Antarctica Dispatch

Journal of my Antarctic experience working to support the United States Antarctic Program.

A Normal Day at the South Pole


This morning I walked out to the satellite dish (OK, it was the shack next to the satellite dish, which we call the 'RF Building' housing satellite and computer equipment) to do some work. It was -50 F with 26 knot winds. As I left the station with the wind to my back, I could faitly make out outlines in the environment. On a clear night (It's always night now), I can see the beacon atop the satellite dome. That was nowhere to be seen, but I made good progress.

Returning was something else. For one thing the wind is now blowing in my face and I could barely make out the outlines of structures. What I thought was a straght line was really a zig-zag. I look backed at the RF Building to figure out where I was and where I need to go. My headlight's red light (we have to cover our lights with red film to reduce the spectrum output on light sensitive experiments) helped with footing and illuminated what's around some. I made it halfway when I saw beacon lights, but which ones were they? I wasn't lost, but just need to get my bearings. I thought about the guy who was lost the other day off the Antarctic research vessel Laurence M. Gould. I had a radio, and I had shelter around me. Not a problem. 25 minutes later I was back in the station. Not bad for 3/4 mile trek.

Party Time


I think I said before if there's any excuse to have a party, we have one. Last night was a Costume Party in celebration of April Birthdays. I thought of going to the Skua pile, but instead decided on the Red Green theme. Of course no one got it nor even heard of the show, so I ended up being a Canadian lumberjack. Heck, I'm half Canadian.

Bill the safety guy showed up in a quasi space costume, our Bavaian research associate had on Liederhosen, we had the Flying Nun who took a dive, and of course guys in togas. Patrick, the System Administrator posted a picture of me on his blog site. He's got a wicked sense of humor. Then you must check out one of our esteemed science technicians, Neal, who was able to fit into a white liesure suit. What a pimp!

*Skua - a scavenger gull type bird. The name is used to denote a collection of items (clothes, electronics, etc.) left for others to use.

Hash House Harriers


Last night I was introduced to the wonder of being a Hash House Harrier. If you don't know what that is, check out the link. It's more of a social mixer steeped with tradition, but it's also known as "A drinking club with a running problem." If you're into political correctness, you won't find it here, everything to the songs to the stories. All newbies are called 'Virgins', after the first 'run' you're called 'Just (your name)' until you get a name, like 'Farking Icehole', 'Inchworm', 'Trust Driver', etc.

Three of us ran outside all the way to where the passenger terminal stood, thinking we were on the right trail, when we came upon the 'UBF' sign. Well we headed back down the trail to pick it back up. Finally making it to the end 'On-In', where the 'Down Down' ceremony took place. Those of us with infractions had to drink out of a bedpan.

Oh and if you're wondering if we're all becoming alcoholics down here, let me set you straight, alcoholics go to meetings, we just get drunk.

BBQ - South Pole Style


A true Texan will tell you there's 'barbecuing' and then there's 'grilling'. A ‘Texas’ barbecue (a.k.a. BBQ, Bar-B-Que, Barbeque, etc.) is when you slow cook meat over a smoldering fire for a long period of time which infuses the smoke into the meat. Then a red, spicy sauce is applied. Anything other than this process is plain old ‘grilling’.

However, I wasn’t about to explain this misnomer to Alan, the Australian metal worker for MAPO. He was kind enough to prepare and marinate lamb chops, chicken, and steaks for one of the rare two day weekends we have off. There wasn’t mesquite wood to cook on, but hey, this is the South Pole. We made due with wood scraps. It’s too bad we couldn’t harness the heat somehow.

Oh the taste of meat, fresh off the grill!



Today is the Vernal Equinox, which marks when the sun is directly over the equator and the days and nights are equal around the world. OK so that doesn’t fit for down here. Still it was an excuse to have a party. Here’s what was on the menu:

  • Brazilian Por Quilo
  • Tapas
  • Sangria

With a telescope we reflected the sun's rays onto a white board (since you don't want to look directly at it), with some amazing results.

Not so Average Saturday Night


Sundays are our days off. However, today didn't feel like a day off. Since I'm working when the satellite link is available partaking in the station social activities is difficult. What ends up happening is modifying my sleep schedule into 4 hour blocks. Yesterday there was an Australian wine tasting event. The alcohol flowed freely, there was a musical string ensemble, and plenty of cheese, crackers, and other hor' de vours. It's amazing how creative people can be down here.

Afterwards most of the crowd headed down to 'Upper Berthing' in the Dome for the 'Long and Skinny' party dedicated to the retirement of that historical place. People who had lived up there opened their mostly empty rooms and hosted drink concoctions like 'Road Dog' punch and 'Milky Milks'. I was pretty amazed at some of customization in the rooms. Orginally two people were assigned to a room. Pretty cramped quarters!

I did get time to sqeeze in reading Nicholas Johnsons's "Big Dead Place" which chronicalizes his time spent down here working for Raytheon Polar Services Corp, mostly in McMurdo. It gives quite a jaded side of what it's like working down here at the 'highest, driest, coldest, and most desolate continent'.

Southern Most Bar


Last night the 'Dodgy Bastards Bar' was christened, although I think it still remains to be named. The South Pole has few area for smokers, which I'm not one of. There's the 'Summer Camp Smokers Lounge' and under the Dome is the 'Black Box'. The original design of the new station had a smoking lounge, but the powers that be decided it would be best if that didn't happen, probably for the best because who knew if the air system could properly filter it out. In any case, smokers are banished to heading outdoors to get their 'fix'.

However, the old gym was turned over as a haven for smokers. Individuals seized on the opportunity like ravaged animals starting with a 'painting party', running electrical conduits, etc. In the span of two weeks the bar is now a reality. It's amazing how fast people will accomplish something if they really want to. Some people were commenting that they never saw a project finish this quickly at the Pole before. In any case everyone is somewhat pleased that we now have a real social gathering place. There used to be a bar under the Dome called '90 South', but it was demo'd last year.

The evening started out mellow with three Polies playing and only a few individuals around. Eventually the place got going with more people trickling in. As Neal S. posted in his blog (, "almost every female resident of the south pole passed through (10/13 ain't bad)."

I headed out before 11 PM and stopped by the galley where some people were watching a movie. Then it was time for the shower to get the smoke off me. I was just getting ready for bed when Rob, the satellite tech called me and said there was something wrong with the network. The satellite connection was good, but there was no network link back to the U.S. He wished me well and said he was heading back downstairs to the party at the bar.

After looking at the problem a bit and calling White Sands, NM where the satellite signal terminates. I concluded the problem was back in the satellite tech's lap. I put on some clothes and walked back down into the bowels of the tunnels to the bar to drag Rob back. Four hours later the problem was resolved. The technicians at White Sands hadn't thrown the correct switch.

Last Flight


Well it finally happened. Originally we had a 'soft' close of the South Pole station on February 15, but the NSF & NY ANG were going to keep flying through the 24th. Two flights were scheduled today, the last one being the passenger flight. At the last minute things were switched and the 9 or so people that were heading out had to scramble to get prepared. We watched them depart and waved. As we watched them go, I bumped Lt. Koes (NOAA officer). We looked at each other and without saying a word knew that was it. Winter just began for us. We were stranded for the next 8 months.

Usually the last flight is a day of relaxation, but it was business as usual. However one tradition continues - watching "The Thing" - both the original and John Carpenter's. I'd never seen the black & white one. It's kinda funny and has some interesting sexual banter. I'd seen the John Carpenter one, but I saw it in a new light after being down here.

As for work, I'm trying to work more during when the satelite link is up, which is from 8 PM until 7 AM. Kinda brutal hours. Because of my EMT background I was placed on one of the two trauma teams, so I'll be splitting time between Fire & Medical. It's all volunteer as we have no dedicated fire personnel like McMurdo.