chilling feet

chilling feet

Friday, September 29, 2017

South Pole: Changing of the Flags, Sunrise Dinner, and Life

(Sarah and I take a moment after the flag changing ceremony to pose for a picture at the ceremonial South Pole)
The winter has been long, and though we have truly enjoyed our experience at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station, living in such conditions can be arduous. There are so many wonderful things to experience, like the auroras and night sky (which I talk about extensively in previous posts), but at the same time, Antarctica is simply not the kind of place that welcomes humans with open arms. We constantly joke that Antarctica is motivated by some sort of malevolent force to wipe out all human life, as if she is a living entity. It certainly feels like this at times. This energy that is innately a part of this ice covered continent, seems to bend its entire will at working against our existence here.

A quick example. We have giant doors (vehicle sized) attached to the LO Arch, where I work on the daily. These doors have been closed during most of the winter due to the inclement weather we can experience. We do, however, have to open these doors when we need to bring in materials from the outside storage berms, or for other various purposes. This past week, we spent the better part of a few days shoveling out the snow that sneakily seeps in through cracks of the doors. It wisps in, as the unstoppable force it is, and creates giant pillars of bulky snow on the inside of our doors. We cleared this entire area out and, rightly so, we were quite proud of ourselves (see last post about shoveling). The doors were swung open, smiles all around, and then the rest was cleared with a machine from the outside.

And then... Antarctica struck. "She took back her space," one of my co-workers mentioned. The winds picked up and the temperatures dropped down close to negative 100 F. This meant we now needed to close our doors because those temperatures could negatively effect some of the work spaces in our arches. Guess what? We could not close our doors due to the extra snow. So after a few hours of work to clear the area, we were finally able to close the doors we had worked so hard to open. Only a few hours later I walked back past these very same doors. The dreaded snow pillars were already reforming, a visible monument to Antarctica's relentless pursuit to remain untamed. I can hardly wait to work on opening those doors again - well, yes I can wait.  

(Our station manager says a few words before we took down the flags that had flown the long winter night)
One unique thing that happened in the past two weeks was the changing of the flags. The ceremonial pole is home to the flags of twelve different nations. These nations were all a part of the original Antarctic Treaty signed in 1959, and this is honored by their country being constantly represented by the flying of their flag at the ceremonial pole. Countries included: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Russia, England, and the United States. These countries all had some sort of investment, or interest, in Antarctica at the time of the treaty, and the treaty ensures certain protections for the continent as a whole (since then more countries have joined the treaty - click anywhere to read more about the treaty).

The changing of the flags was a fun event for us. We took the new flags out and each person was assigned to a particular flag. Our station manager made some comments on the significance of the flags and the countries represented, and then each person attempted the difficult task of removing and replacing the flags. It was challenging due to performing this task in the extreme cold. Our warmer and more protective mittens make such a task somewhat problematic, and I know the only way I could negotiate the metal clasps was to take those off. This makes for attempted quick work, fumbling with numb fingers, and I know I heard a little bit of frustration being expressed as those around me worked diligently to put up their new flag. In the end, we did manage to successfully hang all of the new flags that will soar for the rest of this year and most of 2018. As I did not have a designated flag, Sarah was nice enough to share hers with me. She was changing out the New Zealand flag, which has special significance to us. We lived there for a year, thus the title of this blog, and we absolutely love the country.

After the changing of the flags it was time to get inside and warm up our hands! 

(Working together to change out Sarah's flag)
Sunrise Dinner!

Our chefs really outdid themselves on this one. The theme was food trucks. They set up stations all around the room and even decorated in various ways. Viktor was serving drinks, Hunter was making Cubans, Sugar Bear was serving up some sushi, and Zak was making Indian food. We sampled it all and found that each person had truly made some delicious food. I think we ate pretty heavily off of the sushi bar, but we made sure to leave room for something special from the other chefs as well. It was definitely the best food we have had in a while!! Good job guys.

Each year there is a box o' goods that are shipped down for us all to open around Mid-Winter. Some of those things filtered out into the crew around this time, but some of it got sidetracked for various reasons until now. A table of various goodies (books, knickknacks, dried fruit, etc) was put out for anyone to take. One of the guys noticed there were some LED badminton birdies. He went and set up the gym for what would later be badminton in the dark with our new light up birdies. This dangerous...but mostly fun. There is a picture below that shows some of what it was like to play in the dark. Sometimes the birdie would turn off after being hit, making it impossible to return (other side cheers in victory, once it is the birdie is discovered on the other side of the net as no one could tell where it went). The real deal was making sure to watch your teammates, especially once the game included over half of the people on station, so as to not hit or be hit in the face by a racket. Lots of fun.

Overall a great night. Sarah and I finished it off by playing a game with some of our friends (also pictured below). Moments like Sunrise Dinner are a highlight for certain. They not only mark a moment in the winter as being a time passed on our way toward redeployment, but they also tend to lift the spirits of everyone on station (for the most part) as well. 

(Sugar Bear rocking out the sushi rolls - they really were delicious!)

One other memorable event was paired up with Sunrise Dinner. Traditionally each year the flags that are taken down are then raffled off to members who are wintering over at the South Pole. This includes the twelve flags already mentioned above, and then also two more American flags (flown in other locations on station) and the NSF (National Science Foundation) flag. It can be a big deal as you win a flag that has flown at the South Pole, and some people find that to be exciting. We certainly were thrilled about the idea of having one of the flags. Certain flags tend to be more desired than others, though it depends on the individual for obvious reasons. The American flags, Norwegian flag, and the English flag are usually the top choices. The Americans generally all like the idea of taking home one of American flags. There is historical significance for the Norwegian and English flag as the explorers, Amundsen and Scott, were Norwegian and English.

Unfortunately, even though we technically had twice the chance to win over a single person, we did not win a flag. It was disappointing but it was also fun to watch the enthusiasm of those who did win a flag. The Norwegian flag, pictured below, was claimed by our station manager. He is planning a trip to Norway when he leaves the ice and part of his journey will take him to see the boat the Fram, which was the boat Amundsen and his crew used to reach Antarctica on their way to the South Pole (it was also used in many other voyages in the Arctic). He asked if we would all sign the flag so he can present it to someone while he is in Norway. What a fun way to celebrate a little bit of the history about the South Pole as we prepared to eat some tasty food.

(The Norwegian flag ready to be signed by the station crew. Pictures of the Fram are hanging on the wall above the flag)

That is about it for our South Pole update for now. We have a few more events planned for the rest of the season, but for the most part we are through with the major events like Sunrise Dinner. As of today, September 30th, I have only thirty-six days left on the ice (it can always change). Sarah has roughly thirty-nine days left. It is so crazy that we are this close to being done with our time at the South Pole.

Well, I guess I better get back to shoveling snow. 

(The Materials Team poses for a picture. Steve was quite proud of his dress. Kim actually made it for him. He was the only one at Sunrise Dinner in a sundress. Go figure)

(Photo by Daniel Michalik - badminton in the dark)

(Photo by Daniel Michalik - ending our Sunrise Dinner night with a game)

(And yes, the sun is up completely now - really fun watching it come up. Soon it will be so bright we need to wear sunglasses again while working outside. Today is pretty close - not pictured here)