My Second Antarctic Adventure – Palmer – Part VIII

The Long Winter – copyright 2009 Jack W. Cummings

WinterOver Crew at mid-winters party It didn’t take long to settle into a daily routine. I had my daily communications schedules to attend to. “Cookie” prepared delicious meals for lunch and dinner. Breakfasts and Sunday meals were everyone for themselves. Everyone but Cookie was assigned a week at a time as kitchen helper and “house mouse” duties. Traditionally cooks in the Antarctic were exempt from all working parties, as good daily meals were an essential contribution to station morale. “Fergie” had his hands full keeping snow in the “snow-melter” and keeping our three generators in peak operating condition. Doc was in charge of our medical needs, as well as helping Fergie keep the fuel tanks topped off and other station tasks that arose from time to time.

Weddell Seal and Eddie the Husky Eddy, our husky dog, was always ready to accompany anyone on a walk. Although his dog house was right outside the door to the main building, he would usually accompany me when I went a back and forth between the two main buildings. One evening as I was heading down the hill in the dark to meet a schedule, I heard some heavy breathing off the trail toward the shore; well I don’t have to tell ya that the hair stood up on the back of my neck. I raced to get Eddy, and we investigated the noise. It turned out to be a Weddell Seal that had worked its way up from the ice pack to “check us out”.

Jack-Strong-Biologist Before the ice pack closed off the open water to the outer islands, Jack Strong and I took the station aluminum boat to Litchfield Island for some field studies of the plant and animal life there. Other times Eddy and I would take a long walk, just to get away, before the winter conditions made it impossible.

Glacier Melt Pool behind station Growing up in the San Luis Valley of Colorado, ice skating was one of my favorite winter activities. The farm I grew up on had a large irrigation pond about a quarter mile from our house, and it was fed by an artesian well in the winter. That’s where I did most of my skating, however it was also fun to skate on the small creeks and drainage canals close to home. When I was at Hallett Station in 1961, I kicked myself for not bringing some skates with me, as there were times of the year when the ice one the bay was smooth enough to skate on – I didn’t make that same mistake when I packed for Palmer. There was a fairly large pond near the station that was fed by melt water from the Piedmont glacier behind the station. When it froze over enough to be safe, Eddy and I would spend time there. What fun – ice skating in the Antarctic with a Husky dog!

Palmer 65 (48) By the time the Edisto weighed anchor for the final time on the 28th of February, and set sail for Montevideo, Uruguay, the station was enjoying almost 17 hours of “visible” light. Since the station was on the south side of Anvers Island, it would not be too long before the sun would be obscured by the glacier and distant mountain peaks to the north. By the time our “Winter solstice” arrived on June 22nd, the length of our day would be down to 3 hours and 44 minutes, with 6 hours and 34 minutes of visible light. (Stats courtesy of history for 2008). Minimal outside work took place during the short daylight hours. If I recall correctly, Fergie was the only one out and about during that time, as our snow-melter had to be fed often. I doubt if the glaciologists were able to spend much time on the glacier then as well.

Palmer 65 (7) The snow-melter was a unique snow melting system that used the heat from our station generator radiators circulating through coils in the bottom of a large tank. The snow was collected nearby using the bucket of our front end loader and deposited in a chute above the snow-melter tank. There was a time during the summer and fall when fresh water was provided by melting glacier water aided by rainfall  flowing through a stream outside the old British hut. Fergie would rig a pump to a hose and pump the water into the snow-melter tank. This would give us plenty of water for showering and laundry, but when we had to melt snow, we had to drastically reduce our water usage. The station was not equipped with “evaps” for distilling seawater.

Palmer 65 (46) The rest of the winter was pretty uneventful, but the memories good – especially from this distance. There are additional pictures posted on my flickr site if anyone cares to see them, just click on the sidebar photo.

For anyone interested, there is a detailed timeline history of Palmer Station at It is sad to note that the summer/winter of 1974 marked the end of the US Navy supporting Antarctic research. All support activities were turned over to a civilian agency with the responsibility of recruiting and staffing the bases. For a look at life at Palmer today, I found this thread fascinating: (Warning – contains course language) JWC

(Next: Part IX – Heading Home)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s