Antarctica – Trapped in Luxury

In 2003 Grahame Sydney travelled to Antarctica as part of Antarctica New Zealand’s Artists to Antarctica Programme.  He reports from Scott Base… ‘Cracks aplenty wait to swallow the unwary, and are marked by black flags which thanks to the fresh dumping are now two or three feet shorter, some gone completely. Snow makes cracks and crevasses more treacherous, because normal surface signs are obliterated by the powder. In the sharp silver grey light of near-midnight, we shake the dry snows from our legs, and notice the black triangle of Observation Hill, between us and McMurdo Base, is now ghostly in its new pale cover. The flags hang limp on their thin bamboo stalks, pacing out across the empty void which is the Ross Ice Shelf and disappearing in the white-page perspective lesson of this eerie, quiet place.

There’s a slight breeze as we pile into the 4-wheel drive Toyota, but within minutes, up on the gap road, it has suddenly become a major blow, over 25 knots, and all that snow from yesterday is flying, making visibility difficult. Another minute and we’re down to a crawl, the driver unable to see the road in the white out, so two of us walk closely in front, snail’s pace and hunched against the bitter wind. For the first time I feel the violence of the storms Scott and others knew too well, and the lacerating sting of snow in Antarctic wind. My hands, foolishly ungloved but driven deep into jacket pockets, are stinging already, my jeans poor insulation in this. We’re only minutes from Scott Base, but all I can see is the yellow vehicle a few yards behind me.’