Clinic Stories

The People of Antarctica

Antarctica is a magical land of enormous beauty and savage weather. Expeditions by Shackleton, Mawson and Peary illuminate the merciless conditions even for the most skilled explorers. Yet a small number of people choose to work in Antarctica, mostly in the Summer, but a few stay for the Winter. Those who do stay are as captivating as the scenery. Consider a few I met:

A Hungarian woman and four friends, none having been outside of Europe, decided to make a documentary film about Antarctica. They received a small grant that was enough to purchase supplies. With little money they flew to Chile, bummed a ride on a Chilean Air Force transit plane going to Antarctica and set out on foot. They spent over a month camped in two tents until one day while filming they noticed orange pieces of material blowing past and realized that they now had only one tent. The weather worsened until one morning they awoke to their tent covered to the top with snow. Having no plan to leave they got on their radio and asked if there were any ships in the area. A Polish research ship heard them and picked them up. They again hitch hiked back to South America on a departing plane. Delighted by her experiences, she decided to work in Antarctica.

A Swedish man spends the Southern Hemisphere Summers on tour ships in Antarctica, then goes to work the Northern Summer on a Russian nuclear powered ice breaker that takes tourists as close to the North Pole as it can go, continuing to the pole on ice. His specialty is leading kayak trips when the weather allows.

A Polish man who wintered in Antarctica several times spoke of twice falling into a crevasse. Once he was able to make radio contact for help, the other he was on his own and had to get to a narrow place where he could press his back and feet against the sides and work his way out. He mentioned several people who went out and never came back including a scuba diver with 15 winters in Antarctica.

The German Captain of our boat hired his Chinese girlfriend who had never been to Antarctica. She was constantly frozen and when she had to pilot a Zodiac (open boat with an outboard motor) she was so shrouded that she strayed off course or into the path of other boats. No one wanted to get into a boat with her and I doubt the relationship lasted.

The ingredients for a successful career in Antarctica are tolerance for wind, cold and danger.

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