Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My brain at 11,600 feet

After two weeks of nice low altitudes around 10,200 feet, the South Pole decided enough was enough.  Over the last 24 hours a storm system has dropped the barometric pressure enough to equal a physiologcal altitude of 11,600 feet.  This isn’t the highest altitude we’ve seen this winter (but almost), but it has been the fastest onset.  The saying here is “The South Pole can kick your butt anytime it wants to”, and I’m a true believer.  Whether it is the dark, cold to below -100, windchills well below that, blowing snow and zero visibility, frostbite, sastrugi that have to be climbed over rather than stepped over - the Pole has a wide range of options on kicking butt.  This week SP dipped into the hat and drew out… altitude.

The effect on personnel is noticable.  I become out of breath just from walking down the hallway.  Shovel snow? You must be joking.  Work becomes much more difficult and rest stops become pathetically close together.  Last week I could climb the six-story beer can from bottom to top without stopping to rest – today I had to stop three times.  Sleep is disrupted and although I am exhausted, I really don’t sleep much – just in short snatches.  Climbing into my raised bunk means a few seconds of gasping for breath at the top.  Headaches – yep.  Difficulty in forming complex thoughts – yep.  Loss of appetite – yep.  Lethargy – yep.  In fact, I am wondering if it is really worth finishing this post.

I am sure it was the sudden onset of the low pressure storm that is causing all these symptoms.  I can tell a difference in all the station personnel, and everyone here is moving much slower.  If the altitude stays at this level for a few days our bodies will adapt some, but in the meantime this is my brain on no oxygen.

Last week, when there was a reasonable amount of oxygen for me to breath, I took this picture of an aurora. Click it for a larger version with all the stars. That's Jupiter at the lower left, just above the barely discernable horizon.  Enjoy. 


Rob Stowell said...

Chuck... that is one awesome photograph! Do you remember what the exposure settings were on your camera?


Desert Tortise said...

I wonder if it is like climbing the big peaks with regards to the affect of altitude? Nice photo!

J. Reaves said...

f1.7, ISO 400, 8 seconds. Don't remember the environmental conditions. I do remember being danged cold standing around in my ECW gear waiting for the camera to take its pictures, so it was probably around -85F.

J. Reaves said...

It got to -102 that week, so -84 was pretty warm!

Rob Stowell said...

Thanks for the info... we've had some instances this summer where the "northern lights" were visible here in Connecticut but obviously nothing anywhere near as spectacular. I've tried to photograph it with little or no success... I think it's a combination of my lens being too slow and an excess of ambient light around here.

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