Marc Ankenbauer's 10+ year quest to jump in every named lake in Glacier and Waterton National Parks for charity.
168 lakes. Only 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
-- Marc jumped into Fisher Cap Lake on Sunday September 8th, 2013 to complete his goal! --
Read about Marc and how this project started...

Cracks in the Last Ocean : Ross Sea, Antarctica

Note: I wrote this blog post while sitting at the South Pole in December of 2012, but it’s being posted in January 2014.  Sorry for the wait.  🙂


The Ross Sea is the southern most liquid water on planet earth.

It carves an enormous gap in what is a mostly round Antarctica.


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McMurdo Station is situated at the edge of where the Ross Ice Shelf meets the “open” sea.




An Ice Shelf is a permanent sheet of ice which is still connected to the glaciers on land.



 Photo: John Weller


The Ross Ice Shelf just happens to be the largest in the world.

It is 2000 feet thick and covers a portion of the Ross Sea that is the size of France.



Photo: Google Images


When I first got to Antarctica, the sea ice looked the same as the permanent ice shelf.

An almost unending expanse of flat white ice still frozen together after a long winter.




As the Antarctic summer progresses the sea ice will get thinner.

By the end it will become billions of pieces of flat ice floating on top of the world’s greatest aquatic wildlife sanctuary.



Photo: John Weller


Below the Ross Sea ice is a world of biodiversity that has no comparison on earth.



Photo: John Weller


Ancient oceans, before man, may have been similar…

But no other ocean ecosystem on earth is this pristine any longer.

The last 50 years of industrial fishing and environmental degradation have left the Ross Sea the “Last Ocean”.



Photo: John Weller


In 1959 the Antarctica Treaty set the continent aside for peaceful scientific purposes only.

No one country owns Antarctica and the international scientific community abides by the treaty.



Photo: John Weller


Unfortunately, there is no such law governing the world’s oceans.



Photo: John Weller 


The most dynamic part of the Antarctic ecosystem is the ocean surrounding it.

You can protect Antarctica all day long, but the fish are in the water…



Photo: John Weller


Ross Sea is filled with multiple species of seals, penguins, whales, birds, fish and every other creature that loves the undisturbed cold depths.



Photo: John Weller 


The Tooth Fish, which is known by its more marketable name of Chilean Sea Bass is drawing industrial fishing operations from around the world to the Ross Sea.

They are a keystone component in the food web of Southern Oceans and in many respects are the glue that holds it all together.



Photo: John Weller 


Most of the world’s oceans are already depleted to the extent that they can’t support the demand.

So, it’s finally time to tap into the last and most remote corner of the ocean world.



Photo: John Weller 


There is a large scale attempt to stop the exploitation of this region.

If you are interested check out the or the Last Ocean Documentary Trailer by Peter Young.




I’m certain that l will never be given the opportunity to scuba dive in the Ross sea to witness this concert of wildlife for myself.

But just the idea that something like this still exists gives me faith that we haven’t lost it all yet.



Photo: John Weller

When I return from the South Pole and the deep field stations of East Antarctica I hope to have the time to witness the more accessible, melted version of the Ross Sea.



This is the most “melted out” I ever saw it by the way…


Off the coast from the New Zealand Scott Base, there are pressure ridges that show the first kink in the ice.

I was able to explore and photograph these odd ice spires and wrinkles.




My coworkers and I were sent on a tour as a last outing before we head out to the remote field camps.




Daily the cracks and heaves change as the melting continues.

A guide was essential to lead us safely through the labyrinth of contorted ice.




Pressure ridges are created where the ice shelf and the sea ice meet.




It’s much like plate tectonics.

Mountains are created when one continental plate smashes into or ramps up onto another continental plate.




A winter of thick sea ice heaves and crumbles when the ocean pushes it against the much larger Ross Ice Shelf.




It creates bizarre spires, rolls, arches and sinks.

It’s like a Dr. Seuss book of ice sculpture.




Seals and penguins are sometimes seen tucked into the folds of the pressure ridges.

I was lucky enough to see three Weddell Seals where I went the other day.




They find their way through the new cracks in the ice and flop themselves on to the surface.

They lounge a while, take in in the scene, and then drop back into the depths below the ice.




On land they are a big sedentary blob.

I’ve never seen one actually do-anything.

But in the water they are graceful as a soaring bird.

Poetry in motion!



Photo: John Weller


It’s always exilerating to see wildlife in their natural surroundings.

And then you make this the surroundings!

Calmly lounging beneath the hulking, steaming expanse of Mt. Erebus, the southern most active volcano on earth.




In my life I have been lucky to witness some seriously amazing landscapes.

It’s kinda my bag.

You know?

But this place is without comparison!



I hope you are enjoying it with me.

If you have any questions or comments please drop me a line on the comment forms below.


*I would like to thank nature photographer John Weller.  He is the image guru of the Last Ocean Documentary.  I hope he would be accepting of the use of some his photos for the greater good.  Obviously, I don’t have any personal photographs of these amazing underwater places. 

I figured that I would borrow some of his masterful images to spread the word and make the message more visually compelling.  To help me justify my usage this man’s amazing product, please check out  Last Ocean Short Film on Youtube, and help spread the Last Ocean mission. 

Christmas, in the most remote place on earth


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Christmas Eve, one year ago, was profoundly different than today’s.

Christmas 2012 was spent with two friendly and brilliant, albeit quirky engineers from New Jersey, in the most remote place on earth.


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By the time Christmas rolled around, we had become friends.

They are great guys.

We had a fine time.

But, I can’t imagine a more bizarrely placed Christmas will ever befall me.


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Bob and Andy are the engineers for the AGO project, which work on and stay at five remote  camps in the Eastern Antarctic Plateau.

I was their Field Camp Coordinator.


They’ve spent a whole lot of time holed up at these “camps”.

During my season, we never broke ten days at any camp.

But, they have been stuck for two to three weeks before waiting for a pickup.

The name of the game in Antarctica, is patience.

You have to be ready to make the most of your time while marooned, no matter where or when it happened.


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The AGO sites aren’t even field camps, they are dots on a map…a very, very small dot.

They consists of an 8’ by 16’ building that resembled a red single wide trailer on stilts.

They are made of five inch thick fiberglass insulation and closed up with a freezer door.


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A wind turbine and propane heater, make it a manageable temp inside.

Eventually, that is.

When we arrive it is -25F inside, just like it is outside.

The structure holds all the electronics, but doubles as a tiny common area.

We sleep in two person mountaineering tents in the “front yard” and use the building to keep warm during the day.


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There are five of these structures,  and they were placed strategically throughout the Eastern  Antarctic Plateau.

Well, there is actually six of them.

The sixth one got covered by blowing snow and has since been lost in time, never to be unearthed.



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We had been dropped off at AGO 1 by a Twin Otter, along with supplies and gobs of electronics.

We had all of our work completed after about four days, and were ready for pick up.

But, it was now day nine.


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We had plans of spending Christmas at the South Pole.

While The Pole, is still a wild place to spend a holiday, it is quite the event.

There is an elaborate dinner with deserts and a few cocktails.

Christmas lights line the walls and it’s as “Christmas” as it can be, while essentially being in a space station.


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Over 150 unique and wonderful faces were waiting to eat well, and enjoy a Christmas party fit for the South Pole.


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The South Pole Station even has a Christmas tree and Santa-like thing.

I don’t know the dolls story, but it is odd to say the least.

The tree has been crafted out of pipes, wrenches and other odds and ends, all welded together.

That’s as good as it gets,  seeing as the closest tree is 2500 miles away on the coast of Chile.


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The Twin Otter pilots had plans to remove us four days ago, but a nasty weather pattern had rolled in, stranded us in camp.

Every morning, I woke up, called in weather observations and hoped to be pulled out.

With no success.

This morning was no different.

By mid morning, we were aware of our holiday fate.

We were spending Christmas at good ol’ AGO 1.


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So, here we sit in the absolute middle of nowhere.

The closest humans were 500 miles away, rockin’ in the holidays at the South Pole.

We were actually the only three human beings in an area about the same same size as the entire western United States…or larger.

These camps are “near-ish” to a point called “The Point of Inaccessibility”.

It is the place on any continent that is furthest from a coast.

In Antarctica, that’s saying a lot!

It’s essentially the most remote place on earth.

And we were gonna “celebrate” Christmas in all its splendid, frozen remoteness.


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Trying to breathe a bit of normalcy into my holiday, I stole away and made some calls on the Iridium Satellite phone.


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Some of you reading this, were the recipients.

I appreciate the loving conversations which for a moment placed me back home.

My tent was a lot more cozy while chatting with all of you.


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Later, I went for a meandering walk to photograph the alien, ultra white landscape.


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Now, it would have been nice to enjoy dinner back home, in a nice warm house.

But, I was fully aware, that this was an epic, once in a lifetime experience.

To spend Christmas in such a odd situation, is something I couldn’t have even dreamt up.  .


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An odd phenomenon called a Sun Dog occurred while I was out wandering around.

It creates a massive ring around the sun.

I figured that was my Christmas present.


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Obviously unprepared, we didn’t have much of a Christmas vibe to the shelter.

We signed the wall,  making sure to point out that we were the Christmas shut in crew.


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The evening was spent eating the best frozen burritos that the government can buy.

More importantly, a Christmas isn’t complete without gathering around a movie while letting your dinner settle.

This time Bob, Andy and I huddled around my laptop and watched Marty McFly save the day in Back To The Future.


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I will never forget that Christmas.


But, Wow it is wonderful to be back in the U. S. for this round.

Ironically, the weather in the Northern U.S.  this winter isn’t much more hospitable than the Antarctic Plateau.

But, it does have Christmas trees, yummy cookies, my lovely wife and egg nog.

Oh, the Egg Nog!

I hope this finds all of you happy, healthy and surrounded by those you love or maybe a dedicated puppy dog.

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Happy Holidays Folks!

It’s great to be home for this one!


(Comment Subject)

“What was the wildest, most bizarre, most remote, most unique Christmas you ever spent”!

Tell me about me it in the comments!


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Observation Hill : McMurdo’s Local Mountain

Observation Hill is a small mountain or a large hill on the outskirts of McMurdo Station…

It is the Antarctica version of the little, after work, local mountain.

On top of the summit there is a large cross that was placed there in honor of Robert Falcon Scott.

He was the famous British explorer that was the second to ever reach the South Pole, but passed away on the return trip.

There are hiking trails that go around “Ob Hill” and to the summit cross.



The trail around Observation Hill starts near the helicopter landing pad.

We even saw a helicopter flying in from the field right as we started our trip.



As the trail gained elevation the entire edge of McMurdo Station became visible with the huge people carrier headed out to the sea ice airstrip.



We were surprised by a C17 which was coming in from Christchurch, New Zealand.

We sat on rocky hillside and watched it land on the sea ice landing strip.



There is another airstrip called Pegasus which is further out on the Ice shelf.

It gets used later in the season when the sea ice melts too much to be solid.



The trail continues along the edge of the Ross Sea through black volcanic rock.

Absolutely nothing but rock and snow…Nothing.



At the base of the mountain there were three Weddell Seals lounging near the cracks in the sea ice.



We rounded a bend in the trail and my fellow hikers were silhouetted against the expanse of the never ending Ross Ice Shelf.



The New Zealand’s Scott Research Base was visible out on the point with Mt. Terror in the background.



The trail got pretty steep at points with snow jammed in the winding trail.



I was overwhelmed by the opportunity to be out hiking in this surreal place.

I needed to be sure to pose for a photo with the ever present Mt. Discovery.



The Observation Hill summit trail leads directly out of McMurdo Station and is well steeper.



I kept waiting to do the climb because it had been wicked cold and windy.

Cold is one thing but the wind makes it ridiculous up there pretty quickly.

I had to finally just choose to go.

All in all it was alright and the wind was still blowing snow across the ground.



The surrounding landscape grows and grows as the trail rises upward.

Far in the distance is White Island which is bound on all sides by the Ross Ice Sheet.



When I was almost to the summit the last group was starting the descent.



I was left to a peaceful 10 minute window to take in the 360 degree panorama.

I set up a tripod and got a shot of myself on the summit.

The double volcanoes were looming in the background and the road to Scott base was visible far below



Anytime a trail gains even a little elevation around town Mt. Erebus pops above the skyline.



Mt. Terror and its profound amount of ice was a great backdrop for the wind turbines that help power the US and Kiwi stations.



Right before I left to come down here, National Geographic wrote an article about Mt. Erebus.

It is the southernmost active volcano on earth.

Its almost always steaming because there is an actual lake of molten lava at the bottom.  For Real!!

If that’s not cool enough, the steam coming out of the steam vents freezes when it hits air and creates crazy Dr Seuss like vent tube creature looking things.

Wait, wait…And there is cool crystals that form out of volcanic minerals which makes them bizarro hard.

Ah, Mt. Erebus…



I bid the summit farewell and started heading back towards town to make sure I hit up dinner.



This might be the craziest thing I’ve ever looked at from a 25 minute hike.

I guess you’ll have that on the regional tour.  Huh, Spicer?

I suppose we are in Antarctica…

Thanks OB Hill.



I hope this finds each and everyone of you having a simply splendid day.

To Life


Return to McMurdo: Headed North

Life is filled with moments which you know can’t be lived again.

When you know that you’ve been living something special.

And, now you are leaving that special moment, never to return.

That’s life. It happens.

It makes us appreciate how precious and fleeting life is.

What is the phrase? “The only constant is change”.

Today I’m leaving the South Pole.

Now, I’m a reasonably well traveled guy.

But, if I’m playing life’s percentages “I will never be back here again”.

I’m still processing the fact that I got this chance once.

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I’m sure some of my ideologies and opinions need some work.

But, I try desperately to live life and the opportunities that come my way as if they won’t come again.

This is my way of appreciating the life I live.

It is very important to me to live the life I’ve been given to the fullest.

These are moments in a story that can only be read in a forward direction.

Today and every other day lead you to moments in which you won’t live again.

I try to eat life with as big of a spoon as I can find in the drawer.

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Anyway, I’m outta here and headed North.

I grabbed my bags and hauled them past a Christmas tree made of steel machine parts and a very odd Santa Claus.

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We packed our cargo on an Airforce pallet so a forklift can load it into the C130.

A few friends came out to wave us goodbye as we boarded the plane and took our seats.

As the C130 pulled off the ice and started flying north the station got smaller till there was nothing but a flat white horizon and a whining engine tearing us through the sky.

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The clouds were thick which made photographs less appealing than our flight to Pole.

Luckily I explained to the National Guard guy that when the Trans Antarctic Mountains finally popped up, I would love to take a few photos from the cockpit.

I fell asleep for a while finally getting a moment to relax.

I woke to the same guy telling me that the pilot would allow me in the cockpit for the landing.

I had to ask him to repeat himself, but I wasn’t going to ask three times.

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We were getting close to McMurdo when I climbed into the cockpit.

Black Island, White Island and Mt Discovery were all recognizable but from odd, unfamiliar angles.

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I was so excited that I think I took about three hundred photos.

I figured I would just keep clicking till they told me to sit down and strap in for the landing.

When I was about settled in, the pilot yelled “come back up here”.

I took my spot next next to the window again.

He took a fly over of the airstrip and banked hard into a 360 to line back up for the real landing.

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In short, he was showing off for me.


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It was also all I could do to not fall over as I gripped hard onto a ceiling handle and tried to keep the camera taking steady video.

When the plane door opened up I was overcome by the smell of spring.

To me more accurate, it smelled like a warm sunny day of spring skiing.

It was undeniable.

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It had been 40 degrees in McMurdo for a couple weeks now and the snow out on the ice shelf was foot deep slop.

If I were skiing I would refer to it as mashed potatoes.

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While snow was melting like crazy, the mountains all around were still slathered in snow.

The snow pack is hundreds of feet thick so it doesn’t melt away it just becomes sloppy.

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At the South Pole there is no smells.

There is nothing to smell.

No plants, no animals, no water.

It took a while to realize why everything in the South Pole station was so clean.

But, there is nothing to make it dirty.

There is no dirt.

So I was overwhelmed by the scent of warm melting water and dirt.

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It smelled like taking a late afternoon spring walk around Missoula with Jess.

It smelled like a barbeque in a soggy spring backyard.

But, most of all it smelled like sitting on the front porch at the ski resort in April.

The days when you wish you could ski in shorts but you are not stupid enough to do it.

The days when you are baking in the sun with a pitcher of beer in front of you.

A couple great friends laughing and recounting the day.

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I was like Dewey Cox!

I wasn’t smell blind anymore!

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McMurdo had never seen a month of heat quite like this.

It was making an absolute mess of the snow road from Pegasus Airstrip to McMurdo.

What used to be a quick 45 minute drive has become almost a 2 hour endeavor.

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Vehicles with wheels couldn’t get traction and only ripped the road up.

There is a four mile section in which the bus had to be pulled on a “magic carpet”.

It’s the same industrial plastic sheeting that the Traverse pulls cargo across the continent on.

The huge Caterpillar tractor pulled us and another bus along like were on a toboggan.

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Eventually the road became solid again so our bus was able to make good time back to McMurdo.

A dorm room, a shower and a late night dinner awaited.

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The only Emperor Penguin that I’ve seen so far was standing on the side of the road.

Pretty drab sighting, but I’ll take it.

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I’m also overwhelmed by the site of liquid water.

I know that may sound strange.

However, when everything is frozen as far as you can see, a pool of bright blue water is pretty profound.

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I found myself staring at a seasonal drainage ditch on the side of the road.

It was running water and there was something guttural that made me smile and stare.

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McMurdo in general was a different place than I left two months ago.

Everything was dry and dusty like a country road in August.

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Doors to buildings are left open to get fresh air while the short nice weather window is spreading its joy.

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It’s great to just be able to go for walks again.

At the South Pole you don’t go outside unless you have to or you are going somewhere specific.

I’ve gone on a walk in gym shoes every day since I’ve been back to McMurdo.

I still need a coat, hat and gloves, but it is still Antarctica.

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Andy and I walked to Scott Base one evening to have a beer and check out the station.

We were still acclimatized to the 10,000’ elevation at South Pole.

It felt so great to walk at sea level!

I wondered around for hours taking pictures and enjoying the warm 35 degree weather.

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The sea ice heaves and cracks near the base which allows openings for Seals.

The melt ponds gleamed bright blue while the seals made periodic groaning noises.

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As I walked back I stared down at the massiveness of the Ross Ice Shelf.

Ivan the Terra Bus looked like a dot as it drove arrivals back from the airstrip to McMurdo.

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Observation Hill’s silhouette stood tall against the ice sheet.

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Hut Point has some open water and Adelie Penguins and Weddell Seals have been hanging out there.

They are far enough off that I don’t get great photos but it’s just amazing to be in their presence.

They tend to just stand or in the case of the seals, just lay there.

They don’t do a Happy Feet flash mob or anything.

I’m just excited that they are being penguins and seals in Antarctica.

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The open water leads into a huge crack that stretches far across the sea ice.

It is enormous but somehow still dwarfed by this expansive landscape.

There are clusters of seals along the length of the crack.

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Within a month there will be an Ice Breaker ship sent to open up the ice in the bay.

Shortly afterward the annual cargo ship arrives with a year worth of food and supplies.

The same ship leaves with all of the year’s garbage and the cargo being sent back to the United States.

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The other night I was standing at Hut Point watching the tide come in and out.

When I left for the South Pole the ice was covering all water and there was obviously no visible tide.

Now the rise and fall moves plates of sea ice up and down.

It’s hypnotic.

Maybe I’m just overwhelmed by what I’m a part of.

Well, I know I am.

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This has been one of the most profound experiences of my life.

I continue to walk around in total awe of the concept of where I am.

I may get used to the culture of the place or that there is a huge volcano directly across the sea ice.

The classic imagery of Antarctica is always in my face.

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Helicopters fly in and out against the mountainous backdrop on what seems like an hourly schedule.

There are few things more visually dramatic than that.

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While it’s all of these things that make it very apparent where I’m at.

It’s the fact of knowing how special and once in a life time this moment is.

I’ve been given the chance of a life time.

In return I hope I’ve given it the respect that it deserves.

I will be forever grateful for this opportunity.

I hope I’ve used a large enough spoon for the occasion.


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South Pole: Everything Else but the Station

Looking out the side window of the Twin Otter we finally get a glimpse of the South Pole.

There is a sprawl of buildings and supplies that surround the main station.

A perfectly straight track from the South Pole Traverse extends from the station into oblivion to where it originated.

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The pilot puts the plane down like he’s done it a million times.

We slowly taxi up to the fuel resupply building.

When the side door opens up, the stuffy smell of the plane gives way to the cleanest, crispest air I’ve ever smelled.

Its 20 below and I’m covered with a hat, neck gaiter and goggles along with three layers of clothes.

It’s time to unload the plane and haul everything back to our cargo line.

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In the field the only way to haul things from place to place is a banana sled pulled by human back and shoulders.

We now have a snow mobile with a large red sled hauled behind to carry our cargo.

Even better than hauling cargo, is when there is space on the sled for us.

The first time I hopped on the sled and zoomed around the hard packed snow trying to hold on to the rope handles, I knew I had arrived.

It’s impossible to not have a smile ear to ear, but it covered in a neck gaiter for no one to see.

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The snow machine passes the expansive cargo line full of pallet upon pallet of netted equipment.

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We dodge the huge grooming roller and two dozen comparably odd devices.

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Off in the distance a man helps a heavy equipment operator navigate a humongous chainsaw thing that cuts ditches in the snow.

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A Piston Bully grinds its way past us at about a 1/16th of a mile an hour.

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We pass a pile of huge spools that once contained lord knows what kind of wire.

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Maybe they will be added to Spoolhenge on the outskirts of the compound.

This monument to electrical wiring is visible from thousands of feet above as we fly in.

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While walking the last bit to the station I get a more intimate view of a huge triwall box full of chains that probably weighs a few thousand pounds.

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Outside the Destination Zulu entrance, I pass the row of boxes that separate all of the recycling types. Everything is separated before it is shipped off.

Wood, metal, electronic parts, food garbage, glass, plastic and my favorite Skua.

A Skua is a bird in Antarctica that is a scavenger. The word has grown to mean to grab, take or reuse.

It’s like the inventive reuse and recycle version of the word Smurfy.

There’s a thrift store of free stuff that’s left at the station for anyone to grab.

That building is called the “SKUA”.

You should use it, it’s catchy.

I’m going to try and bring this one home with me and use it in the states.

We’ll see how it goes.

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While the South Pole is dominated by the main station, it is surrounded by countless buildings, experiments, supplies and vehicles.

Since we are a transient science group we don’t get a bedroom in the station.

We sleep in buildings called Hyper Tats.

They are essentially mobile hallways with a door at both ends and bedrooms along both sides.

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There is no running water at the hyper-tats, so there’s an outhouse building nearby.

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There are also older structures called Jamesways that were commonly used by the Armed Forces.

They still exist and are used for multiple purposes around the station.

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For example there is a climbing gym in one of the Jamesways.

It’s more of a bouldering wall because it’s not that tall but who cares!

That the South Pole even has a climbing wall is awesome!

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The Slump is a smoking lounge that is made out of a very character filled Jamesway.

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This place is covered in decades of graffiti and old Janis posters.

It feels like someone’s awesome basement party.

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Beyond the Jamesways are burms of supplies that go on and on, row after row.

Everything that has arrived at the South Pole in the past is out there somewhere.

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I even found a Frisbee golf disc goal.

How about a round of Folf at the South Pole?

That’s got to be on every Missoulian’s bucket list!

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On the flip side of the enjoyment coin is the “South Pole Welcome Center”.

This is the only place that tourists can go inside once they have finally arrived at the pole.

It is about 20 feet by 20 feet, but it’s warm.

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There is a guest book that visitors sign like they are at a wedding.

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The book is filled with rows of names from all over the world .

It’s got to be a spectacular formality after a once in a lifetime trip.

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There’s not much tourism to the South Pole but they do come.

It costs $50,000 to fly to the South Pole and hang out for four hours.

What a bizarre way to spend that much money.


But you can always try to ski the 1000 miles from the coast instead.


Or how about driving to the South Pole.

A group last year tried to drive a 6 wheel, beefed up van and before they could leave the Pole the transmission died.

The van is still there with all the fuel barrels they were hauling.

The people are still mandated to come back, fix it and drive the van back to the coast.

Can you imagine a worse place to have car problems?

Anyone want to take a stab at changing a transmission outside at the South Pole?

I’m sure they could use some help.

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The real purpose of our presence at the South Pole is science.

The area surrounding the Pole is split in three main and very specific sectors.

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There is the Quiet Sector where they try to minimize vehicle movement and noise.

Its focus is monitoring for seismic activity.

The South Pole is one of the quietest places on earth.

The equipment can recognize earthquakes, volcanos, nuclear blasts and other explosions across the globe.

The SPRESSO science project drilled a hole a thousand feet deep and dropped monitoring equipment in the ice to get rid of wind and ambient noise.

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There is also a Dark Sector where all the telescope science happens.

During the winter when its dark 24 hours a day, there is not allowed to be any lights visible in the Dark Sector.

It has a few of the most technologically advanced telescopes on earth.

25osp - Glacier Explorer

The South Pole is the most ideal place to view the sky.

While this sounds crazy, Antarctica is a desert.

It’s actually the driest place on earth.

All the moisture freezes instead of staying suspended in the air so it’s perfectly clear.

The air has something like 2% humidity.

Compare that to Cincinnati in August.

26osp - Glacier Explorer

The 10 meter telescope studies what the universe looked like after the big bang.

They are also studying dark energy and all the other trippy astronomy based things that I don’t understand.

The telescopes monitor parts of the electromagnetic spectrum that the human eye can’t see.

I think it is set to look approximately 180 million light years away.

27osp - Glacier Explorer

It’s a bit much for us simpletons to fathom.

It was still great to go see it.

When you don’t understand what something does, you climb inside of it.

At least that’s what I do.

28osp - Glacier Explorer

Lastly there is the Clean Air Sector which is up wind of the station so measurements are as pure as possible.

It is basically the cleanest air on earth.

There is a NOAA station in this sector which monitors carbon dioxide levels.

29osp - Glacier Explorer

This remote station and others in Barrow Alaska, American Samoa, Greenland, Trinidad Head CA and the top of Mauna Loa in Hawaii are used to get baseline CO2 levels.

These remote places have the least chance of having the air spiked with pollution of anywhere on earth.

30osp - Glacier Explorer

Lastly there is also a project called Ice Cube.

They drilled a hole thousands of feet into the ice with hot water drills and put monitoring equipment down there.

The project detects neutrinos which are invisible high-energy particles that can only be detected when they interact with the deep, dark ice below the Pole, producing a blue light.

The science going on here is profound and world class.

1 ice cube - Glacier Explorer

Lastly I got to see the South Pole Traverse arrive after its journey.

There is a 1000 mile unpaved path from McMurdo to the South Pole.

The crevasses have been filled with snow and the route compacted as well as possible.

But it’s still nothing but snow, ice and a whole lot of Antarctica!

31osp - Glacier Explorer

Through the years all fuel and supplies were sent via aircraft.

I’ve read that for every gallon of fuel at the South Pole it took two gallons to get it there.

When all of the costs of transit and logistics are taken into account, a gallon of fuel costs over $30 at the South Pole.

32osp - Glacier Explorer

Two enormous tractors are chained together so there is always traction.

Then industrial strength plastic sheets called Magic Carpets are attached and all the supplies loaded on for hauling.

The trip from McMurdo to the South Pole takes over a month.

33osp - Glacier Explorer

Well, that’s about as comprehensive as I can get.

I hope I didn’t lose all of you.

I really couldn’t take it all in either but it was fun trying.


It’s been a great run, but it’s almost over.

Soon I’ll make like the South Pole Traverse and leave.

To Life

34osp - Glacier Explorer

Amundsen Scott South Pole Station : Oasis in the Desert



Before 1911 no human had ever been to the South Pole.

While it is still pretty rare, I flew there in three hours on a C130.

The Amundsen Scott South Pole Station is the only permanent outpost of humanity for about 50,000 square miles.

Flat ice, 10,000 feet thick expands away from the station for what is essentially forever.

In summer the average high temperatures are -15F.

In winter the mercury has dropped as low as -116F.



The South Pole is often analogously compared to outer space.

Humans at the South Pole can’t live without substantial technological help.



We wear what is essentially a space suit and live in what certainly feels like a space station.

Somehow, with its ultra-bizarre surroundings the South Pole Station creates a strangely normal and pleasant environment.

The new station is an 80,000 square foot, two level building with entrances on both ends.

It is built on adjustable pole supports.

This design allows the station to be raised to keep drifting snow from encompassing the whole structure.

Destination Alpha functions as the main entrance.

When C130’s bring new arrivals they are ushered to this main entrance port.



As they enter, there is a display case with old South Pole elevation markers that have been used in past ceremonies



Further down the wall are three blown up newspaper pages.

They are the news stories from the most notable human feats in Antarctic history.

Roald Amundsen successfully leading the first group to the South Pole in December of 1911.

The tragic end to Robert Falcon Scott’s successful but ill-fated South Pole bid in January of 1912.

Lastly, Admiral Byrd’s first flight over the South Pole in 1929.

They were all gargantuan human and Antarctic accomplishments.



Scattered along the hallways are space station versions of many of the amenities you might visit in your town.

The Post Office is tucked into a cubby next to the store.

There are stamps that designate that your mail is being post marked from the South Pole.



The library shelves are lined with great fiction, world travel and South Pole reference books.



The workout room is filled with top end exercise equipment.

A round of cardio is quite the endeavor at 10,000’… or so they tell me.



There are weekly volleyball, soccer and exercise programs offered in the gym.

It also hosts the Southernmost New Year’s Eve party on earth!



Annually, employees called “Polies” put together bands and rock the New Year.

The band room is filled with instruments and gives people a quiet room to practice.

Luckily it is far away from anyone’s sleeping quarters as to not bother folks.



The most common place to spend time is the Galley.

The back wall’s windows look out at the ceremonial South Pole’s mirrored ball and international flags.

The food is quite wonderful for a place that gets almost no fresh food and is 1500 miles away from an unfrozen vegetable.

People hang out here chatting, playing games, watching Sunday science lectures and nibbling on cookies.



Day and night Bob, Andy and their crew spent most of their time in the science lab.

Countless hours were spent soldering electrical wires, testing various systems and drinking Mountain Dew late into the evening.



There are two movie rooms with comfortable couches and there are scheduled events.

Employees get into trends of watching a certain show once a week or schedule certain movies.

On Friday nights there is a football game shown, but it is a game from last week.

The Armed Forces Network has deal with the NFL.

They send us cd copies of the games and we return them when we are done.

For a serious sports nut it would be maddening to have to watch week old games.

Most of us are just excited to be able to watch a football game.


Many of the employees also hang out in the lounge.

Foosball, pool, dominos, backgammon and cribbage are played nightly.

The beauty of the South Pole is that everyone has to hang out together.

There is nowhere else to go.

So electricians hang out with firefighters, science grantees and dish washers.

It’s a great community to be a part of.

I feel very lucky to have had my moment.



24 Hours a day there is a dispatcher on duty at the South Pole.

They respond to any emergency and keep track of field camps and flight operations.



On the wall of the dispatch office is a map with all of the field camps, remote facilities and fuel caches.

I saw on a map that there is one fuel depot called Johnny Cache.

Pretty witty, huh?



The main point of interest at the station is the actual Geographic South Pole.

There’s a sign and a gold marker that claim the exact spot.

The marker and sign are moved every New Years.

This is done to accommodate for the ice sheet moving about 30 feet a year, while the pole stays put.



There is a ceremonial South Pole which is a decorative pole with a mirrored ball on top.

Surrounding the mirrored ball are flags from all the main countries that play heavy roles in the Antarctic research.

A “Hero Shot” is the term for a persons picture with the pole.

This is mine.



It made a great spot for GLACIEREXPLORER.COM and I to thank you for all the donations and support and wish you a Happy New Year!

It was like 3:30am the night before I was leaving.

I was dead tired, but I swear its so sincere!

I just wanted to tell you all how much I appreciate your support!!!


Anyway, back to the South Pole!

The power station makes this whole project possible.

The main entrance has been covered in snow and exists below the surface of the ice.



Near it is the Beer Can which is the utilitarian entrance to the station.

It’s the portal to a whole underground world that harbors all the utilities and much of the major storage.



The Beer Can has a spiral staircase leading more than 100 feet below the surface of the ice.

The stairwell can be raised to accommodate for the gradual raising of the surface ice.

The architects built malleable seals into the building so the chaotic shifting of the ice wouldn’t break a rigid station.



There’s a labyrinth of archways which meander under the ice to the generator room and cavernous storage.


The generators are by far the most important utility on station.

If the power goes out, everyone is done for!

No ifs, ands or buts.

To combat the cold there are three enormous Caterpillar 3512 generators that carry the bulk of the power.

They put out 1200 kw of max power and burn around 50 gallons of diesel per hour each.

There is one smaller Caterpillar 3406 referred to as the “peaker” for when energy use peaks now and then.



Water is a hot commodity at the South Pole.

It is rationed so stringently that everyone only gets two, 2 minute showers a week.

This is all very ironic since the station is built on top of two miles of ice.

Antarctica holds the bulk of the world’s fresh water, but it’s all frozen.

The area around the South Pole is actually a desert.

Any liquid water had to be melted which takes lots of power and plenty of ingenuity.

The waste heat from the generators is used to heat the station and plays a huge role in the water production.



In the past snow had to be dug up and put in a hopper to melt.

The new design uses Rod Well’s which are enormous bulbous caverns melted deep inside the snowpack.

Heated water is sprayed down a tunnel to melt the ice.

The melted water is extracted and pumped to the surface.

The cavern that is created is approximately 500 feet deep.

Then after they switch to a new Rod Well the old one is used to hold sewage.

The station is on to their third Rod Well.

There are T Shirts being made that say “Rod Well…If you aren’t drinking from #3, your drinking #1 and #2.

Pretty witty, huh?


The water is almost totally pure from lack of interaction with soil and minerals.

Nutrients and minerals are added to the water supply so it is healthy for human consumption.


Water, heat and all the other systems in the station exist entirely because of the power station though.

So, in these tunnels there is five years of extra fuel and there are seven years of extra food too.



There are ice tunnels that were carved under the surface and they access the Rod Wells.
The tunnels hover between -50F to -65F.


Running the length of the tunnels are the pipes pumping fresh water out of the Rod Wells.

There is another set of pipes that runs sewage back to the old Rod Wells.


Heated wire and insulation keep the water and sewage in a liquid state so it keeps moving.



There is also a sub culturally famous series of shrines throughout the tunnels.

One of the most famous is a Sturgeon that was given as a present from a Russian Icebreaker many years ago.

There is a long winded story but eventually it came to find a home in the depths of the ice tunnels.



2011 was the 100 year anniversary of Amundsen reaching the South Pole.

The celebration included a bust of Amundsen carved out of ice.

To keep it frozen, the bust was placed on a snow shelf in the walls of the tunnels.



My friend would shine his headlamp at the shrines so my camera would take photos in the dark tunnels.

Then he would have to stash the headlamp back in his pocket so the batteries wouldn’t die in the cold.



As a safety precaution there is escape hatches scattered throughout the length of the tunnels.

There are ladders leading directly up a tube etched out of the snow that would pop you out at the surface.



I’ve been to some pretty odd places in my life.

Tunnels carved out of ice below the surface of the South Pole might take the cake though.

Breath had frozen my entire balaclava to the point that I thought it might crack.



Down below was an alien world of dark snowy tunnels and slowly shifting ice.

Above was a good dinner, a game of pool and a warm bed.

Strange how all of those things can exist in one building.

It’s like the worlds weirdest basement.

Only at the South Pole.



Flat Stanley wanted me to tell you that he hopes you enjoyed the post and to have a great week.

He also said,

To Life!


AGO 2 – The Most Remote Cabin Raising Project on Earth



As we sat in the Twin Otter awaiting our depature to AGO 2 the time seemed to creep along.

There seemed to be a hesitation that we normal don’t have.

As we heard a loud banging resinate through the plane, we became even more inquisitive.

Then the pilot popped his head in and told us that the they had to smack the skis with a 6×6 to break it loose.

The skis had frozen to the ice.

You know it will be a long day when you skis are frozen to the ice.

At least that is what my grandma always used to say.


1 ago 2


Everything seemed to go perfectly after that first little issue.

The skies were perfect blue, displaying the varied texture of the sastrugi as it curves away beyond the horizon.

In the seats around me were David McGaw, Tim Spuck and Bob Melville, all of us settling in for the couple hour plane flight.

Time constraints had gotten the best of David and he had to leave for the states in a few days.

He flew out with us on the first put in plane, did his science work and then headed back to the South Pole on the second put in flight.

You could tell he was staring nostalgically at the plateau.




It is one of those places that you are amazed that you even ended up here once.

You certainly don’t take it for granted.

It is something none of us may ever see again after the project ends.

Its funny, while its not a classicly beautiful landscape, its beauty is in its expansive openness.

There is literally nothing like this on earth and maybe anywhere else.

It is extremely real.  Its Antarctica at its most empty and massive!

With David departing we met up with a teacher named Timm Spuck who is affiliated with an organization called Polar Trec.

It puts science groups in the Polar regions together with teachers to help bring the two worlds together.

Timm proved to be a really nice guy and a great addition to the crew.




I had been lulled to sleep since the plane flys perfectly smooth.

For hours we are only a couple hundred feet above the expansive plateau.

I woke to the plane banking to the left and I stared out the window to see our new home.

The tiny orange AGO was the only thing breaking up the white snow as far as I could see.




When we landed and the pilots opened the door, I noticed one thing.

AGO 2 was so much more pleasant than AGO 3!

I suppose it’s good to start with the hardest situation first, then everything else is smooth sailing.

AGO 2 lies at 5900’ compared to AGO3 at 9600’ which made the temperature well lower.

The winds were only 5 miles an hour instead of upward of 25 mph at AGO3.

Bob explained that our AGO 3 put in was the 2nd harshest weather he had dealt with in his time in Antarctica.




Someone through the years had made a mile marker sign which provided directions in the “front yard”.

There were distances to McMurdo, South Pole but I was intrigued at the distances to places in the states.

The sign said that it was 9,372 miles to Olympia, Washington.

That’s really far!

We started setting camp after hauling all the gear from the plane to the AGO.

Tim helped me put up the Scott tent and it was pleasent enough outside that we started putting up everyone’s sleeping tents.

So much different than last time!




I know everything is relative but it was so pleasent to be outside.

I’m sure it was mostly weather but I also knew what I was walking into this time.

AGO 3 we had to huddle indoors just to not get frostbite and could only work in short bursts.




We were still outside setting up camp when the Twin Otter got back from picking up Andy and Gil.



I bet it was cool to fly over and see the AGO already springing to life.

Tents set up and people milling about.


8 ago 2


This was to be our last flight with Phil and David as our pilots.

They were spectacular!  Thanks for all the help and good times!

They were finishing up their time on the Ice and planned to get home before Christmas.

Lucky Dogs!




This trip was going to be much more in depth.

Each of the AGO’s get raised every five years in a cycle.

Luckily this year was AGO 2 which is by far the lowest elevation location and therefore the most hospitable.

The process is pretty extensive.




There is a lot of effort digging the guy lines out of the snow.

This is to loosen them so they can be extended when the AGO gets raised.




There are new platforms placed under each corner as new supports.




Then using pulleys and manual winches we raised the box inch by inch.




We made 600 revolutions to raise 5 1/2 feet.

When we were done the AGO was like a big orange tree house.

We had to climb a steep ladder to access the front door.

Just yesterday you had to climb down a set of snow steps to access our humble abode.


13 ago 2


This is such a odd and remote place that every thing you do seems to be the strangest place to do that task.

This was certainly no different.

It has to be most remote cabin raising project on earth.


35 ago 2


To fill our time we each found our outlets.

Taking in the surreal scenery was a base level activity.

I took it to the next level and flew a kite which I had purchased back home.

You know how many times we have all gotten our kites stuck in a the neighbors trees, well that’s not an option down here.

Heck, I haven’t seen a tree in over two months.

The kite flew high and proud with nothing but the wind turbine to worry about.




When we were finished with the AGO raising project I took a bit of time to fly the kite myself.

As I wondered around, kite in hand I saw Gil far in the distance giving scale to this juxtaposed activity.




He eventually caught up to me and enjoyed laying on the ground like he was an Antarctic 6 years old.

He flew the kite with a huge smile on his face for a half hour straight.




While working on an antennae installation we sighted a Snow Petrel flying through the sky.

It’s the only animal that any of us have seen in what feels like forever.

We ponder if the bird is the toughest thing around or just plain lost.

It’s at least 500 miles away from the coast and surrounded by a sterile nothingness of ice.

No liquid water or food for an incalculable distance.

Our pick up flight got delayed by four extra days because the weather was not good enough to fly.

Five men digressing into stinky, stir crazy oddballs with absolutly no normal sleep schedule.

We would be up till 4am watching movies and working on the electronics.  Mornings came late, where we would shuffle out of our tents at noon.

Tim and I even found time to make a snow man.


17 ago 2


Its different than making them in the states because the snow won’t stick together because its too dry and cold.  What we had though was the fact that you can saw blocks perfectly and use them to stack like a cairn.


18 ago 2


In Northern Canada the natives make cairns that are formed like little rock people.

We made the same thing out of blocks of snow and named him AGO MAN.

We decided that he was there as a sentinel looking into the blowing snow for those who can’t do so for themselves.

He was standing proud still on the days we left.




Days came and went, trying to spend our time as productively as possible.

As for myself I found that if you put your goggles up to the sun when you take a picture you can really show the difference from what our eyes see and what our goggles see.




This unleashed a rash of photos in which I forced people to stand in front of the sun so you can accent the photos with your goggles.

Hobbies, you have to have hobbies in the place like this.




Gil found himself enamoured at how rock hard the ice was that he had me take this photo of the shovel with nothing more than a 1/4 “ sticking in the ground.

Pretty bizarre.


22 ago2


In the respect of genuine productivity we shoveled out 37 different 55 gallon barrels of AN8 or airplane fuel.


23 ago 2


This at least gives the fuel a few extra years before the blowing snow completely envelopes it.




The winds blew so hard that they started making wind blown burms downwind of everything including our tents.




At this same point, I would choose to just climb inside that tent and wait it out.

Any of you who received a phone call, this these are the moments.




Eight days at an AGO gets pretty long.

Sometimes you even play air bass with the shovel.


34 ago 2


Thankfully its 2012 which allowed us to laugh at movies on our laptops.

We watched “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” and “The Other Guys”.

Warm drinks, funny movies and pretty good eating got us through.




Along with signatures from everyone that  has spent long hours in this box, there was also a 20 year old bagel that was signed in 1992.

We felt compelled to add a new bagel.

Twenty years of AGO Bagels is a pretty powerful thing to witness.

Let me tell you that people!




Well, finally the weather broke.

The skies cleared, the sun came out and created a sun dog which is a huge halo.

It signaled our escape from AGO 2!





The word had come that we would be picked up in the morning!

We had to get prepared for an early pick up so we hauled all of our cargo out to the landing strip.

Everyone helped but Gil was pretty excited to get outside and stretch his legs.



The mission had been very successful!

We had raised the AGO to a height that will keep it clean of snow for years to come.

The power system was working great and seemed like it would last for years.

The data was transferring back to the U.S like it was supposed to.

All was well, and now it was time to get out of there.




We all just wanted to get back to the South Pole!

There was warm showers, soft beds and food that someone else made.

There was also a bottle of red wine to toast…TO LIFE!


Click to open up for detail and scale

Click to open up for detail and scale

AGO 3 – Anything more remote would be outer space!

Thus begins the adventure of the AGO. 

AGO stands for Automatic Geophysical Observatory. 


In functional terms they are 8’x16’ insulated boxes in five scientifically significant spots around the Eastern Antarctic Plateau. 

Think of them as small Antarctic single wide trailers. 

They have to be the most remote livable structures on earth. 

I might be wrong, but I’m not sure how. 


There are four men who make up this AGO group other than myself. 

They remind me of an Antarctic Science A-TEAM. 

Bob Melville, Andy Stillinger, Gil Jeffer and David McGaw. 

Bob and Andy are the main two while Gil and David are new to the project this year.

Their specialties range from engineering, electronics, computers, physics and science in general. 

The night before we left they were still up at 3am going over last minute details.


Our first round of five brought us to AGO 3 which lies at 9600 feet and is five hundred miles from the South Pole. 

Because of weight restrictions we had to break into two flights. 


It takes 3 ½ hours to fly there from the South Pole on a Twin Otter. 

We sent three people and gear in on the first flight and two more people and more gear in the next day on another flight. 


The South Pole and the AGO camps have the same landscape which is flat white snow.

The difference is that the South Pole is surrounded by buildings which break up the flatness a bit.

The area around the AGO is board flat and surrounded by miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles.  


There tends to be a texture of wrinkles and ribs. 

The Russians call these Sastrugi which means “groove”. 

I enjoyed explaining to Bob, that I want to start a band called Sastrugi.

Or, that he should “get his Sastrugi on”. 

You get the point.


As we arrived the Twin Otter banked left which gave me a perfect view down at the expansive AGO compound. 

We would call this place home for the next week.

Click to open this photo so you can understand the scale properly


After landing, the pilots must refuel the plane using 55 gallon barrels that have been stashed at the camps through the years. 


We loaded the Twin Otter the evening before with food, camp gear, electronics and tools. 

Bob, David and I began the process of unloading and hauling the supplies across the windswept landscape on a banana sled. 

When we arrived at the AGO we saw that the winter had deposited a huge ducktail of snow in front of the door which blocked our entrance. 

Bob kept hauling supplies back and forth. 

He is a hauling machine, its impressive!


I started slashing through the barrier of snow that blocked the entrance to the only wind block in thousands of square miles.

When finished shoveling, I took over hauling and let Bob and David work on getting heat going in the AGO. 

We first start heating with a propane device called Mr. Heater. 

Eventually the wind turbine will create electric heat.

Before that happens they will have to give a lot of attention to the labyrinth of internal electonic devices. 

It didn’t take long for Mr. Heater to warm the small insulated structure to a safe temperature. 

Even 20 or 30 degrees is better than the blustery -20F conditions outside. 


The pilots departed for the South Pole leaving us alone at our new home. 

They will return tomorrow with Andy and Gil. 

They are busy completing last minute touches on the electrical system that will be installed over the coming week.

We had to work in short bursts because of the unrelenting wind and cold outside. 

David addressed the stove which he found had water in the propane lines.  

As he tinkered, Bob and I got the Scott tent prepared. 


There’s obviously no plumbing in this high end middle of nowhere. 

The toilet is a hip deep hole dug in the ground with a wooden box placed over it. 

There is a toilet seat carved out of thick foam insulation board. 

It’s warmer than any toilet seat I’ve ever sat on. 

We all muscled the pointed Scott tent over the wooden box and dug the anchors deep into the snow using a technique called dead men. 

We placed a piece of bamboo into a 3ft deep hole in the snow and used it to tie off the anchor ropes. 


Scott Tent Toilet



Then we rushed back into the AGO to warm up. 

We functioned in bursts of productivity. 

We would go into the AGO to dry out our frozen facemasks. 

Then back out to triple team one of our mountaineering tents. 

The winds would have beaten a two person tent team. 

Then back in to thaw ourselves and eat frozen chocolate bars. 

Then another triple team tent detail.


By the time Andy and Gil showed up the next day, camp was set up and all was well.

The following days were spent huddling in the AGO from the elements and dancing around each other. 

Five grown men in such a small space is beyond tight. 

Then add in five huge parkas, food, tools and electronics.


It is beyond claustrophobic on normal American standards. 

Every time you had to move, at least two other people had to move also just to allow the process to unfold. 


Having a huge bald guy as a field coordinator did not help the situation any. 

So when I was not needed I would often adjourn to my tent to stretch out. 


Tent life in Antarctica is well better than it sounds. 

We are here during summer which means the sun never sets. 

2AM is like noon when the sun is highest in the sky and there for the warmest. 

The constant battering winds didn’t help anything but the tent often got up into the 40’s and 50’s at times. 

The sun combined with warm layers and a huge -40 degree sleeping bag, tent life is quite pleasant.


Bob, Andy, Gil and David worked chaotic schedules. 

Often they even worked around the clock to get all of their science, power and data transmission devices up and running.  

I can only imagine this is an extremely difficult process compared to what their peers deal with back in the United States. 


High tech science is very internet based in 2012, something that we have absolutely none of. 

There are two Iridium satellite phones, but we are 18 hours different from the East Coast where all their team members are located. 

Often Bob would stay up till 4 in the morning to make a telephone call to people in the States. 

That way they had a full day to address the issue and get back with us. 

Scheduling is a constant issue.


Antarctica, is a harsh continent and nothing is border line easy. 

AGO life is a fine line between intricate science and base level grunt work. 

Twice a day we would go outside with a large box lined in plastic. 

Filled to the brim with snow chunks the box is hauled back. 

Then for the next hour one of us will sit in the corner and melt snow for drinking water. 


It tastes amazing by the way. 

Not much in the way of pollutants to worry about.

The key is to walk up wind from the AGO where no past groups have ever placed their designated pee flag. 

Very key indeed!


When things get too out of control and we need to calm down, Bob jokingly brought a “therapy penguin”.  

With the same thought in mind I brought a talking head that says, “Calm down, don’t stress, take it easy” that was given to me by John at the Vitamin Store in Missoula.  

I named him Carl. 

We have now made them a couple, Carl and Therapy Penguin of the Central New Jersey Penguins. 

They make a lovely couple.

We need outside stimuli, BAD! 


Four days later the Twin Otter pilots came and took Andy, Gil and David back to the South Pole. 

*Youtube video*

They got a head start on further power system production while Bob and I stayed two more days at the AGO. 


As the field coordinator, I have to go in on the first plane and out on the last plane. 

Things slowed down tremendously once it was just Bob and I. 

We each got our own side of the AGO. 

After you do the dance of the AGO with five guys, two feels like you live in a palace.

Bob was in heaven working on this science and listening to music. 


We both got a bit of much needed rest. 

I even watched a movie and worked on this blog post a bit. 

On our last evening we both enjoyed a celebratory toast from a bottle of Wild Turkey that was left there from a past group.

We celebrated what seems like the whole process working properly. 

No small feet and worthy of a cheers.

Wild Turkey on a block of Antarctic snow seemed like a romantic rite of passage. 

Certain things are just the right thing to do when posed with the option. 


One of my main job duties is calling in weather observations many hours before a plane departs to pick us up. 

This process has started to become one of my favorite times at an AGO. 

There is almost no quiet personal time with such cramped quarters. 

But, 5am at an AGO is pleasant. 

My mug is filled with coffee and powdered milk.  

Before I left Montana I downloaded a lot of BBC News and Dirt Bag Diaries podcasts. 

Hourly I have to walk outside, take wind speed and direction, temperature, visibility and barometric pressure measurements. 

But then it’s back inside for 50 more minutes of peace, quiet, coffee and podcasts. 


All in all, this first round of AGO went great. 

Despite what Bob describes as the second worst round of AGO weather he had experienced I was very happy. 

The tent and the AGO box felt very normal but then you open the door or the vestibule.  

Then expanses of the Eastern Antarctic Plateau rolled out before you. 

I’m obviously a person that derives happiness from a mountainous landscape, but this massive expanse of frozen nothing holds a calming beauty for me. 


Now that I know what to expect I’m excited to see and experience the other four AGO sites. 

But, for now its time to go back to the South Pole. 

The pilots are on their way and there are lots of last minute jobs to complete. 


After they land we only have about another 20 or 30 minutes to make sure everything is dialed in.


Blue board has to be put back up to insulate the electronics from the cold Antarctic winter.

Then break down the Scott tent and put the shutters up on the two windows. 

More than anything else double, triple and quadruple check that nothing is being left behind. 


There will be no going back to turn off the stove or flip the lights off. 

We will be the last two people at this building for a couple years. 

Leaving behind the wallet, watch or keys would be an irreversible mistake. 


Up, up and away to 90 degrees South and a well needed shower. 

To Life


Welcome to the South Pole – “Leaving on a C130”

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. 

Bizarre, huh? 

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. 

To Life!

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. 

Inside look into McMurdo Research Station

So, it is 11pm and I’m scheduled to fly to the South Pole on a C130 in the morning.

Pretty CRAZY statement, huh?  Never saw that one coming.

This means though, that I will be leaving McMurdo Research Station.

I’ve enjoyed McMurdo a lot.

It was overwhelming at first but I’ve settled in and really like its rhythm.

I’ve interacted with lots of parts and areas of the station.

I thought it might be fun to show you some pictures of the landscape, the vehicles, the buildings and odd little nuances of McMurdo.


There is a very dominant mountain across the Ross Sea called Mt. Discovery.

The extensive web of power lines throughout town can’t even diminish its dominance.

The vehicles around here might be the most unique part of McMurdo.

When you first get here you fly in on a C-17 like this one in front of Mt. Discovery.

To go from the airstrip to town you board a famous vehicle, Ivan The Terra Bus.

The company is called Terra, the name just came through the years.

Everyone loves this thing, there are even songs about around here.

There’s an even bigger vehicle that’s used to move people, but I don’t know what its called.

Its bizarrely big.

My friend Brian Roys and my brother in-law Matt Ziegler both pop in my mind every time I see these unique buses, fork lifts and other crazy contraptions.

You both would be in heaven driving and tinkering with these things.

The best I can do it document these huge Tonka toys for you guys.

Every vehicle is 50% larger than the normal world and lots of them have tracks like a tank.

Not sure what the story is with the student driver sign on this Piston Bully.

But the test must be wild.

Another cool aspect of McMurdo are the helicopters buzzing all around.

The landing pad is just downhill from the dorm I’ve been living in.

My travels around Antarctica are going to be based around planes.

C 17’s, C 130’, Basslers and Twin Otters will be my chariots.

But much of the science and functional day travel around the McMurdo area is done on the helicopters.

I wandered down to the heli-pad to get some pictures from behind the NO ENTRY SIGN .

Then one of the pilots was cool enough to show me around to get some closer pictures.

He even took a great photo too.

The buildings in themselves are pretty utilitarian in nature.

They are unique though, with the extreme weathering and the distinct McMurdo-ness.

The inside is often much nicer than the outside.

For example this is a really cool coffee shop, while it looks like a hunting camp from the outside.

The medical clinic is pretty unique looking.

I luckily haven’t had to go inside, but I’m sure it’s more impressive in there.


Attached to the clinic is a creepy door that stores the supplies for a mass casualty.

Let’s hope none of us have to find out what’s inside it.

I went out on the sea ice a few times for snowmobile training.

One day there was what is called Fata Morgana , which is an illusion.

It’s likened to the mirage when you see the road bending in the heat.

It was pretty bizarre looking as you can see.

There are obviously notreally zig zags in the cliffs.

To optimize our waste removal the entire program is based in very elaborate recycling.

There are bins divided for every possible subsection of waste, pretty cool.

Bamboo stakes with flags are used to mark virtually anything of importance out on the ice.

Road directions, unsafe spots, “don’t melt that ice for drinking water because that’s where we pee”.

You know, stuff like that.

Sometimes they just add Antarctic flare to the landscape.

I’m not aware that many of the roads around town have official names.

This road runs along past the main scientific labs.

Remember Beeker, the Muppet scientist’s apprentice.

That is the cute name the employees have for the science grantees.

The station is full of little unique quirks.

Like this metal troll that lives under one of the bridges.

Inside the Berg Field Center is a huge Scrabble board painted on the floor.

The other day there was a need to get rid of some old frozen donuts.

So, instead of tossing them in the garbage we threw a donut party.

There was donut checkers, donut jousting, donut corn hole and donut shuffle board.

And finally a couple pictures of my day to day job.

Lately I have been gathering all of the supplies for the field camps.

I have to enter them into the cargo system so they get sent to the South Pole and the correct field camps.

This is the inside of the Science Cargo building.

The other night my science group and I stayed up late into the night packing and moving cargo.

The lighting was great.

Like always Mt. Discovery was looming in the background.

So, there you go.

That’s McMurdo.

I’m leaving in the morning and won’t see this place for a couple months.

Off to more southerly and whiter pastures.

Wish me luck.

Honestly, wish the scientists luck…

To Life!