There are two other pilots, Steve King and Greg Stein, who fly the camp’s two Twin Otters and they come over to chat. At this time their planes are being used for flights to the mountains, particularly for those wanting to climb Mount Vinson and are therefore not presently available for Pole flights. In fact one of the Twin Otters needs repairs and servicing so is not in the equation anyhow. Throughout my stay in camp I may joke and talk with Steve and Greg but Max is my main man.
He has my polar destiny totally in his hands, he is the only one to decide whether I will achieve the ultimate goal and make it to the South Pole. He is a straight guy and understands my strong desire but he has been, and wants to stay, around for a long time. The thing he has learned well is that you don’t take chances, especially out here where the back-up is so limited.
Antarctic Circle Map Photo Gallery
We had arrived at 1.15 p.m. and the reloading of the Hercules had been completed in just 45 minutes. But it’s now 4.30 p.m. and the Hercules is still on the ground. It looks ominous. The problem is that one of the propellers is not turning fully and they must get it right before risking the long flight back. Repairs continue the whole time, there are a lot of huddled consultations and visits to the electrical tent but no one appears flustered. This can happen any time in Antarctic conditions. It’s a problem that will be solved, only the time it will take is uncertain. Additionally the temperature has risen to only -1 oC and that’s too warm for the take-off and initial flight; they mostly prefer about -8/10 oC. It’s also starting to blow quite hard and that is another concern. If they take off the outgoing passengers and they stay over it means there will have to be a reallocation of the tent places, meaning I’ll have to share with someone and move everything to one mattress. I hope she plays chess at least. Another half-hour or so and there is good news. The propeller is fixed and with a whoosh the Hercules lifts into the sky and is on its way back. It’s a great sight.
Duncan Haigh, the camp manager, comes back from the Hercules to welcome us. He is feeling pretty chuffed and it’s not to do with the take-off. Not only has his girlfriend Lorna come out to join him for a while but he has just received important news. A letter came in on our plane informing him that he has been awarded the Polar Medal from the Queen and this is being Gazetted. It is signed by Rear Admiral Myres and is from the Ministry of Defence. It relates to Duncan’s work in the Antarctic region and his masterminding the handing over of one of the polar stations to the Canadians.
Duncan tells us about the camp and its working arrangements and gives me the most important information of all. Details about the latrine facilities. There are two and they are situated several metres away, divided inside an igloo, specially constructed to house them. Outside are two small red flags. When either latrine is occupied the flagpole is kept the right way up with the flag at the top. As you leave it is important to invert the pole so it’s at the bottom, as a signal that particular latrine is empty and available. Although there are only two the system works reasonably well. Latrine duty is allocated once a day and the person on duty is called the mouse. I suppose anyone who declines is called a rat!
I decide to inspect and fortunately both flags are upside down. There is a slight slope down and inside the hollowed-out cavern I am surprised to see an actual toilet with a seat. There are toilet rolls on a stick stuck into the ice wall. Very civilised. It’s bitterly cold inside so it’s not a place to linger on several accounts. I remember to invert the flag as I leave. There’s nowhere to wash hands and I now know why people just waved their greetings at us and didn’t shake hands when we arrived.
Nearby there is a small hut in which there is a narrow shower and an adjoining washroom set with a small basin and mirror. You can use the hut for washing, shaving and showering but you have to bring in your own water obtained from the cook tent. As water is so precious and it’s so laborious to melt the ice into the containers in the cook tent, it is necessary to use it very sparingly. For that reason as well as the inconvenience of transporting the water across the ice to the hut, most people shower rarely, if at all. During my stay I had an occasional overall body wash but it seemed many people who were there even for months didn’t shower. All the men, except Steve, didn’t shave and had long, unkempt beards as well as bushy, overgrown hair. That was certainly the norm and out here the wild look is certainly in. I guess Steve keeps clean-shaven because one of his duties is to fly back regularly to Punta to pick up new travellers; they probably don’t want them to be too alarmed, not to begin with at least. Some of the hairstyles, women as well as men, are strange to the extreme and everyone wears a mix of clothing that has no rhyme or reason and are primarily put on for warmth. Max Wenden is always wearing a very torn, long-sleeved jersey that I am told he never changes during the whole of his season at the camp, which is at least four months. Max waits until a jersey has literally disintegrated and then throws it away before putting on another one. Lorna Doone professes herself to be very tired, throwing a meaningful look across at Duncan and he eagerly takes her away to show her where their tent is. We won’t see them again until very late tomorrow. Ian, Hans and Christian also soon disappear off and the cook tent is rapidly emptying as most people drift away. I am also feeling tired, so quickly have something to eat and then make my way across to my Byrd tent. It is of course still completely light outside as it will remain throughout my time in the Antarctic. After snuggling inside my sleeping bag, I put on some eye shades in order to blot out the brightness and it helps me get to sleep. In a moment I am flat out. One of my dreams is of a mouse in the shower hut eating a bar of soap which gradually turns into cheese and perversely becomes impossible to eat. There is water cascading down but in the dream the mouse never gets wet.