Message from the Ice
ON MY THIRD MORNING IN ANTARCTICA, Andy Young and I were drilling holes into the melting snow on top of a vast glacier 1,000 feet thick. We used an oversized hand brace, the kind of drill you bear down on with one palm while cranking the handle with your other hand, except this one was nearly 4 feet tall. Every so often Andy climbed up the glacier from the tiny research station below to assess ice conditions, locate new crevasses, and make the appropriate adjustments to the line of flag poles marking the safe trail up to the glacial summit. That was what he was doing today, and I'd offered to help operate the oversized brace to drill new marker holes in the granular glacial crust.
Our thick boots crunched in the wet crust as we marched up the glacier's tongue, a long, steep slope reaching down to exposed rocks behind the station. It would have made a perfect sledding hill if it weren't for those rocks and ledges. A half-mile-long toboggan ride would have ended abruptly amid the primordial landscape of granite that had been scraped, shattered, and sharpened by the enormous weight of the glacier that enveloped the land until a few years ago. The forty-three residents of the U.S. Palmer Station make do with long hikes and cross-country skiing on the glacial plain high above. To get there they have to climb this slope because elsewhere the glacier falls directly to the sea from sheer cliffs of soothing blue ice. Everyone is careful to stay inside the parallel rows of flags Andy sets to mark the safe route.