Day 59: The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station
We broke camp this morning at 7:30 am and headed for the pole station. As usual, the morning was warm, relatively speaking, and the wind was only 3 knots. But the sky was patchy with clouds, and during the morning some light, sporadic snow fell.
The station is quite spread out, so we couldn't tell which building to head for.
By mid-morning we were near enough that we knew the new complex was the obvious choice.
With the end in sight, Jenny was in fine form and she waited for me to catch up repeatedly. I felt like tying a tow rope to the back of her sled.
Still several miles out, we came to a horizontal antenna of some sort. It was a large wire elevated above the ground about 12 feet. We had been warned to go around this, because it transmitted dangerous radiation. It was miles long, and going around would have taken us at least an extra hour. But we had also heard, from unofficial sources, that the antenna was not working right now. So we skied under the wire, following someone else's ski tracks. We were later chewed-out by the officials at the SP station for doing this.
About half-a-mile out, we happened upon this cache of fuel cans, and lo and behold, we found our kiting gear sitting on top of the cans. This was obviously the ANI South Pole fuel cache, and we were surprised by how far away it was from the station itself. The station is operated by the National Science Foundation, and because it is run by the US government, it doesn't allow the presence of any private companies within its boundaries. Although it does allow the use of its airport runaway.
Our original plan was to ski to the Pole, and then kite back to PH. As such, we had packed our kites and kiting skis and boots in our South Pole resupply, along with food and fuel for the trip back. But about two hundred miles from the Pole, we changed our minds, and decided not to kite ski back. Jenny knew that just getting to the pole would be a huge accomplishment for her, and would be more than sufficient. I was intimidated by the size and extent of the sastrugi this year, and I knew that kiting back through it could be dangerous. So we informed Base Camp of the change in plans, and instructed them not to fly our kiting things to the Pole, but instead to leave them at PH. So we were surprised to find our gear here. We were later informed that flying the gear to the Pole was no problem, so they had done it anyway.
We grabbed the box of food, and left everything else there, and resumed skiing to the station.
Four and a half hours into our day we skied across the ice runway - another no-no, it turned out.
Then as we were approaching the main station building, a person came out and headed our way. This was the first person we had seen in nearly two months. Andy Martinez, the station manager, no less, greeted us heartily and proceeded to lead us around the building to the South Pole marker.
We made it!
We made it!
The chrome ball of the Ceremonial South Pole marker, with the old dome station in the background.
The marker consists of a circle of flags; a ceremonial South Pole marker which is a 14-inch chrome ball sitting atop a wooden post painted like a barber pole; the Amundsen/Scott sign; and the official marker - a rod capped by a beautifully machined brass emblem.
This area and these emblems are extremely famous, and for so long I had dreamed of arriving at this spot. Now at last we were living our dreams. It was a very touching moment.
The pole at left, in front of my skis, marks the position of the Geographic South Pole as of Jan 1, 2007 (eight days ago). The pole with the stripes and chrome ball is, of course, the Ceremonial South Pole. Behind Jenny are markers of previous years. Because of the procession of the earth's rotation, the Geographic South Pole moves about 30 feet per year.
Andy took our picture and then invited us into the complex for a tour. The first half of the tour lasted two hours. First, Andy invited us to use the restrooms. My first priority was to wash my hands and face in hot water. Looking in the mirror I was surprised my beard had grown so long.
Andy Martinez, manager of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, poses for a photo with Jenny and me.
Next, Andy took us to the cafeteria. Visitors to the station are not allowed meals, but as a courtesy they gave us hot beverages, fruit juice, and a plate of freshly baked cookies. When we had eaten the cookies, Andy brought us another plate. Meanwhile, he explained the research going on here at the pole, and construction of this new building.
We are on Chilean time and our watches read 1:00 pm, but the station is on New Zealand time, 16 hours ahead. So the station personnel were just getting up at 5:00 am for the next day.
Presently there are 250 people here, scientists and station personnel. This new complex is like a mini city, enclosed in one, very large, two-story building on tall, open-air supports. The building contains private living quarters for the personnel, along with an astounding variety of employee amenities, including a full-size basketball court.
The "comms" room with a large bank of computer screens occupied one end of the building, with large windows overlooking the ice runway. The radio operator (one of four) on duty, said she had seen our tent through her binoculars last night, and had followed our progress this morning.
The hydroponics garden.
The feature that appealed to me most was a room that housed the hydroponics garden. It was full of healthy looking produce for the salads. While looking at the plants, I had a strange, futuristic thought. Parked outside was Spirit and Opportunity.
We were not used to walking without skis, so for the first hour we must have looked like we had barely survived the ordeal, as we were walking so clumsily. Also, we were not used to the heat of the building, and as tour continued, at one point I nearly collapsed from the heat, and had to sit down. Andy said that a week ago Jamie the Kiwi did collapse from the heat, and had to be taken to the hospital room. (Minor point: In his book "Escape to the Pole" Kevin describes how he had collapsed, not Jamie.)
After a short break, the second half of the tour lasted another two hours. Andy took us into the old dome, and showed us the new and old tunnels. The old dome is due for dismantling in a year or two, so we were glad to see it from the inside. The new and old tunnels interested me the most because they house an amazing complex of machine shops, mechanics garages, utilities, power plants, fuel storage, basically the guts of the whole operation.
Inside the old dome.
Outside the old dome.
The Dome as viewed from the cafeteria. The surface of the snow rises about 3" year, due to accumulation. Andy said that it won't be too many years until the Dome will be completely buried and they will not be able to access it anymore. So in a few years they plan to dismantle it.
The tour ended with a visit to the store, where I bought a baseball hat that had South Pole inscribed on it, and Jenny bought a souvenir shirt and a few nick-knacks. We were even invited to stamp our own passports with one of the official stamps made available to visitors.
We were very impressed with the operation and the research conducted. And most of all, with the many friendly people we met. From what we saw, they are a cut above the ordinary. And we were very thankful for Andy's tour, and that he had taken so much of his valuable time to show us around.
The chrome ball marking the Ceremonial South Pole, the Geographic South Pole Marker, the Amundsen & Scott sign, the circle of Treaty flags, and the new station headquarters.
Back outside, we put our skis back on, hitched up our sleds, then sledged 100 yards to an open area adjacent to where the ANI aircraft parks. Here we found a nice spot to set up the tent.
Our camp and the South Pole Markers and Treaty flags. Photo taken from the cafeteria.
We haven't had a layover day the entire trip, so we are looking forward to a bit of extra rest. But first Jenny wants us to head back to the cafeteria for another round of tea and cookies.
Note: For the record, we skied for 58 days. The menu at left shows 59, but the first day we skied for only three hours, and the last day for only half a day.
Evening camp: S 90° 00.000
Today's mileage: 5.5 miles; Altitude: 9,301 ft.; Temperature: -26C