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Wednesday, December 15, 1999

Doug Coombs
The Team's Call from Antarctica
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Hello, this is Doug Coombs reporting for the 1999 Antarctica Ski and Snowboard Expedition down here in Patriot Hills, Antarctica. It's Wednesday, December 15th.

Here in Patriot Hills things have calmed considerably, since last night's 80-knot winds have subsided, to calm conditions and snow flurries. The storm left in its path four-foot drifts, packing all around everyone's tents. Nine out of 20 tents were flattened, broken and buried. There were no problems with the tent inhabitants, luckily. We now know what brand of tent doesn't hold up in a big storm, which I won't mention — could be an embarrassment.

The ANI watchmen-Warwick has had a huge job these last two nights, going out into the storm and checking the tents for any accidents, rips, people laying in the snow and et cetera and also watching the stoves inside the cook tent for any fire hazards. A fire hazard is the worst thing that can happen to anyone down here in Antarctica, if something burns down in the middle of a storm, I think it is pretty much toast. He also makes the best bread in Antarctica, for sure, hands down.

Last night's storm was just intense. Our tent survived really well and we're happy with that. Getting around outside last night was a chore: required having at least one or two partners for reference, radios in our pockets and rope hand lines going to and from wherever you were going. Even going to the bathroom was a complete, major ordeal. It took up to five minutes to dress, five minutes to get out, five minutes to get over 40 feet to the bathroom and all of a sudden you've gone to the bathroom and it's taken you a half-hour.

The blue ice runway, which the Hercules T-130 lands on, is completely buried and ANI is telling us this is the first time it's happened in five years. It will take at least 48 hours of manpower and hopefully some katabatic winds to help clear a path for the plane to land. So, it's just going on, as usual here. Meanwhile, we are becoming chess champions, Scrabble experts, domino kings and studious bookworms.

The folks at the ANI keep pulling out fantastic food from their snow-cave food cellars. We're living on a 24-hour schedule right now. Out of the 22 people here, we're only really together at one time at 7pm dinner. There's always some work to do to keep the camp functioning. The American team has volunteered to help out in the night shift, from midnight to noon. It seems to be our favorite hours to stay up; it's the quiet time here. And it's also happiest when we're shoveling and staying active and doing physical chores around this wind-whorled space station.

Right now Newcomb and I are off to look at a run a couple hours from camp, above the blue ice runway, and hopefully we'll find some good skiing over there. And just to get our blood moving, it's been three days since we've been trapped. Also, we've changed the name here at Base Camp to Patience Hills Base Camp and keep one's self occupied and happy had become everyone's main focus from getting the Antarctica cabin fever.

That's about all today. We have power problems with email. So our emails have been delayed and we'll get around to it when the power system comes back up. We've had a lot of shut down with anything electrical, mechanical, battery operated — anything like that right now — because of this massive storm that we just went through.

The temperatures today were mild; they were probably around 20 degrees, light snow flurries, cloud cover, fog-band moving in right now, but no wind. Which is nice for the tents and for people to get out and walk around, but we need winds to clear the blue ice runway, which is 1.2km long and about 600ft wide. And the only other alternative is to go out there and start shoveling and that sounds like a huge project...[laughter]. So, we're signing off stuck and stranded. Over and out.

— Doug Coombs, Correspondent


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