A little walk

December 1st, 2001

"Oh I'm so sorry..."
- Dorota Porazinska, upon hearing my camera clattering onto the ice.

Went for a very small walk today. About 1.5 hours in duration. Very brief for Lake Hoare where people leave at 7AM and don't return until 7PM when dinner is served. We walked up the lake for a while. Dorota had to catch a helo back to town so she didn't have much time and I didn't feel good going off by myself for fear of causing an international incident. The preparation for life at Lake Hoare is significant. The NSF makes you watch several videos that explains why you'll be peeing into barrels and walking keeping away from disturbing rocks and unmolested piles of dirt. The answer is we, the United States of America, have a treaty with the other major nations of the world guaranteeing we won't disturb this place. As representatives of the US of A we have the obligation to follow that treaty.

All of that, and not fear of becoming lost, is why I wanted to take my first walk with someone who knew where she was going. Dorota is a biologist with the University of Colorado and has spent four seasons on the ice, three of them with significant time at Lake Hoare. She walked fast. That's the back of her head in the picture. That's mostly what I saw as we went.

She was reasonably amazed I was 42 years old, which I suppose is a double-edged comment to make. While I must seem younger, nobody here has a 16-year old daughter at home. Last night one researcher, a post-doc from University of New Mexico, asked me what I was doing here. No. Actually when he found out I was 42 he asked me what I was doing here. I guess to a lot of people this place is like a giant extension of university life. Old guys and ladies are not in abundance, though guys 40 and older are around and in the end it's people my age and older who are wielding almighty ice power.

I wield absolutely no ice power. I'm here to support Tony's project: to make power from sunlight and get data onto the network with minimal effort. Then there's just the business about being here in Antarctica.

Anyway, between breakfast and Dorota's helo at 5PM we went on a little jaunt up the lake. She was wearing heavy duty hiking boots. They look like ski boots only the ankles aren't locked. The treads are thick, though there are no cleats. It doesn't matter, though, they were much more grippy on the glaze ice than the Salomon hiking boots I got at Any Mountain back home in Los Gatos.

We walked for about 30 minutes. Then I dropped my Nikon D1X and the lens busted. It will still work if I hold it together with my hands. That's how I got this picture:

Is this place beautiful beyond belief, or what?

How about a different subject?

It occurred to me today that life in Antarctica is about urine management. There has been a lot of effort put into explaining to me where and when I should pee. I have a "P-bottle" I'm to carry with me whenever I'm trudging around the dry valleys. At snow school there was a yellow flag in the distance that marked the yellow snow. When I was on the Herc, the facilities were a barrel with a funnel. At McMurdo, there were normal bathrooms, but here we have barrels and this morning, the camp manager admonished us (especially me) because I hadn't checked to see what the level was in the barrel before I made a deposit last night.

We're talking 55-gallon drum, here. This is not a small amount. The poor camp manager has to slide one barrel out of place and put an empty one in place when the old one is full. When she has three full barrels she makes a "sling load" out of them and a helicopter comes and takes it back to McMurdo. When the icebreaker carves a path to town in January, all the barrels from everywhere get loaded on a big freighter and taken to Seattle. What happens there, I don't know.

Yikes. Poor Seattle.

And as I learned in snow school, one needs to go more often when one is cold.

On this hike I had my P-bottle and my water bottle but there was no need to use either. And yes, the bottles look the same except one is full of chlorine and has a big "P" on it. Yes, if you weren't looking you could confuse them. So far, that hasn't been a problem for me.

So far.

Around here you go everywhere by helicopter. It's pretty cool.

The pros that work here are experts in operating in and around helicopters and helicopter pilots. They know all the pilots on a first-name basis. It's pretty interesting to have a helicopter land in the back yard and pick someone up for a trip somewhere, or to carry supplies. It reduces what is an almost mystical machine to most people to the level of standard transportation. Perhaps it simply reinforces what an unusual and fantastic place this is in all respects.