The past week was calm, clear, beautiful, and cold at Summit Station. Temperatures were in the sixties—negative sixties, that is—and occasionally a light breeze pushed the wind chill as low as a hundred. Technically, that put us in Condition 1. To explain, here’s an excerpt from my upcoming book:
Summit Station has weather guidelines for safe outdoor travel. Much has to do with carrying a radio, signing out, and using the buddy system, but there are specific rules concerning the weather that can restrict travel or forbid it altogether. This is broken down into three categories, blandly called Conditions 1, 2, and 3. Condition 3 covers the average everyday stuff: cold and miserable by most standards but clear and pleasant by ours. Condition 2 is defined as visibility below 2,000 feet or wind chill below -90°F. If visibility drops below 200 feet or windchill below -100°F, we’re in Condition 1. All travel is halted excepting “well-coordinated regular tasking or in event of emergency,” which is more lenient than the Antarctic, which goes on lockdown for Con 1. Here, “well-coordinated regular tasking” basically means open travel—as long as everyone knows where you’re going—between the Big House, Green House, and S.O.B., rendering “or in event of emergency” meaningless because if there is an emergency, those three buildings are the only ones that matter. The only emergency travel I can imagine at this time of year would be to the emergency generator shack, which is not far, and if it came to needing the emergency generator, our efforts would without a doubt be well coordinated.
Generally, “Condition 1” brings to mind the nastiest of whiteout conditions, so it was strange to have Con 1 during beautiful bluebird days. I didn’t even wear my goggles through most of it, though I earned a lot of frosty eyelashes, which occasionally stick together when you blink.
On one of those bluebird days, I watched the sun perform a feat I have never witnessed. It was just about to slip below the horizon for a normal sunset while Phil and I watched hopefully for a green flash. But the orange orb refused to disappear. It remained on the horizon as a fiery line, looking much like a broad, distant bonfire, writhing and flaring. As this phenomenon lingered on, my exclamations of disbelief grew in intensity. After three minutes, by my estimation (Phil says ten—I say he’s crazy), I started a stopwatch. Three more minutes passed before the fiery line began to fade. At three and a half, it finally disappeared. We continued to stare at the horizon in disbelief, discussing the strange ability of the atmosphere to bend light and how the icecap may have played a role. And then, suddenly, it returned! The bonfire reignited! My disbelief deepened to outright incredulity. I immediately looked at my stopwatch—thirty seconds had passed.
The warped sunset persisted for another five minutes. It concluded a full twelve minutes beyond its allotted time frame.
There was no green flash.
What a gyp.