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Blog post sample | Living and working in the field, Antarctica
Life in the Field
I'm on a plane with my face glued to the porthole window. Below me, the majestic Antarctic coast is sliding past us. Glaciers drain off the polar plateau, some breaking into colossal fragments of ice to float away as icebergs. The polar plateau is perfect in its whiteness and starkness. It extends for hundreds of kilometres towards the South Pole – an untouched vastness like I’ve never seen before. Eventually the plane turns inland flying over the Amery ice shelf, the third largest ice shelf in the world. The Amery is flat, white and featureless. An hour and a half later the plane puts down on the lake ice which is as hard as concrete and smooth as polished glass and floats atop Beaver Lake. For the next seven weeks, we’ll travel to a variety of locations in and around Beaver Lake by quad bike, aeroplane, and foot, spending five nights at the abandoned Russian station Soyuz; thirty nights camping in the field in our polar pyramid tent and two nights sleeping out without the shelter of our tent. The remainder of the time we’ll use the apple huts at Beaver Lake summer camp.
Living and working in the field is about hardship and appreciation. We live in the land of the wind. On a good day it blows a mere 40 km/h. A bad day, it blows upwards of 60 km/h. And it blows all day and all night long, only ever stopping for a couple of hours at a time. The wind wears you down with its constant coldness and noise as it wraps around our hooded covered heads. At times, Duanne and I have to yell at each other to be heard. Most of the time actually spent in the field, we walk side by side in silence, only speaking when we need to. When we stop at sample sites, we do what we need to do with the minimum of conversation. When the wind dies and we are blanketed in silence we lift back our hoods and revel in the beauty of the mountains and ice domes that surround us.
With each passing day, we adapt some more to our environment. Being diligent is our mantra. More than ever, everything matters. Looking after yourself is the first priority. Drink five to seven litres of liquid a day; have enough food to snack on throughout the day; stop and strip down some layers when you get too hot; always wear sunscreen and lip balm; always wear your glasses; if you’ve got cold hands, stop and warm them on your stomach; when you stop at a sample site, always put on your expedition down jacket to stay warm and when you get the chance to rest, rest - do nothing except the camp chores. At night, we struggle to sleep with the sound of the wind against the tent and the eternal daylight.
If spending time in the mountains taught me one thing, its how perpetually beautiful Antarctica is. Whether it’s the freight train winds, the three feet of snow that buried the door on our tent one day, or the endless changes in light on the peaks all around, it was never boring. The first time we climbed a small hill and I saw the ocean of mountains protruding through the ice, I stood still looking at the enormity of what lay before me. Standing there a meditative calm passed through me. It was as if my life was somehow more complete.