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Bit by the Ice

Catching a Moment - Bit by the Ice

WORLDWIDE | Sunday, 7 April 2013 | Views [213] | Scholarship Entry

Nearly immobilized by four layers of clothes topped with an apple-red "expedition weight" parka, I sat strapped into the nylon-webbing seat, knees jammed against those of the 6-foot guy opposite me, trying to pop my ears on the descent. For lack of windows, we both stared alternately at each other's widening eyes peeking out of scarves and balaclavas, and the wide red stripe painted vertically down the left side of the cabin—marking where the inboard propeller would slice through the aircraft if it separated from the engine during the landing.

Until that moment, Antarctica had been an abstraction; the call of a remote continent and an adventure to chase. But now, as the giant skis lowered below me, and the aircraft flaps groaned into position, the happy buzz of passengers trading tales of past trips and blustering with the bravado of one-upping each other's war stories fell into tense silence.

The slow descent ended in a bruising, rattling slam to Earth accompanied by a scream of turboprops. Seconds later, the aft cargo ramp was lowered and the hold-downs loosened, sending a one-ton pallet of cargo freight-training out of our midst into the fog of white and cold as the C-130 taxied on chattering skis. The slap-like jolt of –52 ºF wind blew any poetic musings of our arrival on the Frozen Continent out of heads buried deep in the fur ruff of our hoods.

I climbed down from the plane into swirling rivulets of ice fog hugging the runway made of 8-foot-thick sea ice. My eyes watered in pain as a scarf slipped from my face and the raw cold air hit my nose and threatened to frost my lungs. A shallow crust of snow crunched loudly under my oversize arctic boots as I took a few shell-shocked steps. To the right, a 30-foot wall of ice marked the Ross Ice Shelf, entryway to the interior of the continent. To the left, a featureless expanse of white and purple and pink sea ice in the low, weak sun of the early austral summer. Ahead, a shimmering snow-covered volcano incongruously puffed gray smoke, hinting at the molten lake at its summit. Surely we'd taken a wrong turn from Earth and arrived on the polar cap of Mars.

Red-coated strangers hurried us into waiting vehicles, but I hung back. I needed to savor this moment; these first steps onto the ice that claimed Scott and made Shackleton a hero. And in that moment, I joined the ranks of polar travelers bitten by both the lure of “The Ice” and the wind that had turned the tip of my nose frostbite white.

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2013

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