Friday, January 26, 2007

The South Pole

After a one hour delay, this morning I hopped
onto a LC-130 and left for the South Pole. I
was finally getting the "big trip". The one
trip that is considered the boondoggle
above all others. I hadn't flown in a LC-130
and it reminded me of the old C-141s. When
we arrived and got off the plane, I was surprised
by a couple of things. It wasn't as cold as I
expected. Granted, it is mid-summer but I
expected bone-chilling. It will definitely be
that way in a couple of months. I also knew
that the 10,000 foot altitude of the station
would affect one's ability to get around when
first arriving. It definitely was. Even the
smallest snow drifts and walking up stairs were
a struggle. McMurdo is at sea level and it makes
a huge difference being at such a high altitude.
Shortly after arriving, we received our briefing
and were told we would only be at the Pole for
an hour since there was a mechanical delay on the
plane that was picking us up. As a result, we
had to get it all a hurry. Kerry and
Scott (my fellow boondogglers)and I rushed to the
ceremonial and geographical poles for our "hero
shots". This is probably the most photographed
spot at the South Pole and when your photo is
taken here, it proves you've been here. I got
my hero shot and had this smile on my face that
just wouldn't go away. I even did a little run
around the geographic pole that took about five
seconds. Five Seconds to cover every time zone in
the world. After all, this is where they all meet.
I just ran around the world! This spot is also the
place that vexillologists dream of. Flags, flags,
flags. I even brought an American flag with me
so I could say it had flown at the Pole. This
part of the trip was definitely the highlight of
the day for me.

When leaving the Pole area, we walked over to the
old Dome. This was the focal point of the South
Pole Station for many years and now it's in the
process of being closed down. I was really surprised
how big the slope is leading to the dome. The
amount of snow here has really raised the surrounding
terrain compared to where it was when the dome was
built. Kerry and Scott walked down but I had other
things I wanted to see. By now, our time was almost
half over.

I walked up the "beer can" into the new station. The
beer can is a cylindrical stairway that I had heard
lots about. I was a little disappointed. It was cold,
dark and smelled kind of funny. But it's a stariwell
after all, so what did I expect? I entered the new station
and walked through. It's a really big place. One long
hallway with doors and wings branching off from the main
corridor. I got my passport stamped, checked out the
greenhouse and looked at the galley. I walked into the
galley and didn't know a single person there. In my big
red parka and heavy boots they all looked at me like I was
some kind of alien. It's funny that we all work for the
same program and you would think I would know someone...but
I didn't. The galley was large, but didn't seem big enough
for the size of the station.

But...I did run into Sandwich and Damien. They're Supply
friends of ours from McMurdo. They'll both be wintering
this year and I'll be working with them every day. It
was like a homecoming of sorts as I see Sandwich almost
every day and Damien wintered with us at McMurdo several
years ago. Damien told me he saw me walking and knew it
was me since he'd recognize my walk anywhere. It's funny,
but even with our big parkas on, you get to recognize people
by their walk...especially in the winter. It was a chance
meeting in the hallway and it was great to see them. They'll
be coming back into the McMurdo fold soon

One of the things that I noticed is the International feel
that the station has. There was a man from New Delhi India
there named Bajaj that had just skied in from 100 miles out.
He's on a Pole to Pole skiing expedition and seemed like a
nice guy.

By this time, it was time to go. Only an hour at the Pole, but
how many people get to do that? I've been to a few places that
have been the highest, longest, oldest, newest. I've been to
the Four Corners Monument in the U.S. (Heck, I've even been to
a Three Corners Monument) but this is the biggie. People have
died trying to get to the South Pole. This is the bottom
point of Planet Earth. In a season of superlatives, this is
definitely the high point of my season.


Anonymous said...


Lori Murray said...

Tom, Congrats on getting to S Pole.