chilling feet

chilling feet

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Easter at the South Pole: Well and a Bit More Too

There have been a few major events down here at the South Pole since we last posted. With the internet not working too quickly it has been a challenge to try and get anything uploaded; however, with a little bit of persistence and lots of waiting we might have a few photos and stories finally ready. 

(In this first picture you can see Catherine and Sarah posing with their super duper space rover)
Yuri’s night. This is a fun party hosted by a station regular. When I say regular, I mean this is Robert’s thirteenth winter at the South Pole. Wow! Robert loves space. He has in fact been teaching us astronomy every Tuesday night, and it is only natural for him to want to commemorate the first human being who made it into space. In 1961 Yuri Gagarin made it out of Earth’s orbit and over fifty years later we are still celebrating that moment here at the South Pole with Yuri’s night.

(Yes, I'm a polar bear - more coming on that. Some wonderful person made this costume and left it at the South Pole!)

One is encouraged to dress up for this event in a space themed outfit. This normally involves a lot of aluminum foil, super creative costumes, at times planning years in advance, and then some dance music once everyone has congregated. As you most obviously deducted already from the picture, Sarah and Catherine came dressed as Space-women and I am an unfortunate polar bear taken captive from another planet –  obviously a planet where polar bears are the dominate species where they walk upright, speak English (oddly enough), and as of this year have engaged in a bitter war against all Space-women after the uncouth kidnapping of Berangle the IV.

(Our Yuri's Night space group lines up for a photo. There were all sorts of wonderful costumes and overall the spirit of the night was clearly upheld in style)

As shocking as this all might sound to hear of Space-women abducting a noble polar bear, they made up for this atrocious fact by bringing their space rover with them to Yuri’s night. Not only does it explore new planets but it also offers a mini-bar with ice and drinks, even for kidnapped polar bears. So that’s kind of nice though it does not quite balance out their earlier actions.

(I've place an up close pic of these eggs because of the Guam egg I painted for Sarah. Who says while you are stuck at the South Pole you cannot have some palm trees and the ocean?)

Not long after Yuri’s night we celebrated Easter. As a Christian I was pretty excited to be somewhere like the South Pole for Easter. It is actually one time of the year I am excited to be most anywhere, but for some reason the idea of experiencing the joy of the resurrection down here put a slightly different spin on it for me. Perhaps there is a powerfully symbolic act in focusing on redemptive hope and life as the world around us here becomes darker as true winter takes hold. It makes me think of the verse in John 3 where he says that light has come into the world but people loved the darkness instead of the light. The light will not be overcome. Living in perpetual darkness, and knowing the sun is months from returning, lends to many thoughts on how wonderful Easter truly can be for us.

(This is a pic of all the eggs that were painted by our station. Can you pick out Sarah's three? Hint: One of them depicts el mundo in Antarctic style - answers at the bottom)

Hope is always there. God loves us so much that everything was given to show this love. There is nothing God cannot fix. There is a light that cannot be extinguished no matter how dark things seem. So much more!
(This is Sarah's picture of the moon pillar, as described elsewhere in the post. Unfortunately the pictures are ahead of the text - we will all just have to deal with it as it is the best I can do under these internet circumstances. She really got a good shot of this!)

One of our guys went above and beyond all the call of duty in organizing fun events for fellow co-workers at the station by organizing an elaborate Easter Egg Hunt. Yes he hid eggs all around station and even outside. Do not worry, we hardboiled them and decorated them for good measure first. This good man then created thoughtful hints for us to follow and labeled various eggs worth more points depending on location or the decoration of the egg. Sarah and I teamed up and managed to get second overall, being overtaken in the last hour or so by a superb team of South Pole gentlemen. The prizes? Three baskets of delightful goods from the store and even some stuff one cannot get on station. Our second place basket had a bottle of wine, candy, stickers, a sweet NPX (that’s our airport ICAO code which is super cool), and other various goodies. For an event that was free to join the prizes were simply extraordinary. I managed to get a little bit of what could be called frostnip (although I’m calling it wind burn) on my nose while I was outside wandering around looking for the high point eggs. No worries as I am all better now, mostly!
(I rave a little bit about this phenomenon I am describing as the moon cross instead of a simple moon pillar, as you'll read later. This picture was taken my Martin Wolf who has been dazzling the station with his ability to capture auroras and the night sky with his camera. He has graciously agreed for me to post this photo and in the future some of his aurora pics. Please click on his Flickr link to see more of his shots -

Well we have been getting some work done down here too. In materials we have been doing inventory, some more inventory, and when we need a break we do more inventory. Yay! It is not always fun counting for endless portions of time but we have a great team and we find ways to make it enjoyable. When I am feeling especially inventoried out I use the big guns – I tell myself inventory is the key to survival down here. If the counts for the parts to the power plant, or the amount of food we have (which would be really hard to get so far off it’s super detrimental of course), we could find ourselves in an interesting predicament. So I count with more fervor and sharpen my mind against the demons of laziness. Yes Sarah’s job is clearly of a higher import than mine, but that does not mean I cannot tell myself what I need to hear to get the job done right. That last line was said in a sardonic tone and a smile on my face, at least it was in my mind as I typed it out.

(This picture of an aurora over Cryo and the LO Arch was taken on our camera with the use of a friend's tripod we are borrowing. I've been having a hard time capturing great shots in the night and I'm working on it. This is probably one of my best as it shows the aurora decently and some stars too. I'll try better!)


Church services on Sundays have been going well. There are five of us who gather together and we are reading through the book of Acts. We use a lot of videos for worship or even for our lessons if they fit so feel free to comment and offer suggestions if you have any or know of any online. We do not have much internet to download things like this but I’ve managed to get a few that have helped out. It has been fun to use worship songs from Hope Church as they have offered a lot of support to us for this winter over. Not only did they give us shirts for everyone on station but they have also been praying for us while we are here too. Please feel free to think of us often and if you do pray lift up the entire station. As we get further and further into the cold dark months of winter people tend to find more and more faults with one another. We cannot leave and spend all of our time around only forty-six other people. Keep that in mind as we look for patience, kindness, and understanding down here.

(The booze barn explosion! Just look at all of the lost cola. Well if it helps you sleep better at night most of the soda we have on station is well past expiration, and even when it is not it tastes funny at altitude)
Speaking of fun religious stuff, one as day I was walking out to do some inventory of a milvan out by our cargo office with our amazing materials team the moon decided to put on an amazing display. Well technically the ice crystals in the air, as it has been explained to me, decided to put their mysterious effect on the moon beams to create what is known as a moon pillar. We had seen one of those about a month before, as seen in the great pic Sarah took, but this moon pillar was a moon cross! So beautiful and to my knowledge no one was able to take a picture that quite captured just how spectacular it really looked (that comment includes the picture of Martin’s in this post - great pic but still lacking). Naturally I reveled in this moon cross and had my own personal spiritual moment, contemplating the possible meanings of a cross of light hanging in our winter sky. It was a sight to behold.
(We were helping clean up the booze barn explosion and Sarah posed for this picture with the ruined can of diet coke. We thought the two diet coke drinkers on station were going to need to strictly ration themselves to make it through the season after this catastrophe, and yet destiny was kind as there was plenty already in one of the inside storerooms so no need to worry)

It has been interesting learning more about the science done here at the Pole, and even astronomy as mentioned earlier in the post. The more I learn the more magnified the Creator is by it all. I know most of what I am learning is even evidence some people use to discount God, but I have never found science and belief in God to be in conflict. For one of our recent astronomy classes we went outside to learn firsthand. It is amazing to note the differences that exist between the northern and southern hemisphere, and then even more so the strange oddities of being at one of the two poles. Gazing out at the clear strip of the Milky Way stretching all the way across the sky, pondering the significance I see in the Southern Cross, and trying to drink in everything else Robert was saying about the sky above us, I was struck by intimacy.
(On one of our dark walks from the Clean Air Sector I took this pic of my materials team as they were leaving ARO. It's a little bit shoddy but I like it nonetheless. This was when the sun still offered a slice of light when there were no clouds on the horizon. All gone now!)

Standing beside Sarah at the South Pole under the vastness of the southern night sky I was not filled with a vacant feeling of the infinite universe. Instead I was filled with a gracious love and overwhelming thankfulness. The sky was not quietly whispering of my Creator’s love for me but was magnificently shouting of its sound hold on me and those around me. I reached out and put my awkwardly bulky gloved hand on Sarah’s arm, thankful we were sharing this together and for her heart. We just gazed at the beauty of darkness penetrated by light that has traveled thousands of light years to shimmer above us.  Black holes, red giants, white dwarfs, nebulas, galaxies, and all of the other stellar sights to behold. Wow!!  Then we ran inside to warm up.

(Look at her tongue sticking out of her mouth! Concentration is a must when riding the unicycle for certain. This was one of her runs where she made it all the way down the gym, and she started without the help of the wall. She is really getting good)

An update on Sarah’s unicycling – yes I’ve quit at this point not because of the difficulty really, though it is quite that, but in the hopes to stay healthy with no injuries to parts of my body I would rather keep quite well. Sarah on the other hand has been excelling and her one wheeled skills have been rapidly improving. I watched her ride the entire length of the gym with a big smile on her face. She did use the padded wall on the opposite side to come to an abrupt halt, but she successfully is very on her way to joining the circus when we get back. Too bad the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will no longer be around to recruit her. Sometimes you have to put down your stethoscope and seek after your precariously balanced dreams – at least she would get some elephant time if it ever worked out.

(Steve and I pause to look at parts from an electric milvan. Hmm, what parts are these? No idea)

Outside of those updates, our time here has been going very well. I’ve been enjoying that my job takes me outside quite a bit and have been taking in the beauty of the Antarctic night. Sarah has been enjoying being the doc and to my knowledge has not had many patients.

There are the random incidents that do occur now and then, such as the booze barn heater going off one night. For some reason the alarms did not alert the crew here and you can see from the picture the result of what happens to soda when exposed to the temperatures here. We have also had various other events: a poker tournament one weekend, a spa weekend (one of our guys is a licensed masseuse!), and there is a tiny little lamb that gets hidden around station as a scavenger hunt for prizes every so often. Life at the Pole is a little different but it is definitely life.

(Counting the ever important, though numerous, power plant inventory. I have every ounce of my mustache focused on counting. It's coming in quite nice don't you think?)

If you ever have questions feel free to leave a comment and ask about specific things or topics you would like to hear about.

(During our Spa Day Sarah stops to get a manicure from one of our co-workers - thanks Hunter!)

Were you correct about which eggs Sarah painted? Here they are!

Friday, April 7, 2017

The One Antarctic Sunset Per Year

The sun has been setting now for a few weeks. I suppose when you only get one sunset a year it has to be a show - and it has been! The colors, reflections off of the ice and snow, and the prolonged nature of the sunset has been quite a treat. This first picture was shared with our group and while it is not named I believe it was taken by Martin Wolf, though I cannot be sure. 

I will have some more pictures of the amazing sunset, do not worry, but over the past few weeks I had the opportunity to tour our ice tunnels beneath the base. These are used to bring in water and take out waste, among other reasons as well (like giving a secret path to aliens and underground bases the entire world apparently believes we are hiding down here somewhere).

I had been wanting to take a walk through these tunnels ever since Sarah told me about them. Not only does the concept and idea of them harken one's mind back to the planet Hoth, but they offer a unique experience not duplicated too many places in the world. Walking with thirty to sixty feet of glacial ice above your head is a strange experience, especially in a rather narrow corridor. It's pretty dang awesome. 

The day I was able to walk through the tunnels we had been working outside. So when we moved into the tunnels, which are a pretty constant -60 degrees below F and absent of all wind, it actually felt warm for a good portion of the tour. It truly is like walking into another world and offers some quite unusual stimulants. There is so much more to say about the tunnels but the pictures do a pretty good job of showing what it is like - sort of. 

Also in the past week or so, the dark sector held an open house. One of the great parts about being at the station here at the South Pole is everyone's desire to share and learn about the science research. My co-worker, Eileen, did a talk about some research she did on ice fish while at one of our other two research bases Palmer station. The dark sector is a portion of land about a half mile walk from base where, you guess it, they try to keep it dark. Their telescopes and instruments are quite sensitive to the light and now that the sun is almost completely gone it truly does become a dark sector. It was fun doing the tour and this picture, taken by Grant on Daniel's camera, was a special privilege to get so close to this fantastic telescope. I would explain more but an easier way to learn about it would be to click on this link and read some of the blogs by the guys doing the research. Both James Casey and Robert Schwartz both do research in the dark sector. 

Just admiring the unbelievable coloration in the sky down here. With the gradual sunset the change in colors has been pretty special. These few days of pink and blue were just amazing. 

Our power plant, the part of the station that keeps us all warm and alive, lets off a good deal of exhaust that makes for some wild pictures when looking out over the vastness of the Antarctic. Especially in the Winter when hardly any of our outlying buildings are putting off any kind of heat it is fascinating to watch the exhaust rising from the power plant climb and then descend back down to the ice as it blows away from us, creating almost a road of billowing smoke. 

We ran out onto the deck to take a few quick shots with the sun. Yes, we were freezing without our hats and protective jackets but the door is just within reach. Calm down Mom. I promise it was mostly safe just shy of getting locked out. 

I've been kind of on a sunset picture taking spree. I think it's apparent why from looking at some of these shots. 

But lets not forget about the moon! As the sun fades the moon, one or two stars, and even a few planets have begun to come into view. We have seen Jupiter and Saturn with the naked eye for crying out loud! I do like this shot of the moon and some relatively intense snow drifts.

Another shot of the power plant and the persistently fading sun. It was almost as though it did not quite want to let go of its hold over the South Pole. 

I really like this picture because it was taken at what we call the end of the world. After the outdoor storage berms and the few other odds and ends kept outside, one finds an immense plateau of ice that runs as far as the eye can see. With no frame of reference to size or distance it is quite mesmerizing to stand before such stark beauty and vastness. If it were not so intensely cold outside I do believe I would wander out to this spot and just sit for long portions of time. As it is though, I took about ten pictures and then stopped to stare for ten seconds before hopping back in the warm LMC waiting nearby.

At attempt to capture the fun ice mask face that develops on the outside of my face covering and hat. Matt Smith took this pic of me during our walk back from some ERT training at the dark sector this past week. When I went to take off my gear my buff was frozen to my mustache and my hat had frozen to my eye lashes - easy does it taking those both off! Thanks to Bevin, Jamie, Genevieve, and Giselle for the warm Arctic Extreme buff as it has done a superb job keeping me warm. 

As the light fades and the drift snow accumulates more on the summer vehicles an eerie sort of appearance begins to take over the outlying camp. Vehicles and buildings begin to look as though they have not been used in years, giving way to thoughts of abandonment and a spooky ambience. Such as looking at derelict home where people used to live, gazing over these areas that were teeming with people when we arrived in January just seems a little odd.   

And yet at the same time there is a beauty to this scene as well. A beauty proclaimed by the human spirit to persist in a climate where even some of the best machines built cannot run or operate most of the year round. These shots also speak of a claim that has been made. A claim of determination and resilience. A beautiful claim indeed. 

Just because it is getting close to negative 100 degrees F does not mean we will be staying inside. Here is a shot from last week of some of our hearty crew getting some materials from off one of the cold storage berms. Though we will try to limit these trips as it truly does get much colder, there will be times when we simply find we need something stored out in the cold. 

Just a few more examples of the varying colors we have been experiencing. Once it gets much colder we will be making these trips out to the berms on foot and using sleds to pull back in what we need as it will be too cold for the vehicles. Challenge accepted... I think. 

It kind of looks like we are walking no where but there is a destination in mind. The drifting snow has been making walking a little more fun recently. Soon it will be headlamps and sticking to the flag lines when we walk outside to keep from getting lost.


Ok so a little bit of an explanation on this one. In a previous post I am sure I've mentioned NASA is conducting a few voluntary experiments on the members of our wintering crew. Due to the extreme isolation it stands to reckon NASA might be able to learn a little bit about from how we react to our environment here in respect to people they will be sending into space for long periods of time. Some of us were watching a TV show about Mars and in this show they interview Astronaut Scott Kelly (pictured below with Mikhail Kornienko). Scott Kelly spent a year on the international space station and the rest of his life is part of a study to see what long term effects there might be from someone spending such a long time in space.

Imagine our surprise when we saw video footage of Scott Kelly in space wearing the same watch we have to wear for our NASA study! We were more than a little excited and it was not long before one of our group noticed the slight resemblance of two of our group to this photo which had been posted a few places on base in reference to the study. Naturally one of our guys, thanks Robert, has his own space suit for a space party we have each winter and he was kind enough to let us borrow it. A quick photo or two, a little bit of photo shopping (we only have the one suit!), and you have the result you see before you. Despite Scott Kelly being in no way related to our study at all, I've tweeted and facebooked Scott Kelly in the hopes of a laugh from him but no response yet. The photo is our attempt to honor these men and what they have done.

Just a little sun hiding behind part of the base. 

Not the best picture of either of us but what can you do? As the sun begins to disappear we have a Sunset Dinner. It's a fun reason to celebrate, the cooks all prepare a special feast, and we put together a slue of fun events around this one dinner. What a fun night. 

I told you it was good food! Bison steak, duck, pumkin, kale... oh my!!

And dessert. Seriously. Delicious.

Our station manager giving a toast as we sat down for dinner.

We really have enjoyed our stay at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station so far. Hopefully the pictures show just a little bit of the beauty that exists down here. It is a strange place to live. It is tempting to forget just how dangerous it can be minus the life saving resources we have protecting us from Antarctica. And yet knowing where we are leaves a significance that goes beyond any of those dangers and leaves one feeling as though you are a part of something truly special. I am sure some of us, including myself at moments, miss this and it can become quite difficult. If we can keep our focus, however, I believe we can see beyond and into the contribution this base is making towards humanity and science.

Soon - pictures of total darkness - Southern lights - other fun events to keep morale and sanity. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Antarctica: South Pole - It's Starting to Get Cold...

So it has finally started getting proper cold here at the South Pole. Today it was negative eighty-one degrees F with a windchill of negative 120! Woo that's cold. Fortunately the two of us were inside most of the day but the cold storage area I work in is open to the outside and it definitely felt colder than usual. 

This past Sunday, while my beautiful wife was sleeping, I headed out to try out our climbing room. It's pretty small, as you will see in two pics at the bottom, but some one has put a lot of effort into making sure people can keep their climbing skills up.  It is not attached to our main building and is an area called summer camp, which is now mostly comprised of non-heated buildings for the Winter. Fortunately our crew keeps this building heated for climbers and anyone who might want to use some of the weights in the building as well. 

While it was ridiculously frigid this past Sunday and not far from the temperatures I mentioned for today, I decided I've not spent enough time at the geographic and ceremonial poles. With camera in hand I slowly made my way over to the ceremonial pole and took these pictures. As it was such a windy day, I thought the flags looked especially amazing, but the real special aspect to these photos is how low the sun is getting. We only have a few more days of sunlight left and as we circle the sun from a South Pole perspective, it moves closer and closer to the horizon every day. Then we will be super blessed to watch the only sunset of the entire year here at the Pole! Really excited!! 

The first and third photo show all of the flags representing the countries that signed the original Antarctic treaty years ago. Now there are many more but only the original twelve get recognition of being flown at the ceremonial Pole. They look so amazing when one is walking down the hall, or sitting in the galley, and looks out to behold twelve symbolic flags flying in any weather Antarctic dishes out here. While they will come down for the dark Winter months, these flags really give a feeling of international cooperation and act as a constant reminder of how vast Antarctica is as a continent.

The walk was great but right as I decided I needed to head in for warmth my camera decided it too needed some time away from the cold and gave up on me. So in I went to finish my Sunday with some board games, tasty leftovers from the week, and more time with Sarah. 

I believe I promised to add more photos of unicycling from last weeks post, so I went into our unicycling time with a better setting on my camera and with the lights up. The results were fantastic. 
Peter has far surpassed any of the rest of us in our attempts at learning to ride these one wheeled vehicles. He loves to bike and has somehow channeled the balance learned from his two wheeled years over to the unicycle. 

All of our unicyclists have shown great improvements but Gavin is definitely among the top few, only really overshadowed by the ridiculous talent of Peter. Look at that form!

Eric is our fearless unicycling leader. He shows us videos beforehand of people doing things on unicylces that should not be possible. If you do not believe me start doing some youtubing. 

Catherine joined us a week late and of course is still way ahead of me in her learning. She has a way to go before but that does not stop her from pushing off the wall and going for it. I love this shot.

And then there is me. Sarah opted out of this session for a nap I believe. Needless to say this skill is hard to learn. I am lightyears ahead of where I was our first week but there is a long, long, arduous road ahead of me before this is an enjoyable pastime. 

And yes sometimes when you fall the unicycle hits sensitive areas, leaving the rider in need of some reprieve.

Choosing to fall off when things get rough is important, and unlike biking it is more of a step off, usually, then a fall. Things can still get dicey but overall our group has done well to keep from really big falls. They are coming I am sure!

So far unicycling is kind of like golf for me. I am terrible at it but within every session of attempting it there is that one lightning strike moment where everything goes right, if only for a second. I go back to golf again because of one hit when there were hundreds of lousy ones all stringed together. My mind has an interesting self-preservation technique of deleting the awful memories and focusing on the one good one. This shot is that moment from unicycling this past week for me. It is clearly seen I made it three feet from the wall and I have not abandoned my ride yet. One moment later this was not the case but it almost looks like I can do this - almost...not really. 

And then there was the climbing room. Pretty creative no? I took two pics just to show off the room. I am a novice and neither my body nor my mind know what to do. My time on the wall was short and left me way more tired than I thought it could have. Hopefully by the end of Winter I will have some handle on the whole thing. 

Soon we will do some posts on different parts of the station. It has been tough finding time to post and I know family especially would love to see what this place actually looks like. I promise we have a medical focused post coming up along with some great inner station shots. But for now the sun is up and I would like to end this post with one of my favorite shots from this past Sunday.

Standing down wind and freezing my butt off I was enamored with the view of the ceremonial pole. The sun, while fading away and leaving us for months to come (although really it is the Earth turning away from the sun) looked as some powerful being set to devour this land. It seemed as if the wind was blasting out from the sun and as particles of ice or snow blew across the ice there was an ominous feel to the whole scene. 

While it felt that way, of course the reality of our situation is quite different. We will be living in the one spot on Earth where the sun's life giving rays will not reach us for the next six months. Perhaps I should have seen this display as the sun's last warning to flee before the long Winter night grips our station. Being overly confident in our stations tools and equipment, I push all trepidation aside and look forward to the upcoming months with an abundance of excitement. Not many people are afforded the opportunity to see what Sarah and I will see in the next few months. From the setting of the sun over the South Pole to the best displays of the Southern lights in the world to the constellations we will be seeing to much more, we are naturally excited and overwhelmed. 

We will share as much of this journey as we can via photos with you and where the camera fails we will attempt in words.  In the meantime enjoy the wonderful scene from this past Sunday at the South Pole.