Monday, December 5, 2011

Some bad news about the upcoming winter stay at the South Pole.  Due to a circumstance beyond my control I will not be going to the South Pole for the 2012 winter season.  I plan to apply for next year, so I do hope to be returning to the Pole and doing the live blog once again.

To keep this blog alive in the meantime I will be recounting some stories from my 2010 winter at the Amundsen Scott South Pole Station. There are a lot of stories and a lot of pictures I have not posted here.  So get ready for a winter 2010 retrospective!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

It Begins Again

I received an offer from Raytheon Polar Services last week for another winter at the South Pole for the 2012 season. That is early next January to early November.  I accepted so here we go again!

It is true that I was very tired of being at the Pole last November and wanted to leave, but after a few months away I began to remember how good it was in many ways.  Or maybe I just forgot how annoying some things were! :)  It is a unique place: one long day and one long night, one sunrise and one sunset a year, temperatures that cannot be described, with atmospheric and celestial shows that can be seen nowhere else on the planet. The night sky at the South Pole is a view fewer than 1,400 people have ever seen in the history of mankind.  How could I not go back?

This upcoming year I will at least be able to see when I am outside.  Last winter my glasses frosted over after a minute or two outside and I couldn't see a thing. After the temperature dropped to below -50F this happened every time I went out, without fail.  This winter I will have contact lenses so I will be able to find the flags between buildings easier.  Because of my poor eyesight it was often quite dangerous for me to go outside, particularly on my own when the weather was bad.  I know some people scoffed at my characterization last year that being some places in bad weather were risky, but I don't know how anyone could say being outside in the dark at -85F with a 20 kt wind, blind, would not be a risky thing.  But the risk is part of the allure.  The South Pole in winter is not Disneyland.  The conditions are real and often dangerous.  No matter what happens the crew has to deal with it, and you certainly can't quit and go home.

So I start again with the physical qualifying medical tests called PQ'ing.  I took my first test today and there are many, many to go. There will also be more emergency trauma and fire-fighting training (this time in Salt Lake City I think), and of course another psych test.

It should be a good year.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

2011 Pole Marker

Every year the winter-overs get to design and build the next season's Geographic South Pole marker. The marker design is kept secret until it is unveiled and installed on January 1, when the previous year's marker is retired and moved inside the South Pole Station. Below is the marker that was designed during our winter.  This was a very special marker since 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of Roald Amundsen first reaching the Pole in 1911.

From the Antarctic Sun, January 3, 2011:
The new bronze marker is in the shape of a sextant, an instrument used for navigation in the Age of Exploration. There are 47 individual degree marks on both sides at the bottom of the marker, representing the number of people who wintered at the South Pole in 2010.
In addition, a free-spinning “medallion” sits in between the angled arms of the bronzed sextant, which rests on a pedestal that displays the names of Amundsen's crew. On one engraved side is a well-known image of Amundsen and three other men admiring a tent flying the Norwegian flag at the South Pole. On the other is an engraving of the modern South Pole Station.
Winter-over machinist Derek Aboltins fabricated the 2011 marker based on the design by fellow winter-over David Holmes.
 Photo credit Robert Schwarz.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Safety Award Patch

For the first time ever the winter-over crew this year had a perfect safety record with no lost-time accidents.  There were a few first aids, but those don't really count as occupational injuries.  This was quite a feat and everyone who was at Pole this winter should be proud of that record.  To commemorate the achievement we designed a patch and Raytheon Polar Services Company had one made for each Polie and had them hand-carried to the Pole on the first plane in.  Thanks Raytheon.  We handed one out to every winter-over at the awards ceremony at the end of the winter.

Commemorated on the patch was the coldest temperature of the winter (-104F); the number of safe consecutive days (274); and the number of winter-over Polies (47).