The Continent

It is amazing when you start to consider the size of the continent. 5.4 million square miles.

Regardless of who they are, no single man has really seen the entire continent. Within the program I’ve been one of the few lucky ones, and have been blessed to see as much as I have. Many of the people who work here see little, if any of the continent. The U.S. and Kiwi (New Zealand) bases actually sit on Ross Island. You have to travel 30 to 40 miles to get to the continent itself.

I was lucky to catch a presentation shortly after I arrived on base by the three members of a New Zealand expedition that is traveling on foot to the South Pole. It was rather notable that they had gotten sponsorship from the New Zealand government for the expedition. They were not attempting any science along the route, simply the adventure of following the footsteps of the explorers before them. The team consists of 3 men, led by Peter Hillary, the son of Sir Edmund Hillary of Mt. Everest fame.

The expedition is named Icetrek. Like most things in this day and age, they required sponsorship in order to fund the trip. The first thing you couldn’t help but notice was the blaze orange jackets plastered with the sponsors names. Motorola’s Iridium was the prime sponsor, and the largest name on things. They of course have their own web page, and through the use of the Iridium satellite phone, are updating their position as they travel along.

The intent of the expedition is to travel to the pole and back carrying everything they need with them. Needless to say, the technology has improved a bit since the early 1900’s when the earlier explorers were out there. They are using sledges (sleds) to haul most of the gear. As they are travelling towards the pole, they drop supply depots with the food they will need for the return trip. They are also equipped with kites to help pull them on the return trip from the pole. (The most consistent winds rush out from the pole).

They talked of the science that had gone into the planning for the trip. They have allotted 100 days for the round trip of over a thousand miles. They face the same challenges that the early explorers (Amundsen, Shackleton, Scott, and Mawston) did. Consuming the mass quantities of calories needed to sustain them as they haul themselves, their supplies, and the lifeblood of the continent - fuel. Without fuel, you cannot melt snow or ice to make water. In order to consume enough calories, and to conserve weight, they have a variety of foods. The one that got everyone’s attention during the lecture was the solid olive oil cubes, they consume to get enough calories. There is nothing ‘fat-free’ on this trip. As a matter of fact, they added fat to anything they could.

I’m writing this during the third week of December, and they have are still out there. They departed the Kiwi base the 3rd of November, and have 66 days allotted to get to the pole, and 34 to return. (They will travel lighter, and have the wind to help).

You can’t spend any time here without hearing of the ‘great’ Antarctic explorers. Roald Amundsen was the first to actually reach the pole. Yet, few know of him, and little of his trip is talked about. It was so over shadowed by R.F. Scott’s expedition. That fact pointed out daily by the poor selling T-shirts in the store that misspelled his name Ronald Amundsen. Norway was a new country, less than 6 years old, when Roald Amundsen reached the pole on December 14th, 1911. Even though he might be considered a great explorer, it was lost to the sad tale of Scott.

Bruce and I had the fortune of visiting Cape Evans last week. Every Sunday, for recreation, they have provided trips to the Ice Caves in the Erebus Glacier, and on to Cape Evans. The list filled as soon as they posted it for several weeks, and finally I spotted it when it went up. Bruce has some excellent photos on his website of the hut used by Scott and his expedition. The hut was abandoned with a lot of the equipment still in place, awaiting Scott’s return.

Scott only found out that Amundsen was also attempting the pole after he was enroute from England. Scott’s disappointment of finding the Norwegian flag was summed up in his journal entry “The pole, yes. But under very different circumstances from those expected” Although Scott’s team made it to the pole, they failed to return. Scott died just a few miles from a food depot that would have saved their lives. That tale became so much better known than the trip of Amundsen.

Shortly before I departed for Siple dome in November, I caught the screening of the two films of Shackleton’s, and Scott’s expeditions. Moving pictures were still in the infancy, and both were done as silent movies originally.

Shackleton had made it to within 90 miles of the pole before turning back. Another of his adventures, was the attempted trans-antarctic expedition. It ended with a fantastic tale of his ship the Endurance being crushed in the ice, of sailing the drake passage in little more than a life boat, and having to cross uncharted territory on an island in winter to reach a whaling station for help.

It’s hard to believe all this went on in this century, the concept of having film footage of these events, yet the hardships they endured.

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