Journey to the South Pole
Trip Start Oct 23, 2009
6Trip End Feb 28, 2010
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I was told 2 days prior to the trip,
that I would be going on a boondoggle to the South Pole on Tuesday
the 26th. What a great surprise it was. I would finally
reach my goal. Albeit, a short lived version, I would take it.
I was to be given a “sleigh ride”,
as they call it, to the South Pole. This is a morale trip
end of the season, a lot of the missions are being flown to the Pole,
solely for transporting fuel, in preparation for the winter months to
come. On each flight they have up to 3000 pounds of un-used weight
available in the C-130's, so, if possible, they will allow some of
the employees a quick trip down.
I was one of lucky few chosen. Only 12
people got on this flight out of a population of 1100 people. They
usually only allow people who've been here more than one season.
So, on a sunny Tuesday, it was my turn.
I awoke at 3:30 PM for transport to the air field. Which for me was
like 3:30 am, since now I am a night shift worker
going to miss this opportunity for a little bit of sleep.
As we rode out to the airstrip, you
could feel the energy and excitement in the back of the Delta
transport vehicle. Our trip leader, Kay, was the only person who had
been there before, and it was her job to keep us on schedule.
She informed us on the ride that we
would only get to be on the ground for a maximum of 40 minutes and we
had a specific agenda of things to see and do in that time period.
There would be no deviations from the plans or else!!!! If we were
late even 1 minute we could jeopardize any further opportunities for
others to get to go on a sleigh ride in the future
were only going to be there long enough for the plane to down load
the fuel they were carrying into a tank, and then we were to re-board
for take-off. They didn't even shut down the engines because the
temperature was so cold. Our anticipated high temperature was -22*
F, and I was told the ski's of the plane would freeze to the deck in
the time we would be there.
We arrived at the airstrip and waited
in the galley for our call to board. Of course, when the call
finally did come, one person of our group was missing. Kay asks me
to check the bathroom, where I found our missing member. Of course
he was caught in a compromising position, and would delay us for a
few more minutes
wide eyes that rolled with worry. She asked me to tell him that we
would grab his big red parka and his back pack and we'd meet him on
the air-porter transit vehicle that was taking us to the C-130.
Finally we are all boarded and ready
for take-off. At the last moment possible before we took off, one of
the load masters asked Kay if there were two people who wanted to
ride in the cock-pit on take off. She immediately looked at me and I
responded with an enthusiastic affirmative nod of the head. I went
up into the cock-pit, strapped myself in and pulled out the camera I
borrowed from Mandy. What a treat! I was super stoked. I
Immediately felt as if I was in the movie, Star Wars again. In the
cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, getting ready to evacuate Hoth in a
death defying escape from the Imperials
I was sitting behind the Navigator, my
pulse started to rise as the engines turned up. The plane started to
shaking a bit, as we started down the runway. We were gaining speed.
I couldn't really see because of the angle of the plane. The nose
being slightly higher than the tail. I was craning my neck to look
out the windows. Peaking out from behind the others in the cockpit
who had an active role in our endeavor. Still craning. I'm thinking
to myself, “I can't see.” “Did we take off yet?” I couldn't
tell what was going on. I was thinking to myself, why didn't I wait
my turn and sit in the cock pit for landing. I bet the view is
better. Then the Navigator tells me I can stand up now
I missed it. So anti-climactic.
I stand up and am blown away at the
birds eye view. Not anti-climactic at all. Looking over the
shoulder of the Pilot, I can see Black Island and Mt. Discovery. We
are now 1000+ feet over the Ross Ice shelf and it's amazing.
I take it all in. I can't stop taking
photos of the same thing. It seems like it's a new sight every two
seconds. Like the lighting is different somehow. I'm missing the
whole thing by looking through the camera. It's been a while since
I've had a camera. Mine broke a while back at the beginning of
December and I sent it home for repair
the trip. Thank God for Mandy!
I remove myself from the cockpit to
give others a chance at getting this privileged view. As I sit back
down in the fuselage of the aircraft I quickly fall asleep.
I wake up about 90 minutes later. Damn
it. I missing it. The flight is only 3.5 hours and Beverly told me
not to miss the part when we fly over the trans-Antarctic mountains.
But now it's too late. I look out the peep hole of a window. Yup, I
missed it. We are now mostly crossing the flat white Ice-cap
covering the bottom or our planet. It's still impressive. But there
aren't any good features to use for perspective
To see the ice cap is more of a mind
fuck than it is a beautiful picture. As a picture it's a flat white
horizon. It's white as far as you can see until you hit the sky,
then it's blue. Not much else. But when you think about it for a
minute, your brain pops! It's actually almost two miles thick.
ALMOST TWO MILES THICK! 10,000 feet! Are you kidding me???? You
can't even believe there is a continent under it. It's flat and
white and it's covering up mountains below it.
Thankfully the load master tells us
it's time to buckle up again. We're about to land. Happily I obey
his orders. I am ready for this. It's been 7 years since I knew I
would be here one day
We land the plane and immediately
dis-embark. Kay, being the good trip leader she is, tells us there
is no time to waste. We must head to the ceremonial South Pole
marker for our photo opportunities. We all happily oblige her. It's
about 100 yard walk. I am trying to feel the cold but it doesn't seem
that bad. I replace my knit hat with my Detroit tigers cap to get
ready for my picture at the “Pole”.
I snap a couple of self portraits then
I ask Kay if she would take my picture. I pose for mine as if I am
going to stick my tongue on the pole. It's kind of an homage to my
favorite Christmas movie, “A Christmas Story”
more and more photos for everyone else who want's their obligatory
South Pole shot.
Then we all move on the the Geographic
Pole Marker. This is where the South Pole is actually located. The
Ceremonial pole moves with the ice every year, as the ice flows. The
Geographic marker flow with the ice as well. But each year it is
moved back to exactly 90 degrees South to mark the Poles real
location. The marker for this location is not a gazing ball on top
of a red and white barber pole, like the Ceremonial marker. Instead,
it's a new design every year. The NSF holds an annual contest and
the winner gets to have their design act as the geographic marker for
the year. This years winner was an artistic representation of a
radio receiver on top, DOMS (digital optical module) on the bottom,
and the cut out shape of the continent in the middle
silver and gold. It was impressively stunning.
Once again. Photos, photos, photos.
Kay is the principal photographer and we are all grateful. Now we
must quickly move into the South Pole station. On the way Kay turns
to me and say. “Sully, I think I've done something bad to my
hands. It hurts.” I know what she's talking about. Now the cold
has set in. But it doesn't feel cold, it just feels painful. Just
10 minutes into our trip, my hands hurt, my ears feel as if they are
going to fall off, and I start to laughing. “It's OK Kay” I tell
her. “If you still feel them, it's OK. It's when you don't feel
them, there's trouble.” I've felt this hurt before
outside in the elements in Antarctica. Kay works inside, she has a
desk job, so she's not felt this feeling too often. I re-assure her
again, that it's OK. “Go inside” I say. “I will wait and make
sure everyone follows”. But she is right! It hurts just to bend
When we get inside, it's a mad rush for
everyone to mail their postcards from the South Pole, and to get
stamps in their Passport. It's kind of frustrating as everyone is
having the same mobility problems with their fingers, and taking a
long time. Finding the correct stamps is hard too, being temporarily
snow blind from the bright white out doors. We make one last pit
stop, bathroom break
Waiting just minutes for the final call to the aircraft.
As we board, I see my friend Isaac, who
is now stationed at Pole. He gives me that big bright smile that is
his trademark, and we greet each other with a hug. We only a few
seconds to acknowledge each others presence and report our well
being. I board the plane and we start the process of taking off.
When leaving the Pole the plane has to
retract it's skis for a moment, leaving it on it's wheels. It seems
the reports are correct, that in the short time we've been on the ice
the skis have already frozen to the deck because of the friction
caused on the landing
rev up and we start our take off.
This time I am determined to see the
Mountains on the way back.
Just an hour into the flight back to Mc
Murdo. Now everyone else is falling asleep. Not me, I am moving
back into the cock pit. I get the VIP viewing area most of the way
home. No competition for the cockpit now. I stay up there and take
another 50 or so photos. This time seeing the mountain tops as they
peek through the Ice Cap. Tiers of ice flowing on down. Glaciers
beyond what can be imagined. Almost all the worlds fresh water
frozen into the ice cap beneath us. I stand there staring out the
window with my mouth hanging open
Talking to the co- pilot after he puts the
plane on auto pilot, were pondering...how did those early explorers
do it???? Scott, Amundsen, and Shackleton! What was wrong with
them? why would anyone want to walk to the South Pole? The answer was, to be the
first people at the South Pole. But in the end Scott and his party
were the second people there. When they arrived they found that
Roald Amundsen, from Norway, had preceded them by five weeks They
walked here from the coast, 800+ miles one way, more than 100 years ago. They walked,
climbed, slid, crossed, and died here. Well, R.F. Scott and his
party died on Ross ice shelf on the return journey just 11 miles
short of their next supply depot.
I could never even begin to imagine
trying to walk to the Pole. Even as I was flying over the setting of
Scotts' last great adventure. Again, and again, this place humbles