As we rapidly approach observance of New Years here at the Pole, I suppose it’s time to recount Christmas Day.
The day before Christmas, the International Trans Antarctic Expedition (ITASE) rolled into town. I use the word rolled because ITASE is one of the numerous traverses bound for the Pole this year. The traverse members lived in little buildings on skis pulled by their Caterpillar tractors and a Pisten Bully until they arrived here on Christmas Eve. They joined us for Christmas dinner and they all seemed fairly happy to have new people with whom to converse. In the picture below you can see the two little buildings on skis that the traverse members had available to them on their drive across half the continent.
Christmas Day started with the annual Race Around the World, a roughly two mile run/walk/ski/crawl/bike/drive around the Pole. You can basically get around the course however you want but the only prizes are for the first male and female runners who the finish line. As usual, there was the sofa on a sled pulled by a snowmobile and the fire truck drove around the course blaring tunes over the public address system. A pair of the station’s Pisten Bullies took part in the race as did a massive (and slow) tracked bull dozer. Finally, one of the ITASE tractors decided to race as well. The ITASE tractor can be seen at the starting line in the photo below with the massive bull dozer just in front of it. I guess they figured that they’d already driven hundreds of miles of frozen wasteland, so what was another two for the sake of the race.
After brunch, I decided to check out some skis and boots andtry some cross-country skiing. I don’t necessarily have the stereotypical nordic skiing getup here, so I had to make due with what I had. Long underwear, jeans, two fleeces, and my headgear was the uniform of the day. The wind chill was -38°F and the sun was shining which is a moderate summer day here. I headed out onto the wastes for about three hours of skiing. One neat thing about the cold temperatures is that water freezes very quickly so you can see your performance clothing at work. As I worked up a sweat, the two fleeces wicked the water to the surface where it froze and form a light sheen of snow and ice. That may have looked cold, but it meant that I was staying warm as the water wasn’t sitting next to my skin and freezing.
After about an hour on the trail I decided to try and find the station’s “ski hut” because ice was forming on the inside of my goggles as my breath condensed on the lens and froze. The ski hut is known locally as the Love Shack and while I had heard stories about the Love Shack, I’d never been there before. Eventually I did find the Shack, which can be seen in the picture below.
The Shack isn’t much more than a black-painted building similar to our outhouses here. The black paint keeps the interior of the building about 32°F in the summer, which feels plenty warm when you step out of the wind and cold and you’re in your cold weather gear. I spent twenty minutes there clearing my goggles, drinking a warm beverage I had in my backpack, and signing the logbook. After that, it was out onto the trail for another hour and one half. For an idea of the scenery you get while skiing here, check out the picture below. If you’re in the mood for variety, Nordic skiing here isn’t necessarily the answer.
Since Christmas Day it’s been work as normal here. IceCube drillers continue to drill holes in the ice while our deployment teams continue to place long strings of instruments in them. I’m still working in our Data Center here to get our computing environment in shape to run for the next nine or so months.
Today is Sunday at the Pole and volunteers will be decorating the gym for our New Years celebration. The station is taking today and tomorrow off for observance of New Years, even though New Years Eve doesn’t fall until Monday night. I’m guessing that there will be plenty of hung-over RPSC employees come Tuesday morning.