Temp -47.9F, Windchill -74.7F
Station Population: 121
Days remaining on ice: 12
Days on the ice: 278
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The news of the week was the arrival of the first LC-130 Hercules airplane. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_LC-130 Due to all the bad flying weather, they have pushed up the Herc schedule to help us get caught up with moving people from McMurdo to Pole. The Baslers can only carry 16 passengers where as the larger Hurc can carry 30-40 passengers. These are still tiny compared to the big C-17 Globemasters that fly from McMurdo to Christchurch that take on about 100 passengers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C-17_Globemaster_III The Hurcs are the largest aircraft that can land at pole because our landing strip is only a snow surface and cannot support wheeled aircraft. McMurdo has a sea ice runway that is much stronger. Rumor has it that there has been some talk of trying to create a hard surface runway here at pole to support larger wheeled aircraft. However on of the the arguments against doing that is it would allow more tourism here at Pole and that is generally frowned upon. I don’t know if that of that is true, but it’s interesting. Regardless, the ski equipped Hurc remain the backbone of logistics of the South Pole. Occasionally a C-17 will air drop supplies to South Pole, but that is more a test of concept than a significant method of moving materials. So the Herc showed up on content one day before its arrival at pole. They come here from working up north in places like Greenland. The weather the day the Hurc came in didn’t seem any better than any of the weather of the previous week. I wonder if there isn’t a little bit of rivalry between the Air National Guard and the Ken Borek Air Service as to who can get the job done. That is also probably not true, the the reality is more complicated, but I’ve got to wonder.
- First LC-130 Hurc
One of the passengers of the Hurc brought me a US flag that I ordered online. We have been raffling off the old flags to the winterovers, but luck was not on my side. Regardless, the idea of having a flag that flew over the geographic south pole was tantalizing. So a couple days ago, it put up the flag and will probably take it down after a couple more days. Since we are on top of a huge glacier, we move 33 feet per year. That means the location of the geographic pole is now something like 28 feet from the real pole since the survey last summer. So I paced off about 30′ in the direction it should be and planted my flag. So to the best of my knowledge, my flag is flying directly over the geographic South Pole.
I have not been that interested in meeting the summer crew and generally preferring the company of my fellow winterovers. I attribute that to a number of factors. First is that we are on our way out and it seems pointless (to me at least) to get to know these people. I believe many of them feel the same about us and would rather invest their time into more important relationships. (They might be a little afraid of us too ;) ) I am also kinda socially exhausted and the effort of meeting the new people seem like so much work. This does not seem to be the case with all of the winterovers however. Also, it’s just more comfortable to be with like mined people. We all have our inside jokes, the twinkle in our eyes of our futures and the toasty 1000 yard stare. We can commiserate or reminisce about our winter together. Much like our families, we didn’t choose each other, but for better or worse here we are.I answered a posting on a climbing forum (www.cascadeclimbers.com) by someone looking for mitts for a climb of a 20,000 foot peak. I thought I might have something to contribute so I replied. I’m been wanting to write about my hand wear system for a while, but never got the ambition to actually do it, I thought I would just add a copy here.
I’ve got to give a strong vote for the BD Absolute Mitts.
I’ve been living and working at the South Pole for the winter (February – November). I’ve come to really love these mitts. I used them almost exclusively when the temps are colder than -60F, and that has been virtually everyday for the past 8 months. When it gets really cold (ie -80F to -95F) my hands can get cold, especially if I am holding something, or if I have them out of the mitts too much. But really…-95F with a -145F windchill what do you expect.
There might be warmer mitts, but there is more to a glove system than just warmth. I love these mitts because the shell is insulated with primaloft. Most other mitts have a really thick liner that goes into an uninsulated nylon shell. What I do is remove the liner from the right mitt (I’m right handed) and I wear a modest fleece glove (OR Gripper) on my right hand. Without the mitt’s liner, the right hand goes in and out easily. This give me the dexterity to do almost anything. This does not happen if you are trying to use a fleece glove with a mitt that has a fleece liner. If you were to try this with most other mitts, you wouldn’t have any additional insulation provided by the shell. Thus it wouldn’t be much warmer than your fleece glove alone. In extreme cold (like we have down here) exposing skin for a few seconds = frostbite (been there – done that). For my left hand I just run the mitt stock since I don’t usually need that level of dexterity in both hands.
I’ve been really quite happy with these mitts and how they work with my system. The are obscenely expensive at $180 a pair, but if any one can justify the most expensive mitts on the market, it is some one spending 10 months at the coldest place on the planet. The program issues gloves and mitts too. There are 2 types of gloves, one is a lightly insulated leather glove and the other is a better insulated leather glove. Neither is particularly warm, but for some they are ok in surprisingly cold conditions. I tend to have cold hands so, this is not and option. The next step up is a pair of leather mitt that are reasonably insulated. These are fairly popular for winterovers. They are still rather pitiful, but can be paired with liner gloves and chemical hand warmers to result in a workable system. The next step up is the bearpaw mitts. These are just military issue mitts. I got a pair of these at the CDC, but I put them the the emergency gear cache and never used them. I actual own a pair back home, but they are so bulky that you can’t really do much with them. I guess they are good for driving the snowmobile or to use them like a muff where they are just a place to rewarm hands or for walking from place to place. In my opinion are not that warm. However, some people down here give them strong marks for their warmth.
Like I said, even at negative whatever, it is rare for my to get really cold hands with my Black Diamond mitts. If I am holding something (especially metal), it does tend to compress the insulation a bit and the conductive heat loss can be an issue. One time my thumbs got very cold in them. I started out with cold hands and then took a snowmobile on a ¾ mile ride to take some photos of some buildings. It was about -85 F and I had to stop a number of times to swing my arm to force some more warm blood in to my vasoconstricted fingers. Another problem usually comes from when I am in and out of them for detailed work (ie writing, fixing something, taking pictures, etc). When I need dexterity, my right hand has a fleece windstopper glove with a liner underneath. That’s still pretty good dexterity and warmth. The most important part is that the fleece glove be windstopper, otherwise forget about it. If I know I will be doing a lot of detailed work I’ll drop in a pair of hand warmers inside the right mitt. One other “trick” is to use the idiot string where I can remove my right mitt and I can let it dangle while I do what I need to and the mitt doesn’t blow away or get lost in the darkness.
I wonder what percentage of the world’s hand warmer industry output goes to Antarctica. I’m not sure, but we go through thousands of them here. I typically think of these things as cheating (or “aid” for the climbers). However, when the windchill is running at -130F or colder…anything goes. However, I try not to depend on them. I like to have the confidence that my system will keep my hands from freezing without the warmers, because they can get dropped or stop working prematurely. It’s a safety issue if you are relying on them.