pole Station and every thing else on the ice is moving at a rate of about 9 metres per year towards the coast. Every new year's day a small ceremony is held in which a surveying team determines the new position of the pole, and the new South Pole marker is set in place. The old South Pole marker is removed for display inside the Station.

Over the years the South Pole marker has evolved from a simple brass disc to an elaborately machined sculpture that commemorates the previous year's winterover crew. A few months into winter, the station crew hold a competition to design the following year's marker. The machinist then brings the sketches to life.

Justly proud, Steele holds the 2011 marker.

After ten days here I've become used to the strange lifestyle that is South Pole. Although we are extremely busy and working very long hours, everything else that normally complicates one's life is taken care of (Well, almost everything - it was my turn to clean the showers and toilets again today.)

For example, there are almost no keys. As far as I can see the only locked doors are those to rooms that contain stuff that could kill you. My room, with laptop, phone, camera etc., is unlocked - as is everyone else's. There is no need for money and, while walking around with neither keys nor wallet in my pocket feels very strange at first, it's very nice once you're used to it. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. As I have remarked before, South Pole is perhaps the only genuine Marxist society in the world, and with delicious irony is funded entirely by the US government.

Fuel for the vehicles is free of course, although you have to pump it yourself - literally.

Mogas - the name Americans use when they want to distinguish what everyone else would call petrol from what they and everyone else calls gas.

Just when everything was falling nicely into place for us, an urgent medical evacuation was required from one of the field camps. Of course they took our Twin Otter, which is now in McMurdo. One of the two South Pole doctors went, too, so hopefully the patient is safe and well in the McMurdo medical centre. Now we just want our Twin Otter back.

Back at Pole, it's once again Saturday night. Tonight it's the Carp Shop (Carpenter's Shop) party, generally considered to be one of the best gigs on the calendar. It's currently -26C and blowing 15 knots, but that's no reason not to have a barbecue! After all, it's not raining and there are no blowflies. The Carp Shop itself is in an old Korean War era "Jamesway" tent, which lends a unique atmosphere to the night.

The carpenters host a party in their Jamesway.

As often happens at parties, the boys hang around the barbecue...

...while the girls just wanna have fun.

Of course there was live music...

...from sad and soulful... what I think would be categorized as hipster neo-punk astro-rap.

Stepping out after the party late at night, it's a shock to find broad daylight. Suddenly I'm reminded that this really is the South Pole!


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