my trip to the Antarctica and the South Pole

Monday, July 11, 2005

300 Club


300 Club
Originally uploaded by teenmachine.
It's high noon and every eye in the galley is glued on the TV. From the looks of it, we could have been watching the first moon landing. But no, all those highly focused eyes were watching nothing but a small number on the screen. That number was updated about every 30 seconds on the only TV channel we have--our weather channel. It was like a bunch of kids watching a twinkie come out of its wrapper. The number was slowly getting smaller, starting around -97, and inching to -99.5. It looked like we really were going to break -100F for only the second time this season, and possibly for the first time sustained. This meant one thing to the 86 people watching the slowly dropping number: the 300 club.

By that point, everyone was planning where, how, and with whom they wanted to do the infamous run to the South Pole marker. I had decided to go with a group of gals, and we all met up near the sauna under the dome minutes after the temperature dipped. The sauna temperature sensors had already been sitting in cold water to trick it to get up to 200F. As soon as it hit the mark, us girls piled in with nothing but our towels and boots on. We could only stand it for about 10 minutes, and then, after agreeing it was time, ran out past the group of waiting guys, dropped our towels at the door, and found ourselves in the middle of the coldest temperatures humans have ever experienced, stark naked. There is quite a ramp leading out of the dome due to the thirty years of snow that has fallen since the dome's construction. Luckily, our trusted friend Tony was at the top of the ramp with a flashlight lighting the thin path that led up to the regular snow level. Although it was pitch black, I looked up at one point about half-way there and noticed stars and auroras in the sky. It was the perfect backdrop for the dumbest thing I've ever done.

We stuck together for the long walk across high sculptures of wind-formed snow (knowns as sustrugi), and more than one of us found ourselves saying out loud, "you know, this really isn't so bad." We trudged up to the South Pole Marker where our friend Tammy was ready with the camera, and actually stood for a long couple seconds as she took two photos. Then, after being careful to actually go around the pole marker, we excitedly turned dome-ward only to find something we had entirely forgotten about--wind. Now face to face with the blowing ice crystals, and our skin temperature plummetting, we realized quickly that the walk back was not going to be easy. We quickened our pace and sounds of discomfort--tinged with a bit of fear--could be heard from the group. I moved quickly, as I could feel the outermost layers of my skin literally freezing, and my body starting to feel very strange. I looked down at my legs while I was in the path of the flashlight and saw that every inch was bright red with cold, and every little hair was covered in frost.

Just as the end was in sight, about six feet from the stairs leading to the sauna, the door exploded open and naked men began to pour out, running down the stairs. "Crap!" I said out-loud, and ducked behind the corner of a building with the rest of the girls. Luckily, we were under the dome and safe from the wind, although the temperatures were still as low as outside. After about ten guys ran by, I couldn't take it any more, and covering up as best as I could, I ran past them up the stairs, and inside. Somehow I managed to cover myself in a flurry of towel handing-out, steamy air from our breath, and racing bodies--some running out the door, and some desprately trying to get in. We were back in the sauna in a split second, and I think my body was just as shocked as when I ran out. It took a while before we all felt normal again, and excitement over what we had done finally sunk in.

Luckily, none of the gals had any permanent damage, although, a few minutes later, one of the guys ran in with a completely white, frost-bit hand. It has been sore and swollen ever since, although the doctor says it will heal. Most of the other cases were just frost-nip that went away quickly. Over-all, it really wasn't as bad as I had feared, and my overwhelming feeling is relief that it's over. Of course, I'm glad to have taken part in a South Pole tradition as old as the station itself.

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