Quickie Tour of the South Pole

Trip Start Dec 18, 2008
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Trip End Feb 17, 2009


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Where I stayed
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

Flag of Antarctica  ,
Wednesday, December 24, 2008

One day logged at the South Pole, mostly in a all-encompassing tour of the station from Sous-Chef Dave, and some inert b-movie watching in the TV lounge, South Pole's national pastime.  The raised station is two stories tall on its stilts, with rubber-covered hallways, and a variety of living and entertainment areas.  Since the station sits basically on top of the geographic south pole, orientation is relative, and people navigate with use of markers.  Until the native language of acronyms and folk lore is mastered, one can be a bit lost, though I was delighted to find that the Lonely planet Antarctica guide actually provides the eager tourist with a pretty decent glimpse into the world of contract workers. Worth a bookshop browse at least.

Destination Alpha, where I entered the raised station for the first time faces the skier airstrip, and across it the station's Telescope and IceCube Neutrino Observatory whose members disproportionately represent Wisconsin. The other main exit is naturally called "Zulu" and sits between the two jutting wings on the other side of the station. The Destination Zulu side also has an exit through the cylindrical metal structure, maturely dubbed "The Beer Can." Inside the can, there is a spiral staircase which plunges down below the ice, with passages to the machine shop where all the vehicles are stored and constantly worked on. Here reside the mechanical masterminds at the South Pole, and for practical purposes, they're like the engineering major down the hall in college. This underground area also leads to extensive underground tunnels, used for plumbing and underground movement. This is also how the Dome was accessed for food storage while I was there, though things have probably changed. The original entrance to the dome had been entombed in ice.

Inside the station, there were those lucky workers with indoor jobs, such as communications, most types of Beakers (local speak for scientists, possibly derived from the muppets) and of course galley workers like myself. The galley sits in the beer can-side corner of the second story, and resembles a ski resort cafeteria in look and clientele. Scruffy workers in carharts and fleece undershirts shuffle in and out during the day for meals and warm-up breaks and serves as the hub and meeting center if there is ever anything to meet about. It also has a nice view of the two pole markers (ceremonial and geographic) and some half-finished ice sculptures.

Other attractions include a medical wing, basketball court overlooked by a caged gym with treadmills and weight stations, two TV rooms, pool and foosball, a library, art room, and sauna. The jutting portions of the station were dormitories with minute and apparently stuffy rooms which were given to those with more logged "Ice Time" (which is just what it sounds like) or to Scientists. If looking for someone, you can probably determine if they're in the Raised station within five minutes of shuffling about, and if they aren't there, and can't be found in the Summer Camp common spaces, they're probably trying to sleep in some unknown room (there is no easy to access register of living spaces unless you are tight with those who make the assignments) and you must resign yourself to running into them the next day.

After trying to stay awake and explore fore hours, I finally passed out in my new room--an 8X8 foot (if I'm being generous) portion of a tent inherited from the army after the Korean War. My new abode was called a Jamesway, and I quickly became quite fond of it, though two of my walls were triwall cardboard, my door was a hanging curtain, I had to insulate with felt wool blankets, and water left on the floor for more than a few minutes would freeze solid in its bottle.

F-@%*-ING FREEZING!
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