Friday, June 28, 2013

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station Midwinter Dinner

At the 2012 midwinter dinner in McMurdo Station Harry House read the following toast. I posted this in my blog last year and it is worthy of another post:

McMurdo Mid-winter Dinner - 2012 by Harry House

Mid-winter day is a time of great significance here in the Antarctic.  Celestially, it is defined as the shortest ‘day’ of the year, and the beginnings of the Sun’s gradual return in August.  Early explorers would mark the day with feasts and commemorative toasts to loved ones back home.  For them, the day provided a much-needed morale boost after many months of isolation.  It marked a ‘pivot point’ whereby they could start anticipating a call to action in the gathering dawn.

Much has changed since the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration, both on the ice, and back ‘in the world’.  There are no Poles to discover any longer (though there are other things).  Nations no longer wait breathlessly in anticipation of our safe return, carrying word of feats of endurance and discovery.  We can converse with our loved ones back home in almost real time, so our feeling of isolation is much reduced from the days of yore.  Certainly, we now enjoy many of the comforts of home by comparison, though at times we all lose sight of that.  It is easy, and reasonable in many ways, for us to feel our contributions pale in comparison to the legends of the past.  It is understandable that many of us no longer feel any connection to those that came before us, or even to the legacy of the continent of Antarctica.

While all of this may be true, it misses the point.  Having the privilege of working here in the winter is still one of the most unique opportunities in the world.  For that reason alone, we are all now members of an exclusive group of individuals that share a common bond.  This bond extends not only with each other, but across all the stations on the continent on this special day.  It transcends time as well, as evidenced by the letters I read to you previously.  Do you not think that if the early explorers were alive today, they would be just as interested in our sense of being here as theirs?  They are indeed with us tonight in spirit, and they also would appreciate a place at the table.  Please make room for them if you can.

And so, on this special evening, I propose a toast to all the Antarctic Heroes, past and present. 

Thank you.

I would like to add:

I have the privilege and honor of working in one of the most isolated places on earth. Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station closed in early February leaving 44 souls to work and live in isolation for 9 months. The station will reopen in early November for the short Antarctic summer when the population swells to 150. During this time we have been subjected to periods of brutal temperatures under -100 F with winds that easily drop the temperature under -140. At these temperatures the word cold doesn't mean anything. Even extremely cold is not appropriate. There is no word to describe the feeling as you walk in the darkness and try to survive from one building to the next. If the weather conditions permit you may see a faint red light where you are headed. The darkness along with the cold and wind can and will disorientate you in seconds, the large snow drifts will test your stamina and frequent stumbling will make you think "now which way was I headed?" as the last thing that you want is to be lost. But when it is clear the reward is simply stunning as the sky is filled with stars and varying shapes and colors of dazzling auroras that stretch from horizon to horizon. The South Pole winter sky is unmatched in beauty. They say that a successful Antarctic winter is when you return home with 10 fingers and 10 toes. This may sound funny but believe me it is so very true. So why am I here? It is probably one of the most unique opportunities on the planet to live an adventure and it is a huge physical and mental challenge. This is only my second winter and this "old Antarctic explorer" is enjoying the Antarctic experience.  
by Michael Rice 6-22-2013

The sun will return to the South Pole at 0526 on September 21st and will remain above the horizon until March of 2014. The anticipation of this grand event is with all 44 souls on station. The moon is three weeks up and three weeks down.

The earth as it appears during the Austral Winter Solstice.
Part of the midwinter weekend activities included the traditional showing of The Shining at the South Pole Drive-in Theater (gym). For those unfamiliar with this film it is about a family who are winter caretakers at a large Colorado resort that closes during the winter because of the weather. The husband/father (Jack Nicholson) goes mad in the isolation and mayhem results. How appropriate for a Winter "Polie". 

Pictures from our Midwinter Dinner that we celebrated Saturday June 22, 2013.

A very nice table setting.

Enjoying a Fat Tire. Photo credit: Cliff

Shrimp along with cheese and crackers.

A fine penguin holding a very nice menu.

Greetings from around the continent.

A table setting for those that have died at the South Pole.

Opening a package from the summer crew. It contained 3-D puzzles, merino wool caps, various lip balms and lotions and candy.

Drinks and appetizers before dinner.

44 souls seated for dinner. I am 4th on the right. Photo credit: Cliff

Two of the three chefs on station. Photo credit: Cliff
Roasted pumpkin bisque.

My vegetarian appetizer.

The main course with beef.

My vegetarian version.

Dessert. I didn't get a picture of our fresh salad with scallops.

We had the fireplace going!

After dinner we assembled 3-D puzzles of architectural wonders of the world. We each received one.

Fun times.

Really cool puzzles!

South Pole Winter Crew. I am in the last row 4th from the left.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Midwinter Greetings from around the Continent

Our spaceship has reached the boundary of our solar system and we are now returning to earth. 

June 21st marked the Winter Solstice in the Antarctic. The sun has reached its most northern point at 23.5° north of the equator and is on its way south now. In a few months we will have light! It has been a long several months since I first arrived at the South Pole on January 18th. I am doing fine and looking forward to the second half of this grand South Pole adventure. I have posted Midwinter Greetings from around the continent and few sub-Antarctic islands.

The Coldest Journey Expedition is attempting to cross the continent with tractors. If they succeed this will be the first ever Antarctic crossing in winter.

I am the 4th standing last row from the left. We really wanted to take our group picture at the Geographic South Pole but the Pole has had record breaking winds all June.