Stuff That Can’t Happen in Antarctica, But Still Happened There
Antarctica is not a normal place. There are no highways to speak of, they have few if any donut shops and you can only find two ATMs on the whole continent. You might think then that life there consists entirely of sledding expeditions through untouched wilderness, when you’re not on that one touristy peninsula snapping pics of penguins. And yet, people who find themselves deep in Antarctica sometimes get up to some very unartarctic activities.
Two Strangers Matched on Tinder
Tinder was relatively new in 2013. You could in fact still use the word when talking about actual kindling without referencing the app (the tech world had already ruined the word “Kindle”). One American scientist installed Tinder while still at home then went to Antarctica, for a stint at McMurdo Station, on Ross Island. One night, he opened up Tinder and checked to see if anyone else nearby was using it too.
No one in the immediate vicinity was. But when he expanded his radius a little, he found a Tinder user camping some distance away, 45 minutes from where he was by helicopter. He swiped right, of course. More surprisingly, she did too, just a few minutes later.
That’s not us stereotyping there. Studies show that women swipe right less and indeed often look at Tinder profiles before deciding whether to swipe right, which is, of course, a highly inefficient way of using the app. The correct way to use Tinder, favored by most men, is to lay your phone down while you’re watching TV and swipe right on everyone, without even looking at the screen. This maximizes how many matches you get. The only possible downside is that you may end up chatting with people sometimes and then deciding not to meet, which isn’t really much of a downside at all.
You might be wondering now whether these two scientists really did end up having sex after matching. The answer to that question is, “That’s none of your business,” which is a fancy way of saying “no.” The two only met briefly, weeks later, right before she was set to leave the continent. As for whether they ever met again after that and took things further, we have no way of checking up on that, as the scientists never revealed their identities when sharing this story. If they did, feared the guy, the government would punish him for wasting the precious Antarctic internet.
A Doctor Performed Cancer Surgery — On Herself
In 1999, Jerri Nielsen accepted a position as the doctor for a research station at the South Pole. Amundsen-Scott Station held 41 people and was kind of overcrowded, as one chunk of the place was getting torn down and replaced. Still, her stint there was uneventful enough. Until May, when she spotted a lump in her breast.
She needed to get that biopsied, but heading out to a hospital wasn’t an option. It was a 100 degrees below zero, too cold for flights to land or take off. She’d have to cross the entire continent by land and then leave by ship, and even if she were up for that, that would mean leaving the station without a doctor. No, she’d have to do the biopsy at the station itself, and the only person qualified to perform it was her.
She received some assistance from the other personnel, none of whom had any medical experience whatsoever. One welder lent a hand, having experience with poky things, first practicing by sticking a needle in an apple. Once she’d got some tissue out, she prepared a slide, digitized it and sent it to a hospital — over the internet. Yes, Antarctic scientists had internet access even back in 1999, though connecting meant synchronizing transmissions with the path of a moving satellite.
The hospital concluded that Nielsen did indeed have cancer. Even now, shipping out wasn’t an option. So, the Air Force sent in chemotherapy equipment. They couldn’t land a plane, but they could drop six crates of these medical supplies via parachute. Nielsen spent the next five months administering chemotherapy to herself, while also remaining the doctor for the science station.
Finally, in October, a rescue plane was able to land there, and a different doctor replaced her. Nielsen headed out and continued treatment at some stateside hospital not shrouded by months of ceaseless night. The cancer would end up returning fatally 10 years later, but before then, it went into remission. She returned to Antarctica four more times.
People Found a Trove of Booze
In 2006, members of the Antarctic Heritage Trust were poking around a shack built a century earlier by explorer Ernest Shackleton. They wanted to construct some protection around the structure, to preserve it. They weren’t expecting to find anything buried in the ground. But they found whiskey. Lots of whiskey.
Shackleton’s crew had left the stuff there during their Nimrod Expedition. This was an expedition that went somewhat wrong, not to be confused with Shackleton’s other Antarctic expedition, which went deeply wrong. Shackleton didn’t really like playing by the rules when it came to exploring. Conventional wisdom said you bring sleigh dogs; Shackleton brought ponies, who eventually sank in the snow and had to be slaughtered. Conventional wisdom said to bring plenty of fruits and vegetables. Shackleton brought none, but he brought 25 cases of whiskey.
This buried case had to have been one man’s stash, which he hoped to retrieve on the return trip. Digging it up would have been simple enough at the time, but a hundred years later, retrieval was more challenging. The case had spent many winters getting further and further embedded into the ground. Though the researchers found the cache in 2006, it took till 2010 to safely pry it loose.
Would the booze still be drinkable after all that time? That was far from certain. Sticking bottles underground is not at all the correct way to age a sample of whiskey. But proper Scottish experts extracted the fluid from the bottles with a syringe and declared it to be safe. Whyte & Mackay, the successor to the distiller who made the whiskey originally, then used this whole scheme as an excuse to put out a blend of “replica” whiskey based on the kind retrieved from the cache.
“This is a whisky with great charm,” said Whyte & Mackay’s master blender Richard Paterson, sampling the syringe of Antarctic brew. “Just like Shackleton, a great shagger of the ladies! He was a great man, but there was a soft side to him.”
Metallica did a concert in Antarctica in 2013, for a very good reason: They wanted to do a concert in Antarctica. Or, they wanted to be the first band to play on all seven continents — by being the first band to play in Antarctica. No band had ever played there before, unsurprisingly, unless you count the group of scientists who played a concert for their research station in 2007. The internet does inform us that The Beatles, Elvis and more played at the Icebox amphitheater at the University of Antarctica, but this is regretfully just a cool satire website, not an actual college.
The band played for a crowd of 120. Most of them were scientists at the Carlini Scientific Base, but some were also fans who had come in from half a dozen Latin American countries, having won a contest sponsored by Coca-Cola. It was a full concert all right, lasting more than an hour and including 10 songs in the set.
No one looks very cold, but note that despite all the sunlight, they are indoors, in a dome built just for the concert. Also, they’re on the very northern tip of Antarctica, in the summer.
Note also that everyone in the audience in that video is wearing headphones. That’s not for ear protection. That’s how they’re listening to the music. The band stuck all their amps in special “isolation cabinets,” then, rather than piping the music to speakers that blared it for everyone to hear, they sent it to everyone’s personal headsets. Without such measures, they would have ravaged the Antarctic environment through the power of rock.
A Dispute Over Spoilers
In 2018, two Russian scientists were isolated in Bellingshausen Station, a science outpost in a fairly warm part of Antarctica. Oleg Beloguzov was a welder, which we’ve already learned is a very important job in Antarctic stations, and Sergey Savitsky was an engineer. Each had previously spent four years (with breaks) at the lonely island station. Savitsky stabbed Beloguzov with a kitchen knife one day, and then was taken away on attempted murder charges.
The motive, said Savitsky? When he was in the middle of reading books, Beloguzov would keep coming in and spoiling the endings.
Now’s a good time to remind you that many people say spoilers don’t hurt your enjoyment of stories and may even enhance it. Those people are wrong, and the Bellingshausen situation illustrates just why. When you know a book’s twists in advance, yes, the book still offers plenty to enjoy, and the foreknowledge can indeed help you appreciate the twists more deeply. But Savitsky would have got that relaxed and informed experience either way because, faced with long boring hours in this station, he would have inevitably re-read the book. In addition to that, he wanted to experience the joy of discovery from entering the book blind and then the surprise of reading the twist unarmed, and thanks to Beloguzov, he’ll never get that.
So, Savitsky stabbed him, in what surely would have been one of history’s most justified homicides if it killed the man, but Beloguzov recovered in a Chilean hospital. Savitsky was recalled to Russia, whose media black hole prevents us from learning what he's up to nowadays.
That leaves us with just one question. Why did Savitsky stab him with a kitchen knife rather than an icicle? Twist-ending books that we’ve read assure us that an icicle stabbing would have been the perfect crime.
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