Summit Station, Greenland

Welcome to Summit! 72°35’46″N 38°25’19″W

At the height and heart of the Greenland ice sheet Summit sits at 10,530ft (~3,200m), surrounded by thousands of square miles of ice. The great flat white. Away from the station it looks much like the South Pole, or Byrd.

Established in 1988 to support the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 (GISP2) ice core Summit now supports a wide range of seasonal and long term monitoring projects. It also serves as an important site to test equipment heading to Antarctica. Today the station is maintained by CH2M Hill Polar Services, and through them, Colorado based Polar Field Services (PFS). CH2M Hill’s official site gives a good overview of the station.

Summit consists of three main buildings: the Big House, the Green House, and the S.O.B. or Science Operation building (the shop). In addition, there is the Temporary Atmospheric Watch Observatory (TAWO) and the Mobile Science Facility (MSF) which are used year-round. During the summer a number of seasonal structures and a “tent city” are erected to support the larger population.

Summit in 2011

Summit Station layout in 2011

Unlike the South Pole’s distinct winter and summer seasons, the year at Summit is divided into three Phases: Feb-Jun, Jun-Nov, and Nov-Feb. The winter crew is a tiny 5 to 6 people: manager, mechanic, three science techs, and sometimes a heavy equipment operator in the spring. During the peak summer season, Apr-Aug, a medic, cook, cargo coordinator, and field coordinator are added to the station staff. With science groups and construction crews the summer population can reach 50, though the average summer population is closer to 30 people.

Some other cool links are the webcam which is mounted on the Big House – looking North towards the Green house and SOB: Summit Webcam and the current weather page here.

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Filed under Arctic, Greenland, Summit Station

Kangerlussuaq, Greenland

3hrs 15min to the North Pole

3hrs15min to the North Pole


Kangerlussuaq, Kanger, Bluie West-8, Sondrestrom, Sonde, Søndre Strømfjord…The coastal hub for US operations is tucked back in Greenland’s longest fjord. Established in 1941 by the US military it is now a commercial and air hub for West Greenland. The small town (~550 people) is surrounded by undulating glacially scoured hills where muskox and caribou roam. No trees grow here, just scrub and grasses.


For science support and researchers coming from the US this is the point of entry. The town is comprised of a few houses, old military barracks, an airport, and a few other buildings. The Kangerlussuaq International Science Support, aka KISS, hosts researchers from around the world. There’s a very small grocery store, a cafeteria at the airport, and the Polar Bear restaurant with thai, muskox, and anything fried. It’s a small community and nearly everyone smiles and waves as they pass on the road. There is quite a lot of research done in the immediate area of Kanger and at sites on the ice sheet not as far away as Summit.
The Summit crew however usually spends a day or two getting the required gear and making sure everything is lined up for the season. There are some good hiking routes in the area and beautiful lake Ferguson and great views from prominent Black Ridge. In past seasons I’ve arrived in April when the ground is still covered in snow, and the wind is bitingly cold. This time we arrived in the warmth of summer – luckily just past peak mosquito season. The light lingered and it was bright well past 10pm. We are definitely now in the land of the midnight sun.

We spent two nights in Kanger, filling the day between with orientation, training, gathering gear, and stretching our legs on walks around town – enjoying the last bits of green and brown, of birds and bugs and people. Next stop the flat white – Summit Station!

The K.I.S.S. building that houses researchers and support staff.

The K.I.S.S. building that houses researchers and support staff.

Black Ridge and the old barracks

Black Ridge and the old barracks

Søndre Strømfjord - Kanger is located on the left side of the wide sandy area along the river where it meets the fjord

Søndre Strømfjord – Kanger is located on the left side of the wide sandy area along the river where it meets the fjord

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Filed under Arctic, Greenland, Kangerlussuaq


Since starting this blog I have worked only in the Antarctic, but after taking several months off to travel I am now heading up to Greenland to work for a few weeks with the U.S. Arctic program!

The Greenlandic flag.

The Greenlandic flag

The Arctic region encompasses the area between 66°33′ and 90° North. The Antarctic, between 66°33′ and 90° South. There are some major differences:
The Antarctic is a continent of itself, neatly isolated by oceans and sitting beautifully over the geographic South Pole. There are no indigenous peoples living in this region and while there are lots of penguins and sea life, no wild polar bears live in the Southern hemisphere.
The Arctic, on the other hand, encompasses parts of Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Russia, and numerous islands. The North Pole is beneath the Arctic Ocean so there is no permanent base at the North Pole. There are polar bears here, muskox, caribou, and lots of seals, but no penguins.

Before starting this blog I spent two summers (Apr-Aug) up at Summit Station as the Field Coordinator in 2010 and as one of the Science Techs in 2011. Photos from that last season are here. Summit is located at 72°35′N 38°25′W,in the very heart of the Greenland ice cap. Like the South Pole, it’s flat and white with no animals except a stray bird now and then. Summit sits at 10,500 ft elevation above two miles of ice. It’s much smaller than Pole with a summer population usually under 50 people.

During the Northern hemisphere summer (~Apr-Aug) The New York Air National Guard (ANG) sends the ski equipped LC-130 Hercs up to Greenland. These are the same planes and crews that work in the Antarctic. Deploying to Greenland during the summer season starts in Schenectady, NY, near Albany. This is where the NY ANG is based. From here it’s about a 7 hour flight on an LC-130 to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland with a quick refueling stop in Goose Bay, Canada.

Here is a map of Greenland. Kangerlussuaq is located near the arctic circle, just SE of Sisimiut on the West coast. Summit Station is located in the heart of the ice sheet, near the maximum depth icon.

A map of Greenland

So after lots of reading about Antarctica, the South Pole, and field camps, the next few posts will be from the other end of the world. The Arctic!

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Filed under Arctic, Greenland, Summit Station

Farewell Antarctica

Winter 2013 is officially over. On November 5, 2013 I departed the South Pole aboard an LC-130 Herc all but empty with just a handful of DVs (distinguished visitors) flying out after a tour of Pole and two of us winterovers with our baggage. The flight crew was very friendly and while most of the pax slept I went up to the cockpit and chatted with the pilots as we flew over the nunataks and exposed rocky peaks of the Transantarctic Mountains. “So, you wintered this year? Like, just now?” “Um, yeah. I’m on my way out, these are the first rocks I’ve seen since February!” “Wow…what was it like?” Where could I even begin? “Dark and cold.” I said and everyone laughed.

How can I describe winter? How can I sum it up into one clear and concise sentence? How can I explain the feeling of seeing that last plane leave? Of seeing the glorious, impossibly bright, life giving orb that is the sun sink below the horizon and know that I will not see it again for half a year? How do I convey the thrill of watching the mercury plummet getting closer and closer to the mythical threshold of -100F, and then the excitement when it actually reaches that number?
How can I explain the auroras to someone who has never seen them? Ethereal lights dancing across the sky. And the stars…my god, the stars, with the Milky Way so bright you can see the faint colors in it and our nearest neighboring galaxies the magellanic clouds as clearly delineated as the darkest spot known as the “coal sack.”
How can I explain the cold? The breathtaking, teeth-aching cold that makes plastic shatter and even metal become alarmingly brittle. A depth of cold that seeps in through the holes in the stitching at your seams and weighs your eyelashes with ice and frost?
And how can I explain the weariness? The exhaustion that no amount of sleep can alleviate, the energy expelled by living at 10,000ft and wearing 20lbs of clothes and burning calories just to maintain regular body temperature…How can I explain Toast, not just feeling burn out, but the sluggishness of thought and lapses of memory?

And where do I begin on how we tormented and grated on each other? Small things like someone laughing too loudly, or big things like someone deciding the only way they’ll be happy is when ever one else is unhappy… but on the flip side, how can I explain the intensity of bonds that form in the face of that adversary? The biggest challenge of winter isn’t the cold or the darkness, the isolation or physical demands, it’s the people, hands down.

I had a day in McMurdo. I had friends who met up with me, who walked with me through the overwhelming galley and sat with me at a table against the wall. It’s hard to be surrounded by strangers after knowing everyone by their walk/stance alone. A day in McMurdo, the halfway house, is good. I didn’t have to jump right into finding transportation and accommodation and paying for food…Once in Christchurch the first night is covered, but after that you’re on your own, and many flights get in late.

On Wednesday November 6, I arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand. This is perhaps the most perfect country to return to after wintering. It’s beautiful and friendly. There are epic valleys and huge expanses of wilderness to get lost in. There are magnificent birds and plants and no snakes and no poisonous animals (except for one sole native spider only found in the most remote regions). There are no lions or tigers or bears…no large mammals of any kind to be exact, except for some cows and lots and lots of sheep. New Zealand is temperate, and right now in late November it is just at the beginning of summer. Winter at the South Pole with it’s -130F windchill and flat white horizon seems like a dream a long time ago and far far away.

I limit this blog to my exploits in the Arctic and Antarctic. For now, I will be taking a break to explore the world and indulge in all that my senses have lacked. I will resume posting here upon my next high latitude adventure, which will probably be sooner rather than later.
Please feel free to leave a comment below if you wish to contact me. I will also be posting pictures at: *I will not be updating Picasa anymore*

Thanks for following and for all your questions and comments this season!

Beautiful New Zealand

Beautiful New Zealand


Filed under Antarctica, South Pole, Winter

The End of Winter

The first Herc - officially ending Winter.

The first Herc – officially ending Winter.

November 1, 2013 – The weather is clear, just warm enough (above -50C), and calm. After two hours of mechanical delays the radio in comms crackles “Skier 51 is offdeck enroute to Pole.” The first LC-130 Herc is on it’s way. Touching down at just after 3:40pm Winter is officially over. They brought in 32 members of the summer crew and over 2000lbs of “freshies.”

It’s with mixed feelings that we transition to summer. There’s  a part of me that thinks “That’s my table! My chair!” frustrated at the line for food in the galley. I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge a new sense of camaraderie between my fellow winterovers.  It’s hard to describe. Hard to answer the question “How was winter?” It’s almost sad to know that it’s over now, like finishing an engrossing novel…not necessarily good or bad, just all consuming. Now, the station feels crowded, a bit like my place is gone.

It’s somewhat disconcerting to not recognize everyone’s walk and laugh. Not to know without a doubt who’s hat you glimpsed as they went around a corner. Not to know who it is just by the sound of their footsteps in the hall. But there’s also an almost tangible sense of relief. People laughing and smiling. We won’t be here forever, it’s alright if we’re tired, help has arrived. It’s good to see familiar happy faces, their enthusiasm and opptimism rubbing off just a little on our jaded selves. They’re just starting, all tan and rested and raring to go. Well, I’m happy to turn things over to them. And I know Cheech (Christchurch, NZ) is waiting, with it’s bright green grass and decadent flowers, it’s salty ocean breeze and cool wet sand, it’s fresh food and no reason to get up early except to watch the sun rise.


Filed under Antarctica, South Pole, Winter


The shutdown has ended, but like any storm the worst may be yet to come. The USAP is trying to salvage this season, but it’s already too late for some projects.

“Initial actions toward caretaker status were implemented in recent days. Planned deployments of scientific and support staff were either disrupted or cancelled, and in some cases personnel were removed from Antarctica. With funding in place under a continuing resolution, NSF is directing all efforts towards an orderly resumption of seasonal activities…Over the coming days, NSF will work with the USAP support organizations and researchers to recover planned research and operations activities to the extent possible. It must be understood that due to seasonally dependent windows and logistic limitations, certain research and operations activities may be deferred.”Oct. 18 USAP Press Release

Popular Mechanics also recently published an interesting article outlining some of the impacts of the shutdown on science in general across the board. (

Meanwhile, here at Pole, we have a Basler on deck! They are just flying through on their way to McMurdo. Pole is a place to rest, refuel, and to wait out the inclement weather in “Town.” And they brought fresh fruit! I forgot how amazing oranges smell…and how simply…ORANGE they are!OctBasler



Filed under Antarctica


(I am not an official representative of the NSF or USAP, all opinions stated below are mine personally and do not necessarily reflect those of the NSF, USAP, or the US Government)

“All field and research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property will be suspended.”

Friends have lost their jobs, research opportunities are lost forever, and the sheer logistical nightmare of shutting down USAP operations is underway. With the US government shutdown federal funding has been cut across the board  and the NSF is no exception. The USAP has lost funding and is moving forward with a plan to run the stations in “Caretaker Status.” This means we’ll have a very minimal skeleton crew, no field camps, no science, just maintaining the stations so they can be used again next year. For example, the peak population at the South Pole this summer might be 50 people, rather than the 250 scientists and support staff of previous seasons. McMurdo might max out at 100-150, rather than 1200. Rumors abound and facts change daily, but either way much of the science and projects for this upcoming season have been cancelled and it’s too late to put it back on line.

It’s been hard – the program is just ramping up to begin the short summer research season. The winter across the continent is long, dark, and cold. Research projects, surveys of all sorts, construction projects, maintenance projects, resupply, and anything beyond the immediate vicinity of the stations is all but impossible during the winter. Not to mention research projects that involve the sea, animals, remote sites, the dry valleys…There is one window for all of that work each year – and it’s only about 5 months long. The last government shutdown (1995-96) came in the middle of the season when it was too late to turn things around. This time, however, the entire year has been cancelled – and even if the government figures things out, it’s already too late. The USAP is moving forward with a plan to shut the program down.  The USAP announced the decision on Oct 8 (the full press release can be found here):

“Under caretaker status, the USAP will be staffed at a minimal level to ensure human safety and preserve government property, including the three primary research stations, ships and associated research facilities. All field and research activities not essential to human safety and preservation of property will be suspended.” They continue, “It is important to note, however, that some activities cannot be restarted once seasonally dependent windows for research and operations have passed, the seasonal workforce is released, science activities are curtailed and operations are reduced.”

Thankfully, I’m only affected peripherally. Pole already has a minimal crew in winter and I’m at the end of my contract, still planning to leave Pole in early November. The incoming crew will get the brunt of it. This next season will indeed be…unique. I have many friends who made it to McMurdo and are now being sent home, or who are in the process of deploying right now, or who were planning on it…friends who quit their jobs, rented out their homes, put everything in storage, and were relying on the paycheck of a several month contract.

For more information I can direct you to already published articles. Nature’s Oct. 4 article outlines possible repercussions of shutting down the USAP – NPR’s Oct, 8 article has an audio story as well ( And the tourist groups Adventure Network International (ANI) and Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE), supporting skiers and tourist groups that visit the South Pole in the austral summer, wrote this article touching on how this might impact their operations (not a whole lot, but sad nonetheless) – On Oct 11, Wired explained some good points in their article, stressing that this isn’t just like taking a few days off, there is no “back-pay” or workers and researchers who are sent home, there is no undoing – shutting down the US Antarctic Program will have long term, global, repercussions – More recently the New York Times published an article (Oct 14) stressing the hope that some researchers are clinging to, that they might be allowed to get their samples or do their work if funding returns (

For a less formal opinion – here are some blog posts from other Ice people that I recommend:

I know that established ‘ice people’ are resilient and will figure something out, but it won’t be easy. If you were planning on going to the ice and have been laid off, check out Bill Spindler’s link above (he might have some more resources) and the Facebook group “Ice Friends Helping Ice Friends” has plethora of housing and seasonal job ads. For those of you who were on your way down for the first time, there’s nothing I can say to make it any better. It’s heartbreaking, I know, and I am truly deeply sorry. I hope you will have another chance someday – Don’t give up!

My own experience reaching the ice was thwarted two years in a row. I had decided early in elementary school that one day I would go to Antarctica. It was a dream come true when, almost a decade later, I was hired as a Core Handler for the WAIS Divide project in 2008. The day prior to deploying (my bags packed, tickets in hand, everything in storage…) I crashed my bicycle and separated my shoulder. NPQ’d. I was devastated. Six months later I was hired to be one of a few Field Operations Assistants at Toolik Field Camp in Northern Alaska. It was a foot in the door, a way into the seemingly elite world of polar logistics and I had an invitation to return as a Core Handler for WAIS Divide that upcoming austral summer. Yet again, however, my hopes were dashed when I tore my ACL in a skiing accident a week before heading north. I struggled to find something to do instead. Everything was set on working at the Poles. I had majored in Geology in part because I figured Glaciology would be one of the best ways to get to Antarctica. My geology field work was studying glaciers with the Juneau Icefield Research Program, and I returned as staff to lead the Mass Balance project the summer after graduating. Flying to Europe after high school, I pressed myself to the little plastic window, peering excitedly down at the blinding white expanse of the Greenland ice sheet – “I will go there someday.”
With three seasons in a row shot down, I hated to think that this just wasn’t meant to be. I had felt innately drawn to the ice, to polar work in general- both to the research and logistics. After so long I couldn’t just give it all up and do something else. I grew even more determined. I pressed all my friends in Geology, glaciology, science support – anyone I knew who knew someone who had been to the Ice, who had been to Toolik or Barrow, who had been to Greenland. I called on professors at the University in my home town and emailed researchers around the world. I applied to every job I might barely qualify for…and begged for recommendations and contacts from friends in the field. I didn’t care what I did or if I got paid, it was just a matter of getting my foot in the door. It was hard to get a job without knowing someone.Finally it paid off.
In early 2010 I got a call asking if I would like to work as the Field Coordinator at  Summit Station, Greenland. I couldn’t believe it. Could I PQ and deploy in 2 weeks? Sure! Did I want to spend April-August in the heart of the Greenland ice sheet? ABSOLUTELY. I tried not to get my hopes up, tried to have backup a plan. I didn’t let myself get too excited until I was in Kanger, Greenland…then on the herc, then on the ice sheet itself looking up at the contrails of planes heading to Europe. Everything fell into place after that. Since then I have bounced between Antarctica and Greenland working as a General Assistant (GA), Science Tech, Cargo (when I started this blog), and as a Heavy Equipment Operator (HEO). And here I am, wrapping up my first Antarctic winter at the Pole in Waste Management/Spill Response. I might just be a lifer.

We joke that it’s not all rainbows and penguins. Seasons are hard – the frenetic pace of summer is exhausting, but so is the marathon of winter. Most jobs are very physical demanding, though the social situation can be even more challenging. There are a growing number of people who are here because they can’t find a job at home – they don’t necessarily want to be here and don’t necessarily like it here, and they bring everyone else down. But there are also people who love it here, who come not for money, but for the idea, the community, and the adventure. I’m really ready to go at the end of each season, sometimes wondering why I do this to myself, and yet as soon as I step off the ice I’m thinking about the next season. The lows might be LOW, but the highs are HIGH. Plus, it’s pretty nice to work for a few months and then get a few months off. But above and beyond all that – the simple truth is that I love it! I love the ice, I love Antarctica, I love the cold, I love the Hercs, I love the excitement of a new season, I love the crazy research, I love the dichotomies of this extreme world, I love the simpleness of the world here, the pureness. I refer you once more to Genevieve’s blog and her most recent post, A Sordid Love Story, about her love of the ice, her first deployment, and the pain of almost being sent home this year. She puts words to these feelings better than I can.

Anyone who has worked or researched on the ice knows weather rules all…delays are just part of the game, but this season is a whole new story. Science hasn’t just been delayed – it’s been cancelled. And that’s the only reason any of us are here – to support science. With the climate changing as it is, it’s more important than ever to study what we can, to try to understand these systems and quantify the rate of melting ice. Politics aside, in the grand scheme of things it’s too late to turn things around. There is no debate or disagreement among the global scientific community. Millions of people have been affected by climate change and millions more will be. The sea level is rising and will continue to rise. That’s the thing about science; It’s true whether you believe it or not. It blows my mind that a group like the Tea Party Republicans can exist in this day and age, demanding a state based on “Christian” beliefs while refusing to help those in need and while they throw their tantrums and refuse to do their jobs we are losing critical scientific and educational opportunities.  There is a reason why America is not number 1 in education, research, technology, health, happiness…

But to end things on a lighter note…here are penguins in sweaters! Click on the image to go to the related article:

Penguins in sweaters after an oil spill - the sweaters keep them from pruning themselves and being poisoned by the oil while keeping them warm until they can be cleaned.

New Zealand penguins in sweaters after an oil spill this month – the sweaters keep them from pruning themselves and being poisoned by the oil while keeping them warm until they can be cleaned.


Filed under Antarctica, South Pole


After 7 months of being sequestered away – isolated from the rest of the physical world – we welcomed our first planes yesterday. Two Kenn Borek Twin Otters arrived from Rothera on their way to McMurdo! They travel in pairs for SAR purposes. It was strange to hear their voices over the radio, sounding so close, and so…Canadian. Winterovers drifted out to watch – standing on roofs, out on the snow, on the decks, and stairs watching and waving – and then when they had landed we all scuttled to our rooms and at lunch filled one long table in the galley, sitting close and trying not to stare. I wonder what they see in us – with our pale skin, wide eyes, and overgrown facial hair (on the guys at least). It’s beyond strange to see a figure and not be able to immediately identify them by how they are moving alone.

No matter how strange it may be, they have more than made themselves welcome with a bag of freshies! Apples, bananas, and kiwis! Enough for half a piece per person. I stood in line (yes, there was a line in the galley!) and found myself just staring at the kiwis, they were so luminous, so succulent looking, so perfectly real. I have been dreaming of apples though, so I picked one of the halved granny smiths. Perhaps the best apple I have ever tasted. There’s nothing quite like not being able to have something to make it so much more desirable.

They’ll refuel, rest, and wait for the weather in Mac Town to clear then they’ll head onwards. Meanwhile, the atmosphere is crackling with energy reminiscent of a Christmas morning. Still a month to go – but a month filled with changes, flights, and preparations for the summer crew. This is the beginning of the end.

The first Twin Otter touches down on October 5, 2013. -43F and little wind.

The first Twin Otter touches down on October 5, 2013. -43F and little wind.


As for the Government shut down – we’re business as usual for now, we’ve been assured that we won’t be stranded. Some impact might be felt next season however, as per this article:

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Filed under Antarctica, Flights, South Pole, Winter

I want…


We are down to the last month here – 30 more days – and then the C-130 Hercs will begin to arrive, laden with mail, freshies, and the eager, excited, exuberant faces of the summer crew ready to go…It will definitely be a transition and I’m sure I will find myself cringing and wanting to be left alone – crowded by the new people and their optimism, just wanting them to stop smiling so much, stop talking so much…the frenetic pace of summer is exhausting even when you haven’t just survived a 9 month winter!
I’m scheduled to head out just a week after the first Herc arrives, shipped back to the real world, to beautiful New Zealand. Lately as I try to fall asleep, or whenever I let my mind drift, I find myself dreaming of everything the rest of the world has to offer – everything I have missed and yearned for these past long months. Here at Pole there is no dirt, no insects, no wildlife, no birdsong nor animals of any kind. There are no people younger than 22 or older than 65. We have no fresh fruit and only the limited vegetables grown in the green house, no real eggs, and only powered milk. We have showers, but are only allowed two (2minutes long) per week. It’s been an extraordinary experience, both challenging and enlightening, but the sun is up now, it’s relatively warm (-65F) and I think we’re all ready to go.

So here is a list, the idea stolen from a blog of a friend who has wintered here at the Pole twice before:

I want to feel the warmth of sunlight

I want to wake up to bird calls and the rising sun, not the electric screech of an alarm clock

I want to taste the crispness of an apple or an orange on my tongue

I want to let my hair down and feel the wind in it

I want to get my freckles back, even if it means getting sunburned – I want my semi-translucent, pale, dry, skin to draw color and warmth from the sun, to heal

I want to stand barefoot on green grass damp from dew

I want to wiggle my toes in the sand and feel the cold ocean waves wash over my feet grasping at my ankles, begging me to follow them out into the sea

I want to smell the rain – to hear it pattering on rooftops and window sills

I want to wear a skirt and feel warm air against my legs

I want to look at a horizon with puffy clouds and jagged mountains

I want to see the saturated color of dandelions on a stretch of green grass

I want to hear the wind in the trees and the songs of birds

I want to speak with someone whose name I do not know, whose stories I have not heard

I want to take a shower without goose bumps, and to just stand and let the hot water run over me regardless of the time

I want to see fresh fruits and veggies – resplendent in their color, holding in my hands the glossy red strawberries, deep purple eggplants, dusty blueberries, and bright yellow bananas, the orange peppers, brown mushrooms, white garlic, pink apples, and the myriad of greens…

I want to watch the sunrise, not stretched out over the course of weeks, but over mere minutes – and to watch it set that same day

I want to feel the heat of a hot day radiating from the earth after the sun has set

I want to feel dirt between my fingers

I want to blow my nose without getting a nose bleed and to wake up without being congested

I want to have the freedom to leave the mile radius I’m in whenever I please

I want to see color on the horizon, on the earth – something other than snow

I want to run outside – not on a running machine, er, treadmill…

I want to step outside and breathe without burning my lungs from the cold

I want to touch metal with bare hands without freezing to it

I want to go somewhere new – where I don’t know each bump and scratch on the walls, where there is something new about my surroundings

I want to sit near people and not feel obligated to say something or listen (like in a cafe or on a bus)

I want to hear a child’s laughter and a dog’s bark

I want to wear a tank top and feel the sun on my shoulders, to step outside without 25 pounds of clothing weighing me down

I want to wear sandals

I want to sit on a rock, to feel the warmth of the sun from it

I want to hike somewhere surrounded by trees and animals, to be the only human, to be alone

I want to swim naked under the stars

I want to go.


Filed under Antarctica, South Pole, Winter

Sunrise, Sunrise…

HDR of the sun on Sept 26, 2013

HDR of the sun from DZ on September 26, 2013

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right

Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here

“Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles

The longest night has finally come to a close. After four months of solid darkness the light returned quickly, growing steadily brighter each day. It’s been six months since we last saw the sun’s golden light. Technically the sun breached the horizon on the equinox, September 22, however due to atmospheric distortions it was visible on Saturday September 21. We’ve had a number of stormy days of late providing us with a few glimpses here and there. It circles us now, skimming the horizon, rising in imperceptible increments – a slow and steady spiral.

On Saturday morning I walked out to the ‘end of the world’ – the edge of activity here at the South Pole. Beyond stretched the polar plateau unbroken, unmarked, hundreds of miles of snow and ice ending abruptly to drop off into the sea.
By the time I reached the edge, with all signs of life and human presence behind me, I was well frosted up. My fleece neck gaiter was thick and stiff with ice, a little area melted by my warm exhalations. My eyelashes were coated with thick globs of ice – freezing together or to my gaiter if I was slow in blinking…I pulled off my thick mitten and melted them clear with my bare finger tips, dropping the chunks of ice onto the snow by my feet. I had learned the hard way not to try with just my glove liner. It froze to my eyelashes and then my hand was stuck to my face and my eye was still frozen shut – starting to panic I yanked my hand away, pulling out half my eyelashes with it…which I guess got the ice off too…but not something I wanted to repeat. It was amusing to be sure, but a little uncomfortable.

My eyes open and free of ice I snuggled down into my warm layers, pulling my hood up against the wind, narrowing the gap between hat and gaiter. I stood blinking at the horizon. Thermal layers within the atmosphere distorted the sun shifting it like a mirage – a wavering, shifting orb of incredible sunrise_HDRbrightness and beauty. My eyes watered and I remembered you’re not supposed to stare at it…blinking, I looked down at the snow by my feet, a negative image of the sun burned into my retinas. I felt both over and underwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the light, by the emotions from the past six months, by the thoughts of the season ending and having to face the beautiful and terrible world again, of having to deal with cars and advertising and money and strangers…so many people! Overwhelmed by joy in the sun’s return, in awe of its utter magnificence and yet at the same time by a sadness at the knowledge that unless I return for another winter I will never again see the southern stars pirouetting overhead at noon, or the aurora australis dancing across the sky, illuminating the frozen plateau in a wash of green.
Simultaneously, I felt underwhelmed – a sentiment of “Well, that’s it then.” Resignation. The sun came back and life goes on. These next six weeks will fly by and then I’ll be off and away. I struggled with a deep, welling sense of regret and ache at the troubles and drama of the season, at the fact that a small number of angry people had decided they didn’t want to be here and had tried their very best to bring us all down. That’s been the hardest part of all – the people, but it always is.

“The exceeding brightness of this early sun
Makes me conceive how dark I have become.”
― Wallace Stevens, The Palm at the End of the Mind: Selected Poems and a Play

Sunrise here is not as quick and dramatic as at lower latitudes. I took an entire month to transition from the first hint of dawn to the sun itself rising above the horizon. There’s no point in standing and watching it, all you’ll see is the sun sliding sideways 15 degrees per hour. So after a few minutes my fingers were numb and my toes began to complain of cold. I shook myself, glanced up at the sun one last time and turned to walk back to the station. The wind was in my face and my skin ached with the windchill below -100F. The area between my eyes was uncovered and I felt the budding of an ice cream headache. I held my mitten over the gap of my eyes, careful not to let it freeze to my eyebrows or eyelashes, and listened to the crunch of snow beneath my feet as I trudged back towards the station. I thought about returning to the real world, to a world where the sun rises and sets every day! 364 times more than here.

The sun reflecting off the station

The sun reflecting off the station

HDR Sunrise on 19 Sept 2013

Axillary fuel tanks at the end of the world

Auxiliary fuel tanks at the end of the world

Sunrise on 21 September 2013 at the end of the world

Sunrise on 21 September 2013 at the end of the world

Back inside I got a cup of tea and noticed I was wearing my ‘inside clothes.’ I had absolutely no recollection of changing. I decided I was hungry and went to get a bowl, but by the time I got to the bowls I forgot what I was there for and so got a spoon to stir my tea and returned to my room…I woke one morning recently severely confused as to whether it was 6am or 6pm – had I laid down to close my eyes before dinner? Or was this a new day? TOAST.

Sunrise Dinner

Sunrise Dinner

A friend of mine passed away last month in a climbing accident. We worked together on the Juneau Icefield in 2008. The sunrises and sunsets on the icefield are some of the most spectacular I’ve ever witnessed. Breaks in the clouds during this long sunrise reveal an awe inspiring display, reminding me of Kevin’s description of the sky on the icefield: The snow gave way to sky and an explosion of contrast between white earth and ferocious sky drew the air from my lungs and left me feeling entirely insignificant.
Rest in peace Kevin Volkening

The satellite domes near the end of the world

The satellite domes near the end of the world

Venus passed the moon early in September over the course of a few hours.

Venus passed the moon early in September over the course of a few hours.


Filed under Antarctica, South Pole, Winter