Antarctica

Week 35 Cold and Cribbage

11th June - 18th June 2000

It was by far our coldest week so far with 4 or 5 days with the temperature around -70C. For a short time the temperature reached one of the big landmarks, -100F. But only lasted a short periods. Then the wind picked up, and with it the temperature.

Even though it was very cold, with no wind it was very pleasant outside. The moon was around full, and the snow surface was glowing. Walking on the extremely dry compacted snow makes all sorts of weird squeaking, popping, and hollow echoing noises. Every so often a large pocket of air holding up a large area of snow collapses with a deep thudding noise. And sometimes the movement of the solid ice causes it to suddenly crack with a sharp high pitch retort. The snow has formed lot of new sastrugi which have become undercut by the blowing snow. Pointing horizontally, all into the prevailing wind direction, are columns of snow up to 3 feet long just above the surface. When they break of, usually when kicked, they make a hollow noise like I can imagine a light ceramic material making. They then look like snow stalactites; Light as a feather they make great noises when thrown up in the air to explode on the surface.

Right on full moon I went out to SPASE to walk around the VULCAN detectors to check the fans that keep the snow off the optical windows were still working. There were two fans (out of 20) not working. Since it requires bare hands to change them, they can wait till summer.

It was below -70C, and not a breath of wind. I decided to go for a walk.

I often walk down the runway. I believe it is about 2.5km from Mapo down to the end, a bit more than the distance from the dome to Mapo. The round trip normally takes me about an hour. During the summer the runway has marker flags along it on either side. For the winter the flags have been taken off, but the 6 bamboo poles at each site are still there. The runway is 120 paces wide, and the distance between markers is 150 paces. So it would be impossible to get lost just because of the forest of bamboo poles. But I still know my stars fairly well, and keep note of where they are in the sky in case I can't find a marker. The snow on the runway also makes a different noise when walking on it. So by walking just on the inside of it I know if I wander off it.

This night the place glowed so brightly I decided to try walking a slightly different route. Since I was already out at SPASE, I first walked out to the ANI food cache. It must be almost 1km from SPASE, not far off the edge of the runway. I thought it would be a good test of my judgment of distance. Since the sastrugi is rougher out that way, it is harder to judge, but I was only a couple hundred meters out.

I then just walked over to towards the runway till I found some canes, and then headed out along them. Once I reached the end I felt like I wanted to walk a bit more. There is still a row of markers that goes out some miles, and started following them. The old plane wreck is along this line, and I thought I'd walk out to it. But since there is hardly any of it showing I must have missed it. Once I'd gone about 5km out I headed back. It was a great walk. Not much to see though. The sky is wonderful, it's quite, and there was a great aurora. Even though it was so cold, I had probably over dressed and the outside of my jacket was solid ice from frozen perspiration when I got back. I'm glad I didn't have to pitch a tent at the end of it!

Last Sunday we had a cribbage tournament, organised by our local competition organiser, Zach. I'd never played until I got some lesson from Zach while hanging out in the coffee house in Mac Town on the way down. Since then I've only played on and off. Cheryl and I often play cards so entered as a team (it was a team competition). Each team threw in \$10 to enter, which the winners would divy up. Each team would play best of three games. It would come down to three finalist teams, who would each play each other, and the team with the most wins from this would be the overall winner.

We drew two of the stations better known cribbage players right up. So we were being social; Someone had to loose. Right from the start Cheryl started getting double and triple runs!! We won in two easy games. But there was no way we were getting past the next pair. That was until Cheryl's runs continued. There were now four very unhappy cribbage players on station, and we were into the finals.

Our first opponents were Zack and Robo. Robo hadn't been playing more than a week, but got at least 8 points in every hand, while we got numerous scratch hands. Our luck had changed. We lost two to one. We did it hard against the next team, Yama/Dave. But won two to one. Yama had figured they were by far the best team, and had stated he was looking forward to taking the winnings. So it was very satisfying to peg them like crazy in our last game, to beat them.

At the end of all this the three finalist teams each had the same number of wins. Except for Zach, we were all fed up with cribbage and voted to split the money three ways.

Pair for two, pair for four, fifteen for six ......

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