southpole .....

Later: Passing Notes
Earlier: Gouache, and a new system for conquering the world

10:07 PM New Zealand Daylight Time and I am well-socketed into my room in the station at the South Pole, watching videos, napping when I can, drinking as much water as I can stomach and waiting for my body’s chemistry to adjust to a physiological altitude of… let me check… 10,455 feet (the local air density here depends on the weather, and is displayed continuously on the monitors and the local Web site).

To kill time while I acclimate, I just watched “Lost in Translation” which, with its parables of jet lag and alienation, seem somehow appropriate even for this very different destination. “Translation” in physics means moving from one place to another. I have definitely undergone some serious translation.

My stay in McMurdo was very short for a southbound trip — less than twelve hours. Which suited me fine. We arrived after 10PM, fairly exhausted from the long and crowded flight, had the usual (relatively extraneous) briefing, and then immediately bag-dragged for the Pole flight. The weather was pleasant and sunny, with a small stream of water flowing downhill past the Movement Control Center (MCC) where we weighed in.

After a brief midrats (midnight meal) we turned in for a few hours of sleep in the dorms. Then we trudged back up the hill at 0645h to the MCC for transportation to Williams Field our flight South. The air had chilled quite a bit during the 'night’ and the stream had frozen.

Willi Field Air Control Structures
Main Street at Willi Field

Today’s flight was quite a bit easier than yesterday’s. Two of the Air Guard loadmasters hung out and chatted with us in the airfield cafe while we waited for our plane to be readied, and then rode out in the van with us. There was no briefing, just 'get in and go.’ There were only 7 passengers this time, so there was room to spread out after take-off (I even got to lie down for awhile).

Our ride

The scenery was lovely, as in previous years, but another veteran and I compared notes and we were certain that today’s flight took a different route up to the Polar Plateau than in the past. (I think it’s fun to be able to know the route well enough to be able to tell the difference with no map and no human landmarks.) Low clouds obscured some of the terrain which made it both harder to see anything and more beautiful, as sky and ice merged into one milky mixture punctuated by craggy, chocolate-colored rock.

Watching the Scenery

Before we knew it the plane began its landing approach and we suited up, goggles, balaclavas, neck gaiters, boots, glove liners, mittens, fleece, and Big Reds (the ubiquitous parkas). Always a student of economy of means, I enjoyed watching the senior loadmaster giving the order to his subordinate across the plane to put on her gloves, by wagging his leg at her and raising one (gloved) hand.

And then we were down, out, breathing those first breaths of cold, rarefied air (an experience I will miss, assuming this is my last trip) and looking out at the minimal snowscape punctuated by the hyper-functional structures of South Pole Station.

Our flight
Arrival at South Pole
Yours truly arriving – Photo by Mark Krasberg

Mark and Dave came out in the -21F cold to meet us, which is always such a nice thing — to come to the end of the Earth, and see friends and colleagues, familiar faces, to have someone carry your carry-on while you suck your first breaths of high-altitude air, to make your way to your room and start the slow process of unpacking and settling in. I am here until February 13… long enough that I have to think of it as home-away-from-home. After seven times already it should be pretty easy.

I will post more drawings and photos soon, and will back-populate some of the posts with pictures, so check back for updates.

Soon the satellite will be up!

More pictures from the flight to the Pole

Later: Passing Notes
Earlier: Gouache, and a new system for conquering the world