Antarctica

Week 44 to 47 Winters Coming to an End

13th August - 10th September 2000

It is so bright out that I can't see the stars any longer. It's still some time till the sun comes up. While there are days that are very beautiful out, it's still an in between state which is yet to lift spirits.

Since not much has been happening, I'll tell you about something that didn't happen, but it would be nice if it had.

What could you possibly do at this time of year to lift spirits. It's too cold to do anything outside. We're all sick of every single place inside. We're all getting on each others nerves. Well there is one thing that would be good - but we're not allowed to do it. I think I've mentioned that the dome is actually the second station at the south pole. The original station was made during the IGY. For those who know, it is very similar to Wilkes in construction, being made at the same time, by the same push by the yanks into Antarctica. But "Old Pole" soon started to be buried and a covering structure was put over the whole station. The dome is going the same way. The NSF policy is know for raised structures - so snow can blow under them, and they can also be jacked up as the snow accumulates.

By 1975 the dome was finished, and OP accessible only by tunnels. They moved out and sealed the entrance, and made it off limits. Of course every year since - EXCEPT THIS ONE - people have gone down for visits and to explore. NSF believe it to be extremely dangerous, and risk to life and limb to go to OP. Last winter they of course went down, but someone made a huge deal of it and posted a big story about it on their web page. NSF got extremely upset about this. People were supposedly disciplined. The person in question - who did not work for ASA - is now doing it real tough in Western Samoa. But NSF made it extremely clear to us we would be instantly dismissed if we went to OP, or our employer would be put under extreme pressure (if not an RPSC employee) to fire us. Thus started "The EB Challenge 2000".

To ensure that we did not go to OP, while these management types are on the other side of the world, and we are at the South Pole, they told us that the entrance was pad locked and tamper tags were on it. They'd know if one of the 49 of us dared go near it - in the dark of winter in the middle of nowhere!! Boy, when they mean business they really get serious. I knew then and there that I'd never be game to disobey this edict. I mean how could we do anything about the locks and seals anyway, even if we managed to find the entrance??

What I've read about it is that there is an extensive series of buildings. By the photos it looks like people have been taking souvenirs for some time. But there is still a huge amount of stuff down there. We had a shortage of red lights this winter, yet I'm told there are boxes of them down there. There was separate sleeping areas for the navy and the scientists. The galley looks like there is food everywhere. It won't rot, as of course the whole place is at a constant -50C, the annual average temperature at pole. The bar looks much bigger than the dome bar. It also looks like it had a lot of character, and a projection room for showing REAL movies! But I'm also told that it wouldn't have been a fun place to live, being completely buried, and the smell of fuel penetrating everything. It looks like the far end near science, and some of the arches, are being crushed. But ice being a plastic medium it isn't about to cave in like a coal mine. In my semi-professional opinion it looks far safer than driving a car at home (well that wouldn't be hard!!).

So I really wish I'd had the chance to go. I really enjoy Antarctic history. And OP is our history. Probably less than 1000 people have spent the winter at pole, and it seems wrong that people that have no idea about what wintering is about, forbid us from visiting our past. Have I mentioned how much I hate the way NSF manages operations down here?

I shouldn't even joke about this subject since RPSC and NSF are so paranoid about it. So don't tell anyone about my descriptive email even in jest:) I DIDN'T GO TO OLD POLE! It just would have been a nice thing to be able to do right about know, rather than get told stories and read about it. All of you who know me understand how my respect for this type of authority and this has meant I missed my only chance to visit such a fantastic place.

What else is happening?? Well I'm really really tired. It's been a long winter. Work hasn't let up this whole season. A lot of new gear was put in last summer. Maybe too much at once, and we've had one problem after another. We had more problems in the first two hours of the winter than the previous winterers had all year. Of course I'm not the only one like this. We have a fairly large number of ex-winterers (11?) in this group and it is generally agreed this has been the hardest for all of us. I'll make a Robo like statement and say everyone is feeling the strain. The person I mentioned in the last email, who took exception to Robo making a similar statement, could not possibly say they are unaffected any longer.

To be continued .......

p.s. I'm told someone fell into a buried Jamesway at OP, and that this is one of the reasons it's so dangerous. Were they hurt? Did they flag off the Jamesway?? Not seriously I'm sure, and Yes. So maybe if you just use a piece of pipe to probe for this sort of things, and flag them off, it would be safe??

And why is that whenever an idiot does something stupid, they expect you to think they are a hero for being so dumb?? "I wandered 2 feet off the cane line and almost got lost - it was real scary". If you're so useless and unaware of your surroundings outside, stay in the dome with all the other dome slugs.

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