In the Thick of It

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Of course it was going to be overwhelming. The sensory overload, the people, the unfamiliar maze of corridors and walkways that make up the station. The rush to get everything unloaded, the rush to get everything loaded. To find the machines I’m supposed to be setting up, the people I’m supposed to be working with, to not bug them because they’re also rushing to get their work done while dealing with this tsunami of strangers that has just been unleashed on them. We’re effectively doubling the population here, and some of us have no idea how to best stay out of the way. And all of this in the crucible of a slim tongue of rock jutting from a glacier that’s spilling blue ice into the sea from vast walls that rise on either side of us. It’s hard to focus, to know what I’m supposed to be focusing on.

But there’s a joyful energy in the swirl of barely-contained chaos. The ship means that the summer folks who have spent the last six months on station get to go home. The winter overs are here, and eager to get started. There are freshies. Fresssssssshies. And so much to do before we depart. So much.

For my part, I have a very specific job on station. It’s one that, if it goes well, consists of unplugging a cable, plugging a couple more back in, turning on a computer and holding my breath that everything comes up running. But I don’t want to just barge in and start yanking out pieces of hardware, and the people I need to sanity check cables and computers with have their hands full with much more important tasks. So once we’ve made it through shipboard orientation (thank you Andrea!) and station orientation (thank you Keri!), Hector and I find ourselves at a bit of a loss for what to do next. It seems a bit of a waste to just go back to the ship and wait things out, so we sign out a radio, grab some microspikes and sign ourselves out on the excursion board for a stroll up the glacier.

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Actually getting to the glacier takes a bit more work than it used to.  Back in the 60’s, when Palmer Station was built, the Marr glacier came right into its backyard. Over the intervening half century it’s been in constant retreat, and the “backyard” has grown to a vast field of talus and scree.

Glacier terminus 2011 2 with scale

Photo courtesy of USAP

We get there, but as we start up, it doesn’t take long for me to both feel my age, and the effects of spending most of the past two weeks sitting on my butt, staring at a screen. Hector paces himself, and within an hour we’ve made it to the saddle point of this particular tongue of the glacier. If we had more time (and I had more endurance), we could continue on to “Point B”, opposite the station. From here, though, we’ve got a 360-degree view of this tiny corner of this tiny island off the coast of the peninsula of a magnificently stark and beautiful continent. Yes, this’ll do nicely for now.

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6 responses to “In the Thick of It

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