Tuesday, 27. January 2009
Journal-ish kind of thing
1 Nov. Well, since we are all on a ridged 6 day work week all the big parties are saved for Saturday night. The first big bash of the season in the Halloween party. This one was no exception. Held in the Gym it was packed to the gills with people and quite a variety of costumes. It is amazing how with such a limited supply of stuff and no Wal-Mart, the variety of costumes that arrived at the party. I myself went as a misfortune teller booth. I had no idea what to make until I found the hat. I then decided on a gypsy fortunate teller booth. I then got a huge kick out of writing a bunch of misfortunes to hand out. I made a bunch of fortune cookie type of slips with sayings like: "Embrace your inadequacies", "You may go blind", "The most dangerous thing is your own stupidity", "don't wear your best pants when fighting for freedom" and the such. Everyone got a good laugh out of them so I guess it was a bit of a hit. I didn't win anything in the costume contest but I had fun anyway. The costume was a little anti social and I couldn't move around to well so I ditched the box and hit the dance floor after the contest was over. I managed to get out of there round 1230 and try to get some sleep before heading back to work on Sunday.
10 Nov. Well I have made it to the South Pole! We took a C-130 transport and had luxury accommodations with respect to most travel in Antarctica. The plane was mostly empty. Only 11 passengers and one pallet of cargo made for a great ride. We could get up from our seats to go and look out the few windows that the plane offered. For the first hour and a half not much to report it was mostly cloudy and we couldn't see the ground. About the time we got over the Trans-Antarctic Mountains it cleared up. The breathtaking wilderness of Antarctica. Huge cobalt blue glaciers, the pure white of the snow and the contrast of the dark rock of the mountains. The photos do absolutely no justice. The flight took about 3 hours.
We landed just in time for lunch. I was amazed at the incredibly smooth landing of the ski equipped plane. I have never been in a plane that landed with out so much as a chirp. Once out to the aircraft we were greeted with the great flat white South Pole Station. A long walk over to the new elevated station for lunch and our arrival brief. The actual elevation of the South Pole is about 9,000 feet. The atmospheric altitude is much different. The air is thinner at the Poles of the earth. Right now the atmosphere is about that of an 10,600 foot mountain. The temp is only about -40 to -50. Luckily the wind is very light and the wind-chill is only dipping into the -50 to -60 range. Very different from McMurdo this time of year. Mac Town is balmy with its +20 to +30 and the snow is starting to melt.
Well, back to the story at hand. We took the long walk to the new elevated station. Now remember the thin atmosphere and now throw a bunch of stairs into the equation. Ths place has a huge around of stairs for a base that is built in a truly flat area. Huff and Puff we made it to lunch and our brief. At the brief we were given our room assignments. Both of us got assigned to the summer camp. We are staying in a tent! The Summer camp is a compound of what are called Jamesways. A Jamesway is a semi-permanent type of a tent structure. They are all equipped with a oil furnace so they stay pretty warm. It is interesting that the floor and the lower 1-1.5 feet of the structure is quite cold. It is cold enough you can keep your beer cold under your bed of freeze your water bottle.
After moving in we took a quick walk about to get the lay of the land. We headed to the Dome to check out the old station. They are slowly moving things out of the dome structure into the new elevated station and are planning on tearing down the dome and giving it to some museum. Walking around in the Dome and accompanying tunnels is a trip. You are in a steel archway under the snow and they have buildings constructed under the arches. I thought is was very much like Sci-Fi and it seemed like what Hoth in the Star Wars movies would be like. We also made our requisite trip over to the actual South Pole. There are two South Poles a ceremonial one and the real one they are about 20 yards apart and a short walk from the station. We were busy getting some pictures done and getting quite cold to boot. I noticed that when I downloaded my pictures I looked like I was in pain. So we had to skedaddle to meet with the winter site manager to get a game plan on our inspections.
The winter site manager is Pete Kosin. I had met him before in McMurdo before he deployed to the pole. He took us on an official tour to get a feel for what we were in for. More stairs and cold. Most of the station even though it is protected under the snow in the arches it is still colder that heck! The Fuel Arch that stores all the fuel for the station is always -70 degrees! The Safety person says that she cannot actually fill out the inspection cards for the extinguishers in there because her pen freezes. Well, that led us into dinner time and I was getting beat. The thin air was beginning to get to me so I had dinner and went back to the tent for the night.
I was told that the first night don't expect to sleep much because of the adaptation to the altitude. Well, they were right. the rapid ascent here left me exhausted yet my heart was beating so fast and at times it felt like I was gasping for air. I managed about maybe 4-5 hours of sleep. I cant imagine what it would be like for a smoker here. This is very similar to what mountain climbers have to deal with at high altitude. It really drains your energy. Usually it takes 3-4 days to get accustomed to such a rapid accent in altitude. Unfortunately we are only here for 3 days so we wont know what it is like. There are some that truly get altitude sickness when coming up here. Usually the bad cases are cured by going over to medical and taking a nap with a bit of oxygen on. The worse cases are either treated in a Gamow bag or med-evaced back to McMurdo. A Gamow bag is like a cross between a sleeping bag and a hyperbaric chamber. You place the patient in the bag zip and strap it then inflate it thus providing a higher pressure atmosphere. You can also pre-medicate yourself with Diamox that helps. I decided to see how I would do with out the meds.
11 Nov. After a night of very poor sleep we had to get to work. We got up at around 0700 and headed to breakfast. The food here is very good. Much better than McMurdo. It is easier to cook for 200 than 1000 I guess. Eric and I had decided that we should start our inspections in the new elevated station and hit all the big areas. Just as we were about to start they shut the power down to the new station so they could do some maintenance on it. Well, the lack of power makes our inspection useless so we had a change of plans. We then tried to get a hold of some of the points of contacts for the labs but they were all in the Tuesday morning meeting. Eric and I decided to just get all the outlying buildings done then we could get the big structures tomorrow hopefully after a better night sleep. We conduced the inspections of all the outlying dorms (Jamesways in Summer Camp) and the construction tents. We both were dragging badly. It didn't help that we were going inside and outside constantly. We managed to get all the camps done and start on the Dome. We actually hammered thorough and I think we got about 60% of our work done today!
12 Nov. Got a much better night sleep. I feel like I am finally getting adjusted to the altitude. The weather has not changed, it is still around -40 with -57 wind-chill. The relative altitude has decreased a bit to 10420 ft. The lower altitude means a bit higher barometric pressure thus easier breathing. Today was another full day of inspections. Eric and I decided we had much to do so we split up for a while after lunch. Lots of walking today. I walked out to the Clean Air lab for an inspection. Since there is about 1800 miles of nothing upwind from the south pole this is a great place to study the atmosphere of the earth. It is also a good thing that 90% of the time the wind comes from the same direction. The Clean Air lab tests the background atmosphere and stuff. I didn't get a chance to discuss the actual experiments with them. The lab there was very happy to tell me about their slushy drinks though. On Fridays they will go upwind and gather some pure snow for the evening. Then you have your choice of slushy flavor usually your favorite alcoholic flavoring. Unfortunately we were not to be around for the party.
13 Nov. Well, I am now on a plane back to McMurdo. Our inspections are done. I cant say that our inspections are complete because there just wasn't enough time to get them all done. I'm feeling better now that I am back in a pressurized atmosphere. Although today I was feeling good and not getting to winded with all the stairs. Today we had one last inspection to do on what is called the fuel arch. The fuel arch is an under-snow long archway that they store all the fuel for the station. It is always -70 degrees in there. No matter for the fuel but inspecting is a bear because our pens would freeze. I got the last of my postcards in the mail and had a bit of time to go back to the Pole and get a few more photos and a bit of movie. Awesome trip to the bottom of the world!
See me running around the world! (Video)
16 Nov. Since Sundays are the only day of rest for the town we . Every year we have the Firehouse Expo, so we open our doors to the public to come and see what we are all about. A couple of our firefighters made a huge pot of firehouse chili for the town and a bunch of different activities. We brought out some of our turn out gear and let people bunker up and go on a smoke filled search of the second floor of the fire house to find "Big Grey" our rescue mannequin. We also put together our confined space maze for them to crawl trough with air packs on, let them use the jaws of life to cut up an old truck hood and riffle through the ambulance and medical gear. I heard that all that attended had a splendid time. We got many thanks from everyone and some pictures to boot...
20 Nov. Today was our MCI or mass casualty incident training drill. Every year the station puts together volunteers for a mass casualty response in case something drastic happens on or near station. This years scenario was an auto accident with 15 injured patents. Mass casualty? you say... Well our hospital only has a total of 4 beds and a limited staff so anything that brings in more than 304 patients is declared an emergency. The main focus on a mass casualty is setup of a primary medical triage and treatment area. This area is set up in the apparatus bay at the firehouse. Our bay is the best wide open space and it is next door to the actual hospital for ease of access to supplies. The drill went fairly well. I was off duty that day so I came in on the recall page. I assumed the role of staging officer for a majority of the drill. I also stayed close to the dispatch area to assist with communications. I am waiting to see if I can get some cool pictures since I forgot to bring my camera. Ill post them as soon as I can....
21 Nov. Last week I got word that I was chosen for the primary Search and Rescue team. The JASART (Joint Antarctic Search and Rescue Team) is an team of mountaineers and SAR people from the US and New Zealand programs. I am the primary medic along with a Physicians Assistant from the McMurdo Hospital. I was issued gear earlier this week and attended my first training on Thursday the 20th. The scenario was that reports of a fall injury on OB hill overlooking McMurdo. I was on the number one hasty team sent first up the hill. We quickly were attempting to triage around 8 persons involved. In the big scheme of things our 3 person hasty team was faced with one serious fall injury, a minor ankle fracture patient and stressed out companion plus a highly intoxicated couple that was having a lovers spat to equal several skirmishes in the Zulu Wars. Our Kiwi Hasty leader had to resort to a bit of open palm negotiations (slapping) to try to calm the scene. My team found the first critical patient whom had fallen off the upper ridge. The victim had several injuries including spinal injuries. The major obstacle with this patient was her location. They found a rather dicey loose rock slope to place the patient on and footing was a huge issue. Patient packaging was a serious undertaking. Myself and three assistants were able to gently get her packaged in the basket and haul it up to the top of the hill. On the opposite side of the hill unseen by our hasty team the secondary team was working on a victim of a rather grizzly accident. The synopsis of this victim was that he was sliding down the large snow gully on OB hill and his personal region met with a nasty interaction with an exposed anchor bar. This victim was basically impaled on a spike in the crotch. Now that you have stopped cringing or laughing hysterically the scenario is quite plausible. This area of OB hill is used by a lot of persons for body sledding and the old search and rescue anchor poles are still in the hill covered with snow. Having two critical patients on the hill posed quite a problem for our small team. We were stretched quite thin and it became apparent that we were a bit short on rope for the entire operation. Some very ingenious invention the riggers managed to get both patients lowered off the hill within a few hours. All in all I am quite impressed with the skill and dedication of the team and am quite proud to be chosen to be a part of the team. I am defiantly looking forward to getting down to some Antarctic training. Hopefully get to do some glacier travel and some crevasse rescue training.
24 Nov. We Frozen Few just happen to be in the right spot for the solar eclipse! Here in McMurdo we were treated to an almost full solar eclipse. We got about 70% of the show. The other side of the continent got a bit of a better show. I also read about a few airlines that would take you to the right places to see the full eclipse for only around 6-8000 dollars. Wow I'm actually getting paid to see it! I think the neatest thing about it is that it actually got a bit dark here. Quite a change from the all day sun of the summer. With the 70 % blockage the town seemed like a very overcast rainy day. Which is cool because it doesn't rain here. Here are some pictures of the eclipse from one of the telescopes here. I take no credit for them I grabbed them off of the common drive in the intranet here.
28 Nov. Sea Ice school. Today I attended the Sea Ice school. This class is taught to anyone that needs to work or travel out on the sea ice areas. The sea ice is the temporary annual ice that fills the McMurdo sound in the winter. The class teaches about the formation of the ice and the degradation of it in the thaw periods. The main topic is the formation of the cracks in the ice. You can tell a lot about what is going on with the ice by the cracks in it. The main concern is safe travel over the ice. We went out on the ice to a known crack and performed a crack "Profile". A profile consists of removing the snow covering the crack and testing its depth and characteristics. We first shoveled away to expose the crack and the surrounding ice layer. Initial measurements are made of the width and also the number of repeated cracks that are in the same spot. Then you get out a gas powered drill and start drilling into the crack to test the thickness of the ice. The drill consists of a motor and interlocking drill bits called flights. Each flight is 30 inches long. We first drilled each layer of the crack with one flight on the drill then added a flight and continued. It wasn't until we put all 3 flights together that we got al the way though the ice. The ice was just shy of 70 inches thick! Dats alot of ice! The current ice sheet in McMurdo sound is about 4 years old so it is quite thick. The vehicle we took is called a Hagglund. It is an old amphibious military vehicle that is quite uncomfortable. We should have done a bunch more sight seeing but the Hagglund was acting up and would only go about 9 mph instead of its usual 20-30.
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