Thanksgiving and Sir Ed

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It’s always an interesting week and this week was no exception here at McMurdo Sound. First a quick tour around our station. Above is Derelict Junction (meeting place/parking lot) with the galley off to the left and the housing on the right. Dead ahead are two old Seabee Quonset huts–the first is our local non-smoking pub called the Coffee House and just beyond is our two lane bowling alley. Finally the chapel which houses the only functional piano on the continent.

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Thanksgiving day, we feast on canned turkey with all the canned trimmings….not bad actually. Our chefs do wonders with a can-opener and we are eternally grateful. Good wine helps, I might add.

On Sunday, our special guest is none other than Sir Edmund Hillary who most people associate with the first ascent of Mt. Everest. What most people don’t know is that he was the first to drive overland with a fleet of five farm tractors to the South Pole arriving in 1958. He arrived with only 18 gallons of spare fuel! If you think these Massey-Ferguson farm tractors were modern heated tractors with radios, guess again….
Ed Hillary's Antarctica Tractor

With a wonderful velvet voice and a tweed suit, he packed the galley with enthusiastic fans. Later, I was able to shake his hand and recall four years ago in Auckland when I was invited into his home to share a pot of tea and discuss his Everest adventures. “Did you get a good cup of tea?” he inquired. Indeed, I did.

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Not to be outdone at age 84, he cut steps up a hillside with his ice axe and unveiled the new Hillary Field Centre. Then it was off in a helicopter to tour the dry valleys and a trip up Mt. Erebus. Upon landing, he exited the helicopter stepping on a specially built platform–dubbed the “Hillary Step” by the New Zealand carpenters.

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The weather has been absolutely splendid this week with near 40 degree temperatures. The heat in our room is over 80 degrees with both windows open! McMurdo Station runs with small mountain streams, the sea ice is full of small lakes with breathing holes–enough to encourage the penguins to abandon their incarceration at the Penguin Ranch–a biologist research station about 6 miles north. 1000 lb Weddell seals lounge in the sun carelessly for they have no predators here. We expect the ice breaker Polar Star within a month to open the harbor and admit the killer whales. Then the seals will have predators, so stay tuned….next weekend we will go fishing at Inaccessible Island.

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