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.