There is no shortage of festive spirit to ring in the New Year at the South Pole.2007 at the South PoleThere is no shortage of festive spirit to ring in the New Year at the South Pole.
Even though both Sunday and Monday were officially off-days, I worked a bit each day as my time here is rapidly coming to an end but my to-do list doesn’t seem to be shrinking much. Regardless, I still found time to enjoy myself.
The Station throws quite a shindig for New Year’s Eve. The gym and the weight room were closed all day Sunday so that party decorations could be installed. Everyone stocked up on alcohol at the Station store, the kitchen put out some hearty meals, and most everyone started relaxing.
The decorations in the gym were very well done. A parachute was used to hide the ceiling and the basketball hoops which gave the place a very intimate feel. A stage was erected on the far end of the gym; colored spotlights shown down from the weight room and Christmas lights added a nice glow. Given the limited time and materials available, the decorators did a fabulous job.
The Station provided free beer and soda, which was chilled in big trash barrels filled with snow, of course. There were also big bowls of munchies–cheese, crackers, chips, and salsa.
A pair of bands made up of Station residents were the entertainment. The second band improvised for the eveing and one of the British skiers was the lead singer. Earlier in the day, Station management showed them where the Skua shack is located and the skiers were able to get some clothes that weren’t their expedition wear for the first time in fifty days. One of the skiers, Paul, wore jeans, a leather jacket, and some medallions. He’d lost so much weight on the ski into the Pole that he felt it was probably the last time he’d be able to parade around without his shirt on. Paul was up there wailing away on all these classic rock tunes and he’s really quite talented. The crowd reacted very enthusiastically to his two-footed jump into Station life.
We had a countdown to midnight, coordinated by a GPS clock, of course. You can’t take six steps without running into a GPS-driving clock down here. After the obligatory toasts, hugs, handshakes, and good wishes, we all sang the obligatory rendition of “Auld Lang Syne.” The band then went right back to work and everyone hit the dance floor. I finally went to bed about 02:00.
This morning I was worthless as I woke up at 06:00 and was unable to get back to sleep. I finally took a couple of naps and regained a semblance of my normal mental and physical capacity in the afternoon.
I should probably explain the Skua shack reference above. The skua is an Antarctic gull generally seen only around the coast. Skua, like most gulls, have come to the realization that humans are not terribly fearsome or smart. So, if you leave the galley in McMurdo with a sandwich or other snack, you shouldn’t be surprised if a skua or five tries to liberate your snack from you. When you don’t want clothing or some other object that still has usable life left in it, you donate it to Skua, which is something like a Salvation Army or Goodwill. However, you’re always free to peruse what is in Skua and if you see something you like, it’s free for the taking. Skua also has a use as a verb. If you skua something, you don’t necessarily steal it, but you don’t necessarily not steal it either.
Tonight, the marker, flag, and sign that marks the geographic South Pole was moved in a small ceremony. Since the ice sheet on which the Station and everything else sits moves about thirty feet a year, the geographic Pole marker is moved every New Years Day. In addition, a new marker design is revealed each year. There was a massive horde waiting to take pictures of the marker today, so I’ll go take mine tomorrow when there won’t be anyone around.
After the marker was revealed, Darryn and Sven (a pair of fellow IceCubers) and I got a pair of sleds and Ski-Doos so that we could help the British Polar Quest team on their way. We tied the British sleds to the sleds which were attached to the Ski-Doos. We then drove them about five miles or so away from the Station where they wanted to set-up camp. They are hoping for favorable winds in the morning and their campsite gets them out past a multi-mile antenna line. Their sleds were really quite heavy. I dragged a couple of them around while hooking them up to the Ski-Doo sleds and I’m impressed that they were able to ski with that much weight to the Pole. Of course, everybody at the Station tried to load them down with food and trinkets. The cooks in the galley gave them a bag of food, others gave them candy or snacks. Still others tried to load them down with T-shirts, hats, and the like. They were forced to turn down most things that weren’t small or food as they still have to kite-ski to the coast for another fifteen to twenty-one days.
We were tooling along on the Ski-Doos, Sven driving one and me driving the other, and after a while we got to the antenna line. We stopped and asked if they wanted to get off there or go any farther. Without any hesitation they said, “We’ll go as far as you’ll take us.” We all chuckled at that and drove them another mile or two.
Tomorrow, I have to start making preparations for departure on Wednesday. I’ve got to have my checked bag packed and placed in a particular location tomorrow by 19:30. My flight on Wednesday will most likely arrive and then depart (with me on it) around 11:00 local time. The moment of my departure seems to be hurtling towards me at this point. I’ve really enjoyed myself overall the last week or so, but it will be nice to see night and green things again.