Polar Crud

“Even though you won’t die from it, you might wish otherwise.” That’s how one of the briefing videos back in Christchurch described the polar crud, a sort of common cold whose cause is still a mystery after people have come down with it for over 50 years. Bacterial? Viral? Allergy to volcanic dust? Anyways, a cough that had been lingering for a week started to prevent me from sleeping a couple of days ago, and I woke up two nights in a row unable to breathe air in. Great… The first time, I called the firehouse since the medical unit was closed after hours. No joke, they sent a crew in two fire trucks to my room to take my vitals. That later made my roommate crack up, saying they must have been really bored, but I was happy to get a super fast (and free!) consultation.

They drove me to the medical unit, having on their way in woken up the doctor and nurse. Both walked me around the hospital (which is well equipped) and very nicely spent 45 min chatting with me. They ended up giving me a small asthma-style inhaler and cough suppressant meds. As it turns out the inhaler made things worse, but taking antihistamines really helped, so I think whatever throat cold I had has morphed into an itchy throat allergy. After 12+ hours of sleep last night, I feel much better and was able to enjoy our only day off for our stay here.

I joined one of several groups hiking up to Castle rock, the destination of our previous ski trip, but this time we climbed it. It’s a really steep, Monument Valley-style butte that seems to me like it’s the solidified magma chamber of an eroded volcano (which would make sense, so close to Mt. Erebus). I think Scott’s party described getting up as “a nasty bit of rock climbing”. At least, these days the Field Safety staff sets up ropes, otherwise I don’t think we’d have been able to get up without rock-climbing gear. The top offered a panoramic view, but given the hard-blowing wind and overcast sky, we only stayed a couple of minutes. I guess the journey (part hike, part ski, part climb) mattered more than the destination.

Back at McMurdo Station, things have changed quite a bit since the resupply ship arrived yesterday. Entire areas have been fenced off in order to move shipping containers around. The good news is that the ship brought clementines, our first fresh fruit since New Zealand. That made my day! Another good news is that the ship’s arrival and (relatively) warm weather have created areas of open water called polynyas, which have attracted emperor penguins and elusive whales and orcas. I saw emperors a couple of times from far away, but haven’t had the luck to see marine mammals yet. Another chance to see them is coming tomorrow (weather depending): I am supposed to fly out to the edge of the ice, which has been teeming with wildlife according to those who went on previous trips. Fingers crossed that the clear weather holds up.

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