I live on “the harsh continent.” This is a place not meant for man. Without special gear, there is no surviving it. Currently, it’s -62F. It was -65F last night. The wind is howling, which makes for a very different cold than the equal ambient temperature.
It’s also a place of incredible beauty. I spent the weekend (Saturday night) off station in “The Kiwi Square Frame.” It looks like a re-tooled shipping container. I would guess it’s about 10 feet by 20 feet, with a couple sets of bunk beds in the back. There is a small stove to provide heat, which runs constantly. When we first arrived, it was just about freezing; cold enough to see your breath, but not quite cold enough to quickly freeze any liquids. After a few hours, we had warmed the place up to a balmy 40F or so.
The Kiwis run the shack, so we drove over to their base, dropped off our van, picked up one of their winter-overs and hitched a ride out.The shack is accessed by a 20 minute drive in a haaglund, which is a two pod, tracked vehicle. It looks like a cross between a tank and a Smart Car (google it and tell me it’s not a smart car tank). There are two separate pods and there were a couple of us in each. It doesn’t take long before the artificial lights of Scott Base were long gone. The only extra light came from the head lights and the powerful spotlight on top used to try and see the tiny structure that would be our home.
It was -31F ambient temperature outside. There wasn’t a puff of wind. Even all bundled up, it was still unpleasant to stand outside for more than about ten minutes at a stretch. Afterwards, a return to the shack for a half hour or so would eventually warm me back up. The cold discomfort was worth it. The night was still and clear. It wasn’t so cold that floating ice crystals obscured the view of the skies. But it was cold enough that the auroras were on full display. Every time I went outside there were new auroras. At one point, there were two auroras, one on top of the other, dancing. In between, and slightly off to the side was a third. I saw three distinct, green visions up in the sky. I’ve seen a lot of auroras since I’ve been down here, but hadn’t seen them in such commotion.
The Milky Way cut straight through them. It seemed at times as though it were perfectly perpendicular to the dancing streams of green. I could see the galaxy with my own two eyes. It was hard to believe what I was seeing. We had long since left all artificial light behind us, but the stars were so bright that you could navigate to the outhouse without a headlamp. Initially, I tried to take pictures. My camera lacks the settings to do so decently, so instead I just enjoyed the moment. And some of the others were taking pictures, so I’ll just nick the photos off them.
I’ve spent the last decade wandering the world and climbing mountains and this was easily some of the most spectacular, most beautiful scenery I’ve experienced. I tried to take in the experience as best I could, to really sear the image into my brain. And hopefully, one of the others knew how to use their camera properly.
And then I come home to find stories of a home grown massacre, because a guy was pissed that two dudes were making out. So much beauty drowned out by so much ugly.
I think I want to stay here….
(photos courtesy of Jenn Danis)