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10 August, 2001

Preparing for winter

Soon most of us will be leaving, but not all of us. Five hardy souls have chosen to "winter-over" here at Summit. Kim, Jeff, Tracy, Amy and Peter will be staying here for the entire winter. They arrived last week and are spending these last two weeks of the summer season preparing for the winter.

What does it mean to winter over here?

Why is it necessary?

Why would anyone do it?

What do you have to do to prepare for the winter here?

These were my questions to the group of five who will be staying here from August 1st to May 1st of next year. This small group of hardy individuals will have to maintain the camp, conduct the science experiments and survive any mishaps without outside support until the Spring. The last flight period into Summit will be in November. At that time the 109th will bring them their alst shipment of food and supplies, from then until February 2002, they will be on their own.

Soon, the weather will become excruciatingly cold; temperatures of -50C with enormous winds and snows. The buildings that they will use will be the new dorm building and the greenhouse. The big house water supply will be shut down, The team will cook their own meals, get their own water and take care of all the science instruments that will be left here.

Kim, Amy and Peter are the science techs. They have been training with the summer science techs since they arrived last week. Kim and Amy will maintain 25 different experiments. Peter, with the Swiss team, will have his own 5-10 experiments. Each experiment has its own set of instructions, tools and data collection protocols. There is quite a bit to learn and maintain. The science tech position is a full time, 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, job. Tracy and Jeff will maintain the generators, groom the runway, keep the heat, lights and water life support systems going.

There are some special precautions that one must take to spend the winter in such a remote and inaccessible place. The team will have food for many more months than they anticipate needing. Each time a flight has arrived at Summit this summer, more fuel and rations have been stockpiled. In case the generator fails, there are batteries, Coleman portable stoves and lamps. In fact, today from 5-8 pm, we had no power. This allowed the team put a new generator on line and test the system for the winter. As we moved about camp without the humm of the generators, pumps, fans and lights, it was almost eerie realizing how frail we are without the power source of the generators. Of course, in my inevitable curious mind I began constructing a "what if" scenario? What if the power does not return? How will we survive without power, heat or water? I was confident we'd work it out but for how long and what would we all do? Would we be rescued? This experience made me realize what a challenge these 5 folks are taking on. It made me all the more appreciative of their courage and fortitude.

The team are all versatile people. Some have wilderness first aid skills, can suture wounds and start IV's. Kim is an expert cook. Tracy and Jeff both know how to operate the generator, drive the big machines and fix just about anything. All have spent time in remote places before, but this is their first winter at Summit.

When I asked Jeff and Tracy why they were doing this, both said they were looking forward to the challenge and the adventure. Tracy likened it to being on a space ship or Mars. They will certainly have some stories to tell when they return.

Tomorrow, the team will drag a weather port, or small shelter that is like a tent out to the most remote point that they travel to in the winter. There, 12 km from here, they will leave a set of survival gear in case they are trapped out there by mechanical failure or weather. I hope to go along on the adventure to see how this is done.

The winter over crew meeting for the first time in Kangerlussag this summer. From the left: Jeff, Kim, Peter, Amy and Tracy

Amy (with the book) and Meg preparing for the winter science. Amy will take Meg's place. Meg has been here since May. There are 25 different science experiments the techs take care of.

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