I discover the extent of the other base facilities and they are equally impressive. Probably the most important is the wireless tent, essential for obtaining up-to-date weather information and relaying news of whatever emergencies are occurring, either here or at another station. There are several stores, a reading and library tent, and a medical and treatment tent which possibly doubles as the doctor’s sleeping quarters.
Also electrical and service tents which house the aircraft spare parts. The larger tents have fullsized entrance doors, windows and the dining tent has insulated floors. It’s essential out here as you can easily experience a complete weather white-out and will have to wait until the storm lessens or passes which can be anything from two to twenty hours. A white-out can be completely disorientating and if caught outside in one you can be totally lost even if only a few metres from a tent. It’s impossible to see or hear anything and you will quickly lose all sense of direction. You should only step outside if it’s really essential and then you must make certain you have a rope or cord attached to guide you back.
Where Is The Antarctic Circle Located On A Map Photo Gallery
Fortunately now the weather seems perfect, very little wind, clear in all directions, sunny and even warm. I’d like to take off for the Pole immediately but that’s not possible. Normally the camp houses about 20 visitors, which means sharing tents, but as there are so few of us I am allocated one to myself. Is it something I’ve sung? Each tent is named after a polar explorer; I have the large Byrd tent. Is it another sing-song joke? I don’t mind and I have the luxury of two mattresses which means I can put my sleeping bag on one and spread out my equipment and spare clothes on the other.
After sorting my bags and laying everything across the mattresses I make my way back to the cook tent. Everyone calls it that, rather than dining or eating tent, as out here you don’t use two syllables if one will do. It saves on breath and also means your mouth is open less to let the cold in. Ros immediately presses me to eat something; all I want is tea and I’m given a huge mug with several biscuits. Two large, standing containers of heated water are situated in the centre of the tent to spread the heat in all directions. They are used for all purposes, including cooking, cleaning and washing, although the latter I soon learn is far down the list of priorities. There is no running water in the Antarctic and the only way to get water is to melt ice. This is more laborious than it sounds. You need to go outside to find a section of clean ice, cut a large number of chunks from it, carry them inside and drop them carefully into the containers to melt. It is a ratio of four chunks to one of water so it can take a long time. Therefore water is considered very precious and must never be wasted. That’s why, I guess, some consider shaving and washing extravagant.
In the cook tent I meet the most important person in the camp, to me at any rate. The man who will have the most impact on the success or otherwise of my journey through to the Antarctic Max Wenden the pilot of the Cessna 185. I learn almost straightaway that Max will be the one to decide when and if I can go to the South Pole. The weather will initially decide but it is Max who will have the ultimate say so. I learn now to my horror, although I do my best to disguise it, that there is as much chance of my not getting to the Pole as there is of making it. The weather patterns mostly originate from the South and there can be katabic winds which gust up to 100 knots, although the usual strength is around 15. But when the powerful katabic winds strike, everything and everyone are immediately paralysed into staying put.
The air in this region is actually dry, more like that you’d find in the states of Wyoming or Colorado. Therefore even when it gets to -10 oC it is not uncomfortable. I lead the conversation gently back to our chances of getting to the Pole. Max gently, but also rather too nonchalantly, tells me that several times those who have come out to Patriot Hills to travel on to the South Pole have had to abandon their plans. Either the weather and flying conditions were too dangerous or sometimes the plane wasn’t serviceable. Flying to the Pole is no joy-ride and if there is the slightest problem or concern then the flight mustn’t take place. There have been too many mishaps in the past, with other companies or organisations; Adventure Network are justifiably too proud of their safety record to take any chances.
Apart from expressing that scary scenario Max says, all things being equal, his plan would be to fly in and perhaps even tent overnight at the Pole. He would try this if he could rig up a heating system for the Cessna. I wanted immediately to shout out, ‘What are you waiting for? Why waste time talking to me? Get on with it! But I didn’t. Max is not the kind of man to be hurried. Here he is king and he will take his own time. He tells me the Cessna only seats three or four persons, including the pilot, so I realise how lucky I am that there are only four of us. Hopefully that means that I have a good chance of being one of the three who could fly out on the first flight that is permitted. Max’s Cessna is nicknamed the ‘Polar Pumpkin’, because of its orange colour, but I hope the name also means I will also go to the Ball, I mean the Pole!