Bottom of the World

The season was starting to wind down, I had but 4 weeks left in Antarctica, and was starting to make plans for my travel home. (And thinking of those nice warm locales!). Monday McMurdo time, I called my family during lunch (that makes it late afternoon on Sunday in the states). During the conversations I was telling them all that I was pretty much set for the season, and other than a helicopter trip to remove a repeater or two, that my traveling days were over.

Well mid morning Tuesday changed things considerably. The boss came into the shop and asked me to spend a week at the South Pole. The technician that was there was on his way to McMurdo to take the psychological test so that he could winter over. He had a small medical problem that had disqualified him earlier in the season so they had hired another person for the slot. But a day before the new hire was to leave Denver, he failed his psychological test, so they had no one to fill the slot for the winter. The position is so critical that they will not close the station and go into the winter without a technician. So they were going to reconsider the original technician who had spent the summer there, and I was needed to cover while he was in McMurdo for the test and R&R.

At lunch I got my laundry done and started packing. I'd be 'bag dragging' that evening and on the first plane out on Wednesday.

Wednesday morning everything actually went according to schedule. I arrived at 7:30 in the morning for the transportation out to Williams field, the skiway used by the LC-130s after the ice runway closes. We arrived at Willy field, and had a very short wait before they were ready for us. They were short on fuel in McMurdo earlier in the season so many of the current flights to the Pole were mostly fuel tanker runs. Our flight only had 4 people on it, and was mostly fuel, but they did have one large piece of cargo that filled the majority of the cabin. So much for having spacious seating.

Unlike my previous trip to the South Pole the year before, we got off the ground on the first try. I quickly got into the book I had along, and routine of the 3 hour flight. About 1/2 way there the crew if signaled that I could go up on the flight deck if I wanted to.

The timing was great. We were approaching the Trans-Antarctic Range, a very dramatic mountain range that separates the polar plateau from the ocean. In a hundred mile span it goes from sea level to the plateau at about 10,000 feet. The range has many peaks and several that exceed 16,000 feet.

Trans Antarctic Range

Trans Antarctic Range

The view from 20,750'

After a half hour of the views I returned to the cargo area, and took few extra shots out the side window. It was back to my book. Worked out just about right, I finished it about 10 minutes before we arrived at the pole.

Trans Antarctic Range

Trans Antarctic Range

No Clouds, the windows are a bit scratched

Once you clear the range, the Polar Plateau is known for it's features. Those would be Flat and White! Nothing but snow and ice.

Regardless of how many times they warn you, it is still a shock to arrive at the South Pole. The actual elevation is about 9,300 above sea level (all of it snow & ice), but the air gets thinner near the poles, so it physical altitude feels like 10,600 feet AMSL. (It varies depending on the barometer). Of course this doesn't even consider the temperature. It was about 25 degrees (F) below zero when I arrived, but then again the wind was blowing about 10 to 15 knots, making the wind chill temperature about -52 (F).

Due to the construction and the shifting ice, they have moved the taxiway and we took a shuttle van to the Dome. Last year you were about 150' from the pole when you got off the plane, now it was about a 1/4 mile.


We arrived right at noon, so the first order of business was lunch. After lunch we had a short in briefing getting the details on where we would be staying, what areas were off limits, etc. I walked next door to the Communications building and meet my boss for the next week. She gave me a short tour of the buildings in the dome. While passing through the lounge we talked for a while with the members of the all female British team that had skied to the South Pole. It had taken them 64 days. They were waiting on a private aircraft that was due in to pick them up, and transport them to Patriot Hills (the blue ice runway where most all of the private expeditions stage from).

After the hike I decided to go find my bunk, and drag my luggage with me. The hike was only a little more than a 1/4-mile, but it sure was a lot of effort. The altitude definitely was taking its toll. Even climbing the 30 feet of elevation out of the garage arch was a major accomplishment. A couple of breaks were needed along the way to catch my breath. Having spent the 3 months at sea level had wrecked any acclamation for altitude I had.


My bunk is in the Jamesway on the end

I got the bed made up; I had been warned to be sure I had plenty of blankets. My slot was in the corner on the windward side of the Jamesway. The South Pole Jamesways were put on elevated footings to create a little more room inside. My space was about 8 feet long, by 5 foot wide. This was to be my home for the next week.

The Jamesways are in "Alti Meadows" also known as 'summer camp'. They are only used by the summer crews. The original station was designed for a year round crew of about 30, and a maximum of about 50. When I arrived the population was about 220, hence the plush accommodations. The construction of the new station had ballooned the number of people needed during the summer building season.

The Jamesway is not bad, they are semi permanent, so they have a forced air heating system. My corner of the Jamesway drops to about 50 degrees and then up to about 70 about every half hour. I hadn't thought I'd miss the having to walk down the hall to use the bathroom in McMurdo. Here it was a trip outside to the bathroom about 100 yards away in temperatures from -30 to -65 F with the wind chill. Needless to say the other objective was to find a can to use during the night to avoid that trip. The discovery the next morning was that the floor was cold enough to freeze my urine in the can if I left on the floor. I used this to my advantage to avoid the smell and reducing the trips with the can to the bathroom to only every other day.

The week at the pole was rather uneventful. I worked on a assortment of broken radios, repairing and installing some phones, and other projects.

Field camp is always a good time for me to do some reading. I managed to finish a couple of books during my week, and the altitude encouraged me to get to bed early most evenings and keep up on my sleep.

Walking back to the Dome one morning I noticed a cat that was being repaired, and the CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation) sticker caught my eye. Not sure who had brought that down, but it was interesting to see it on an old Navy cat at the south pole.


Of course I had to wonder around a little bit one evening and get photos, so here's a sampling of the South Pole.

South Pole

South Pole

South Pole It was a bit chilly most evenings. That's -30 degrees F. Wind chill made it about -50 F.

South Pole The elevated dorm is similar to the design of the new station, which is under construction.

South Pole

Inside the dome South Pole The doors are the fire escapes from the rooms.

South Pole

South Pole Once you look away from the station, you can see what most the Polar Plateau looks like. It is rather flat, and white.

South Pole Me in the Communications Workshop. It's a room about 8'x12'

South Pole   And the 'polies' as they are known, wonder why we think they are a little wierd for wanting to spend a year there...   Thats Jason the winter over Computer person just back from his R&R in McMurdo.

Of course I couldn't leave without getting the hero shot at the pole. South Pole

Powered by

Page Twenty Two - Odd 'n Ends, and Change         Start Page

2/15/00 Counter