Highest, driest, coldest, and windiest place on Earth

11/12/2016

We have been in the field for just over a week. We were super lucky that the Basler landed on a sunny and calm day. We had about two days of calm before the winds started. They have yet to stop. We took one day off because the winds were blowing snow at a steady 40 knots all day. Today I caught up on typing field notes, downloading GPS points, and bagging and boxing samples.

An average day involves waking up to boil water, putting on all my layers for a 30-60 minute skidoo ride to an outcrop of interest, spending the day hiking up snowy and ice-covered scree slopes, and freezing my fingers while writing down notes and taking GPS points. Then there is the skidoo ride back to camp, cooking supper, drying frozen gear by the heater, crawling into a -40 degree down bag for bed. Then the whole process begins again the next day. Humans are creatures of habit, so it seems like a perfectly normal regime by now.

The strangest part has been the constant daylight. I will wake up early, my eye mask having fallen off, and think the day is started. The clock will then reveal 3:00AM as my frosty breath steams out of the tiny breathing hole in my down sleeping bag. I go to sleep with hot water bottles each night, listening to the gusts of wind knock the guy lines and loose items around camp. Every structure of camp is within 20 feet of everything else. The sounds are slowly becoming normal, but I still get a strange feeling by the lack of other life. I will hear rustling outside my tent, and my first instinct is to think some mischievous creature lurking about for food scraps. Instead it is the creaking of the thick blue ice beneath our camp or the rustling of cold fabric. Yesterday we saw old skidoo tracks in the moraine field heading out to Milan Ridge, then there were wind-torn and forgotten flag posts up on the edge of the plateau, and a lone metal pole hammered down into the blue ice as we returned across the moraine field. Adding to the desolation, there was the tiniest patch of lichen on some rocks. With all the layers I am constantly putting on and taking off, I feel like an astronaut on a deserted planet. The deserted planet of Antarctica.


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