Here’s hoping that all of you have managed to hide your misdeeds from Santa this year so that you end up with more than just coal in your stocking. Today is Christmas day at the pole, and its been very cool. The station has been decorated with holiday stuff, presents have been exchanged, Christmas eve dinner was served, and the race around the world was held today. In fact the only bad thing that’s happened is that we haven’t actually gotten our presents from home yet, but that’s not that big of a deal. In fact, rumor has it that the first flight tomorrow will have four tri-walls (huge cardboard shipping containers) full of packages, which is very welcome news. It will actually be Christmas day where you guys are, so I guess they’re technically not late. The reason for this being an issue at all is the crazy Antarctic weather. Two weeks in McMurdo base, the temperatures got up to 45 degrees F. That’s 45 above zero! The people in that base are just way too spoiled! Anyway, the warm weather brought in winds of about 80 knots. That’s hurricane strength, and it lasted about three days. It took the runway crew two more days to move all the snow drifts off the runway to make it usable for flights. We were already pretty far behind so that knocked us down about another 25 flights. Somehow the powers that be decided that fuel for the station was more important than package mail so the last couple of days before Christmas were mostly tanker flights. I supposed I can’t argue with that logic, as I’ve become quite addicted to heat and lighting.
Lots of things have happened since the last time I wrote. I’ve settled into a nice routine of work and play, with a few surprises in between. I’m really enjoying my job, and that there is going to be plenty to do to keep me busy throughout the year. We’ve got several major projects finished, with lots more coming up. Since I’ve been here, I’ve done a fairly major security audit, replaced several servers that were at the end of their life cycle, deployed a wireless network on station, plus all the little things associated with keeping a major network with satellite connectivity up and running. One of the coolest things that I got to do was last week. We have a remote field camp about 5 miles out of the station that is drilling holes in the ice to place seismometers for earthquake detection. They want to lower them down nearly a mile or so, which means that the ice that they are bringing up was frozen around the time the pyramids were being built in Egypt. We like to take the ice from the holes and use it in mixed drinks. There is so much pressure on the ice that all the air bubbles that are normally in ice have been compressed to over a hundredth of their normal size. When the ice melts in your drink, the bubbles kind of explode out making for a very effervescent beverage. Anyway, getting back to the field site, the original plan was to run a fiber optic cable out to the camp from the dome along with a power cable so that they didn’t have to use generators. But, the power cable never arrived on station, and there wasn’t much point in spending the time and effort to dig a trench just for a data cable. Instead, we used a Cisco wireless bridge with a couple of super directional antennas, and established an 11 mbps connection out to them. Three of us took snowmobiles out there, zooming down the groomed road at speeds of up to 50 miles an hour. Talk about fun! On the way back we cut across the plateau, catching air off the snowdrifts, and trying to hang on the machines without falling off. It was one of the best days I’ve had here so far.
I’ve also had my first taste of cooking for a huge number of people. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, the IT/Comms department decided to take over the kitchen for the cooks. We spent about 7 hours cooking chicken Marsala for the station, and I had my first taste of trying to cook pasta at high altitudes. Water boils at about 198 degrees here, which makes cooking rice, pasta, or anything that needs boiling quite a challenge. I think I cooked about 100 pounds of dried pasta, which took nearly 6 hours to get done. The food was incredible though, and the kitchen staff even told us we did a great job. I’ve got nothing but respect for those guys who have to do this four times a day.
Let me tell you guys a little more about Christmas at the South Pole. Of course everyone hear misses their friends and family back home, but we tend to band together and become a huge extended family. We had Monday and Tuesday off this week, but in order to get that kind of time off we had to work a seven day week last week. This week we’re only working three days, and we’ve got next weekend off for New Years. Yeah, that’s right, we’ve got the weekend off instead of the actual New Year’s eve, and New Year’s day. I have a feeling that that will change though as people are already grumbling about it. Anyway, we had our traditional gift exchange on the 23rd of December. Everyone brings a white elephant gift that they’ve either bought or made, and we take turns seeing who gets to pick a present from under the tree. When it’s your turn, you can either pick an unopened present, or you can steal a present that someone else has already opened. If your present gets stolen, you then have the chance to go again. Each present can be stolen a maximum of three times, and you can’ t steal back a present that has been stolen from you. Its a lot of fun, and we spent about three hours hanging out having lots of laughs. The next day was Christmas eve, and that’s where we traditionally have a formal sit down dinner. This year we had beef Wellington and lobster tails. It was fabulous! In order to feed the entire station at a formal setting, we have three separate seatings. I ate at the second one, and volunteered to act as a wine steward for the third seating. Afterwards people ended up going to any one of several parties on station.Â I ended up hanging out in 90 South, our main bar till about 4 in the morning. It was a great evening of drinking and talking with good friends.
Today we held the traditional race around the world. This is a 3 lap race on a mile long course around the geographic and ceremonial poles. People can go one any form of transportation they want. We had bikers, runners, people being dragged on couches by tractors, and even some people on barstools being pulled in a sled by a snowmobile. Its a lot of fun, and we all got T-shirts to commemorate the event.
The next few weeks will be super busy. Its hard to believe it, but there are only about 6 weeks left until the station closes for the summer, and there will be just 50 of us left keeping it going thru the long winter months.Â In that time we’ll have New Years with the annual moving of the geographic pole, I’ll be going to McMurdo for a weeks vacation, and I’ve got about 50 projects that have to get done before then.Â Its going to be a busy end of season, but I can’t wait for winter to start.