The countdown is upon us with exactly ten days left in the field. We won’t be returning to civilization the same people we were when we left it. Boots are beginning to fall apart, beards are taking their natural form, and we’ve started tapering down our consumption of fudge stripe cookies. Eating half a box of cookies a day isn’t a habit I want to bring home with me. Despite the cookies, our broken scale says I’ve lost ~10-15 pounds so far. When our helicopter pilot asks what my “flight weight” is, I’m just as curious as he is. I’ve also started to wonder about the tips of my big toes that have had a tingling and numb sensation for over a week. I try to convince myself it’s not permanent. But if it is, it has all been worth it, I would have given the whole toe. I’ve seen some great geology and scrambled up numerous peaks to enjoy arguably the most incredible views planet Earth has to offer, many of which were also first American ascents (John assures me they weren’t but has provided no evidence to discredit my historic ascents).
Camp life has also been surprisingly pleasant – although, it did take hours of protest to convince John that we get a day off for Thanksgiving. Even so, somehow on Thanksgiving Thursday I found myself hauling ~100 pounds of rocks hundreds of meters up a peak. Apparently New Zealanders need to appreciate American holidays more. Eventually we were awarded a day of rest and I was eager to make it feel like a true Thanksgiving. I woke up at 11am, lounged around for several hours, made a massive pile of meat including Cornish game hen and top sirloin steak, and we all gathered around to watch Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. In hindsight we never said what we were thankful for. I’ll say that I am especially thankful for all my friends and family that wrote letters and talked to me on the satellite phone while I’ve been in the field, you guys rock.
Our final camp is slightly worse than the last: the lake next to it is harder to cross and the bathroom tent isn’t on level ground. Unsurprisingly, opening a five gallon container of urine on a slant is stressful, and after multiple slips and falls I’ve found that we’ve all become far less eager to cross frozen lakes than we were a couple of weeks ago. The weather has been pleasant and I haven’t put my Big Red jacket on in over two weeks. I’m somewhat worried I won’t have enough bad weather stories to go home with – fingers crossed for a whiteout.
Even though we’re winding down to the end of the season there is still a lot of work to be done. So far the season has been highly successful with tons (literally) of rocks to ship back to UCSB and the confidence that we’ve inspected just about every dike we could get to across over 100 kilometers of the Dry Valleys. I’ll be sad to leave but happy with the work we’ve accomplished. Goal for the next ten days: soak in as much of the Dry Valleys of Antarctica as I can, I may never be back…
— Demian for the Antarctica360 team