As I write this I’m sitting inside the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.
In the morning I will be heading out to the first of our deep field AGO camps with my science group.
A week ago we left McMurdo Research Station to go to the South Pole.
That morning we hopped on another classically huge Antarctica vehicle and drove out to the Sea Ice airstrip.
This isn’t the one that drove us down there but I love these tank track pick up trucks.
Tank tracks with a Follow Me sign and a C130 in the background.
So, Very Antarctica!
The airstrip is dwarfed by the surrounding mountains and is filled with more unique vehicles and buildings.
This was the first time that I got to see a Twin Otter plane.
These are the smaller planes that will fly us from the South Pole to the AGO camps.
There was a Twin Otter being unloaded when we pulled up to the airstrip.
Today’s flight was on a C130 being flown by the New York Air National Guard.
C130’s are used as the cargo shipping work horses on Ice.
They bring almost all the people to the South Pole, but also the cargo and mail shipments.
Today’s chariot was “The Pride of Scotia”.
When we boarded the plane the entire back end was filled with cargo.
There was five crew members along with the 16 passengers.
The pallets in the back contained the mail and a wide variety of South Pole supplies.
Until getting down to the Ice, I had never been on a plane other than a commercial airliner.
The differences are dramatic.
It’s all about function.
Like this urinal.
To urinate on a C130 you simply climb behind this curtain and lift a steel lid.
There is no wasted space; you are doing your business literally feet from other passengers.
Luckily everyone I met were really cool and we all just go along with the situation.
I love how many different people you meet on the Ice.
They all have a story and often a really unique knowledge or skill.
Andy and Moses work for Thompson-Caterpillar out of California and are down here to rebuild the enormous generators that power the station.
We also have to wear our ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear on the plane.
The issue gear is the Big Red Parka, insulated Carhart overalls and huge Frankenstein boots.
Get a load of these things!
But, they are super warm and very necessary.
The South Pole is as far from McMurdo as Minneapolis is from Dallas.
When a flight is planned in Antarctica there is always a reasonable chance that it will get delayed.
A commercial airplane in the States flies in all but the most dramatic weather conditions.
With Antarctica flights, the benefit of the doubt is given to the weather.
Flights around Antarctica are delayed and cancelled pretty often.
Obviously the weather is unpredictable and very harsh, so you never know what you will wake up to.
The bigger issue is that if there is a problem there are no options between A and B.
If a plane needed to land elsewhere between Minneapolis and Dallas there are countless options.
Down here there is nothing but thousands of miles of ice.
The Transantarctic Mountains separate the continent into two halves.
If they weren’t impossibly remote, this would be a mountaineering mecca.
This flight will provide me with the last mountainous terrain that I’ll see for a couple months.
The perfectly flat Eastern Antarctic Plateau is where the South Pole and all of the AGO camps lie.
Luckily for us, the pilots allowed us to climb into the cockpit to during the flight.
It provided a chance to photograph the most intense landscape I’ve ever seen in my life.
There are gargantuan rivers of ice flowing between all of the mountains.
And, if these are rivers of ice, at one point they all flowed into the equivalent of the Amazon.
Hardly any rocks poked out from the mountains.
Here and there you could see a cliff face or rocky ridge.
But, most of everything was just slathered in thousands of feet of ice.
Absolutely Profound Landscape!
After about three hours the mountains gave way to flat white.
The same flat white that I’ll see every day for the next couple months.
When we landed at the South Pole we were met by a group of employees as we exited the plane.
We were led towards the new Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station which will be my home off and on for the next couple months.
They expect us to not be ready for the temperature and altitude change.
McMurdo is at sea level elevation and when we left it was 15 degrees Fahrenheit outside.
Three hours later we got out of a plane and it was -56.7 Fahrenheit with the wind chill.
The South Pole is technically at 9300’ elevation.
Since the poles have a lower barometric pressure than the rest of the planet your body feels the pressure of 10,410’.
Maybe I’ll be able to explain that better by the end of my time here, but I just know it’s the case.
That is a whole lot of change for the body to acclimate to in three hours.
We were even issued Dexamethasone which is the same drug that high mountaineers take to combat high altitude cerebral edema or HACE.
So, this is why the people are there to help you walk to the station.
It’s time to start the physiological adaptation to the elevation.
I’ve spent the last couple days just letting it soak in that I’m at THE SOUTH POLE!
I’ve braved the cold a few times to visit the actual geographic South Pole.
This metal marker is placed at the exact pole every New Years.
It is moved every year because the ice sheet moves over the surface of the continent approximately 30’ a year.
That doesn’t change where the actual pole is, so the marker has to be moved.
I’m sure that is just the beginning of the things that I’m going to learn about this extreme place.
I’ll keep you informed as I learn more.
I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving where ever you were.
I hope you were warm, happy and in good company.
I know mine will be one to remember.
P.S. If you have any questions, leave me some comments. I’ll try and get you some replys when I get back from the field.