my trip to the Antarctica and the South Pole

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Arrived at South Pole

On Friday Oct. 22, around 4pm, the LC-130 I was in touched down on the skiway at the South Pole. I was terrified, excited, and overwhelmed. Everyone was dressed in their ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear without a speck of exposed skin. Even the old salts were geared up to the nines, which was a little scary...I had hoped their nonchalance would have helped me stay calm. None of us had really been able to talk much since we left McMurdo because the engines were so loud we had to wear earplugs, which added to the stress of the unknown. I couldn't help but wonder just how cold -66F would feel. We already knew it was possibly the coldest opening days in history--well below the threshold temperature for flights. The Coast Guard had to get a waiver just to land. We had a small taste of the cold already because our plane's cargo had to be "combat offloaded"--the freezing comtrails made it impossible for people to offload behind the plane like normal. This meant that while we were taxi-ing, the back of the plane was opened to make a big ramp. The cargo and all of us sitting in front of it were exposed to the open air, which looked like a huge yellow fog through my goggles. Then, the pilot steps on the gas, the military cargo dude unhooks the pallets, and the huge cubes go flying out the back of the plane loudly and slam onto the skiway. Then the ramp is slowly closed. It felt like I was in the middle of a crazy sci-fi movie, seriously. We all cheered.
Then they stop and open the crew door and we file out. Stepping onto the snow was like entering a new world. I was awe struck and nowhere near being able to speak. I spun around to take it in. The "New Station", the Dome, the temporary housing tents, the telescopes, and finally, the plane that brought me here with my friends still spilling out of it's foggy comtrails. It was like walking into an image that is so concrete in your mind it's like a photograph, only now it's come to life. My boss luckily met me and the other Research Associates and lead us through the snow to the New Station. Amazingly, the cold was bearable. Well, all except for my hands, which thoroughly froze. I thought I would be cool and wear my own ski gloves. Bad idea. Even with double liners, my fingers were completely numb and the outside of the gloves totally frozen stiff by the time we got to the station--a 5 minute walk, if that. We dropped our stuff inside and I tried to catch my breath, and my vocabulary. At over 10K ft effective altitude, even walking up a flight of stairs is a challenge. I half got my brain working again, and we headed to the galley for some water and to freak out together. My boss pointed out the geographical South Pole marker to me through the window. I only believed we were really there because I spent a long time watching out the plane's window and seeing nothing but whiteness go by. I had the thoughts of wondering what in the heck I was doing here, and that I must be at the coolest place on the planet all at once. Something about being somewhere so singular makes you think big.


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