chilling feet

chilling feet

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

South Pole Update: Anarctic Winter

(Our mid-winter team photo. Good group and prior to facial hair subtractions. Go Winter-Over Team 2017)
Well it is a bitterly cold negative eighty-seven degrees outside right now. The wind chill is not helping at all and whips around at a brisk negative 130. It has been a bit frigid down here now and again, but at this moment all I can think about is how cold my face is when I’m out in the elements.

How much can one mustache protect a man’s face?

The answer is more than I would have wagered prior to shaving it off immediately after our facial hair contest last weekend. Yes, it is gone and this week has been a long acquaintance with a stranger in the mirror. This is not the case for Sarah. She responded as she usually does after months of glorious facial effort is suddenly stripped from my face, “Oh there you are!” We have a tense agreement when it comes facial hair growth and have come up with a pretty decent time-share. I try to stay clean shaven for about the same amount of time in the course of a year during which time I sport a beard or a mustache. For now I walk around as man who has lost something, a loss that cannot be put into words.

Enough of that talk. This blog, contrary to the last post, is not only about facial hair. Though I am certain to leap at any opportunity to make it a bigger part of what I write about, for now we must move on.


Sarah has still been keeping us all alive. Though I hear nothing in the way of the details, Sarah is above reproach when it comes to patient privacy, and it seems everyone is doing well, only requiring very little help from our medical staff. Our safety reports do let us know when there have been injuries, anonymously of course, so that the rest of us know to take more care around whatever caused the previous incident. To this extent I know Sarah does see the occasional patient, but beyond that I base my medical assessment of the station off of what I see in the hallways. All forty-six people are still alive – go Sarah!

In the materials department we have still been doing lots of inventory. Currently we have been working in the garage arch. This area is inside of the arch but the arch is unheated and covered by snow and ice. The usual temperature of the arches is around sixty degrees below zero. Due to this our inventory is done in about one hour bursts. Go get as much inventory done as possible and then head back to our office to thaw out and warm up. This obviously inhibits the process and prolongs how long it takes us to finish tasks in the cold. Today, however, a victory! We finished the garage arch inventory and will be moving on to a new project tomorrow.

Comment on instant ramen noodles.

“So you see what had happened was” (reference to a Christopher Guest movie, my best guest being Waiting For Guffman though I am not sure), there has been a lack of this delicious snack of instantaneous joy on the weekends when leftovers is the only option. Some of our crew have been somewhat aggravated by this and one of these peoples left an angry message on our dry erase board in the galley. Something along the lines of, “There better be more ramen, or else.” Ha! As the winter’s grip on us becomes more firm and refuses to let go, people tend to find themselves being irritated by things that otherwise would not bother them at all. I think the ramen incident is a perfect example of this phenomenon. It’s just ramen folks. I can say this because I myself have felt a strange a deep-seated feeling of inexplicable burning confusion when I look for the ramen and find instead an empty shelf. As it turns out there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for the lack of this tasty and overly high-in-sodium food. One of the major projects this winter was cleaning out the grease ducts in the galley. During this time we had “high class” microwave meals and on the whole the station found these meals to be quite distasteful. By now you’ve guessed it haven’t you? The ramen was being eaten by the bulk during this particular project and now we have much less than usual at this point in the winter. Thus our galley staff has started bringing up less in an effort to stretch it throughout the rest of our time. I think we will make it through the ramen incident, but only time will tell how our psyches will deal with the lack of this wonderful noodle option.

Pastime update.

One of the games we play on station with friends is called Carcassonne. I believe I have mentioned it before and have likened it to Risk mixed with Settlers of Catan. We have been having fun playing it on most Sundays while we have been here, sitting down to see who will take home the big victory this week. The board changes drastically with each gameplay and, depending on how people choose to play, so does the strategy. This is part of what makes the game so fun. Players can be ruthless with a few different tactics, or they can nicely ignore one another as they build their kingdoms, even working together. Naturally, we are often accused of working together (sometimes we are but never as overtly as assumed) and some natural alliances can tend to form up during the game. Usually our Carcassonne crowd is Robert, Martin, Sarah, and myself (toss in a Zak or Daniel sometimes too). It is a fun way we have found to get some good ole’ face-to-face interaction and spend a Sunday afternoon down here at the Pole. It would be nice if a few of you learned how to play so we can play it when we get back home! Oh and in case you were wondering, as I know you are, I won this past weekend. I would not mention the outcome otherwise.  


Sundays has been plugging along. It has been a strange deal to try and facilitate a church service without much of the normal things a person comes to expect from most churches. There is no sacred space that has been set aside or in any way even halfway shared. By this I mean there is no chapel, or as I have seen in some places like this, a multi-purpose room with religious paraphernalia in the closet that can be pulled out for religious purposes. There is a really nice chapel in McMurdo, the US station we flew threw down on the coast, and I find myself missing the natural help a designated holy space lends to the preparation and experience one can derive from a Sunday service. With no worship team and only five people almost anyone in the world would suggest leaving out this element of the service. I, however, have come too hardily from the Brett Spiegelman-school-of, “Well, we are going to do it anyway.” So we watch short video clips downloaded from the all wonderful internet and spend a few awkward moments together listening to songs I hope will speak to the group who gathers with us on Sundays. To this end I try to have fun and choose songs from all sorts of traditions. We have listened to spirituals, old hymns, new praise songs, secular songs, and everything in between. At the very least I enjoy the songs. No one even pretends to sing along, though I will hum along with them or sing lowly to myself. I do miss corporate worship as I suspect one or two other people do as well. We have been reading through Acts and diligently working through a chapter per week, discussing briefly the chapter after I attempt to say a short word or two about the weekend’s chapter. It might be a shadow of what one would find almost anywhere else in the world, but I believe it serves a few spiritual purposes for those of us who gather.


(We have been working on a calendar most of you will never want to
see. Here is a blog post friendly pic I took during the process)
And a fire alarm.

A little tired this morning as I finish this post. A fire alarm went off this morning at one o’ clock in the morning. A fan in one of our electrical rooms was having some issues and was overheating, as I understand it (something along those lines – nothing serious). There was, however, as is common with overheating electrical items, some smoke. So for the first time all of our ERT teams mustered for an alarm that was going off for a legitimate reason. I say this as just yesterday, though it is thankfully not common, we had a false alarm earlier in the afternoon as a sensor went bad for some reason. For the first time since fire training school in Colorado I stood preparing to enter a room with the smell of smoke trailing out into the hallway. It is a weird feeling standing in firefighter gear, which I clearly have no right to be wearing, as people are trying to figure out what is going on in a remote station where fires are simply unacceptable. Let me clarify. I am confident we could figure out most situations that would occur down here when it comes to a fire as we have just enough training to do so. We are, however, not firefighters and there is a huge difference! It just seems this distinction should be made anytime I bring up the ERT2 team, or fire team. In most cases our fire suppression systems would take care of any major issue before we even arrive on scene, so we have that going for us. The training is fun and if there were open flames anywhere we would most likely be able to put them out, especially in the main station area, but we are not the real deal.


Ok. Enough for now from the South Pole. I am going to try and add a video here at the end. A friend of mine sent me a message asking a question from his daughter. “Can a match be lit outside in such cold temperatures?” Great question. The video shows the answer. Sorry it’s dark as, well, it is really dark right now. But this question got me thinking. I have received a lot of questions like this and would love to answer any of them any of you might have. Leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail and I’ll do my best to find the answer for you. I’ll try to start posting a short answer, like this video, on the blog so other folks can see too.  

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