Date: December 23, 2007
Location: East Antarctic Plateau, on the road
Latitude: 89 degrees, 46 minutes, 55.488 seconds South
Longitude: 171 degrees, 25 minutes, 54.516 seconds East
Temperature: −21°C ( −6°F)
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wind Chill: −28°C (−19°F)
Elevation: 2850 meters (9350 feet)
Kilometers Traveled: 1260
Ice Core Drilled: 398 meters
Written by: Nicky
Working as a team, we completed an 18m core, a CMP profile, and packed up just about everything before our normal lunch hour. As ever, we were motivated by our proximity to Pole. We planned to begin our journey soon after lunch, but found that the PB was acting suspiciously. Josh took it for a spin and determined that the problem was the amount of snow and ice that had built up on the undercarriage. So, the Herman–Nelson and a few ice picks were brought out and before long all the icy build up was gone. We headed out, but found that we were continually getting bogged down in the deep, soft snow. Those on the previous South Pole traverse in 2002 knew that the surface topography approaching South Pole looks like a series of low frequency waves (picture a row of bowls alternating from right side up to upside down) and that in the bottom of the wave troughs (bowls) there is greater snow accumulation. We tried double–shuttling (using both CATs to pull one train) out of the bowls, but found that even on the tops of the hills, the Dozer train was still getting stuck.
Finally, after managing to limp only 17km in 5 hours, it was time for a shift change. The second shift had even less luck. So we stopped, determined to find an answer to this problem, and slept until 9 am when we awoke for breakfast on the Dec 22nd. To me, the 22nd and the 23rd are a blur of frantic activity during which we did all that we could to improve our traveling efficiency. I'm certain I don't remember this chronologically, but here is what I do remember:
At some point, it was necessary to move Brian's radar sled from the back of the Blue Room to the back of the PB. This was done because when he was at the back of both trains he was being dragged through the deepest ruts left by both sets of skis and was in danger of breaking his radar antennas. With this move, the drill sled was added to the already over–weight Dozer train. It didn't stay there long and was eventually moved to the back of the Blue Room. At another point, the tiny sled containing the shallow radar flipped over after being dragged through a deep rut. This wasn't noticed for about a half of a kilometer, so it was necessary to stop, flip it back over and turn around to redo that swath of ground. During the process of turning around, the Fork Train got stuck and the Dozer CAT (which had been happily hobbling along at 6.5km an hour) had to turn around to help them out. Once the Dozer had finished helping the Fork, both CATs were hitched up again to their appropriate trains. Then we found that the Dozer train couldn't get moving. So, we decided to take the skyway drag off the spreader bar in hope that it would alleviate the spreader bar's digging into the snow surface and acting like an anchor. This had no effect, so the next step was to begin double–shuttling for longer distances.
The outhouse sled was moved to the Fork Train and that train was pulled 50km ahead using both tractors. The other train was left behind. The 50km was completed quickly, with only a radar stop or two. At this point, Paul, Dan D. and Dan B. jumped into the two CATs and began the journey 50km back to pick up the other train. We didn't really know how long it would take, since we didn't exactly know what speed the CATS could go without the trains. We were certainly happy to see them on the horizon, headed in our direction, after about eight or nine hours. It turned out that without any attachments, the CATs were able to go about 15km per hour on the way out and on the way back (attached to the second train but unhindered by the speed constraints of the radar) were able to go 12km per hour. This was certainly a fortunate turn of events, as it gave us the chance we needed to make it to South Pole in time for Christmas dinner. The double shuttling activity was repeated a second time to a tune of 40km and around 7:15 pm on the 23rd (less than 24hours before the last sitting of Christmas dinner) Josh, Gordon and I headed back 40km with the two CATs to get the abandoned train. While waiting for our return, Dan D., Elena, and Paul began to work on collecting a 2–3 meter ice core and digging and snow pit for trace element analysis. For what happens next, you'll have to read on...
Date: December 24, and 25, 2007
Location: South Pole Station
Latitude: 90 degrees South
Longitude: 0 degrees East
Temperature: −29°C ( −20°F)
Wind Speed: 6 knots
Wind Chill: −38°C (−37°F)
Elevation: 2835 meters (9300 feet)
Kilometers Traveled: 1285
Ice Core Drilled: 400 meters
Written by: Nicky and Dan D.
For the majority of us, December 24th never really started. It was simply a continuation of the day before. When it came, Dan D. and Elena were still working in the snow pit and Josh, Gordon and I were still driving the second train back towards the first. All of these things before 3:00 am! By 4:00 am we were on the road towards South Pole again with Paul and Luci in the lead in the Piston Bulley and Mike and Luke driving the CATs, giving the 1 CAT per train method one last shot. As it turned out, this bargain paid off and we were able to pull into South Pole Station, American flag flying, as a team (not to mention well before we thought we’d get there!).
However, there were still a few last–minute glitches! We stopped ~5km out from the South Pole so that Dan D. could collect one last surface snow sample and Brian could reel in his radar antennas. When we tried to get going again the Dozer train got stuck! The Fork CAT had to unhitch and go to the rescue. Then we were informed that an unexpected Herc flight would be arriving at South Pole in just a few hours so we had to get the trains across the skiway as quickly as possible! The Fork CAT returned and hitched up after getting the Dozer train going again. When the Fork CAT moved off, the hitch connecting the Kitchen to the Blue Room broke and the CAT trundled happily off leaving the Blue Room and outhouse sled behind! Talk about last minute drama! After a record–breaking hitch replacement and train hook up we were mobile once again.
We were guided into our "camp–site" in the nick of time by Lisele and Patti. Minutes after our arrival, the Herc landed. Our welcome to the South Pole Station was very warm. Being that it is the holiday season, it felt like a privilege to be there. We chatted for a while and then headed over to the new elevated station for brunch. I think we were all very pleased to have real eggs and fresh fruit! But, we couldn't eat too much because we were signed up for the 4:00 pm sitting of Christmas dinner. At brunch, we were offered an unofficial tour of the station. Jed, Anthony (whom Elena and I had met at the airport in Auckland months earlier), and Andrew took us down through the beer can (a spiral staircase attached to the outside of the new South Pole Station), showed us the old arches and even let us look inside the old silver dome (it now smells like fish because it is being used for storage)!
The remainder of the time between our tour and dinner was spent resting and showering! South Pole has a strict water conservation policy, so 2 minute showers are the rule. Can you imagine only taking a two minute shower after a month and a half without one? Believe me, it's not enough to get you clean. But, it is enough to make you presentable. We headed back to the main station around 3:30 pm for hors d'oeuvres and eggnog. The atmosphere was festive (the station's crane operator was singing Christmas carols in the hallway) and we were joined by Meg Adams, a GA in the heavy shop who writes a column for the Bangor Daily News about life at the South Pole. At 4:00 pm dinner was served and it was magnificent. The galley had been transformed into a candlelit room with linen–covered tables and full place settings! After a bit of shuffling (we all wanted to sit together) we settled in for a spectacular meal. It turns out that we had chosen an excellent table, as we were second to get in line. The food was truly delightful. We were offered beef Wellington, lobster tails, asparagus, mashed potatoes, roasted root vegetables, and dinner rolls (among other things) until we were stuffed. But that wasn't all; there were wine handlers continually circling around the room, making sure that no glass was ever empty, and just when we thought we couldn't eat anymore the wine handlers became dessert handlers and we were obliged to partake in chocolate nut cake with real whipped cream or cheesecake or pecan pie and tiny chocolate treats. This was perhaps the best welcome anyone could have prepared!
We rolled back to our campsite and opened our holiday gifts in the Blue Room. These were prepared and sent out for us by Ann and Debbie from the Climate Change Institute Thank–you!! The gifts of socks and soap were greatly appreciated and the toys we were given brought much amusement. We had been given (among other things) battery operated nets with handles that claimed to throw the accompanying helicopter rings 100–feet into the air. One hundred feet was not achieved in the Blue Room, so we were somewhat skeptical. But when Dan B. and Mike took them outside we found that they did, in fact, reach great heights and there was endless fun to be had in chasing the tiny flying rings around trying to catch them.
With all the excitement and activity of the day, the evening quickly petered out into movies and sleep (what can we say, old habits die hard and tomorrow we get to the all important business of packing our things ready to fly back to McMurdo).
MERRY CHRISTMAS !!!