Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Waking to penguins on the doorstep


Living for months in the darkness can play tricks on your mind.

One minute you are walking across the base with purpose to go and get something. Then you get there, and forget what it was. You go back to where you started, and repeat the whole process again. And again.

It is the lack of sunlight messing with your head.

Before spending winter in Antarctica at Scott Base, job applicants are put through psychometric testing to ensure they can hack it.

The last plane leaves in February and they will not see another until October. It is just you, the ice and a dozen or so other people.

Of course, it is not quite as grim as all that. There are about 150 people in another base nearby and it is not always completely black outside.

There are auroras and stars that go on forever and a landscape so cold and quiet it seems untouched, almost unearthly.

Kiwi Troy Beaumont spent most of 2011 in Antarctica, staying on for the winter as base manager.
Most of the work is prepping equipment - making sure everything is serviced and ready to go once the science teams and summer personnel return.

Each night, TVNZ's new bulletin is sent through for the winter staff to watch. On Friday nights, there are darts competitions with the Americans and a constant rotation of themed dinner parties.

One day, you might even wake up to find colony of emperor penguins have set up camp right outside your front door.

Beaumont was lucky enough to spend some of his winter days sitting in a deck chair on the ice, surrounded by penguins who had popped up when the sea ice cracked near the base.

The experiences are unreal - and most of the reason why people volunteer to go down there for months at a time.

For Beaumont, it was a dream come true. The former glacier guide had worked towards a winter posting on the icy continent and it paid off.

Living with those winter staff for months has earned him friends for life and a wealth of experiences to relive.

Not to mention the emperor penguins.


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