In a way, life down here is like life in a prison, but one of our choosing, and with more pleasant people to share communal bathrooms with! The elevated station holds all of our day to day requirements – eating, sleeping, work, entertainment, exercise etc. We are free to go outside whenever we want, but our options for going anywhere are pretty limited. I’ve made the goal to try and go outside every day, and so far is going well aside from two lapses of memory. Be it for a minute or so in the evening to take in the vast barren expanse of the world we live in, or more concerted efforts to get out and explore, spend time and help the scientists or get some exercise. We are allowed to venture past the one kilometre mark, but other than the occasional flag denoting a buried scientific sensor, or weather visibility markers, nothing differentiates the endless plateau of ice that circumferentially surrounds us. It gives the station an sense of helpless prey bobbing disorientated in the endless ocean, being circled by a shark-like sun that you know is there, but too low to really feel its physical presence.
The base has a supply of cross country skis, which we can use to explore or exercise with. If you avoid the areas that the heavy machinery works in, where the ice is torn up and rutted, there is otherwise always somewhere to create some fresh tracks. The constant wind pushes the ice crystals around, drifting in ruts and creating ridges of ice called sastrugi, derived from the Russian word for small ridges Zastrugi. You don’t need to worry about the snow getting slushy around here. Skiing at the South Pole, 2 inches of powder, 2 miles of base! You aren’t going to hit rocks any time soon!
We have a six day work week, with Sundays off. It is these days that you can get out and do longer trips out, with less on the schedule to work around. Out the ‘back’ of the base, lies multiple berms, where all sorts of things are stored, perched up high on man-made ridges of ice, to try and avoid being buried by the tireless wind and ice. Everything is apparently on an inventory, but that doesn’t make it any easier to find when the guys have to dig out a crate of plumbing material, or bacon, or toilet paper. The constancy of the elements and the perpetual fight against them is readily apparent where three of the tradesmen’s buildings are below ground level, with entranceways kept constantly clear. The massive aches that house the power plant, the vehicle maintenance facility, the fuel storage area and the material storage area were once built on top of the snow. But over the last few decades, they have been buried by about 10m of snow, and the ramp entrance is bulldozed out at a regular basis.
Beyond the berms lies the ‘end of the world’, where emergency fuel tanks are stationed, in case the life blood of the station’s primary supply is compromised. Near the tanks, lies dumping ground of drifted snow, dug out from around important structures, seas of antenna arrays to supply communications for the different modalities used by the base, and two massive radomes house our connection to the world outside our meek radius of life.
The infrastructure here to sustain the different facets of life is remarkable. When no other living organism can survive for over 1000km from here, the adaptability and perseverance of man to colonise such an austere and remote environment is something worth reflecting on.