Life on the ice
TORRINGTON – When the pandemic began in 2020, Summer Green was looking for a job.
During a time when everyone was told to isolate, she headed to the most isolated place in the world: Antarctica.
Green recently completed her third season as a diesel mechanic for South Pole Traverse which required her to travel from McMurdo Station to South Pole Station. It is a 1,000-mile trek which can take up to 30 days through the harshest conditions on Earth.
In Antarctica, wind speeds can reach 100 mph, something Green was able to get used to faster than others thanks to the often-harsh winds in her home state of Wyoming. The everchanging temperatures on the icy continent can range from 20 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit.
“When you’re out on the trail its bipolar that’s how I would explain it,” Green said. “There would be days I would be wearing insulated bibs and a hoodie, and I’d be sweating just working on something outside, but then there would be days where I could only work for 10 minutes, and I’d have to go in and warm up. It just would depend on the day I mean it’s like Wyoming you never know what it’s going to be.”
Oftentimes the “flat white” conditions limited the crew to speeds of 2-5 mph and the GPS system was the only means of telling what direction they were heading it.
“Sometimes we were on a spot on the trail where you can’t see mountains and you can’t differentiate where you are,” Green said. “There’s no roads, there’s no towns so it can get a little taxing mentally.”
As part of the preparation to work in Antarctica, Green said she trained to read the GPS and had to physically qualify before she could go.
While there is a clinic for accidents and sickness, no major medical procedures can be done in Antarctica which meant Green had to be in peak condition and had her wisdom teeth removed before her first trip.
After spending two weeks in managed isolation in Christchurch, New Zealand, Green boarded a small cargo plane with other workers and headed to McMurdo Station.
“Everybody’s there for a different job,” she said. “I was there to do mechanics there’s people there that were flying with me that I met that were working in the the cafeteria, the kitchen, electricians, plumbers. Everything to make a community work.”
Green’s primary duty along with the four other mechanics on the traverse was to fix any breaks and make frequent checks on the loads while hauling fuel across the frozen tundra.
The crew lived in “modules” on the trail which included several bunk rooms and was all operated off of a generator. There was also a kitchen module where the crew took turns cooking each night.
Green said some of her favorite moments came from seeing how creative people were and especially with the creations they made for supper each night.
“I really would just enjoy like the creative things that people would come up with like the little things that people wouldn’t celebrate everyday here in the United States like we celebrated ‘I didn’t have any dropped food today in the gally, so I want to have a get together in my room,’” she said.
On days at the station when the conditions were bearable to be outside, Green said she enjoyed going on hikes and seeing the wildlife at McMurdo Station. Sometimes when the work was done for the day a group would head out to see penguins or seals nearby. There was also a chance to see whales from time to time when there was open water.
While the isolation from the rest of the world brought challenges such as limited communication with family, Green said working in Antarctica actually made her a better mechanic.
“You can’t just rely on parts being available at that time and I really found myself out there,” Green said. “I really found out who I wanted to be and where I want to be in my life.”
While spending up to 80 days on the trail in a given season, Green had plenty of time to self-reflect especially when she ran out of audio books or got sick of her music.
“You definitely hit points where you’re just like ‘oh my gosh I remember that one time I was mean to somebody in second grade, and I feel really bad about it’ but there’s nothing you can do about it. You can self-reflect on it and move on, so I definitely went through a lot of things in my life that I work on for the better,” she said.
While Green enjoys her time in Antarctica, she also is happy to come home at the end of each season to see family and to experience all of the food options which are not available at the South Pole.
“Going to a grocery store for the first time and being back is like a sensory overload,” Green said. “You’re just like ‘oh my gosh they have two different kinds of new Doritos now’ so it’s a little overwhelming once you get back to civilization so to speak.”
This year Green plans to take a break. Instead of planning a trip to the other side of the world she will be moving across the country to Tennessee and deciding what is next. While Green is uncertain whether or not she will go back again, she is grateful for all of her experiences in Antarctica.
“It’s not for everybody but it’s definitely an experience of a lifetime,” Green said.