Week One at WAIS

Let me now tell you the WAISide Story of 2011 through the eyes of a chef. I've been living in a frozen ice dessert for 20 days and it feels like I'm camping on Pluto. The chilly air and flat white ice is reminscent of my South Pole winter journey in 2010, but this experience is without a station and even further away from McMurdo and the rest of civilization. Our food is flown in frozen on LC-130s from the warehouses of McMurdo. Energy in = energy out. Food to human energy to the creation of WAIS to the pursuit of science to human waste, that my friends, is a poop shoot down the ice that is GPSed to X mark the spot for future reference. Same mind that creates just a different species of borehole, or ob tube, if you're catching my drift. Internet has been established but tis only a 56K iridium system connected to a GOES satellite meaning we only get net for 6 hours a day and it's super slow. Compliments to USAP for developing a mobile satellite server in a box for the field camps. Without this technology, I would have in fact been a blogger MIA for four months.

I spend my life here in a kitchen feeding the WAIS community and playing with the fundamentals of life... fire, water and food. I am currently focusing on the art of baking and have molecular gastronomy ingredients arriving with each cargo box. Gastronomy = science. I am in fact a scientist with a passion for art, or maybe I'm an artist with a curiosity to know more. Go deeper, go molecular. Baking is a science and I collaborate with scientists. I feed science with sugar, butter, flour, etc. It all comes down to food (and H20 and solar radiation) really. If the food is poor, the morale dips and work is not as expected, but if the food is good, smiles radiate and all are happy to get out in the field to do work and return to the galley for food. Win win. A perfect pie can be sunshine in a snowstorm.

Nov. 10th 2011 at 8 AM I boarded Ivan the Terrabus and took a slow and long ride out to the Willy Field Ice Runway near McMurdo and boarded an LC-130 with 8 other WAISies.

The 1000 mile flight was conducted miles above the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Flat white ice and snow. If the sky is blanketed with stratus clouds it's hard to tell which way is up or down.

The flight is about three hours long. Enough time to begin digesting where in fact I am going, no man's land.

When I got off the plane it was a warm -20 F and was greeted by the put-in crew and a skidoo. We all jumped on a sled behind the skidoo with our carry-on bags and went to warm shelter.

In the distance was a snow berm of tri-walls, a few modules and tents, and some machinery.

My first and perhaps final stop was at the galley module. The snow drifts were still being dug out around it and all that was hooked up to it was a few tanks of propane a small generator on skis to produce electricity for the radio and the ice melter.

I got off the sled and walked into lunch to meet Chef Russe'l Freeman. A smiley felllar he is. He tells me that he does not believe in calling folks teachers or fathers, because those names are reserved for the almighty one above, but whatever one's belief may be, I will learn from this dude, dude.

Grub was a soup and some pre-fab pastries. Nothing too exciting but energy nonetheless.

Since the galley tent wasn't put together yet the 15-person crew ate and mingled inside the kitchen. For the put-in team, the kitchen was also reserved as a place to pitch a cot and sleeping bag next to the oven overnight.

Looking outside a frosted window from inside the kitchen. Home sweet home.

When we were grocery shopping at McMurdo last month I stocked up on boxes of power bars, candy and beef jerky and boy did that box come handy. Thank you Chef Laura B. in the Arctic for giving me the heads up ;-) During the super chilly nights nothing heats you up more better than some chocolates.

Here's the little diesel generator that was hooked up to the kitchen.

Here's where we get our fresh snow to put into the ice melter to make fresh drinking water.

The ice melter, filtration system and storage tank.

Here's Russ and Rosey getting a few boxes of meat from the frozen foods cargo box that was brought in on my flight. I'm guessing that we will fly in 20,000 lbs. of food this year to WAIS. I don't want to guess how many lbs. we drop down our 'ob tubes'.

One of our freezers at the door to kitchen.

Our big freezer cave is 200 feet from the kitchen and dug 10 feet deep into the surface of WAIS. We keep all the frozen meats, fish, veggies, pre-fab pastas and breads down there. Every couple days we get some wind action that builds a drift outside the door which we gotta dig out by shovel. During Condtition 1 blizzards the door is so burried that the only way we can get to it is to call in one of the dozers.

The back of the freezer cave being cut deeper for more storage room.

Dig door out with shovel, haul food with sled, cook with fire.

A few days after I arrived the carp team began assembling the galley tent.

First, a heavy duty steal frame.

Then the overhang.

For days we cooked, ate and some slept in the same very tight spot. But, one day, Chef came out and said "tear down this wall." There were a few knocks on the other side and then there it went. The WAIS galley was born.

In went the tables and a fridge. We're moving on up.

Next day it was my time to shine at lunch.

Welcome to the OWAISIS.

No better place to hang my beach towel from Panama than right next to the kitchen.

That night I made a pumpkin and pecan tart from scratch. The jaws dropped and chewed and I was in business. Ba'am! And this was two weeks before turkey day.

With the galley and kitchen in tune WAISies could no longer sleep next to the oven. I was getting up at 5 AM to get coffee going and making a ruckus with the oven. A few lucky folks pitched tent in the shower module next store to the galley, they were allowed to stay since the showers weren't up yet. I went 14 days without a shower and that's no big deal.

There were a couple other crash pads for WAISies then.

Even with the chance to sleep next to a heater or stove in a room with a bunch of other stinky people I chose to move right into my tent on day one. If I gotta do it I'm do it, because the sooner I do it the sooner I get acclimated to it. Tent City here I come.

I put my tent up in the last row of Tent City just so that when I wake up and zip out my door I walk into a flat world of nothing but white ice.

Inside my tent it hovers around 15 F. When I first get in it's sometimes around 0 F and by the time I wake up it's around 30 F. That's my shelter. I'm typing right now on my netbook at 10 F in my Arctic oven and I wonder, at what temp. the computer freeze?

Here's our toilets. Holes in the ice.

Here's the yellow pee flag/hole.

Here's me at breakfast.

I helped put up a small country store near the kitchen so that the folks on 3rd shift cook their own instant hot meals.

A small look at what I've been making 4 breakfast. This here is what I call a Texas Skillet Grit Bake and I won't give you all the details put it involves jalapeno, onions, garlic, red peppers, butter, cream, grits and puff pastry. We have two cast iron skillets in the kitchen that I use every day.

A typical Antarctic ice bath made with snow.

A typical Kodi with a K Lee Production. That name popped up one Saturday night from someone and it stuck somehow, somewhere up there. A vanilla cheesecake.

The 8 AM station stretch.

The afternoon sundogs. Woof.

And of course, the blizzards. All those blizzards that I've experienced in the North are nothing in comparison to what I've seen on this continent. 8 ft. drifts in a night, sure. -60 F with the wind factor, sure. This is a harsh continent.

One afternoon we got an early flight in. I walked out of my tent and saw a Herc skiing down our runway. Cool. They were pushing as fast as they could to get the cargo off and back into the air seeing as a big storm was moving in.

The radio guy Skywalker talking with the pilots.

Off like Speedy Gonzalez they went 20 minutes later.

Thanks for the packages.

Machines started raving outside and it sounded like a war had started.

Gas tanks were filled and meetings revolved around what to do when the weather goes bad. Stay in and stay warm. In? Where? My tent? Yes. If the weather is so bad that you can't see two feet in front of you then you are advised to stay in your tent, live off your candy rations and pee in the pee bottle they give you at MacTown. Eventually a team of rescuers tied to lines will come to you and bring to the galley. That never happened, but I did one morning have to use my compass and flag line at 4 AM to navigate to the kitchen that was a couple hunded yards away in zero visibility.

Before the peak of the blizzard hit Russe'l and I ran to the freezer cave to stock up on frozen goods for as soon after we did the door was buried.

Even at the start of the start of the storm we had to do some digging.

Back in the galley... the winds were so strong that snow was blowing through every crack in the galley tent. Back home, in my little Arctic oven tent, I had left my ventilation flap open and snow filled the floor of my tent. It was quite the surprise on a such a chilly night and I could do nothing except crawl beneath my snow covered blankets and wake to sublimation. Thank goodness for sublimation.

Most kept to the galley and rec tent and sat near the heaters.

When not sleeping I stayed in the kitchen, which is the hottest room in every station and camp that I've worked at in the Poles. During the storm I was pulling 16 hour workdays as to not have to go out to my tent, but now, it's no big deal, I can take the cold.

Like I was saying before, a perfect pie (or cake) can be sunshine in a snowstorm. In fact, when I'm cooking I'm often thinking about the sun. The sun grew the corn, the corn became flour and I cook the flour into a tasty treat that warms the peoples of WAIS.

This was my first week at WAIS. The following week, Nov. 17-24, begins with the peak of the storm and goes through the turkey day weekend. To be continued.