Friday, August 18, 2017

Things I Miss

I recently called home, and my parents were asking me if I missed the sun or summer.  I figured that I'd make a blog post dedicated to things that I miss (aside from freshies because that's an obvious one).  It's weird what things you'll feel like you're "going without" when on the ice for this long (and being this isolated of course as well).

At Palmer I remember missing some of the smaller things like nail polish that I had back home.  I tried to be prudent this go around and bring those items with me.  And yet, I find myself not even using them!  I guess they weren't all that important after all.  Here is what I am missing this time:


  • Weather.  In Massachusetts, we get all four seasons.  My first year living in Colorado didn't exactly provide me with them.  It essentially remained hot year round, and hot for me in the winter is anything above 30 degrees in December/January.  The fact that I didn't break out a peacoat until, well, ever really was sad.  The fall was much too warm for my taste (seriously?! 70 degrees in November??), and the colorful leaves aren't as colorful as home.  Then again, I can't really expect autumn to be any better than how it presents itself in New England.  At the Pole though we don't get any weather...at all really.  This includes snow.  I know, shocking, but it's too cold here for it to snow so we don't even get those beautiful flakes.

  • The sun's warmth.  I think this one is another obvious one though.  I don't necessarily miss the sun itself because I know what it's like here with sun (no sleep as it never sets), but I miss feeling its rays.  While the sun is starting to come up and we can see its glow on the horizon right now, I won't feel any warmth until I get to New Zealand.

  • DOGS!  Oh my God do I miss dogs.  I keep looking at adoption ads and upcoming litters for sale of various breeds.  I more specifically miss my dog, Lilly, but she's warm and safe at home in Boston with my parents.  I will be so excited to pet a dog again when I leave.  

  • Walking.  Another weird one.  It's too cold for me to spend too much time outside walking around.  I get all paranoid about damaging my facial skin from the wind too so all of the layers on my face can make breathing uncomfortable.  I try to walk on the treadmills here every once in a while so I'm not totally just sitting on my ass, but that's really boring.  It's not like there's much outside stimulation.  I am so looking forward to walking to the point that, gasp, I am excited to get back to CO and go hiking, snowshoeing, whatever have you.  Who would have guessed I'd be excited to do outdoor sports?!  Certainly not my friend Emma Soucy.

  • Cooking.  We don't really get to do much cooking just for ourselves down here.  If we cook, we are supposed to cook for the whole station.  I did that a few times at Palmer and helped Mike in the kitchen quite a bit, but it was a smaller population there.  I'm just not interested in cooking a meal for 46 people.  I miss cooking whatever I like and just for myself.  

  • Good Internet.  Also an obvious one.  It sucks not being able to load bank accounts most days or getting up early to use the internet on the good satellite only to find out that it's down for the day.  I'm looking forward to being able to stream on YouTube and Netflix again as well.  We have lots of movies here, but not many new ones or ones that pique my interest. 

  • The smell of rain.  Not so much the water itself, but how water makes our olfactory senses work overtime.  We can pick up on the smells of flowers, grass, and other wildlife.  Hell even the dirt.  I miss all of that.  There aren't any scents here, and the greenhouse smells more chemical to me than like the earth. 

  • Looking like me.  Odd again.  I am always in Carhartt bibs here and most days when not in them, I look like a freaking hobo.  Sweatpants and old sweatshirts or tshirts abound.  It's because I didn't want to bring any nice clothing down and ruin it.  It's also pretty pointless for me to do anything to my hair or wear makeup here.  It'll be nice to get home and not feel like a slob.  Yeah, I could put jeans on, but they don't really keep me all that warm.  Oh and dresses...yeah can't wear those here.  

  • Sunglasses.  No sun here so I don't need the.  Even with the sun up, they won't help me much.  My Ray Bans are metal-framed so a big no-no in the cold.  They also won't do much to protect my skin from the cold wind so when the sun is up, I'll need to wear my goggles for some kind of sun protection.  Why do I miss my sunglasses?  Because I usually end up using them as a de facto headband.  I don't know how else to keep my messy hair out of my face so, yeah, looking like a bridge troll it is.

So there's a short list (or not so short) of things I can think of right now that I miss.  I only have 77 days left until my assigned off-ice date of November 4th.  Weather can always push it back, but I'm hoping that I get to leave on the assigned date (means I'm out of the Pole on the 3rd, one night in McMurdo, and Christchurch on the 4th).  It may take me a while to remember how to be a functioning human in the real world.  Let's hope I don't embarrass myself out there too much.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Christmas in July and other July Events

It's been awhile since my last post, but this is mainly because I was hoping and waiting for some photos to be put on our Common Drive on the network.  I haven't been great at taking photos this winter, so I've mainly been relying upon other people's efforts.  Recently a few photos were uploaded to the I Drive (Common Drive), so here we are!

Christmas in July is a yearly tradition at the Pole.  It occurs the weekend closest to July 25th, this year being on Sunday, July 23rd.  The week before the celebration, volunteers decorate the galley with Christmas trees, lights, garland, and all other tacky Christmas decorations that you can think of.  Kim spearheaded the efforts this year, and the galley looked great and well-lit.


The decorations

A few days before Christmas in July, a group of us got together to decorate some sugar cookies in the galley.


Cookie decorating!  Turns out I suck at this.
Cookies.  The ones I decorated have M&Ms clearly lined in a pattern or look like a small child attempted it.

On the 23rd, Kim got up early to bake us all some continental Christmas brunch items.  She was also kind enough to supply the station, with help from some donations, champagne for mimosas.  Our plumber, Brian, took it upon himself to donate some spicy vodka for those who love Bloody Marys.  For those of us who love Christmas, we spent the day in the galley watching a variety of Christmas movies.  A Christmas Story is traditional and thus it was watched.

In the evening, Kim served Christmas dinner.  Her dinner entailed some of the traditional dishes you would expect for Christmas in various parts of the country.  Roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, stuffing (she called it dressing?), and a sweet potato dish.  I don't know much about sweet potatoes and marshmallows as I hail from the great area of the US that is New England.  We don't exactly eat that there in my experience, but I'm sure the southern folks on station loved it.  There was also a Christmas punch that, well, tasted like Christmas.  It was some sort of vodka cranberry spiced punch that had hints of nutmeg and cinnamon.

After dinner, we began the Yankee swap (White Elephant for you heathens not from New England).  While there were a few gifts that were homemade and Antarctica related that I wanted, I knew that my number was too early in the game for me to go after those coveted items.  It was best that I strategize and go for something that's acceptable to me but also that I would not lose.  I stole a bottle of Glenlivet then from our station doctor.  It was a sure bet as that would be the last available steal for the gift.  I figured that Jason would like the scotch so he could have it, and perhaps he could go for something that I wanted since his number was later in the game.

It worked out pretty well!  He stole (for the final steal and again from Sarah - don't worry I apologized to her after for targeting her gifts) an original copy of a National Geographic issue about the South Pole.  The issue was published sometime in the 1950s and is in beautiful condition.  I really like flipping through it to see the advertisements from back then (oh yeah and the stories are cool too).  There were some crackers and a candy bar in the box as well, but the real meat of the prize was that magazine.  And, luckily, Sarah got a great gift that wasn't stolen from her in the end - a machined miniature version of our pole marker for next year.  I unfortunately am not allowed to share photos of the marker until January 1, 2018 when the real deal is revealed.

As for other July shenanigans, I had a birthday at the beginning of the month.  Birthdays at the Pole are starkly different from birthdays at Palmer.  At Palmer, I remember the galley being decorated on the day of my bday with some Happy Birthday signs like the ones that you would see at children's birthday parties.  Mike, our chef that winter, went above and beyond for me that day as well.  I got to try some of his award winning cowboy coffee, and he cooked a Massachusetts-themed dinner (fisherman's platter) that, as usual, was delicious.  My cake was an ice cream cake that looked like something out of a bakery.  He made his own ice cream with Bailey's, Kahlua, coffee, etc.  It was my 21st, hence the alcohol theme for his ice creams.  I also was gifted a balloon, Sam Adams, and a signed card from the station that day.  Some mystery dried fruit appeared from the recent ship's port call at the station so there really was a surprise gift that day.

At Pole, most of those things don't happen.  I am going to wager a guess that it is because the population is full-time double that of Palmer, although at the time of my birthday at Palmer we had just around 40 people on station.  Here, the galley crew were kind enough to make me something for dessert that may fit my fancy.  I find cake to be putrid little sugar bombs so that was not what was made.  They made a peanut butter mousse instead which certainly was able to calm my sweet tooth and peanut butter cravings.  The whiteboard sign in the galley also said happy birthday.  Dinner that night followed the menu and recipe as dictated by Denver, and there lies the largest difference from Palmer to Pole.  I had an enjoyable and relaxing day.  I slept early in the evening as I am always tired by the end of the week here, and I really can't complain about it too much.

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

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.


Power

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 said...no 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:

Salad! 


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.




Friday, June 16, 2017

How cold is the extreme cold?

Prior to coming to the Pole, I had no idea what -75F would feel like.  In fact, it was an unimaginable amount of cold.  Growing up in Boston, I have experienced the wet and cold winters there.  Usually the coldest days of winter in New England involve numb thighs and red noses, but you don't ever feel like you're at risk of losing some body parts.  Denver winters have been a complete joke in comparison what with their sun and snow-that-melts-immediately.  But the South Pole?  Again, completely unimaginable.

As it turns out, yes, -75F is cold, but it's not nearly as bad as I thought that it would be.  You have enough layers on you outside that you're protected from the environment - at least for a short period of time.  The best that I can compare such cold temperatures on bare skin to is when you put an ice cube directly against your face and don't remove it until it truly burns.  For the science types, it's like standing in front of an open -80C freezer for an extended period of time or touching sample vials directly coming out of an LN2 dewar with bare skin.  The cold just bites.  Honestly, the wind is much worse than the cold;  at least you can dress for the cold, but the wind finds a way to get through all of your layers anyway.

One of the more interesting things about the extreme cold is what it does to just about any material.  Jason had told me that he once snapped an electrical cord during the winter here because it was sitting outside for too long, and before coming here I didn't believe him.  Turns out he's right (go figure).  I have experienced what it is like to finagle an electrical cord that has been sitting outside for a few hours;  it is frozen solid and inflexible, like a piece of plastic.

Similarly, the rubber soles of our boots will freeze.  Obviously the colder the temperature the quicker it will freeze.  You don't feel it happening, but as soon as you walk inside to the warmth your shoes sound like they are high heels on a hardwood floor.  The slipperiness is also noticeable almost immediately as the frozen rubber soles become slick like the ice.

When buying work boots before coming to the ice, I selected a pair of composite toe Carolina boots that I wanted to get.  We need composite toe rather than steel toe due to the cold once again, although there are individuals here who have gotten away with steel.  Jason suggested against the boots that I had selected because the soles were a harder rubber.  He kept saying how they will freeze so quickly, and with a harder rubber I'll slip almost immediately.  Again, I didn't believe him, but he's done two winters at the Pole and a summer so I figured I'd be best to give him the benefit of doubt.  Yup, he was right.  My soft rubber soles freeze within ten to fifteen minutes outside.  Hell, sometimes when just climbing the beer can stairs in -80F temps they freeze!  Imagine what it'd be like if I had went with the harder rubber.

Another issue to be aware of is metal.  Don't touch metal with unprotected hands if it has been outside.  You can easily take off a layer of skin from your fingers by doing so.  Even just a thin glove liner (aka the cotton/polyester gloves that I would wear alone back in a world with warmth) is enough to protect your hands when dealing with frozen 55 gallon drums and freezer doors.

You should also remove metal from your body if it is going to be exposed to the cold.  When I first arrived here, I would wear my watch (metal face) on my wrist like any normal and decent human being.  Well, on day one of work I cold-burned a bit of my skin on the wrist because of the cold steel.  It has since healed just fine, but now I know to keep the watch hooked to the hammer loop of my Carhartt bibs.  I've heard stories of girls in the past freezing parts of their ears from their earrings so I've made it a point to either not wear earrings at all or make sure that they are totally and completely covered by my balaclava and/or hat.

So yeah, the extreme cold really is extreme.  You learn quickly to take precautions that otherwise would be silly in the real world.  Such is life at the end of the world.  It's difficult to truly describe what we have to experience on a day-to-day basis, but I hope that this entry has provided some insight into the reality of the temperatures.  Only one other place on this planet can get as cold as the South Pole during the winter, and it is Vostok Station - the Russian Antarctic base just east of us (well, north I guess since everything is north from here!).


Here I am doing inventory at the UT Roof

EDIT:  Other things that freeze - eyelashes to neck gaiters;  beards to balaclavas and sweatshirt zippers;  nostril hairs;  frosted head hair;  etc.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Totally not a guest post from Steve...that would be preposterous

One of the most neglected topics when you’re at Pole (or anywhere on Ice…or in any government contract, really) is INFOSEC. That’s a buzzword for “Information Security”. INFOSEC boils down to a series of best practices to keep your computer and the network safe from malicious code. It’s a huge deal in military installations and large companies, but it’s important no matter where you go. For instance: as a student pharmacist, if I ever let slip that the governor of New Mexico regularly sneaks into Colorado to get his Viagra prescription filled at my Walgreens, I could get in buckets of trouble.

Believe it or not, INFOSEC matters down here too. Mostly it means we have to lock our computers when we leave a room, report suspicious/spammy emails, and never discuss BEEEEP considering BEEEEEEEEEEEEEP BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP BEEEEEEEP BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP and those damned probes. Could you imagine the panic that would cause?

One of my co-workers (a brilliant and enigmatic man) has taken it upon himself to keep an eye out for unlocked computers. He’s been known to write harmless emails from unsecured accounts, play with the screen orientation, even ghost write blog posts. It’s all done in good fun, and we’ve all fallen victim to pranks at least once. Unfortunately, some of our fellow Polies have found his brilliance to be a rebuke and have taken offence to his delightful antics. We all hate these people who can’t take a joke.

As a counterexample, Kim (our lead) has been the butt of many a joke. Yet she has been able to maintain a positive attitude and has only stabbed Steve that one time.

In honesty though, his dedication and steadfast commitment to our safety is what makes him a great American, and a great man. There are so few people in this world that I actually respect…Steve is one of them.


From the bottom of my heart, I wish you God-Speed. Keep fighting the good fight.

Yes, we all want you to INFOSEC properly

Daisy Chain!

On Monday mornings, as I have mentioned in a previous blog post, we usually push the food order for the week up to the elevated station via the freight elevator in the beer can (vertical tower).  Sometimes, though, the temperature outside and in the beer can drops too low for the elevator to be safely operated.  In events like that, we as a station populace meet in the galley to do a "daisy chain" up the beer can with the food on the last day possible to deliver the food.  Essentially, we all spread out over the ninety-two steps in the beer can and pass the food up the chain.  We wait until the last day possible so as to give the beer can time to warm in hope of using the elevator in lieu of manpower.

This morning was one of those mornings.  It has been hovering between -80F and -90F for the past week or so, and the beer can temperature has not been far behind.  We warned the station prior to our weekend that we would likely be hand-carrying the food up the beer can on Tuesday as the forecast has predicted continued cold temperatures.  Thus, the day has come, and we performed the Great Daisy Chain of the South Pole.

In preparation for the daisy chain, the materials department (colleagues and me) double wrap the 50 lb. bags of flour and 25 lb. bag of sugar in large plastic bags.  This is to prevent any spillage or tears as it makes its way up to the station.  We also check some boxes for any vulnerabilities and try our best to mitigate the damage preemptively.

After, we meet upstairs in the galley as mentioned.  Safety Gavin gives a talk to us all about proper lifting techniques and ECW as not everybody here at the Pole has to move heavy objects or work in the cold.  We aim to cover the bases for the lowest common denominator so as to avoid any injuries.  Once the safety discussion is over, we remind everybody about spacing on the stairs - two individuals to a flight of stairs and one individual on the landing.  The materials department spreads itself out so that we span the entire staircase.  We also try to ensure that we are located on landings so that we can control the events occurring on both flights of stairs.

All in all, the daisy chain takes about fifteen minutes to complete.  This is much faster than our typical routine of using the freight elevator.  There will always be a few in the group who complain about the weights of the boxes;  the cold temperatures;  or having to wake up to complete the daisy chain.  Regardless, it goes smoothly without too much trouble.  Some station personnel enjoy being able to see the food going to the station that week as it gives them a glimpse into the menu.

This week's food pull included all of our midwinter dinner items.  Midwinter is an annual tradition at all Antarctic stations where we celebrate the shortest day of the year (constant darkness here at the South Pole though so that is irrelevant).  It also marks the point in time for most of us for being halfway until we redeploy North.  The dinner is a formal event, and this year we will be feasting on lobster thermidor and filet mignon.  Dinner will be Sunday, and I think it is safe to say that we are all looking forward to it.

A photo of me in our electric forklift that my colleague, Brett, was so kind to pimp in Microsoft Paint

Thursday, June 8, 2017

How do we get down here?

A common question that I get before leaving for the ice is how the travel is arranged and which countries I will have to enter.  It's a reasonable question considering that Antarctica is the most isolated place on the planet.  First things first, the USAP books and coordinates all of our travel.  It would be a whirlwind without those folks.  When I left for Palmer in 2014, I flew out of Boston to Miami airport, connecting to a red-eye flight to Santiago, Chile.  In Santiago, I had a layover of a few hours where my research team and I ate some lunch.  Quickly after, I flew to Punta Arenas, Chile, stayed there for a few nights in a hotel and then took a four day cruise through the Drake Passage on the Antarctic Research Vessel Laurence M. Gould.  The Pole, being much more isolated than Palmer station, requires a whole other slew of connections for the USAP to arrange.


The Neumayer Channel at the Antarctic Peninsula on the LMG

I left for the Pole from Denver this time around as I am now a Colorado resident.  Jason and I arrived at the airport pretty early so we decided to grab a beer at one of the airport bars.  A nice gentleman from North Dakota actually paid for our tab as he was interested in hearing our stories about Antarctica.  From there, we flew into San Francisco.  Again, we had some time to spare so we got some dinner.  We figured that it was our last time in the United States for almost an entire year so we might as well enjoy some classic American foods - cheeseburgers and french fries with a local microbrew.  After that, we had to board the dreadful flight from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia.  I say dreadful because it is an ungodly long flight to cross the Pacific Ocean.

We hit Sydney and only had an hour to waste before our connecting flight to Christchurch, New Zealand.  He went to go exchange some money for more Kiwi dollars, and I waited by the gate to ensure that it didn't change on us last minute.  The flight to Christchurch was speedy relative to the last flight we had, and we were certainly thankful for that.

Upon arrival in Christchurch, we met with the USAP representative at the airport to help shuttle us and our luggage to the hotel.  Unfortunately Jason's luggage got lost during the last leg of the flight, but it arrived a few days later and was shipped off to the South Pole for him.  Once we arrived at the hotel, we were essentially free until the next day.  In the morning we had to get up early to go get our ECW (extreme cold weather gear).

The next day, the shuttle arrived again to ship us off to the CDC (clothing distribution center).  At the CDC, they had our ECW bags pre-packed with all of the clothing that we would need during our deployment.  I had requested ahead of time to get FDX boots instead of bunny boots (military issued cold weather boots), and they luckily had fit me pretty well!  We all take the few hours at the CDC to try on our gear.  It is imperative that everything fit properly as there is a limited amount of ECW available here at the Pole.  Most sizes here for our non-emergency cache of clothing actually don't match the population either (i.e. plenty of XS Big Reds and not so many of the larger sizes for the men).  Many blogs of previous Polies document the ECW that we get, but, as a brief rundown, I'll go ahead an rehash the elements of a South Pole outfit:  insulated black Carhartt bibs, suede mittens or gloves, polyester glove liners, a Canada goose red parka (Big Red!), fleece sweatpants/long underwear and zip-up sweatshirt, hats, bear paws (if requested...I requested them but haven't used them yet...they are also called military overmitts), a Carhartt jacket, a Carhartt hood, balaclava, and neck gaiters.  We have to bring our own wool socks nowadays (in 2014 they were provided), so Jason and I did plenty of shopping for some thick wool socks prior to deployment.  I also opted to bring my own wool hats and multiple balaclavas for layering.

At the CDC we also do a few orientations to prepare us for our flight and arrival to the ice.  Most of these videos are related to not packing a pest and being a good community member.  Antarctica is a pristine continent that is void of much human influence still.  We try our best to not bring along any seeds or dirt that could potentially cause the growth of an invasive species on these lands.  Considering how isolated we are and how long of a deployment we have, it's crucial that we all try to treat each other with respect.  It may seem silly to have to watch a video on not slamming doors while on station, but when in the thick of the winter even these slights can cause a commotion.  We have a few day sleepers on station, and if we all went about slamming doors then they would never be able to get a proper night's rest.

After our trip to the CDC, we were free once again.  Jason and I spent the afternoon walking around Sumner Beach near Christchurch, and then later in the evening went to dinner at the Christchurch Botanical Gardens.  It was the last bit of greenery that we would see for a while as well as the last bit of fresh food.  I quite enjoyed my seafood that night, and it is a meal that I hope to have upon returning to the city in November.

The following day, we boarded our C17 flight to McMurdo Station.  The US Air Force runs all of the flights to and from the ice on this side of the continent, hence the use of military airplanes.  Again, the shuttle transported us to the CDC.  At the CDC we got our laptops scanned to ensure they were safe for connecting to the government network and donned our ECW for the flight.  We were required to weigh-in with our ECW on and our carry-on luggage so the flight crew could estimate fuel needs.  The flight to McMurdo took a few hours, and, all things considered, it really wasn't that bad.


Arrived in Mactown!  Photo of the C17 on the skiway.

Our noble chariot to escort us to the main station (McMurdo).  It was much too warm for all of the layers that I was wearing.

Jason flew to the South Pole the day after we arrived in McMurdo.  I was not manifested for a flight to the Pole until about six days later as I had a few trainings to complete in "Mactown."  It was a slow week, but I appreciated the chance to explore another Antarctic station, even if the station is a college hippie commune meets mining town.

When you get manifested to fly to the Pole, the day before the flight you have to "bag drag."  Essentially you pack up your belongings, clean your room, and carry your stuff to the logistics building to weigh everything (you and ECW as well again) and drop it off.  The following day you arrive in your ECW with your carry-on luggage and emergency ECW gear at this building again, and a bus will shuttle you to Pegasus Airfield.  At the airfield, you board an LC-130 for the flight to Pole.  I learned quickly that it is an important distinction to mention the "L."  Apparently the "L" stands for the skis of which the planes are equipped rather than just wheels.  My flight was slightly delayed, so we all stayed warm inside the skiway galley.


LC-130 in McMurdo, prior to our departure to the South Pole

After another three to four hour flight, you finally arrive at the South Pole.  The plane's engines remain running as it is just too cold to turn them off.  Luckily there are a number of people directing you on where to walk when you get off of the plane.  It can be a bit daunting disembarking from a live plane with its propellers running just feet away from you on top of the fact that it is colder than most have ever experienced and more white than you could imagine, but their help puts you at ease.


Arrived at the South Pole.  The cones are there to direct us off the skiway towards the station.  Jason is the guy standing in the background dressed in black (no Big Red for him).

And voila.  I arrived at the South Pole.  Jason was waiting for me at the skiway to help carry my extra ECW bag and backpack to the main station.  His help was much appreciated as I definitely felt a bit out of place once landed.  The best way to describe this place is like being on a space station.  It is unlike any location that I have experienced in the past.  I have been here since February at this point, and at times it is easy to forget just exactly where we are.  This is truly the most isolated spot on this planet, and I'm glad that I finally got the opportunity to be here.

Me at the end of the world

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Another day of work

Yesterday we spent our afternoon continuing with the inventory of one of the electrical milvans on station.  It appears that any work in regards to maintaining its inventory has not been done since 2011, so we have been tasked this winter with inventorying four milvans to get them back on track.  So far we have successfully updated the Unistrut milvan, and currently we are working on the electrical breakers milvan.


My coworkers Steve (left) and Brett (right...obviously).  They make inventorying much more fun.

Inventorying the milvans is a real headache if I am to be honest with you.  We are reliant upon, usually, guessing at part numbers to try to search the items in Maximo.  Often times, the part numbers are not attached to the descriptions in the database.  This is likely because these parts are incredibly old, and Maximo has been in the USAP only since early 2015.  Back during my first season, we had Mapcon as the inventory database.  Luckily some old archives of Mapcon are still around as occasionally we can only find these milvan parts in those spreadsheets.  Otherwise, I have to try my best to type a description search into Maximo.  The way things are described in the system are not always the most uniform, but we can get pretty close.

My goofy coworkers help make the process much more entertaining.  Lately this entertainment has been at my expense, such as yesterday when Brett decided to use the word "helo" instead of "hotel" when spelling out his part numbers.  What does helo sound a lot like?  Try kilo.  Yep.  A young Sterling Archer we have here ("'M' as in 'Mancy'").

The milvans are located outside.  We could try to inventory out in the cold, but it isn't conducive and we wouldn't have access to the computers.  Instead, Brett and Steve have been pulling items off of shelves in the milvan and bringing them into the cargo office for us to inventory.  This way we all stay warm and can enjoy some of the perks that the cargo office provides us - hot chocolate, coffee, and all sorts of snacks.

Other perks of this work involve just generally being outside!  There was a smoky looking aurora out over the station yesterday.  To my eyes it was pretty uninteresting, but my camera picked up the vivid greens.  Unfortunately those photos are embarrassingly shaky as I did not use a tripod to photograph the aurora.  I'll have to practice that skill a little bit more :)  The moon was also out in full blast, lighting the way for us so we don't have to use those pesky headlamps.

Although I did learn towards the end of the day yesterday that I am still a bit blind in the dark...

When we have to use the bathroom while out at cargo, it requires us to walk back to the elevated station or to the power plant bathroom.  As I mentioned yesterday, I drink a ton of water.  As you can gather, I needed to use the bathroom.  My lovely coworker Steve told me to not fall in a snowdrift and pee my pants on the way back to the station to use the bathroom.  I opted to do the walk without a headlamp at first, but quickly I walked into a snowbank, falling over, and, luckily enough, not peeing my pants.  I turned around, went back into cargo to grab my headlamp, and faced all of my coworkers while covered from head to toe in snow.  Now that's a whole different version of a walk of shame.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Healthcare at the Pole

I find it appropriate to make a post regarding healthcare at the South Pole as I am currently a pharmacy student, taking a leave of absence for the year to complete my winter season.  As one would assume, a large majority of the resources that we have in the "real world" are nonexistent down here.  We have a small clinic on station that is run by the station physician and physician assistant, but their abilities can only go so far with what they have on hand.  There is an array of prescription medications available to them if the event arrises as well as some equipment (ultrasound, x-ray, etc.).  A majority of their work here is to encourage preventative medicine and treat the minor injuries that we acquire due to the harsh working environment.

While most of us tend to remain healthy, some health-related issues do arise.  Such is the nature of working in a cold isolated environment with no sun exposure for close to nine months (the sun is gone from March until about September).  Many of us struggle with bouts of insomnia or other sleeping issues.  Fatigue is common as we have little outside stimulation and poor sleep.  Cold injuries do occur, usually caught in time before a full blown case of frostbite appears.  Skin issues seem to be going around too as the South Pole has an incredibly low amount of moisture in the air.  Cold air is simply incapable of holding much water so many of us end up with dry itchy skin and dandruff.

So what do we do to combat all of this?  Sarah Baddorf, our station doctor and the wife of my coworker Brett, gave a presentation recently on aiding sleep.  Some of the tips that she gave may seem obvious to most, but they serve as a nice reminder to those of us who are sleep deprived and not thinking the most clearly.  Avoiding coffee late in the day;  turning off blue/white lights a few hours before bed;  meditating;  and taking melatonin were all suggestions that she gave.  While prescription sleep medications are available in the clinic, the clinic staff are hesitant to prescribe them to us all.  With good reason too - the side effects can be more detrimental than what it's really worth or we could become reliant upon their help.

As for the cold injuries, obviously the best medicine is prevention.  If we start to feel too cold, go inside.  Nobody is going to balk at you for warming up your fingers and toes when you get to the point that you can no longer feel them.  I myself work outside in the cold a lot due to the nature of my job, so I would like to think that I am capable of advertising some help for those of us who tend to get cold easily.

I have a number of tips that work for me.  For one, I use two hand warmers in each mitten.  The mitten is important as your fingers will freeze within minutes down here with just gloves.  I also always wear a glove liner under the mittens if I am to work outside for an extended period of time.  The thumb hole in the mitten is useless to me;  using that thing is a great way to ensure a very cold thumb very quickly.  Instead, I tend to hold one of the hand warmers in my mitten in a fist as I walk to and from outside buildings.  I also know my threshold for the cold.  Yes, I get cold easily, but there comes a certain point where I know the cold feeling is starting to get dangerous.  Go inside when you are getting too cold.  If you get a cold injury, you will be useless until everything heals.

In regards to our dry skin, I make it a point to always apply lotion immediately after my shower.  It helps to build up and maintain the skin's moisture barrier, and I have noticed that I get extremely itchy if I fail to do this step.  My face has been a little tricker to take care of down here though.  I cannot factually explain why facial skin seems to get drier, but my best guess is that the skin on our faces is thinner and more exposed to the air so it has a higher likelihood of becoming dehydrated.  I am always good about applying lotion after washing my face, but down here I have been having to apply Vaseline on top of the lotion to serve as an occlusive layer.  Of course, we should all be drinking enough water too.  This would help combat some of the issues of the dry environment, but, for me, I already have that bit covered - I drink anywhere from six to eight liters of water a day, whether at the South Pole or home in Colorado/Massachusetts.

I could go on and on about the physical issues we experience here and how the medical staff treat us all.  A few studies have been done on the psychological changes that a South Pole winter can cause.  Most of those issues seem to derive from fatigue/insomnia and the general fact of being isolated.  It seems that those studies have documented that we Polies become more irritable as we continue into winter, and that our conflict resolution abilities decline.  So far this season I haven't noticed anybody truly falling off the deep end.  I suppose we're lucky in that sense this year!  As for my mental state...I am still the same ol' me.  I actually prefer the isolation and darkness, but I can do without the cold.  It's becoming a pain to spend ten minutes getting dressed whenever I want to walk outside.  Until next time - I'm off to admire our night sky.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Day 129

Today we did our typical Monday morning routine of sending the food for the next week or two up the beer can via an elevator.  The galley orders the food about two weeks in advance as it can actually take that long to properly defrost some of the meats that we have on station.  The food is kept in the logistics arch which mimics the temperature of the outside environment pretty closely.  If you were to defrost a roast by removing it from the -75F temperature and leaving it at room temperature, the meat would start to rot on the outside as the inside remains frozen.  To combat this, the galley has to slowly defrost the meat by taking it from the outside temperature to a regular freezer and eventually the fridge.

After the food push, we usually take the time to collect issue sheets around station.  These are forms that people fill out when they take an inventoried item for their work or general use.  As we are the logistics office, we are in charge of electronically issuing these items in our inventory database, Maximo.  Normally Brett is the one to collect the sheets, and I will join him from time to time.  We usually stop by people's offices and say hi.  Think of it like Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, but the South Pole version.  This time around I didn't accompany Brett during the collection rounds.  I helped him with the actual electronic issuing once he collected the sheets instead.

After lunch we assisted the galley staff with removing their trash.  They utilize an electric hoist to carry the food waste down to the ground, and the hoist can only be used during temperatures warmer than -80F.  Our current temperature is around -75F so it was getting close to the cut-off.  When using the hoist, some individuals will remain on the deck with the hoist while wearing a harness (safety first!) and the rest of us will be downstairs at ground level, waiting for the hoist to drop.  One person will also grab the rope tethered to the hoist to help it navigate its way down to the ground.  From there, we grab the trash and sort it into respective triwalls (food waste, landfill, recyclables, etc.).

When enough people help, the whole process can take less than thirty minutes.  It still feels like forever sometimes as we are standing outside in the cold, exposed to the wind.  Luckily today the moon was out so we were able to actually see what we were doing.  Relying upon a red headlamp (they need to be red lights as white light interferes with some of the science that occurs) is not always the most beneficial, but, when it gets really dark, it is better than nothing at all.

This evening I think I'll continue watching Game of Thrones.  Yesterday Jason and I began watching season three of the show.  Remember how I mentioned the South Pole not really being all that adventurous a few blog posts ago?  Yup.  Still isn't all that adventurous.  Life here is pretty boring most days.