Wednesday, October 20, 2010

90° South

We spent the better part of Monday morning on the ice runway waiting for clearance to take off in the Basler DC3. Waiting for the temperature to rise just a couple degrees at the South Pole. At -54°c the plane can land. At –54.1°c it can’t… or at least it’s not suppose to. After a two-hour wait they decided to postpone the flight for 24 hours.

We returned to McMurdo where the worst part of my cold (the McMurdo Crud as it’s called here – everybody gets it at some point during the season) overtook me and I realized that it was a blessing in disguise that we never left the ground. I sat in my room all day, watched movies, read Dune and slept.

Tuesday – wake. Repeat. The temperature at the Pole read 53°c and it was a go… with the possibility of a boomerange – going partway and returning. We loaded our stuff onto the Basler and took our seats.

The flight brought us over a very similar route that Scott took to reach the South Pole over the summer of 1911/12 – across the Ross Ice Shelf, alongside the Trans-Antarctic Range, through the Beardmore Glacier (which is essentially an ice overflow of the Antarctic Plateau) and then 300miles across the Antarctic Plateau. The views from the flight were incredible – truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

The Basler DC3 is a plane that has remained largely unchanged since it’s first flight in the mid 1930’s… this includes the lack of pressurization. To cross the Trans-Antarctic Range the plane had to climb to 22,000ft which did nothing but tighten the vise on my head, bringing tears to my eyes. It was a bit of a catch 22, as closing my eyes eased the pain, but also meant missing the scenery outside. I sucked as much oxygen as I could and mostly opted for the tighter vise.

Flying over the Antarctic Plateau gave me my first glimpse of what the scenery would be like for the next few months… or rather lack-there-of. As a Colorado boy, I’m not accustomed to seeing the horizon so close to the ground. In every direction – nothing. Though I knew this would be the case, I didn’t realize what a nothing landscape really looked like until now.

We landed at about 2:30pm (it should be noted that the South Pole goes by McMurdo/New Zealand time for reasons of simplicity – they are the two biggest US bases on the continent and it’s therefore easier to keep them on the same time-zone) and hurried off the plane. We learned shortly that the temperature had dropped to -55°c (-67°f!) and the pilots had to get the plane back off the ground as quick as possible.

The “winter-overs” –the 47 people that spent the 7-month winter here alone- came out to the runway to greet us and help us with our bags. We were asked not to carry our own bags as the altitude (9,300ft is the actual altitude but barometrically speaking rises upwards of 11,000ft on any given day) can be dangerous to those coming directly from sea level.

We are the first new faces these people have seen in seven months. It’s interesting seeing them – pale-faced, awkward and well-bearded. They were happy to see us, but I think happier to see the fresh fruit we brought on the plane with us.

After a meal and a tour of the building I made myself comfortable in a temporary room (I’ll be moving to my permanent room in a week or two when they are able to thaw out the plumbing) and slept fitfully for the next ten hours.

So great to be here.


GZ said...

Damn Rickey. I have seen you post hard efforts and you did not look that jacked. Thanks for continuing to share the adventure.

Jasmine L said...

Wow Rickey, Love reading this, it is soooo interesting! I can't think of a better book to read while you are in that 'hostile place' than "DUNE" I just read it last spring and can't get it out of my brain. Anyways, I hope you feel better soon--i'll look forward to more posts! "We've been uprooted. That's why we're uneasy. And how easy it is to kill the uprooted plant. Especially when you put it down in hostile soil." "If you face the storm and not resist it, the storm will pass through us & around us. It's gone, but we remain."

Craig said...

Just got connected to your blog from the Runnersworld website. Keep us posted on your running endeavors down there. I worked in Comms at the Pole in '01 and attempted to cross country ski in my free time but found running to be way more practical. Wait till the ice forms on the inside of your clothes-it's another planet for sure! Wrote an article for Cross Country Skier Magazine about how much the skiing sucked. You can probably find it somewhere on the net if your interested. Stay warm and have "fun"...really it is fun in that miserable kind of way. I'll soak up some Pacific Northwest moisture this winter on your behalf.

Mike said...


This is probably the wrong time to be asking this question, but here it goes. At Western, you did a lot of videoing of the action at the front of the race. I'm wondering if you are going to make all that video available to folks who want to see a little bit more of what it was like. (I've been very interested in doing video of my own runs, with one of those point of view cameras - but I run way too slowly and walk too much to make it interesting.)

I enjoyed the write up in Trail Runner about your summer road trip. Sounds like you had a great adventure. And now you're at the south pole - wow!

I hope everything goes well for you.


Fetamy John said...

Damn Rickey nice work you have done. This is really nice .

Jim Philips said...

I didn't expect that you would need oxygen when you are in the south pole. But It looks like a great trip but I don't think that my bookmakers online peers.