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Windswept – Antarctic Journal

Excerpts from the article by Anna Porter

December 17, 2000

Saying, "I work at the South Pole" conjures up images of hardship and exploration for the advancement of science. The truth is, it's quite a comfortable place. South Pole Station is similar to a very small town. If the toilet gets clogged there's a plumber who will be there in minutes. If you really want a cheese pizza with peppers, the cook is pleased to make it. If there's anything we need - such as a new shelf for our barograph - there's someone whose job it is to get it.

Unfortunately, there's no trained ambulance squad and no fire department. Yesterday the fire alarm went off. Inside the dome people were running every which way. Members of the fire team ran to their designated muster locations. Trauma team members ran to the medical office. Everyone else hurried to the gym, which is where we meet when the alarms go off. The sound of the alarm gave me a special pang of fear. What would we do if the power plant was on fire? What would we do if the weather was bad and a seriously injured person needed to be evacuated?

At the sound of the alarm, I reported immediately to the medical office. I'm an EMT and volunteered for the trauma team when I arrived at the South Pole. Walking into the medical office I found the doctor and four other people there. The radio screeched that there was an electrical fire at MAPO, a science building about one mile from the dome. One person was down.

The doctor and one assistant stayed in the medical office to prepare for the incoming patient. The rest of us grabbed a backboard and jump kit and ran out of the dome to a waiting van. Inside the vehicle, I finally had time to breathe. I looked at whom I was with: three people with CPR training and two days of basic first aid.

The radio in the van announced two more people down at the scene. I told them to remember the ABCs: airway, breathing, and circulation. With the most training and experience, I would be in charge of the medical care at the scene. Inside my heart was racing. I was terrified.

The van pulled up at the science building, and I knew right away it was a drill. Signs were up saying "smoke is here," and my victims wore signs telling me their symptoms. I never really relaxed. Staying in emergency mode, I stabilized the patients and got them to the medical office as quickly as possible. The whole drill was a great learning experience because it took me completely by surprise.

I have a lot of confidence in our doctor, Ron. I've worked with him quite a bit, and he trained me to help him with suturing and other surgery. Other trauma team members have been trained to take and develop x-rays, analyze blood samples, start IVs and other tasks that the doctor can't do if he's busy with a patient. I've been called into the office on many occasions to help with stitches. With construction going on at the station there have been quite a few injuries.

photo
Norwegian explorers Rolf Bae and Eirik Sonneland arrive at the South Pole

Polar Explorers - December 25, 2000

The first group of explorers for the year just came through South Pole Station. Rolf Bae and Eirik Sonneland are both 25 years old and come from Stavanger, Norway. They began planning for their trip across Antarctica four years ago. A year before they left, they quit their jobs and studies at the University of Oslo to plan for the trip full time. Rolf has been on many expeditions before, such as crossing Greenland on skis. He already has decided that his next trip will be to attempt K2 - arguably the most difficult mountain in the world. This was Eirik's first real expedition.

They wintered over at the Norwegian Station, Troll, in Queen Maud Land on the coast of Antarctica. They choose two other men to spend the year with at the tiny station: a doctor and a technician. They told us of abundant wildlife and beautiful mountains in Queen Maud Land, where they had the opportunity to ski unmapped mountains and make many first ascents. Apparently the area has a lot of potential for climbing. They also took a long trip on snowmobiles to visit the South African Station. These were the only people (other than the four at their station) they had seen in 14 months. When they skied into the South Pole Station, we were the first women they had seen since they began their trip in October 1999.

The plan was to ski from Troll across the continent to McMurdo Station, completely unsupported. They each began with sleds that weighed 175 kilos (about 300 pounds), and had to pull one sled at a time to get up onto the plateau. It took them ten days to go the same distance they had traveled on a snowmobile in only four hours. Up on the flatter plateau, they were able to use sails - basically big kites that pulled them along if the wind was right. The peak speed was about 50 kilometers per hour, but Rolf destroyed one of the sleds by going that fast. The result was two wasted days to repair the damage. They ended up averaging 38 to 40 km per day. A compass and a GPS unit helped with navigation.

Sastrugi are ripples in the snow caused by the wind and can be used for navigation also. The wind is predominantly out of one direction, so one can navigate by the orientation of the ripples. Around the South Pole the sastrugi is small, usually just a few inches to a foot high. But the Norwegians told us of sastrugi that were three meters high, greatly impeding their progress. When they arrived at the Pole they were just a bit behind schedule. For the second half of the expedition they planned to follow in the tracks of Amundsen, the first person to make it to the South Pole. (He also happened to be Norwegian.) Their course will take them right through the Transantarctic Mountains, where they will have to navigate glaciers and peaks.

Bae and Sonneland had brought along several different ways to communicate, but all failed to work and no one knew where they were. They were good diplomats for their country - always very polite and they spoke English fluently. We asked them about how they got along after so much time together; they said of course they had some disagreements, but they are best friends so they just talk through it. They seemed to be having the time of their lives.

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