Southbound Train and an Arctic Gem

Written by Mike Stewart

There is something elemental, basic to our nature, about turning for home. Even when the ship is still weeks from landfall, 100’s of miles from arrival, the simple fact that the bow is pointing that way shifts something deep in one’s chest.

And though we are over 400 miles from Summit Station, with days ahead of science and sampling, there is a notion of ease with the change of heading. In an endeavor such as this, one’s mind never stops measuring and re-measuring, balancing, and weighing out the variables. It’s a hamster wheel that just keeps rattling away up there, even when the sun is burning down and the machine is charging along perfectly across the powder,  that tireless vermin of LOGISTICS keeps rolling along on it’s squeaky wheel:
1.      Consumables: how much gas, oil, propane, sample bottles, AA batteries, generator spark plugs (none left!), butter, coffee, meat, etc, do we need if we add one more science station?
2.      Weather: can we make efficient speed against the headwind or do we wait, use less fuel, and lose time?
3.      Exposure: when depending on all this delicate machinery in a harsh environment, it’s only a matter of time before components start failing beyond our ability to repair them. When do you decide to limit your exposure, simplify your regime, but sacrifice parts of your mission in doing so?
4.      Etc, etc.

It’s a space that some thrive in (and some avoid at all costs!) this balancing of controllable and uncontrollable parts.  It’s the key to a successful venture, the key to astute management and savvy leadership.

Chris securing the science load

Chris securing the science load

It’s been said that this innate ability, of all traits, was Shackleton’s greatest strength. Anyone who has worn the mantle of responsibility, particularly when other people’s safety is involved, knows the complexity of operating among the moving parts. We have worked over our formula intently. Tomorrow we reach our fuel and oil cache. We’ll load up the entirety of our freight for the first time in the expedition (up until this point it has only been moved and stowed in parcels) and we will finish the last of our work.

Camp, heading back to Summit.

Camp, heading back to Summit.

That hamster can start working a different kind of math. The steady decline of necessary items becomes streamlining and lightening, instead of nail-biting and frightening! So our spirits are high, and a clear feeling of momentum surrounds us. When we struck camp this morning, we decided to celebrate with an adventure to an incredibly unique place on our way to the cache.

Just 75 miles from our location is the base of operations for the NEEM Project (North Greenland Eemian Ice Drilling Station).  This crew from this camp successfully drilled ice core samples through the ENTIRE thickness of the ice sheet, a depth of 2,537.36 meters! After five years of steady work, undertaken by a consortium of scientists from 14 nations, the NEEM Team has extracted ice which can give us a detailed understanding of the Earth’s climate from the Eemian interglacial period (130,000-115,000 years ago). This is of particular interest because the average global temperature was slightly warmer than it is now, and may help us to understand how our modern earth may respond to climate change.  The project was lead by Chief Scientist Dorthe Dahl-Jensen (see for more), and the station built and run by the Danish. We have heard nothing but wonderful things about the project, the people, and the place.

NEEM station, packed up and ready for the move to the next deep driling site

The famous NEEM station dome, a structure designed to minimize drifting around the station. Everything here is packed up and waiting for the move to the next deep drilling site.

Nate working in our science pit and camp 200 m away from the NEEM site.

Nate working in our science pit and camp 200 m away from the NEEM site.


And it turns out to be amazing! We arrived and wandered around shaking our heads and smiling. What a fun and creative way to design an Arctic shelter. If only staff or crew were here to show us around! We decided to celebrate by bringing in our little camp kitchen and having our dinner in the gorgeous common room of the station.

Way back in March Chris assigned us to each bring along a special surprise dinner for the trip, which could be brought out at just the right occasion. A finer setting couldn’t have been asked for, and Chris took the evening to prepare his.

Chris working in the NEEM kitchen to prepare his special meal.

Chris working in the NEEM kitchen to prepare his special meal.

What a feast! Venison steaks from his Vermont hunt, Polish Pirogies from his Pennsylvania hometown, and wild Salmon from Cook Inlet!

Chris cooking

Chris cooking, luxuriating to be cooking outside of the tent, and not on action packers.

Chris's special surprise meal (one step up from the mac&cheese)

Chris’s special surprise meal (one step up from the mac&cheese?)

We’d like to extend our warmest gratitude to the station manager, science staff, and the whole drill crew of NEEM. You have made an incredible camp here with such a special energy to it. Thanks for your warmth and hospitality, it’s an honor to visit the site of such a successful field campaign. We hope some of your triumph can rub off on our little venture! If you are ever visiting Alaska, we’d love to cook a similar dinner for you.  Thanks for the shelter and inspiration, Skol!

One thought on “Southbound Train and an Arctic Gem

  1. Cool – I’s say it is at least 10 steps up from the mac’n cheese.

    The head for home change of philosophy is so true. My dog always walks faster and more out in front of me when turn the corner at the half way point on our daily walk circuit. Thanks for the posts.

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