Surprise!

Today was an awesome day. Got up early and tromped around the base. Rumor from the would-be Polies who’d been stuck here for two weeks was that they were going to try to make a big push and get us all out on Tuesday, which gave us plenty of time to get acquainted with MacTown.

Met up with Ralph, Rolf and Russ at breakfast, and we decided to walk out to Hut Point, the base of ops for Scott’s 1902-1903 explorations. Didn’t have a Recs guide with us, so we couldn’t get inside, but we could peer in through the windows to get blurry glimpses of the furniture and provisions untouched since Scott left them over a century ago. We’d been told to look for the dessicated seal carcass on the “porch” out back, still well preserved over the 100 years by the cold. Up to Vince’s Cross for a photo op, then back into town.

It was strange to realize how quickly we’d found our bearings and gotten comfortable. Less than 24 hours ago we’d stumbled off the bus goggle-eyed in full ECW gear. Now we were out for a casual morning stroll to the point in our jeans and tennies, chatting about what the day would bring. Maybe a hike to Scott Base after lunch? Or hang out and catch up on email?

I went with the hike to Scott. About two miles up and over the saddle behind Obs Hill, down to the Kiwi base-ops at the north end of the island. It’s not actually open to Americans, except on Thursdays for “Pub Night”, but there’s a fun little store, you can whack an (unofficial!) “Scott Base” stamp your passport, and the Kiwis seem happy to hang out in the front room and chat. And yes, they’ll let you down the hall to use the bathroom.

Ben had accumulated a half dozen of us for the hike, so up and over we went. The sense of the alien built as we crested the saddle and felt the wind picking up at our backs. To our left up the hill were the three giant wind turbines that power Scott and McMurdo. To our right, the slope dropped away steeply into the ice of the Antarctic sea. Indescribably spectacular.

By the time we’d stocked up on chocolate, “Scott Base” patches, Kiwi wine and merino glove liners, the wind was really howling. Amanda made an impressive “human anemometer” display, demonstrating how far she could lean, Michael Jackson-like, in place. Fortunately Ben demonstrated his inexhaustible resourcefulness and wrangled a ride home for us in the back of McMurdo pickup truck headed over the saddle.

Ambled upstairs in 155 to catch the end of “Time Bandits” in the lounge, uploaded some photos, and headed to the galley for dinner. Tomorrow I’d be putting the morning in at McMurdo IT, getting my first real helpdesk experience and sitting in on a second round of the MAPCON training I’d be needing to lead at the Pole. Then maybe a hike up Obs Hill, a final warm shower, and hope for the Pole on Tues or Weds.

Or not – I was getting into the rhythm of this place. In Encounters at the End of the World (I do keep bringing that film up!), Herzog bemoans the ugliness of McMurdo, its industrial blight on the landscape. What he misses is the fact that this (sharply circumscribed) splotch of asphalt and corrugated metal provides the life support that enables humans to survive and witness the wonders of the continent. Without what McMurdo provides, none of the bases – except maybe Palmer – could exist. I found myself wondering if he would lament the ugliness of the Apollo lunar lander that let Armstrong and Aldrin bring humanity their first glimpse of another world. Beauty is everywhere, if you’re looking for it; so is ugliness – the choice of what we see is ours.

It was with these musings I skipped up the steps of the galley at 1830, anticipating my second of many dinners at MacTown. Rolf caught me at the top of the stairs: “Have you checked your email? We’re going at 0900 tomorrow morning. Bag drag is in 30 minutes.”

In the stunned silence that followed, I think, somewhere down the hall, I heard the gods snicker.

[They’re going to try to get four Hercs out to the Pole in rapid succession tomorrow, starting at 0800. The last two (the day we flew into McMurdo) came back. Wish me luck!]

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