Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Talk of the Town - Redeployment!

It's still a little too soon for us all to have official redeployment dates, but we're getting closer to having those assigned.  Rumor has it I will likely be leaving the Pole in early November (the 3rd to the 6th) with the first LC-130 to arrive on November 1st.  How exciting!  No idea when Jason redeploys, hopefully close to my date, but I have a feeling it may be a bit later than me as he has a much more important position on station than me and therefore turnover may take longer.

My penguin timer!  It tracks how much time I have left on the ice.  I started it when I first started getting paid rather than my date on the ice (2 days later) so I could have an idea of how many paychecks I'd get this winter.  The 4th for a redeployment date is a rough estimate.

Because we're getting closer to the end (3.5 months left!), we're getting more serious about vacation planning.  We have to lock in our dates for diving in Cairns by the end of the month as apparently early December is a popular time for people to go dive in Australia.  Jason's brother, Brian, will be joining us in Australia.  It'll be nice to have somebody in my open water class with me.  Plus, it'll put our American Airlines frequent flyer points to good use!  The USAP has changed the carrier we fly with (now United Airlines) so I likely won't have much use for the AAdvantage points.  We're going to "gift" the points to Brian so hopefully the long and expensive international flight to Australia won't be so bad.  And, of course from his perspective (that I'm going to assume as I haven't spoken to him in a few weeks), I'm sure he's ready to take a break from Colorado living for a little while and do something new.

The toughest thing with trying to book our plans right now though is adding in buffer days.  I have been told that in November the South Pole tends to experience some stormy weather that can cause cancellations and delays in flight plans.  While we will be assigned "official" redeployment dates, nothing is truly official.  As is such, we need to pre-plan some days to spend in Christchurch in the event that we don't make it there on time.  I don't like the idea of paying for a hotel booking that I may not be able to use, but that's life.  I had to do it in Punta Arenas in the event that the Laurence M. Gould, my chariot out, was delayed or stuck in some sea ice.  Worst case scenario is that we arrive too early in Christchurch to begin our road trip and just have to hang out there for a while.  If that happens, we'd likely try to take day trips to the surrounding area (a visit to Hanmer Springs for their hot springs/spa sounds lovely right now) to try to get some use out of our money.

We've also been reading more on car camping in New Zealand.  As it turns out, their laws are much different from the United States'.  In most places it will be illegal for us to just pull off to the side of the road and camp there;  we are required to pay an entry fee for a campsite for the night.  That will add a bit more expense depending on the campsite.  You are also required to have some kind of portable water system/bathroom with you...which means a more expensive rental.  We were planning to just camp like normal beings and use a hotel some nights to shower and freshen up as the rental was going to be so cheap.  Maybe we'll still do that, but it seems like paying double to me at this point so I'll likely protest.

Their National Parks work differently too.  In the US, I am used to just showing up and paying an entry fee to enter the park.  I did this in Zion National Park August 2015 and Great Sand Dunes National Park August 2016.  In NZ, apparently for some of the more popular National Parks (of course these are the ones I want to see!), you have to make a reservation for the date(s) you plan to be present.  Normally when I go on a road trip with Jason, we just...go.  Get in the car and drive.  It makes it a lot more fun to just spontaneously go and see things.  Of course some things are planned, but it's not like we abide by a strict itinerary.  Unfortunately, this road trip is going to need to take a bit more planning to ensure that we hit our reservations on time.  It takes the spontaneity and fun out of it, but at least I'll get to check out Milford Sound.

After all is said and done in NZ, we'll fly to Sydney and pick up Brian from the airport.  The plan is to spend just a few days in Sydney as it is so expensive and, really, just another city.  I want to see some of the more famous landmarks of course so those few days may be jam-packed with some touristy activities.  Then, we'll fly to Cairns, where Brian and I will begin our open water class.  I think we'll do the 4 day class as it's about $300 cheaper.  I miss out on a couple of dives, but after two days of living on a boat and diving all day I think I'll be okay.  After our liveaboard diving trip (Jason's still not quite sure if he wants to do another class or just join us for some diving), we need to spend a day in Cairns for a decompression stop.  It's not safe to fly so quickly after diving.

From what I gather, Jason, and likely Brian, will want to do something else after this.  See Australia or something.  We talked about going to Bali as the flight is cheap and the living there is even cheaper ($20 for 5 star hotels!), but, man, I really don't want to be there at peak tourist season with all of the college backpackers from the UK and the States.  There isn't anything at Bali either that makes me really want to go.  Buddhist and Hindu temples are cool, but not that cool for me.  Plus, to knock off Asia as a continent (leaving me only with Africa), I want to make sure nobody makes some nonsense claim of how Indonesia is an island and not really on the continent.  If we were to stick around in Australia for longer, we'd probably go see Ayer's Rock or explore the Gold Coast of Australia.  Not sure, once again, if I want to spend money to see some giant red rock, even if it is an impressive rock, but we'll see.  The Gold Coast would be new for all of us so perhaps that's an option.  Brian has 3 weeks of vacation he can waste, and we don't have any pressing need to return to winter in the US.

After all of that, we may have to fly to Auckland, NZ to catch our redeployment flight home with the USAP.  Luckily Brian can just leave straight from Sydney and endure that 18+ hour flight again.  Travel works a little differently from this side of the continent.  At Palmer, I just called American Airlines to unlock my ticket and did delays in various spots on my trip home from the station.  Here, the USAP supplies an actual travel agent that may be able to just give us the fare credit to do with as we please.  Regardless, the USAP is required by contract to see that we make it home safely so we have to follow their rules.  This doesn't bother me at all of course since the most expensive leg of the trip is covered by the company.

Once home, my plan is to eat some goddamn good Mexican food.  Something with spice.  Something with green chiles.  Something with a margarita.  Hopefully my tongue can handle the spice again.  I should also probably be a good daughter and call my parents in Boston since phone calls have been difficult from the Pole for me.  After that, well, I guess it's back to reality;  I have to visit the Office of Student Services at school to register for my classes for the spring 2018 semester.  This mini adventure has set my graduation date off by 1 year, but I knew that going into this.  I'll complete my P1 year and be a "regular" person again, dealing with traffic, grocery shopping, and electrical bills.  God it sounds so awful (mainly the traffic) when I put it in writing.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Updates on Station Life

A little less than four months left of our winter stay, and the sun is expected to peak just slightly over the horizon (more like its light rather than the ball of gas itself) in only four weeks.  We've all been busy plugging away at our winter projects the past few months, and now we are reaching the final stretch.  Currently there are a few things happening on station that affects our lives.

Right now the carpenters are busy replacing the flooring upstairs in the elevated station.  What this means for us is that parts of the upstairs hallway in front of the galley entrance is blocked off during the day.  Detours are put in place for us in the evenings so that we can still access the galley without having to go outside or in the beer can (cold!), but they change every night as the carps make progress on the project.

This morning, after having not gone to dinner last night, I found myself having to navigate around the blocked off areas by taking a few flights of stairs.  My room is in the lower level of the B1 wing, and the only access to the elevated station is through a flight of stairs in the wing.  So, every morning I must climb three flights of stairs to even get to the main part of the station (as if I don't climb enough stairs each day).  This morning I climbed the stairs, noticed that the hallway was blocked off from where I would normally access the galley, and had to come up with a different method of getting to breakfast.  So I went down the station stairs, down the hallway of the lower level, and then back up three flights of stairs in the beer can to get to the galley.  Talk about a morning workout.

The station safety engineer is really good about sending out emails each night notifying us of which parts of the hallway/station will be inaccessible and which parts we can still use.  Last night though I was incredibly tired and didn't process or retain the information in the email.  I haven't been feeling well either, oddly enough, with some swollen glands and a sore throat.  Shouldn't be the case since there should, in theory, not be new viruses on station...but here we are.  So, back to the main topic, I was a little confused waking up this morning on what to do to get to the galley.

As for other projects, my team is busy continuing with our inventory of all items on station.  This winter we have been specially assigned to count the items in four electrical milvans.  The newest milvan, milvan 3, has been staged for us to go and inventory.  We have been told that it has double the amount of parts of the previous milvans and is kind of a mess.  Oh joy.  We should get started on that inventory today.

And, as a special request I guess from my coworkers, other events have been happening on station.  This past weekend and the one before it were the South Pole Winter Games, aka the poleympics.  I didn't compete and chose to enjoy a more quiet station as everybody else pulled sleds outside, but from what I have heard it was a lot of fun.  Quite a few winterovers were walking around on Sunday after the medal ceremony looking like Mr. T.

Unfortunately my coworkers, Brett and Steve, dishonored our department by not winning gold in the team sled pull.  The two of them, with the help of our electrician, were pulling Brett's wife, Sarah, in a sled from the geographic pole to the ceremonial pole.  They came in second place after a group of guys all hailing from Michigan won gold.  Such shame Brett and Steve have casted upon the logistics department.  I suppose second place can do just as well as gold, but that's if you're really a loser at heart and don't have respect for yourselves.

Second place winners in the team sled pull.  From left to right:  Steve Ashton, Sarah Baddorf, Brett Baddorf, Peter Bammes

Monday, July 3, 2017

Power and Water

Obviously the power plant and water plant are some of the most crucial places to keep running steadily while at the South Pole as they are our only lifelines in the middle of the winter.  We have some rules that apply to us as a population to ensure that we don't abuse these resources, and I'm going to take the time to discuss those rules in this post.


Water is a limited resource for us here.  I don't know the exact mechanisms behind the Rodriguez wells (Rodwells) from which we get our water so I won't discuss too deeply how the water's actually made.  Essentially though the water comes from deep holes that have been drilled into the ice.  Our water on station is therefore all ancient glacial water so that's pretty cool!  The "raw" water from the Rodwell goes through a series of pipes to get to the water plant in the power plant where the water technician will add a number of chemicals to adjust the pH and whatnot.  A few other tests are done to make sure that the water is clean and safe to drink too.

Because water is a limited resource, we have water rations in place.  We each are allowed only two two-minute showers a week and one load of laundry a week.  Some exceptions are in place for those who get dirty;  the galley staff for instance can take as many showers as they need, and the mechanics are allowed to shower whenever they get covered in oil.  Nobody goes around and stands outside of your shower with a stopwatch, but we try to be respectful community members and not abuse the policy.  Our work uniforms also do not count as a load of laundry from what I have been told.  I don't really have a uniform other than the Carhartt bibs I wear everyday, but I guess that can count!

It may sound difficult to limit your showers to just two minutes, but it isn't too bad.  There are quick shutoff buttons on the shower heads so that you don't have to turn off the running water in the middle of your shower.  You also don't get too dirty here since it's difficult to sweat.  I find that showering more often is actually uncomfortable.  My skin and scalp get so dry here that if I shower more than twice a week I'll just be itchy all the time.  Likely sounds gross to those back home who are used to daily showers, but, hey, that's one of the sacrifices we make down here.  If you are that concerned about showering daily, there are always baby wipes to do a quick sink-shower.

Additionally to conserve water, all sinks in the bathrooms (except the power plant bathroom) are equipped with automatic faucets.  These can be a huge pain when trying to wash your face or brush your teeth since you have to hold your hand in front of the sensor to get the water to run, but you learn to deal with it.  It will be nice to get to McMurdo to use the faucets regularly (no auto faucets from what I remember!).

In terms of drinking water, we are allowed to drink as much as we need.  We are in an incredibly dry climate at the Pole so we get dehydrated easily.  Anybody who knows me knows that I drink an insane amount of water each day (6-7 L of water per day).  My consumption rate is slightly higher here, mainly in the mornings, but not much higher.  Coming to the Pole actually had me nervous that I'd be policed for how much water I drink, but luckily it's a health and safety aspect of life here so nobody has any big issues with it.


Jason is the lead for the power plant and is therefore in charge of the power and water creation here.  One of his pet peeves is when people leave the lights on in rooms that are not in use.  It's a waste of power, and we really shouldn't be doing that.  Fuel is another precious resource, and, while we do have a lot of fuel this season, we should be aware of how much we are wasting when leaving random lights on.  I do find it hilarious how many lights are left on in unused rooms (have these people never paid a power bill before?!), and often I get dragged along on the nightly rounds of the elevated station to turn off the unused lights.

There aren't any strict regulations on how much power we use, but I do know that he has certain rules in place.  If anything big is to happen in terms of power changes, he likes people to contact him/the person on call in the power plant so they are aware of the changes taking place.  For instance, turning on all appliances in the galley warrants a call to the power plant.  Turning off one of the power logic controllers at an out building also warrants a call otherwise he'll think that they're losing power to that building and start trying to troubleshoot.

Because the power plant is our life source (no power means no heat and no water), the guys in the power plant take their jobs seriously.  They always ensure that we have a backup generator available in the case of any issues that could arise.  They also take heed to perform the maintenance on the generators on schedule.  Recently they had to do a large overhaul of generator 3 (we have 3 main generators and a peaker as well as 2 smaller generators in the emergency power plant) and a top end rebuild of generator 2.  They should be good to go for the rest of the season now!

In the event of a power outage, Jason and all of the other guys in the PP head straight to the PP to deal with the issue.  If we had a massive catastrophe that meant we lost the power plant, we would end up running the station off of the emergency power plant in the B pod.  All science would cease at that point and we would essentially be in survivability mode.  The EPP is capable of powering the elevated station so we should be okay in terms of comfort, but, again, the biggest priority would be surviving.  Worst case scenario, everybody would have to move into the B pod and survive there.  Luckily it has never come to that, and let's hope that trend continues.

Life here obviously requires some adjustments that you otherwise wouldn't have to deal with back home.  The water rations are likely the biggest things that affect our day to day life, but it really isn't as bad as I had thought it would be prior to arriving here.  I can say though that it will be nice to hit Christchurch and take a long shower.  Yes, I'm going to be bad and waste some water.  Wouldn't you after not having a shower that's long enough to steam mirrors in a year?

Friday, June 30, 2017

Heavy Machinery at the South Pole

I'm sure the greatest comedic act in my life for my friends and family back home is the idea of me driving heavy machinery.  Well, here we are.  As a part of my job, I have been trained on a CAT 953c loader and 277b loader.  I've also been trained on driving an LMC (aka a snowcat) and the snowmobiles.  Inside the LO we have a small electric forklift that I am also required to operate as part of my work.

Each piece of machinery has its own regulations for how much weight that it can handle as well as temperatures that it can operate within.  The 953 can handle quite a bit of weight and is able to be operated for longer periods of time in the colder temperatures (sub -65F) than the smaller 277.  We use the 953 to retrieve large items like stacks of cement board from the outside berms, and the 277 is mostly used for small and light work - moving triwalls, retrieving insulation from the berms, etc.  The LMC is not a loader and rather just a snow equipped truck for lack of a better description.  It's used during emergencies and drills, to do reconnaissance at the berms, and transporting people to and from outside areas.  They technically can be used at all temperatures (emergencies), but you have to be cognizant of the tracks and hydraulics not freezing.  Finally the snowmobile is basically useless in the winter.  The tracks freeze way too quickly for us to use in these cold temps.

As a quick aside, let me discuss what the berms actually are.  One of our storage systems at the Pole is utilizing what are essentially long raised beds of snow behind the station.  These beds of snow have specific organizations and designations so that we can look items up in Maximo.  These are the berms.  They certainly come with their own issues, but it's what we've got right now.

So some issues that we encounter with driving in the cold and dark.  Our windshields can fog up pretty fast because of our body heat.  We try to avoid that by utilizing any cab heating within the machines and fans pointed at the windshields, but it's not perfect.  You have to learn to park the vehicles into the wind too to try to avoid having the exhaust freeze to the windshields.  Then there's the tracks and hydraulics freezing up, as I had already mentioned.  We keep things moving to avoid the track issue, and we operate within safe operating temperatures to try to avoid damaging the hydraulics too.  There are certain time limits that we have at the colder temps so the machines have to come in earlier.

We also can only use red lights because of sensitive science equipment mounted to the roof of the station.  The red lighting is definitely better than nothing, but it's also not perfect.  We can't see very far with just red lighting and, when you add wind to it, it can become a small nightmare.  It's easy to get turned around when away from station, stuck in the wind, and only have red lights.  In that situation, best to stop, turn around so the wind isn't obscuring your view anymore, and figure out where you are in relation to berms and red lights on buildings.  It takes some practice and knowledge of the maps we have for behind the station, but it works better than anything else.

Because of the temperature restrictions, when it's warm enough we make complete use of the vehicle time.  This week we had a few warm days where we could go and grab some plywood for the carpenters to use during their floor remodeling project.  Sometimes you need a spotter for the objects you're grabbing because of the snow masking the bottom of the pallet.  In those cases, Brett and I will hop in an LMC and direct Steve, who is in the 953, to the berms and help him there.  It's a group effort and a lot of fun to be able to get away from our daily work of inventory.  As always, biggest thing that bogs me down about it is the cold.  They say there's no such thing as being cold - just not wearing enough layers.  I call horseshit.  Those people have clearly never lived in a freezer.

Steve in the 953c bringing in a bundle of plywood for the carps.  I'm sitting on the crate in the back waiting to help put dunnage down.

Me driving Voltron, our electric forklift, to carry some cement board into the LO DNF.

A photo of the berms that Brett took back when we had daylight

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Emergency Response Teams

Considering the number of alarms, false and real, that we have had recently, I've decided to make a post in regards to what we do in the instance of emergencies.  The emergency response is similar in a lot of ways to that of Palmer, but the biggest difference is the role of "emergency response teams" (ERTs).

At Palmer, most everybody is assigned to a team (pump, fire, trauma, etc.), but there is also an overlap with the search and rescue teams (glacier SAR, ocean, you name it).  My role during emergencies at Palmer was to take over for Mike, our chef, with getting a full muster.  Mike was on the trauma team as well as in charge of muster so by having me take over muster, he could be available for the trauma team much sooner.  It was a simple job that essentially meant that I had to listen to radio traffic to hear people call in their locations as well as count people in our muster location.  Another part of that role was to dispatch personnel to the scene if necessary to help out the teams.  Because for a large part of the winter season we only had 19 to 21 people on station, this meant that all extra hands were accounted for.

At the Pole, we are assigned to a team 1-4 with a few extras being placed additionally onto a special technical rescue team (team 5) in the event we have to capture a body or patient in a crawl space or on top of a high structure.  As a brief rundown of the teams, here are their roles:

  • Team 1:  First Responders - this team goes to the scene immediately to check out the situation and send any information back to the station and the emergency operations center (EOC aka Wayne)
  • Team 2:  Fire Brigade - the name is obvious I think;  they are responsible for donning bunker gear to attack a fire on station;  most of those on this team have been to fire training school in Aurora, CO this past year, but Jason is the lone exception as he has been on the team in the past and therefore been to fire school in the past
  • Team 3:  Logistics - this is my team;  we are kind of a catch all group where our role is to supply equipment to all of the other teams, transport personnel to/from a scene via snowcats (LMCs), and package patients for transport;  we are also in charge of running a search and rescue mission in the event of a missing person;  we supply extra hands if necessary for mass casualties and other such events
  • Team 4:  Trauma - again, pretty self explainable;  this team is run by the doctor and PA and they train their teammates on essentially being emergency room assistants;  many on the team have outside training in healthcare such as being an EMT or working in trauma in the military
  • Team 5:  Technical Rescue - briefly described above, they train to retrieve people from spaces that require specific gear for the safety of the rescuers;  such spaces are on top of the power plant arch, within the confines of the water tanks in the power plant, under the fuel tanks in the fuel arch, and within the subfloor of the station

We were assigned to our ERTs by Wayne at the beginning of the winter season.  While I have healthcare experience being in pharmacy school and whatnot, Wayne has opted to make me a team 3 lead instead of placing me on team 4.  Team 4 already has quite a few members, and I work in the logistics department so it makes sense to have me be responsible for that team.  My experience at Palmer also makes me a bit more qualified for this role as a lot of their duties go hand in hand.  Jason got stuck on team 2 this year as he's been on the team in the past.  From what I gather he doesn't mind too much, but being beardless means a cold face so that bums him out.

In the event of an emergency, the fire alarms and strobes are supposed to go off to signal the situation.  An automated message about the location of the alarm will play on replay as well so people know where to go.  Wayne gets on the all call PA system and radio soon after to let us know that we are to respond to this alarm.  As a team 3 lead, I am required to report to the scene as well as deal with other team lead issues (schedule and host trainings, advocate for my team in meetings).  Each emergency and training is unique in its own way of course so how we go about attacking the problem will change.  

Off hours, we have an on call schedule for the teams.  Each team is separated into an A team and a B team, and the team on call (A or B) switches off every two days.  The schedule for being on call is posted on the South Pole intranet and the galley scroll.  The rules for being on call vary from team to team, but Kim and I (both the team 3 leads) have decided that if you are sober enough to carry a fire extinguisher and respond then you are good to go for the emergency response.  Some seasons being dry for your on call nights was a requirement, but we are a bit lax this year with understanding that one or two beers/glasses of wine likely won't ruin the ability of our teammates to respond to an emergency.  During the day, however, A/B designations don't apply;  we should in theory all be up and awake so we all should be able to respond to the alarm.

ERT can be hectic at times as we run around trying to deal with threats, drills, and alarms, but it is an important part of living on station.  We are far and away from any kind of outside support so it is absolutely imperative that we maintain our life sources here - water, fuel, and power.  Our efforts help us to protect those sources and each other.  My only complaint so far is just one of discomfort;  I don't want to go outside to respond to an out-building alarm in the middle of the night should the event occur!  So far so good, and I'm glad that I have such a great and responsive team this year :) 

That being more night alarms please.  I like getting a full night's rest when possible.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Case of the Ramen

I am being lectured by Brett and Steve for not posting another blog post, so here you go:  The Case of the Ramen (or, rather, lack of a case of ramen).

Newest drama on station is in regards to the amount of Top Ramen packages available over the weekends.  This past weekend there was no ramen available to the masses so somebody left a passive aggressive note on the whiteboard in the galley complaining about it.  Our steward has sent out an email explaining the situation.  There just isn't enough ramen on station to be able to put out a lot each week as we would run out before winter ends.  There was also the blurb about saving food for the summer crew, but I still don't understand that argument as, well, fuck the summer crew.  They are here for only three months and get freshies the whole time whereas we are here for nine without freshies.  They can deal without getting some of the smaller luxuries that we have on station.  Yes, Top Ramen is considered a luxury apparently.

Anyway, I am not particularly affected by the Top Ramen issue as I don't particularly enjoy the food of the poor (Elitist?  Oh most definitely).  There are weekends though where I have to suffer and eat the "food" as there isn't anything in the leftover fridge that appears appetizing to me (not a fan of Asian, southern, or BBQ food and those cuisines seem to show up a lot on our menu).  Other times we seem to be out of bread and sandwich materials so Top Ramen is one of my limited choices.

So the current talk of my office (it's 3:55 P.M. here on a Monday afternoon) is about the ramen email we just got and the silly little memo on the whiteboard.  As I have mentioned in the past, people become wicked sensitive over minor issues as winter progresses.  Now that we are past midwinter, I guess that the latest "drama" on station is going to be in regards to a microwavable soup.  Hopefully the explanation of our limited supply of Top Ramen will be enough for those folks.  If not, as I always say, there are always Cheddar Guppies (knock-off Goldfish that we have that I eat when nothing else looks appetizing to me).

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Happy Midwinter!

Sunday, June 18th we celebrated midwinter.  Midwinter occurs on June 21st in the Southern Hemisphere.  It is the shortest day of the year for us below the equator, which means (in South Pole terms) that the sun is at the lowest point below the horizon that it will get.  Because our weekends fall on a Sunday/Monday schedule when we get two day weekends, we had our dinner on Sunday rather than today (the 21st!).

Midwinter dinner is a longstanding tradition in Antarctica, going back all the way to the days of Scott, Shackleton, and Amundsen exploring the continent.  The tradition involves eating a feast, having a few drinks, and enjoying the company of your compatriots on station.  My midwinter at Palmer meant that we got some delicious guanaco from our chef, Mike Hiller.  He did an amazing job that year, and the freshies were a nice surprise considering that Palmer does not have a greenhouse and did not have any new shipments of fresh food.

This midwinter, our chefs did a fantastic job as well.  Appetizers consisted of duck confit, apple and brie crostini, and a crab and artichoke dip.  The cocktail of choice during the hor d'oeuvre portion of the meal was an old fashioned.  And, as a nice symbolic gesture, the weather decided to cool down all the way to -100F for the first time this season!

Congratulations 2017 South Pole Winterovers!  We are now a part of the group that has hit -100F in the winter.

Following the cocktail hour, we were served a salad with an orange vinaigrette, made from the greenhouse freshies.  The main course was lobster thermidor, a filet of beef, asparagus, and mashed potatoes.  Dessert was delectable as well - a homemade chocolate lava cake and homemade vanilla ice cream.  We don't have any vanilla ice cream on station this year, so this was certainly a nice treat.

The following are photos taken by Dr. James Casey of IceCube that were saved onto our network's common drive:


Our main dinner plate 

Dessert.  The red sauce is a raspberry puree. 

Aside from our dinner, we had a number of events occurring on station in celebration of midwinter.  Earlier in the day there was a facial hair competition, of which I was a judge.  Jason was told to shave this winter thanks to being on team two for emergency response (fire response - they need a close seal between the mask and skin so beards are a no-go), but he participated regardless.  He presented a photo of himself with a beard from Palmer in the summer of 2015/2016 and expressed to the judges the plight of being beardless.  Shockingly enough, he almost won for best attempt!  Alas, there were other men on station who had actually attempted to grow a beard so they won the prize of a six pack of beer.

Here we are judging the contestants.  As you can see, we take this job seriously

Jason talking about his plight of being beardless at the South Pole.  Yes, he wears socks and sandals.

Final deliberations!  We separated ourselves to not spoil any surprises for the winners (and losers).

After dinner, one of my fellow winterovers designed a murder mystery for people to enjoy.  Jason and I did not opt in on this event as it just seemed like too much work and too much of a commitment.  I could have changed my mind mid-dinner and decide not to participate which of course would screw up the storyline for everybody else.  It was best to just not sign up and not ruin the fun for others.  From what I hear, everybody seemed to really enjoy the event that night.  I had fun observing everybody in character while on the sidelines.

So now that we are officially at midwinter day, what does it mean?  Well, the sun will slowly begin to rise again.  In August we'll start to see our first glimpse of sunlight over the horizon.  I can't say that I'm eager to welcome the sun back into my life though.  Sleeping is difficult with 24 hour light, and putting up window shades and blankets only does so much to block out the light.  It also means that the stars and auroras will be gone.  What will be nice is having the temperatures warm up a bit as the cold is really starting to get old.

EDIT:  Here is our official Midwinter Photo.  This photo gets sent to all Antarctic stations, ASC, and the NSF.