Sunday, February 01, 2009

To The Pole

Today I was chosen to be a tour guide. Not just any tour guide, but
a tour guide to the South Pole! Leading 9 people, we hopped on a
LC-130 and off for a three hour trip to the bottom of the planet. As
far south as one can go. When I got there I got my obligatory "hero
shot", getting a good photo of me with the Geographical South Pole.
The candy-striped shot I stood with last time is Ceremonial Pole.
Although the Geographic Pole never moves (it's actually the station
that moves on the ice sheet) it is actually about 50 yards further
away than the last time I was here two years ago.

The nine people I was responsible for were chosen by the Chalet and I
was chosen as a guide because I had been to the Pole and knew it's
layout. I was very honored but had mixed emotions since it was such
a long travel day for a half hour on the ground. Imagine going to New
York or Paris on a three hour flight...then getting to spend a half hour
there. I also knew we were really busy at work and felt kind of guilty for
taking the time to go. However, I quickly got over that feeling!. We had
a set route we were supposed to follow and although we were cautioned
that we might only get to go to the Poles, I told the group that if they
hustled, they could go inside as well and go to the Post Office and get
their passports stamped. Everyone hustled, behaved themselves and
we got done just as the plane was making its last minute preparations for
take off.

The station's exterior had changed quite a bit since I was last here in
2007. All of the exterior siding is now installed. Previously it was still
in the plywood covering stage and looked like a big series of cargo
containers. I am however amazed at how much snow has piled up
around the station in the short time since it has been completed.
It's easily a 15 foot drop off from the edge of the snow to the door
at the bottom of the beer can (the cylindrical stairway at the end of
of the building). It's not that the building is's that the
snow is rising. They've built in a lifting mechanism for the entire
building but apparently they haven't implemented it yet. Otherwise,
it's an impressive building that definitely stands out in a desolate,
empty place.

As I stated earlier, we got back to the plane in the nick of time. The herc
is definitely a unique plane. Although I wouldn't want to ride in one all
the time, they are effective in a number of different climates and locales.
The particular plane is called the "Pride of Scotia" and is operated by the
New York Air National Guard. As you can see, it's operated with skis
as it's primary landing gear instead of wheels. They can use wheels when
landing back in Christchurch but for the entire year on the Ice, they
remain unused, shuttling back and forth from Williams Field to the
South Pole on skis only.

Something new and fun for me was getting the chance to ride in the
cockpit. When I was getting back on the plane, one of the crew
members asked if I wanted to ride up front for takeoff. So I
strapped in and in a matter of moments, we were off! It was
hard to see anything because the Polar Plateau really is a big
empty area of nothing! Flat, white surface for nothing but hundreds
of miles in all directions. It was fun though to enjoy the sensation
of takeoff!

By the time I moved back to the cargo/passenger area, we were
starting to fly over the Trans Antarctic Mountains. This is a long
spine of mountains that runs across the continent and separates
East Antarctica from West Antarctica. I can't describe how beautiful
the scenery was from the air. I saw this great glacier ( and several
others just as impressive). It boggles the mind that most of these
areas have never seen a single human footprint and many geological
locations are simply unnamed. As beautiful as all of this is, it is
totally hostile to human life for long and I did a quick shudder
when I thought what it would be like to be stranded there. It gives
new meaning to the phrase "Not fit for man nor beast".

One of the favorite things I saw when flying back was this series of
six mountain tops. They look like islands, but what they really are
are the tops of mountains that have been almost completely
covered by ice and snow. Rather like islands, but islands in a sea
b of ice. I pictured this was what much of northern North
America looked like during the last Ice Age.

So after another three hour flight, we were back at Williams Field and
"home". I had a great time and was honored to be chosen to lead
others to have the same "first time" experience I had two years ago.
Someday, I would love to spend an extended period at the Pole. Maybe
a night. A summer? Maybe. A winter? Probably not. Whatever the
length of time, someday I plan to go back in some capacity. Maybe
Maybe more trips like this will be in my future.


IowaMouse said...

Great photos! and what an awesome opportunity. Some day I would like to visit the Pole too. Not stay for all that long, but just visit.

Lori Murray said...

Great photos!