Saturday, July 09, 2005

A numbers game: 27 and 300

Hi All,

well a busy week has ensued since I last chatted to you. We had another,
blessed, long weekend for the American 4th of July celebrations, well,
blessed for everyone who actually gets days off, but I still enjoy it as
everyone else is so much more relaxed that it makes it a much more
pleasant place to be.

A quiet weekend was what everyone needed and then on the following
Tuesday a small milestone occurred when, rather against my will, I
officially turned 27. I think 26 sounds much nicer than 27 so I wasn't
thinking this was something to celebrate but this was not apparently for
me to decide. Some of my friends got together and made it a lovely day,
with presents including pin-up pictures of hawaiian men, beef jerky, a
certificate for a massage from Vicky, and some tomatoes :) What a lucky
girl. We congregated in the dome that evening for a drink or six, but a
few of the fellas did my drinking for me and so I wasn't feeling too
poorly the next day. Sweet of them, eh?

It was a good day, topped off the next day when temperatures, which had
been hovering down near the -70C mark, plummeted and stayed for a whole
24 hours near -76C, which is -100F. This allowed the first opportunity
this year for people to attempt to join the 300 club. For newbies to the
site, this is a long-held, if completely insane, tradition at South
Pole. When outside temps hit -100F, you strip naked except for some
shoes and hop into the sauna which is set at 200F. You stay there as
long as you can and then run (or walk, which is smarter) outside and
around the Pole marker and back inside again. Thus you inflict upon your
body a 300 degree temperature change, hence the 300 club. As far as I'm
aware it is still the only place you can easily (and that is not quite
the right term) do this.

So around 3pm a bunch of us congregated in Upper Berthing in the dome.
We were the second wave, four girls, including Vicky, Sarah, Mel and
myself and 10 of the boys. It was cheek-to-cheek in the sauna, excuse
the pun. It was ridiculously hot. We were steaming in under a minute. We
probably lasted in there about 5 minutes. Then boots were on (I also had
on a neck gaiter and gloves), and we headed out. In hindsight, the only
mistake I made was not taking a light, as it was dark as the inside of a
cow outside. It was ok at first as I was near others with lights. We
trudged/jogged up the dome slope and got to the Pole. Robert was there
with his camera (the rule is, you can't join the club unless there is
photographic evidence) and took everyone's individual photos. Mostly all
you could see was steam coming off rapidly cooling bodies. It is amazing
how the heat from the sauna shields you from the cold on your way out,
you feel really good. The return journey is another story.

I decided not to run as to avoid getting badly frost-bitten lungs from
the icy air. So I ended up the last coming back in, apart from Robert
who was collecting his camera gear. With everyone else gone, there was
no light, and I didn't have good vision as I had been blinded by the
camera flash. Problem is that the descent to the dome is a steep one,
and if you don't go far enough around to find the slope you fall up to
three metres off the snow walls on either side of the path. I knew I was
near the slope, but had no idea how close. You do NOT want to fall on
the snow with bare skin as that is instant frostbite, but I was racing
against the clock to get inside and avoid this in any case. I called
back to Robert "Where is the slope?" and he yelled back "To your right!"
I thought I had another foot of room in front of me but it turned out
not to be the case. I fell over the edge, and smack, a good two metre
drop flat onto my back on the ice!!! I heard Robert shouting to see if I
was ok, but I was up off the ice in a millisecond and started trudging
down the slope. I was astonished but I felt fine, and felt no burns, but
perhaps that was adrenaline. I arrived back to the sauna, where a bunch
of other very pink bodies were crammed to warm back up, filled with
hacking and coughing from burned lungs. I told my story to hilarity, and
comments that I'd feel it tomorrow.

Surprisingly, no lasting effects of my fall occurred, so adrenaline is an
amazing thing. The photos turned out great (NO, you are NOT seeing them,
I wouldn't do that to you, you'd lose your lunch), including one Robert
took about 10 seconds before I fell off the cliff, just my bare butt
trudging back into the mist and the darkness. Great stuff. In actual
fact, it wasn't that trying, I have certainly been colder wearing all my
gear while out working on the telescope, but it was certainly an
adrenaline rush!! At least that is out of the way for the season, though
there are others who plan to rush out and repeat it at every
opportunity, crazy buggers.

The rest of the week has been quite uneventful in comparison, with the
telescope behaving itself and other things trundling along as per usual.
Hope all is going well in the warmth of the northlands, drop me a line
when you are bored,

cheers
Jess

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