In Antartica, sunset takes a long time, and night lasts for half the year. Most of the workers leave, and those who are left behind get no supplies for nine months. Astrophysicist Robert Schwarz has “wintered over” in Antarctica 15 times, more than anyone else on earth. Now that he’s retired from the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, he misses those winters and the sunrise that comes in September.
Denis Barkats, a senior scientist who wintered with Schwarz in 2006, recalls an old Antarctic joke: “The first time you winter, it’s for the adventure. The second time, it’s for the money. The third time, it’s because you don’t fit anywhere else.” But that doesn’t seem true of Schwarz, who is cheerful and easygoing, Barkats says. “He has something I don’t have,” he goes on. To return 15 times, one must effectively treat the rigors of winter as one’s job. “You might say, ‘Oh boy, I really want a watermelon!,’” Barkats says with a smile. “Well, you can’t have it for nine months.”
Schwarz doesn’t regard himself as unusual. Still, at the start of each winter, as Pole’s summer population fell from around 150 to under 50, he usually felt relief. “Suddenly everything is quiet, you only hear the wind, and there are only a few people left,” he says. “It’s a great feeling.”
Read about the people who spend winters at the South Pole and how they cope at Atlas Obscura.
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