The Glacial Road

January 17, 2010  |   Antarctic Peninsula Project, Blog   |   admin  |   0 Comment

Some notes on Antarctic etiquette:

Every building in every compound has inner and outer doors, with a small vestibule in between.  One is asked to remove one’s outdoor footwear before entering a building, a necessary procedure to avoid messing the floors.  The same rule holds in the Arctic.  Boots are stored in the vestibule.  The Russians, being smart as well as hospitable, place a large tub of water and a brush outside the building entrances so that surface muck can be removed even before entering the vestibule.  This is a reasonable procedure, though it can be tiresome if you’re walking out of one building and into another 20 feet away.

One is asked to use as little toilet paper as possible.

One is asked not to flush the toiler paper, but to dump it in a large, covered can beside the commode.

One is asked not to walk on the vegetation (lichens).

One is asked to keep one’s distance from wildlife.

Wildlife are not required to keep their distance from people.  A skua gull followed me around today and, when I wasn’t looking, snatched the wool cap off my head, but was good enough to let me retrieve it.

Some notes on Antarctic footwear:

I’m becoming convinced that hiking boots aren’t half as good for walking on snowy and muddy ground as a good pair of heavy rubber boots.  We were each given a pair today.  Mine reach my knees and work fine.  I used them on my first Antarctic hike.  Most of the group went on a seal counting “activity” that turned into an exhausting 8-mile slog.  I had declined and instead accompanied Hanno Meyer, our German geologist, and his research assistant, Francisco Fernandoy, on a trek to the Uruguayan science station.  Francisco is dark and angular.  Hanno speaks with a British accent and looks like a young Donald Pleasance.  They worked out of the Uruguayan station last season and will return there shortly before our summer school arrives at the end of its brief semester.  They wanted to check on their bags and equipment, which were sent directly to the Uruguayan base.

We set out on the road leading to the glacier where Ning will do his research.  That’s why I went with them; I wanted to have a look at it.  The “road” is a tractor path well-marked with bamboo staves.  Problem is it’s mucky and gooky, and will be tough going with our $20,000 LI-COR machine in tow.  We will also be slowed by the continual inclination to stop and take pictures.  Stark rock formations glistening with white icing loom gorgeously on every turn.  It was 39 degrees this morning with a 20-mile-an-hour wind that diminished later on and a falling barometer.  Despite the overcast, the aisle cut by the tractor path through these magnificent formations was exhilarating.  I smiled at the sight of them.  Yes, I’m glad I came.

The Uruguayan station is situated at a bay with a white peninsula on the far side, abeam of a small, blue iceberg.  After an hour along the road, one approaches the bay and the station.  Just above the station appeared to be an immense white cloud sitting on the dark ground.  This was the glacier.

*     *     *

We were invited to lunch at the Uruguayan station.  The code of conduct, of course, required the ritual of leaving outdoor footwear in the vestibule of the mess hall.  But I saw no buildings here at Jose Artigas Station with tubs of water outside for shoe washing.    There were, however, conga drums in the rear of the mess hall, so I’d sure like to attend one of their parties.  The President of Uruguay is due for a visit this season.

On the hike back, I talked with Hanno, a likeable fellow, about funding for science.  He works at the Alfred Wegner Research Institute in Pottsdam, and his money comes from the government.  He said that proposal writing takes so much of his time, he has to choose between fundraising and creative science.

“Is there anyone at your institute with the full-time job of raising money?” I asked.


The university with which the Wegner institute is affiliated of course has a development department.  “They should help you,” I said.

He smiled.  “You’re too much of an idealist.”  Like most scientists, those at the Wegner Institute are left to their own resources for fundraising.  “We have all these machines,” he said, “and no one to operate them.”  The university buys a device for some scientific purpose, he told me, and then has to hire someone who knows what to do with it.

“I wish your university would hire a fundraiser.”

Hanno agreed.  “Yes, and then with the money he gets, buy a machine.”

*     *     *

My title on the Wilderness Research Foundation end of this venture is “Project Manager,” and I thought I should live up to it.  I met with Ning and Jay in the Russian mess hall just after dinner and described the trail and the reasons I thought it would be tough going.  I recommended starting out early because visibility diminishes as the temperature rises and the overcast becomes a little denser.

Sheldon Bart
Wilderness Research Foundation
© 2010

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