Antarctica
Failure leads to the South Pole



Sunday was a rather quiet day around the Siple Dome Camp. It was a day off for everyone, and I spent it reading and watching videos. The cooks take the day off also, so it is a day of leftovers, and fending for yourself. Camps require a little more involvement most the time anyway. Everyone has to hand wash their own dishes, and the 'house mouse' duties rotate amongst those in camp. The house mouse is responsible for cleaning up the dinning area, and putting up the dishes after they dry. We were lucky having a large snow melter, in the smaller camps that is a job that everyone has to share - shoveling snow to be melted. Ours is done by a front end loader.

Sunday evening the big event was the screening of the 'Wizard of Oz'. By the end of the video, the dozen of us there were all singing "There's no place like Siple Dome, There's no place like Siple Dome". I guess you had to be there.

I had great expectations for Monday. Paul, who runs the ground station in Malibar Florida was due to be back, and I expected him to find the problem at that end. Alas, it was not to be. After several hours of working with him, I finally determined that the problem was a broken part on my end that could not be repaired in the field. It was time to return to McMurdo.

There had been a C-130 flight Monday, but it came and left while I was still working on the equipment. The next flight back to McMurdo was going to be on Wednesday. However, there was a flight coming in from McMurdo to move some of the Science people to the South Pole, and then return. I quickly volunteered to take that flight if there was room. It meant about 6 hours on the plane, rather than the two it would have taken for the direct flight, but this was an opportunity I might not see again to get to the pole.

Tuesday I waited to hear that the plane was actually on the way, before I started packing. Antarctic flight schedules are always subject to change, and did frequently.

The plane was off, and due in camp at 11:30. A quick stop in the galley to grab a sandwich to take along, and I was ready. It took about a half hour to unload the supplies for camp, and load the two pallets of science gear for the pole. The three of us boarded the aircraft, they never shut down when they are in the field camps or at the pole. All four engines are kept running the entire time they are on the ground.

The loadmaster gave us a quick safety briefing, and we were off. Shortly after getting airborne he told us we were making a 20 minute detour on the way to the pole. It turned out to be a trip to the "Upstream D" field camp site.

Upstream D had been the talk of McMurdo for three weeks. While doing the first recon of the camp site, the National Guard had a slight problem when they discovered a Crevasse with the aircraft.


'Borrowed Images'

The area is actually a moving ice stream. As the ice moves, it creates cracks known as crevasses. These become covered with snow, so that they are difficult to spot. Crevasses are one of the big hazards down here. The aircraft was taxiing when the landing gear fell into the crevasse. They have been making plans for trying to remove the aircraft, and a crew had come through Siple Dome on the flight Monday, on the way down there.

We circled the aircraft several times, I was able to get a few photos with my regular camera, but these shots that are floating around camp are much better than anything I took from the back of the airplane. The story from our local paper 'Antarctic Sun'.

The Antarctic continent consists of several distinct areas. The area of the Ice steams looks as flat as many other areas, it would be difficult to pick out where they are. The area of the Ross Ice Shelf is separated from the Polar Plateau, by the Trans-Antarctic Mountains. I was up on the flight deck as we were approaching the Trans-Antarctic Mountains, and the crew commented on beautiful they were from this view. It was rare that they flew to the pole from Siple Dome, most trips were direct from McMurdo to the Pole, and crossed a different section of the mountain range. I returned to the cargo hold, and sent Ken and Lenn, up to catch the view.

The Trans-Antarctic Mountains are quite majestic. All of the great explorers, and those traveling by foot have had to negotiate the glaciers that cut through the mountains, and provide the passage to the plateau. You start on the Ross Ice Shelf at about sea level, and gain over 9,000 feet of elevation.

Once on the Plateau, and moving south the terrain becomes again rather featureless. Nothing but white, and flat. The closest land is almost two miles below the snow/ice surface.

Of course that meant we were approaching the pole!


Page Fifteen - The Pole         Start Page

12/6/98