First metal struts - © International Polar Foundation

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Live from Antarctica: On the Emotive Power of 4mm

The 9th of January at Utsteinen was an emotional day. As the metal struts for the station rose like intergalactic lilies out of the pink granite of the Utsteinen Ridge, the amazing truth began to emerge.

Finally, with only two struts left to place, Gerard Bianchi gave his verdict: the deviation of the anchoring points from hypothetical perfection was a maximum of 4 mm. Within 3 days of arriving at the BELARE base camp it had become evident that the heart breaking toil of drilling and fixing 50 anchoring points for the metal struts had paid off.

A feeling of awe descended on the ridge and brought strong men close to tears. A critical hurdle had just been crossed.

However, there is no time for complacency, and the scaffolding had to be done. The trapeze artists emerge, vaulting with lithe ease from beam to beam over heart stopping voids.

A mountaineering harness is imposed. We are too far from any emergency units, and despite the presence on site of Dr Jacques Richon of the Swiss Air Rescue Squad, and a container load of medical equipment courtesy of the Medical Unit of the Belgian Defence Forces, we cannot be too careful.

Down at Base Camp, work continues apace. Bernard and Paul convert a container into a sanitary bloc within a day and a half of work. It is impressive work, and we take it in turns to gape. Tomorrow we are promised a new dispensary, with a bed and heating.

Frank and Jurgen are busy with the Prinoth on the container park organising the cargo.

I am allowed to use ace photographer René Robert's 40 cm long telephoto lens. It must be my birthday. I carefully carry it up to the ridge and am soon immersed in spying on the comings and goings of the crew while I tend to the Inmarsat satellite terminal which is stubbornly refusing to work.

There must be something in the air here - it's a kind of Stepford on Ice. There is no litter anywhere, no graffiti. Even the garbage is neatly arranged ready for evacuation to the coast. I don't have to chase after people for updates - they come and volunteer information.

Everyone is up by 6.30 and at work an hour later. There is no "Lord of the Flies" scenarios, with evil little boys doing nasty things, no "Lost" subplots with strange phenomena out behind the nunataks. There is even no swearing, although it is rumoured that the gentle Ent-like giant Paul has on occasion been known to utter imprecations. I have yet to experience this outburst. (An Ent is the giant tree creature from Lord of the Rings part III, in case you forgot).

To cap it off, the traverse team returned at three o'clock in the morning, after a turnaround of only 41 hours. Only 10 traverses left to go. I sit with Yvan and Frank to recalculate the traverse fuel needs. It looks like we have more than enough. A bit of Jet A1 maybe from the coast, for when our Japanese guests arrive around the end of the month. But otherwise, everything is on track.

The camp is throbbing away in the afternoon lull, as dinner gets underway and work advances on the ridge. I exchange a little weather gossip with Neumayer, and compare cloud cover.

In a few seconds I will head over to the Ridge to test the stubborn Inmarsat again, just in time for when Emilie and Geoffroy bring cookies and HOT chocolate to the site. Stepford, I tell you.

Author: IPF

Picture: First metal struts - © International Polar Foundation

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