Our numbers did indeed double. At the beginning of the week two comms-guys and a GPS tech from UNAVCO arrived in camp. One of the comms-guys was an antenna rigger who is a friend of ours from town, Zim. He has taken up our laundry torch in the absence of my brother Jesse. From what I understand, Jesse is going to be at Pole a little longer than we all expected. Apparently polies have been dropping like flies with pulmonary edema from the effects of altitude and latitude. Luci and I think it is partially psychosomaticaly induced since the Company begins terrorizing people about the altitude at pole from very early in the hiring process.
This week has been tortuous. When our Meteorologist Technician called our observation in on Monday the weather forecasters were nice enough to tell us that we had some nasty weather coming our way. Just like last year, the small camp in the Fosdick mountains were getting pounded by gale force wind and there was rumor about them pulling their camp out. The storm hit hard on Tuesday and we were effectively holed up indoors while the worst of it blew over. The new arrivals tried their best to do the work they came out to do since they were scheduled for only a short visit. On Wednesday morning (the day of their flight out) it was still storming. Everyone assumed we wouldn’t be getting a plane. The morning was slow around camp with everyone kind of languidly sipping tea and coffee. The met-tech kept doing hourly observation in the off-chance that the plane might depart. The plane’s departure from McMurdo (with 7 construction workers) was delayed from 1700 to 1900 and we all expected the flight to soon be canceled outright.
Then, suddenly, right before dinner the sun came out. The wind kept up but not as strong and with the break in the white-out we could see all the drifting around camp. There were drifts six to eight feet high all over camp. In an attempt to mitigate drifting on our fuel bladders, I put up a snow fence to direct the drifting away from it. My plan failed miserably and we wound up with a massive drift right on the top of it.
After dinner we received work that the plane had taken off from McMurdo and would be arriving in three-and-a-half hours. Once everyone found out there was a lot of scrambling around getting ready for the unexpected plane. I worked on digging out the fuel pump and lines while other dug out heavy equipment and heater units to warm them up. Zim and the UNAVCO guy had a bunch of work to get done before they could leave. Zim had an antenna that was being hand carried by one of the arriving passengers that he would have to put up before he could get on the plane.
When the plane finally arrived overhead the weather had gone sour again. My prediction at breakfast was that the plane would either cancel outright in the morning or they would fly all the way out here and boomerang without landing. Neither scenario came true. By some miracle they landed after about an hour of circling. This meant that they had used all the fuel they were bringing us and my digging was in vain. So I helped Zim set up the HF antenna. It was tight. The plane was sitting on the taxiway burning an already limited amount of fuel, all the cargo and passengers were unloaded. The UNAVCO guy was already on board and Zim was still on the tower. I carry an air-ground radio when I’m working around the plane and I heard the captain give a ten minute ultimatum. But, we got Zim off the tower and I zipped him out to the plane on a ski-doo and they were off.
The seven arriving passengers are part of the Arch construction team. Last year they built the external structure and this year they are going to be excavating a trench inside where the ice-core drill will be assembled. By the time they finally arrived, disembarked and the plane took off it was well past 1am and the camp was a wreck. The next day was dedicated entirely to digging out. Because the carpenters who set up camp are still here finishing projects we are now 29 people total so there were a lot of shovels flying. Thank god, because it was going to be a monumental task.
By the end of the day Thursday most of the yard was leveled but the fuel pits were still under many feet of snow. Because we can’t operate machinery to excavate the snow over the bladders it all has to be done by hand. I prepped the fueling station to be moved by out track loader so we could level the surface with a groomer but I couldn’t find the energy to start digging on the bladder. Good thing because the wind picked up again Thursday night.
I spent a good part of the day tuning furnaces. Our drip feed burners act strange in winds over 20 knots so the draft has to be monitored and adjusted so they don’t soot up. And, since we now have a dozen of them it is a chore to keep up with them. We also had a generator failure. It turned out to be rather minor. The air filter clogged solid with blowing snow. We just pulled it off and thawed it out. Since we don’t have any dirt here it actually runs better. The little bit of moisture getting sucked into the system actually helps it burn more efficiently.
Yesterday the electricians got our big 40K generator hooked up this week and now all of the main buildings have power. We also got out GOES satellite dish up and now have a little network with decent internet for about 6 hours a day. Since we have more electricity we were able to put the two snow-melter units on-line which means we now have hot showers and running water. Seven volunteers spent the day digging out the bladders while I fueled vehicles, buildings and set up a new heater in one of the new buildings. Unfortunately, It blew all night again and has most likely filled up again. It reminds of a chapter from some cruel Greek myth like Tantalus, Sisyphus or Prometheus.
The wind is supposed to keep up for a few more days but the carpentry crew is building their palettes of supplies to go on the plane tomorrow according to schedule. We’ll see what the week brings.