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From Narcao to Antarctica: "Traveling at walking pace with 40 degrees below zero"

Enrico Ghisu, a young Alpine from Narcao, travels 1,300 kilometers in about ten days
enrico ghisu (foto pnra)
Enrico Ghisu (foto PNRA)

It is well known that Antarctica, as inhospitable as it is unique, is a destination for scientists and researchers. Less so is that every year Italy and France organize an expedition of tracked vehicles, the Traversa , to guarantee heavy supplies of fuel, food and other products to the staff of the Italo-French station of Concordia, 3200 meters above sea level and -80 ° in winter. over 1000 kilometers from the sea and from the other Italian station, Mario Zucchelli. A mission in which, in the 2017/18 and 2019/20 editions, Enrico Ghisu, thirty-seven years old from Terraseo, a fraction of Narcao, a mechanical expert, took part.

The dream

The chief corporal chosen Ghisu, a mechanic in the Alpine troops in Trento, was in Afghanistan and Haiti. In Antarctica, however, he did not go as military but selected by Enea on behalf of the National Research Program in Antarctica, funded by the Ministry of University and Research and coordinated by the National Research Council for the scientific part, and by Enea ( National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development) for the operational implementation of shipments.

"About the Traversa I was told by sergeant major Raul Nascimben (veteran, now operating on the traverse in progress), and after years of attempts and three interviews, in June 2017 I was selected", explains Ghisu. «Having obtained physical fitness at the Linate Institute of Aerospace Medicine, I started the course, one week at the Centro Enea del Brasimone (Bologna), one at a high altitude on Mont Blanc. Nothing is left to chance, it is essential to team up and manage stress ».

The crossbar

It starts in early November with civil flights to Christchurch (New Zealand). "From there with a C130 plane you arrive at the Italian coastal station Mario Zucchelli landing on the pack (frozen sea), then with a smaller aircraft you go to Cap Prud'Homme, the Italian-French site from where the Traversa will start". In the first days, the maintenance of the vehicles is carried out, but not only. 5 kilometers away is the Petrel Island, home to the French base of Dumont d'Urville, where the icebreaker arrives with the supplies that the traverses transfer to Cap Prud'Homme and store in three convoys, each pulled by two tractors and , towing on sleds, about ten tanks and containers.

When you leave for Concordia, in the lead, behind the snowcat, there is the caravan-life, with accommodation, kitchen and refrigerators where, it seems incredible, food is stored to prevent it from freezing. During the crossing, everyone, mechanics or doctors, drives a vehicle. “Every morning I start the tractors and check that everything is working. At 7 am we leave, lunch at 1 pm and dinner at 8 pm: time is marked by the hands of the clock, there the sun does not set, it is day 24 hours a day », says Enrico. «It is -40 degrees outside, but in the cabin it is hot as in July in Sardinia. You listen to music, you look at the landscape, you think about future projects, everything ». The 1300 kilometers are traveled at 11 per hour and, if there are no breakdowns or storms that cause the whiteout , the total white that eliminates visibility, you arrive in Concordia in about ten days, where the staff waits with enthusiasm. "For me, the engineer Marco Buttu of Gavoi and Andrea Satta of Cabras of the Cnr (two of the participants in Concordia base) waved the four Moors". The traverses unload the supplies, load the differentiated garbage, which will be disposed of in Australia, and leave in the opposite direction. It is a raid that repeats two or three times, each takes about 23 days and then ends in February. On the last return to Cap Proud'Homme the vehicles are hospitalized and the staff goes to Dumont d'Urville to embark on the icebreaker bound for Hobart (Australia), and then return home. "Right there, eleven months ago, we were informed of the pandemic: we came from a muffled environment and knowing about Covid was impressive".

It's worth it

"The level of research in Antarctica is very high, scientists work to their full potential, in total respect for the environment," Ghisu underlines. "Oddities? The dry cold, the katabatic wind that blows at 120 kilometers per hour on the base, but which a hundred meters further on may not be heard anymore, the white that cancels the differences in height, the sociability of the penguins ». «Exciting experience, I speak French and I am at ease, then last year there was another Sardinian, Sergeant Andrea Piu di Carbonia. The family? Only mail and one call a week (from this year also an hour of Whatsapp): it's hard but, thanks to my wife, for my daughter I'm a myth. If I come back, I'll send postcards to everyone again! ».

Vanna Chessa

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