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...

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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