Someone comes to tell us that the shop is open. It’s really just a storeroom with many shelves filled with all kinds of items bearing Antarctic and South Pole designs and drawings, even specially labelled bottles of whisky and brandy. I buy some sweatshirts and T-shirts, baseball caps, mugs and toys and various smaller trinkets and gifts. Most of all, lots of postcards and the polar stamps so they can be sent out from here. We are allowed to use the many South Pole special ink stamps that were designed over a number of years. The evocative names include: Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station Antarctica, Antarctic Support Associates South Pole Station Antarctica, Global
Antarctic Expedition Travel Photo Gallery
Seismographic Network South Pole Antarctica, US Geological Survey US Antarctic Program, USARP Gravity Program. They are all interesting and illustrate the tremendous variety of projects that have been and are being carried out at the station. Mostly I use the more simple stamp just with the words South Pole Station Antarctica. Ian and I quickly start writing out our cards and the pile grows steadily higher as we remember more friends and family who should receive a special and unique greeting from us. Wayne Sukow sees that we are happy to spend our remaining time here and bids us farewell, as he needs to get back to his office work. I thank him for his patience and for giving us such a thorough tour of the base. He give me his card with his US contact details and offers to respond to any future queries I might have, especially if I do get round to writing about my experiences. The store manager is anxious to close up but we persuade her to stay open a little longer as we continue to need more cards and stamps.
Max comes to find us and tells us we must plan to leave now, as it will still take another six hours of flying before we can arrive back at camp. Just to emphasise that we shouldn’t delay, he tells us that out here a flight which departs but has to return, due to weather conditions or mechanical problems is known as a boomerang. Max makes a threatening circular movement with one hand and we immediately get the message. Before the shop finally closes I buy him a new sweatshirt to replace his torn one and a bottle of malt whisky. He’s absolutely delighted. I suspect he will not wear the sweatshirt until he returns to New Zealand at the end of the season, but will probably drink the whisky as soon as we land back at Patriot Hills. I feel he very much deserves it. We quickly scribble a last few cards then hurry through the maze of corridors and find the ramp leading to the outside. We pull our parkas tightly around us as the cold air hits us with a huge icy blast. It feels very much colder. We must have got too used to the warm air circulating inside. It’s extraordinary how protected everything and everyone is from the cold. The system of interlocking doors works so well to prevent the freezing air penetrating. No wonder everybody is so reluctant to go outside unless there is some essential work to do or repairs to carry out. Max is quite impatient now and almost pushes us towards the Cessna. It’s nearly 12 a.m. local time although I’ve kept my watch on Patriot Hills time which is 17 hours behind Pole time so it shows 7 p.m. of the previous night. It’s been at least 9 hours since we set out.
Some last photographs of the base and the evocative posts commemorating previous South Pole expeditions, then it’s time to board. Ian is quite happy for me to sit in the front again. I suspect he wants to doze. Max starts to taxi and we are almost immediately airborne. All ways are pointing North, so again he can’t use the plane’s instrument compass and the GPS system is still playing up. Max is very confident he knows the way and I am quite happy to rely on his judgement. But he’s looking tired and clearly we should have left earlier. It’s been an extremely long day and he has already flown for well over six hours just to get here, as well as the time spent preparing the plane and fuelling it. He tells us that it will be faster returning as there’s a strong tail wind but it means he has to be extra careful on controlling the plane and avoiding any sudden wind gusts. It’s all systems go.