Rising Sun and Reflections on an Antarctic Adventure

I felt like an outlaw bouncing up and down in the red truck with the United States Antarctic Program seal decorated on its side. I was dressed in my extremely cold weather gear (ECW). A puff ball riding shotgun with my body moving apart from my clothing which was moving apart from the off-roading truck. The path we drove hadn’t been frequented now that the winter season had replaced summer leaving only one researcher on base. Arrival Heights was our destination: a place off limits to non-research personnel unless personally invited. My host drove the buggy and I eagerly awaited the tour of the research station holding the high tech lidar lazer (which measures iron in the atmosphere) and the sight that swarmed above the research station’s head. It was above McMurdo, the base that I had called home for almost six months. Above the lights and buildings and into a more wild Antarctic though it was close enough to base that you could see the station as a city below glowing as if its place was normal growing out of the volcanic rock foundation. We arrived and my toes were already frozen by the time we walked to the ideal viewing position. My eyes pulled my head so that I was looking directly up and it was perpendicular to my body. The Milky Way was clouded across the middle of my view and each star twinkled and moved as if alive and smirking in its cold sky. Blue and white took their turns shining on the stars’ faces and the occasional large twinkle displayed red among these colors. These lights seemed to multiply with each blink as I compared it to the view from a lighted base. The horizon was wiped with green and yellow, the first markings of an emerging sun that had not showed its self in four months.

The sun’s journey back to McMurdo was a subject of fear and sadness for the winterovers. Spending so long in the dark my first view of the emerging sun was confusing. I stood in the dark shadow between dorm buildings away from pole lights and studied the green strip that sat on the horizon. I wondered to myself what it could be: aurora? Then I realized the sun’s presence. Surprising myself, I felt a smidge of fear and hurried into my building. The light has now been slowly climbing its way up the sky bringing with it the end of winter and the end of a milestone Antarctic adventure.

At Arrival Heights I found myself between the white snow and dancing sky surrounded in the soft glow of reflected sunlight. Above me was  a display of upside down constellations. Behind me six months of an adventure and before me a life now changed by what had transpired in the dark of the Antarctic winter. I basked in the dim and sucked in the air as it froze in my mouth and lungs. I was standing on the top at the bottom of the world.

Antarctic Polar Plunge: A Scott Base Adventure

I stood at the edge of the water close enough for it to begin surrounding my shoes.  I was being given instructions from Kiwis (New Zealanders) behind me but all their words were background noise.  I had spent the past two nights tossing in bed fearing being drug under the ice by a seal and never returning to the surface.  When my story would be told in Antarctic years to come it would always end with, “Her body was never recovered.” Now was the moment I was to touch my first ocean and all the fears of dangerous animals was gone. Before me was a square cut slushie which a Kiwi, acting as a pool boy, continously scraped the ever freezing water to keep the hole clear. The background noise had gone quiet and I asked if I could jump.  I gave a “whoo-hoo!” as I plunged into the 22 degree F water and was instantly surrounded by it.  I made movements with my arms and legs instinctively trying to reach the surface.  My right arm hit some solid ice which registered to me that I hadn’t gone too far under the water as they only cut two meters into the ice.  But then why wasn’t I at the top yet? I felt suspended in the same spot as I had landed. Without feeling like I had moved my head reached the surface and I turned to grab the ladder.  Skyler, the medic and friend on site, told me to swim the back stroke.  At this point I had both hands on the ladder and the -24 degree F air was restoring feeling in my body of extreme cold and pain.  “Heck no!” I responded and climbed quickly to the Kiwi, Tank, that would undo the caribener and to the Firecapitan, or Cap, that would wrap a blanket around me.  My shoes were filled with the water and I felt as if the ocean was begining to freeze around my feet.  I walked the short 10 or so feet to the wannagin (“…a small building on a sledge that can be pulled across the ice for use as a cook shed, a sleeping room, a science lab or whatever.”- Taken from my fellow Dining Attendant, Phil Baur’s blog) to get warm, dry and changed.  As soon as I was in I kicked my shoes off and headed for the heater where I stood dazzled and waited for the pain in my fingers to cease so I could undo the harness still strapped to my waist.  I looked out the window and saw my reflection.  A frozen drowned rat with ice chunks freezing themselves all over my hair.  I was ready to jump again!