I went to Antarctica for a month. Stayed a bit longer than I planned (weather delays), but hey, now my Book is just about ready to be launched.
I went to the place my husband has gone 9 out of the last 14 Thanksgivings. I didn’t think I’d come, except, last November (when I was smoking NaNo with my delicious Sherlock romance/mystery and fostering a 2-month-old while Jay was gone for a month), Jay asked if I wanted to come this year, and I said no-the-kids-aren’t-old-enough-here-all-ask-them-and-prove-it, and they all shouted that YES! they’d love to spend a month with their Grandmas.
Sooo they did.
And I had Thanksgiving in McMurdo, Antarctica. And learned that apparently it is a thing to bring wine. That was interesting.
Also, had the *best* GF sweet potato cheesecake with pecan crust and pralines on top. Good. stuff.
Did my first winter camping here, after almost 30 years in Alaska, and all I can say: I wasn’t missing much.
We had good gear, and it was rated for the temperatures we were at, but I swear, if it was up to me alone to heat that sleeping bag (and eventually the tent) through the night, I would be hypothermic.
I know this, because I tried to sleep alone in my prescribed mummy bag the first night in field camp. I even closed the hood around my head and breathed all my “hot air” back into the bag (despite Jay’s admonition to keep “just my nose” sticking out in the cold to ensure I’d breathe fresh air).
The two nights I followed his advice, that is, the two nights I covered everything but my nose because it was so cold I didn’t want any more hanging out? My nose went numb. I had to hold my hand over it to warm it back up.
Then there was the day I got a stupid steam burn making dinner, cooled two of the three fingers by keeping them on snow for an hour, and that last finger just wouldn’t stop burning after five hours of melting snow in a little cup.
I left that hand out of the bag, and I didn’t need snow anymore.
After that first night, even though we didn’t have zip-together sleeping bags, we made it work to share heat. The best arrangement for us had the closed foot of one bag inside the closed foot of the other, then the two bags off-set a bit from each other, one past-center on the bottom, and one past-center over the top, so there was a bit of overlap on both sides.
On the colder nights we added our down coats on top, and kept our fleece jackets/long johns on if we needed them.
What’s amazing to me is that my body really did adjust (it put on some weight, and maybe that had something to do with it). I actually stopped being cold all the time, and that was very impressive.
We woke up every morning, and worked every day, under a smoking volcano. There’s something very cool-sounding about that.
There was this awesome thing with the clouds the first few weeks we were here: they were low enough at times to see both the top and bottom simultaneously. The sunshine turned it gold on top, like a never-ending sunset, and the underside (because the light got to it indirectly) was like bleached cotton. Coolest thing a camera could never capture.
Actually, that’s one of the main elements of Antarctica: the uselessness of cameras to convey the essence of the space. Because space is the essence.
One of the times we were out at one of the sensor sites where I was being Jay’s extra hands, and when we got to the “wait” part of the exercise, I returned to the snow machine, lay on my back the seat and looked up at the sky.
It was probably the same distance to the clouds as it was to the mountains, but because of the absence of anything that might be used to indicate scale, everything always looked “just a bit further” no matter how far we went.
The snow was the most mind-numbing exercise of all (and not in the ice cream headache/brain freeze way).
Our group’s first task once we got to camp was to pull and dig up all the equipment from a year’s accumulation of snow.
This was work, but it was measurable and finite with an established, working system and a fairly low learning curve.
What really got to me was starting out on pristine (far as the eye can see, diamond-shine) snow, digging down to the base of “the vault” (eight of these), being literally up to my eyeballs in a snowy pit, and thinking how the depth we’re all standing on was surface level just a year ago.
We walk around, pulling up equipment pipes and marking flags that are maybe two or three feet above ground, and reset them in the current snowpack, so they’re taller than me, and I stand behind the un-snowed vault (because there is literally no earth– to say we unearthed them– on the Ross Ice Shelf), head swimming at the understanding that I am walking on snow, sinking 2-6 inches in the fresh stuff, that will be five or six feet under the new top when next winter’s crew arrives to do it all again.