Day 67–Still Here

January 10, 2012 10:17pm

January 10, 2012


Elevation 9301 feet

Arriving at the South Pole was a milestone for the expedition. It also, predictably, marked a shift in the psychology, and temporarily hit the pause button. A whole community populates the station here, and the human interaction is a paradigm away from what we have experienced for the weeks of isolation on the ice. Antarctic Logistics Expedition (ALE), who takes over from TAC as our logistics operators, has a camp facility here. That is to say, there is a large community tent–warm–and a camp site around it where we can pitch our tent. There are food items, and stoves, and tables and chairs. And people. The reception, upon arriving, was warm, as was the meal of steak and vegetable that we were served. Coincidentally, within twenty four hours of our arrival, three other expeditions reached the pole from their respective destinations.

Lou Rudd & Henry Worsley spent 68 days retracing the Amundsen expedition up the Axel Heieberg glacier and walked in a few hours after we did; Mark George walked solo from Hercules Inlet in 43 days and had arrived a few hours prior; and Mark Wood also walked solo in 50 days and arrived the following day. This makes up the motley crew of bearded men who populate the camp. Our common interest and recent effort creates a natural bond and camaraderie in the mess tent. Conversations are easy and familiar, made all the more so as all but one are British. Some details are shared on customized gear, breakdown challenges, and stories of past expeditions. Somehow, the struggles and personal challenges experienced on each of our trip remain unspoken. They don’t come up; not immediately, nor do they need to. Generally speaking, these follow the same narrative. Nothing is as quite as effective as the ice to strip down your ego to the core and expose your vulnerabilities before building you back up. It is like stripping down the paint off a surface to its base and buffing it, in order to lay down fresh coats for a new layered finish. The weathered faces, limping walks and resolved, peaceful expressions tell a story that words wouldn’t. And if you carry those yourself, not much needs to be said in order to be understood. Mostly what unites us is the inner peace that comes from meeting a difficult objective, and the humility of not knowing exactly how you managed to get there. A long mission on the ice is often a one day at a time affair. And it is hard, even personally, to retrace each step that led you through. Diligent preparation and conditioning are the platforms on which you are broken. The rebuilding process is in itself the admission of vulnerability, while the aches and pains are the symptoms. But the authenticity you read in each of these men’s gaze is the pay off; and it is instantly familiar.

The new warm sleeping bag brought relative comfort back to my tent experience. But the excitement of reaching the Pole made it difficult to sleep soundly. We were offered a tour by the National Science Foundation who administers the station’s facilities. They offer as much comfort as can make palatable eight months of isolation during the austral winter. Fifty people man the station during that time, while the population grows to over two hundred during the summer months. Gymnasium, a basket ball court, sauna and a greenhouse house producing fresh produce are some of its amenities. But the more interesting aspect of the station is its research programs, particularly the work done here on neutrinos, those mass particles that may well travel faster than the speed of light, thereby challenging most of Einstein’s theories, and shaking down the foundation of astrophysics and our assumptions on theoretical mechanics. The South Pole station is the world’s foremost scientific study environment on neutrinos. The clarity and purity of the air here also offers its telescope a privileged opportunity to peer into the universe for astronomical observations.

Eric and I then made the obligatory sojourn to the actual South Pole location; one of two spots in the world where the world rotates below your feet, and where circling a stick in the ground is tantamount to crossing all of the Earth’s time zones. I got jetlagged just doing that! We took photos to honor the sponsors of this expeditions which include HP, Napapijri, Climate Partner, and Rossignol as well as national flags. We then rushed back to the warmth and comfort of the ALE tent, and stuffed ourselves on peanut butter and marmite crackers.

Our plan to take off today was thwarted by low winds and reduced visibility. We have fourteen days to make it to Hercules Inlet, and complete the final phase of the expedition. This represents a considerable effort still, and a not negligible 1200 kilometers. Each day spent here makes facing this next travel challenge more difficult, and will require a quick re-adjustment to life on the ice. All the boys here will fly back from here. But it is time for us to get on with it before we go soft. Watching two James Bond movies in a row on the tent’s monitor does not a transcontinental crossing help! If the winds manifest, we will be gone by morning.

3 Responses to “Day 67–Still Here”

  1. Penelope Casadesus says:

    What a treat it must have been to eat a cracker with Marmite! Good luck on the last part of the trip. Can’t wait to have you back! All love, your mother xxx

  2. Adrian Fiebig says:

    What a great night it must of been meeting up with follow explores !!

  3. BASILE says:

    Wow! People!!! 🙂

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