Things were underway by noon; the crowd started small and built up as the day went on. The sun started to peek out of the clouds from time to time, encouraging the audience. People still came and went, trying to keep warm.
Since I was now bandless and still wanted to perform, I got my didjeridu and secured a couple of minutes on stage during the changeover between The Fuel Pit Pickers and Forrest (the third-to-the-last and second-to-the-last acts). When Forrest saw me with my didj, he suggested we pool our efforts and go on together. We played for a few minutes in the band room and decided it was going to work. We were scheduled for 16:30, but didn't come up in the rotation 'til 17:00. We played freeform rhythms, barked, chirped and just plain jammed for several minutes. The crowd went wild. We got up to leave and the audience called for an encore. Native Aussies and experienced tourists told us we sounded like the real thing, an amazing feat on PVC pipe
After an hour or so, there was a little presentation for Dan. Those of us who didn't work with him on a daily basis learned a little about life with the Brine Suckers. Since I'd been coring, I understood why a big deal was being made about the size of the cores he was able to pull out of the ice. When we were out together, we typically extracted 90 cm samples. Dan managed to max it out at 99 cm, the longest sample possible. In honor of this achivement, he was awarded a scale model in ice (longer than my forearm) and a plaque. Another item at the presentation was a timeline of Dan's season, highlighting several (usually humorous) high and low points, from beating Joe the science tech at ping-pong night after night, to being delayed on the second sleigh-ride to the Pole day after day (unless it goes before Tuesday, he'll miss his chance).
After the party, I headed over to Crary to work on my Home Page and got the word there were penguins past the VXE-6 transition. I watched them for a while from the library through the telescope. There were over two dozen Adèlies, all but one asleep on the ice, looking very much like two-toned footballs. The lone upright bird appeared to be keeping watch, pacing and flapping in circles.
Eventually, I went to get my camera and my 135 mm lens, hoping to catch a picture or two (the penguins were so far off shore that even with a long lens, they'd be black dots in a sea of white). By the time I got down to the end of the road, the penguins had moved off. I stood by the edge of the sea ice, listening to it crack and groan as it pushed its way onto shore, one millimeter at a time. I shot about half-a-roll of B&W film and headed back inside. It was a great morning for pictures; the skies are clear for the first time in days. A couple more days of this would be great.
Steering a sled may sound easy, but you don't have a tiller, just a brake to slow the sled down and let the skidoo pull you back on a straight course. The only other resource you have is yourself; you throw your own weight around to keep the sled upright and facing front (when going downhill, it's not always easy, especially when the tow rope goes slack).
Erebus was shrouded in clouds, so we stopped our ascent about 2/3 of the way to the camp. We ran around to keep warm and looked offshore, watching the icebreaker plough its way through the ice south of Tent Island, about 10 miles from McMurdo. We posed for a round of hero shots on the back of the sleds, then turned around and headed for lunch at the Instructor's Hut; I steered the other sled, the one with no spikes on the brake.
Since it had no traction, I rode the brake most of the way down just to keep us facing the way we were driving. I dug in so hard, that at times the furrow I made with the brake board was throwing snow up to my knee. Once or twice we got a little out of control, but I made sure we never tipped.
After a lunch of juice and PB&J, we drove back to silver city for self-arrest training. For an hour, we climbed up the slopes below the crevasse-ridden ice falls and practiced sliding and stopping, feet-first, face up, then feet-first, face down, head-first, face down, and finally, head-first, face up, the hardest of all. The "graduation exercise" was a walk along the face of the slope into steeper and steeper terrain, and a slide down for a finish. I got over onto a nearly vertical spot, but with all the footprints in the icy snow below me, Buck told me to climb down, not slide down. That was fine with me, I was a good 40 or 50 feet up. Once everyone made their way down, we packed up our things and headed back to town.
In most of the cases, the stories were happy ones. Shackleton made it back just in time to signal his ship, The Nimrod, before it sailed North for the Winter. He and all of his party were suffering so badly from scurvy that two men remained behind on the Ross Ice Shelf while Shackleton and one other made a mad dash to get help. The Nimrod was already heading for home, giving up the party as lost; Shackleton was too weak from scurvy to tie a flag to Vince's Cross so he burned down one of Scott's scientific huts next to Scott's Discovery Hut to attract attention to his plight. It worked, the crew of the Nimrod saw the smoke, returned to Hut Point and rescued all four men. Other parties weren't so lucky; not only did the Scott Expedition of 1913 suffer from delays which claimed the lives of all the remaining members, another expedition lost a man to scurvy because they couldn't return to Hut Point in time.
In addition to the great slides of original artwork and photos made by the men who were here 75 years ago, we saw several movies of the period, the oldest from 1909. We watched Scott's men hitch up the dogs for a run near Cape Evans, exercise the ponies, play the Southern-most football game and set up camp just like they did twice a day on the fateful trip to the Pole (Ponting, the photographer, only accompanied the party as far as the Beardmore Glacier). Motion pictures capture the harsh reality of Antarctic exploration much better in motion pictures than stills.
My late nights in Crary this week caught up to me tonight: I got home from dinner and crashed until a phone call woke me up a few hours later. I tried to go back to sleep, but to no avail, so it was back to the Lab until I finally got tired enough to hit the sack. At least it was productive; I've been learning lots about internetworking Windows and non-Windows systems.
The Kapt. Klebnikov pulled into Winter Quarters Bay this morning. It's a Russian icebreaker cum Antarctic cruise ship packed with people willing to spend extravagant sums of money to see the wonders of the bottom of the Earth. It's also the first batch of tourists we've seen this season. Because there is no open water by the ice pier, the cruise company couldn't send visitors ashore in zodiacs; they had to fly them over by helo. The invasion proceeded at a steady rate all day. Groups of well-to-do travelers wandered around various parts of the station including Crary Lab. The Lab staff took turns escorting tour groups around Phase I, into working labs, up to the library with its panoramic view of the cloud enshrouded mountains and (time permitting) down to Phase III, the -2°C (+29°F) sea water aquarium. I took a turn at leading a tour after lunch.
After work I went down to the Nathanial B. Palmer to be a tourist myself. We went all the places we went on last year's tour save one: this year we got to see one of the winch control rooms. It wasn't actually that exciting, but it was something new. Also, since this year, our group didn't get chased out of the engine room, we got to walk all the way aft on the bottom deck instead of just to the bottom of the stairs.
The shuttle van that picked me up also picked up a full load of people going to Scott Base. I decided to go along for the ride; it was the first time I've been to the Scott Base Bar this season. Unlike in the Winter, there were almost no kiwis there. I chatted with folks, sipped Stone's Ginger Wine (on the rocks with Ginger Ale) and took a few pictures before going home when the bar closed at 22:00.
Searching for Kevin and Paul and Andy to see if there was a late-night movie in the works, I came across a bunch of the S-301 biology students playing pool in the 208 lounge. Most of the ones there were from the UK, but Sweden and Germany were represented as well. When someone mused aloud about how harsh Winter must be, I got the chance to drag out a story or two about my winter-over experience. The crowd was divided on the question of whether they'd like to winter-over or not, but all stood and shook their heads in disbelief when I told them the tales of the weather on Labor Day or the night of the End of Winter party when we had to count the lights on the buildings to make sure we were heading for the right one. It was less than a week 'til MainBody and you'd have thought it was the depths of Winter.
It did get a little chilly this afternoon when a massive fog bank rolled off Hut Point Peninsula behind Arrival Heights and blanketed Ob Hill and McMurdo both, the worst weather the biology students have seen so far. Except for lots of cloudy days and the occasional fog bank passing through town, the weather has been pretty idyllic for most of the past month (New Year's Day aside). When it has snowed, it's been a few thick snowflakes, like the ones back home, not the fine, dry powdery snow I've gotten used to.
Around 23:00, the wind picked up something fierce. It was strong enough that people broke out the kite and used it to propel a skiier across the Ice at an amazing rate. In her long skirt, she looked like Mary Poppins flying away. The wind didn't last long; right now, it's warm and calm.
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