Beaker’s Blog

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Well, while most of us are sitting comfortably in their homes and watching the winter outside with a deep felt relief that civilization keeps us warm and safe, a handful of brave and crazy people endure the bitter cold temperatures of the Antarctic summer in pursuit of science and knowledge…

Since I myself count to th efirst category this year (and might not get a chance to return to the 7th continent ever again), there are quite a few colleagues in the IceCube experiment who get to go more frequently and for longer stays to 90deg south. One of them is Michelango, who has been not only keeping a blog about his (ad)ventures (see the blogroll), but who also wrote a South Pole diary for The Economist. You might wanna have a look…

As for me, the lax period owed to my adjustment to the Swiss lifestyle has come to end as of beginning of this month. Ever since, work has been keeping me very busy, therefore the output on this blog has remained fairly low, I am afraid. But I can assure everybody that nothing exciting has transpired in the past few weeks, except maybe the visit to the Balloon festival (which in itself speaks records as of what counts as excitement in my life lately… :-) ). Pictures were taken on that trip which I failed to upload so far, a mistake I will correct next week.

Yes, indeed, there is a dark side: According to the station manual, “the Dark Sector provides an area free from light pollution and electromagnetic noise for astronomy and astrophysics research”. Of course, this is only true in winter and refers to artificial light or em sources. Anyway, the picture, taken from the Icecube Lab, shows the new 10 Icetop stations, their sun shades glittering white in the sun, the 10m telescope, the Icecube drill camp and MaPo. The black box in the lower right corner is one of the “Icecube showers”: a toilet… ;-) More pictures can be found at the usual place….

Yes, I have been silent lately. And why not? After six exciting and extraordinary weeks, I feel like Frodo: “How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back?”

All right, that is a bit melodramatic. Sure enough, the slowness of my life in this little college town give me enough time to sort and edit all the 1456 pictures I took… Here are a whole bunch of Antarctica pictures I just uploaded:

Antarctica Mosaic

More are coming, I am still working on the actual Pole pictures. Of course, there are still the tons of New Zealand pictures waiting on my hard disk…

What else? The movie front has been silent recently, but that isn’t surprising, the year is still young. I am still working on some books on Antarctica, “Cherry” right now, a biography of Cherry Apsley-Garrard, and “Shackleton’s Forgotten Men” soon. The latter is especially interesting. Everyone knows about the “Endurance” and its crew’s tremendous fight for survival. At the same time, however, oblivious of the fact, that Shackelton will not make it to the Pole, a smaller group of men set out from the opposite side of the continent to lay depots for Shackelton’s party. these men also lost their ship and still carried out their mission, three of them loosing their life.

I a sense it almost feels decadent that I made the same trip that took Amundsen almost three months in just under three hours. Sure, the same can be said about any voyage nowadays, but somehow the harshness and hostile environment of Antarctica gives it a unique twist. I don’t know if I make sense here….

Anyway, so much for now. More pictures will follow soon.

A few shots I just uploaded: Enjoy!

Off Ice

Wow, my first day in civilization is like my first day in paradise! When we landed in Christchurch around 23:30, it was dark. DARK! No sun, just the moon and the stars between the clouds! The next thing that hit me was the smell. The air smelled! Then I felt the humidity. Now, I don’t think it was more than 60-70%, but coming from 3-5% air humidity, it felt as if a wet blanket had been thrown on my face. Wonderful!

At immigrations, we had a separate cue, so people in their sandals and shorts were starring at us, still wearing our bunny boots and red parkas. And everyone with these orange backs. That felt neat, I have to admit, like being an explorer of old…

Back in my hotel, I just fell into my bed and slept straight (sic!) 10 hours. Hooray! When I finally could tear myself out of the sheets, I took an shower that was DEFINITELY longer than 2 minutes. HOORAY again! I feel like a human being again.

Now, I was on ice for 18 days. Imagine someone who lived their for three to four months. Now imagine a winter-over… I am not so sure at this point if I wanna go back. But I damn well know that had a great experience and good time down there!

All right, enough yada yada. I am off now to plan my NZ trip. Later, alligator!

So, since all good things come to an end, this trip couldn’t last forever. Today is my final day, after a night without much sleep my stay here is down to a few hours. Currently, it is 6:45 local time, my flight out of here is scheduled for 13:00. That gives me sometime to wrap up some stuff, take a few more pictures and eat some final South Pole food.

This also means that I will be gone for a few days from this channel. Obviously, the next adventure is just awaiting, so stay tuned for more crazy stuff from me!

I nice Sunday nears its end. Got up late, had my shower (omg, that was soooooooooo good!), had brunch (omelett with tons of stuff in it, sticky bun, hot chocolate, mmmmhhh, yum!), and then we went out to the field. Today, I managed to walk up to every station and take some last pictures before the close-up. After dinner (roast beef, mashed potatoes, some veggie patties, apple cake), we went out again to move some remaining boxes out of our blue Icetop tent, so that is finished, too.

Now I am ready to go to bed. Tomorrow, I will bag drag (= bring my check-in bags for weighing and storing) and then have my final night here. Tuesday, I am flying out around noon local time. So, last opportunity for some outrageous pics!

For now, enjoy some I took today:

My, my, the last few days have been long and tiring. Since the season is slowly coming to its end, we had to pack and wrap a lot of stuff up. Of course, the packed and wrapped boxes also needed to be carried from one place to another! So, it has been quite a bit of work and I am soooooo tired, you won’t believe it! Furthermore, temperatures are slowly crawling down, today we hit the -50C mark with windchill! I have only two more days left, but I might see the ambient temperature go down to -40C, which will make the nightly trip to the bathroom, well, difficult.

Otherwise, I took it easy this evening. The non-science people here have Sundays off which makes Sats a party day. So, I was watching “Sin City” in one of the TV rooms and slowing a bit down…

Even though the station will be open for almost two more weeks, all the heavy equipment is already stowed away. When it gets too cold, most dozers and trucks will not run, so the construction work has to end around first week of Feb. Icecube deployed its last string one week ago, now the whole drill camp is ready to be towed to the winter over position, where it will await the next season.

The station population is still rather high, 247 women and men are currently living here. When the station closes around Feb 17th, only about 50 will remain as winter overs! This means, that starting next week, flights outbound will carry a lot of people back to Christchurch.

My flight back is scheduled for the 6th. It will be straight through, so in McMurdo I will be changing planes only, no stay over for one night. This is partially a pity, since there is one or two things I would have liked to do there, but on the other hand, I am ready to go home! Or have my vacation…

Today, Mike and I climbed up the stair to the roof of the station. Puh, that was a rough wind up there, so I didn’t linger too long! Here are some impressions from the highest vantage point at the Pole:

Alas, the weather was strange today, a lot of wind and ice crystals in the air. Yesterday and today, I was out for a few hours on my own, checking our tanks and it was so cold! Even though the ambient temperature hasn’t been below -32C yet, we had -45C windchil both days. After two hours out there I was cold down to my very bones! Back in the station, it took me hours to really warm up. Even couple of hot chocolates didn’t help at first.

Otherwise, things are fine. Food was especially good today (Coconut curry soup and Peanut sauce chicken with rice noodles), and I even switched off a bit watching a movie (Trainspotting). That was fun! Tomorrow, the central event of the day will be cleaning the restrooms…

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Today, I won’t write much. What I tried today is taking a small movie with my camera. It is low res and not very exciting, but might give you a little glimpse on how things look like here when we ride from one place to the next one on our ski mobiles. In this case, Serap is driving and Im standing on the sled in the back. You can see my shadow here and there and never mind the shaking: Those rides are usually a bit rough.

Ok, here it is: Riding the sled! Enjoy!

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