How to take a break in one of the most isolated places on the planet, Antarctica

by Guy Frederick / 19 November, 2017

Katrina Grenfell at the Square Frame, the world’s southernmost bach, with Mt Erebus looming in the distance. Photo/ Guy Frederick

For many Kiwis, just the thought of spending a few months in Antarctica would feel solitary enough. But for workers like Katrina Grenfell – a “domestic” at Scott Base – taking a break can be a necessity, especially during the hectic summer season when the base’s 86 beds are filled to capacity. So, about four times each season, she books in for a night at the world’s southernmost bach.

The Square Frame, as it’s called, is only a few kilometres away, yet the sense of isolation is powerful. “I usually just stay for a night, and it’s a great spot to come with friends or have a girls’ night out,” Grenfell says. “But I also like to come here by myself. I don’t have to talk to anyone and I can just slouch around.”

There’s a gas camping stove and a diesel fire that’s only turned off at the height of summer; even with 24-hour sunlight, conditions can be frigid. One night in March, the inside temperature fell to -17 degrees. “I had all my extreme cold-weather gear on, jumped into a couple of sleeping bags, rugged up and tried to sleep. During the night, I made myself get out of bed and there was a low half-moon shining over the white ice and a very faint aurora above Erebus. It was absolutely silent and still.”

Grenfell, whose job involves a mix of cleaning and kitchen duties, is coming to the end of her fourth spell on the ice, after a 13-month stretch that included wintering over. Based in Picton, she says her Antarctic experience has increased her awareness of climate change and the impact humans have on the environment.

“It’s a really special place and it’s nice to stop somewhere quiet and feel the space and stillness. It helps to reset my perspective and fully appreciate where I am.”  

 

This was published in the October 2017 issue of North & South.

 

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