To the South Pole – Antarctica

The preparation for this trip begins months earlier. Training for my task, endless paper work, on-line safety classes and a thorough medical screening. How fortunate that my wisdom teeth had already been removed years ago!

Then, finally, deployment dates are assigned, flights to New Zealand booked and shortly after New Year, the adventure starts. More instructions and safety videos are to be attended in Christchurch and on the day before the departure towards Antarctica, I receive my cold weather gear.

I get a red jacket like the one on the left but several sizes too large, black overalls, several kinds of gloves and lower layer clothes and oversized black boots that I end up avoiding to wear when ever I can. During the flight however, it is mandatory to wear the full set of cold weather gear, including the dreadful boots.

Our route is Christchurch – McMurdo station – Amundsen Scott South Pole Station. The plane is a military machine and the inside looks nothing like on a commercial carrier. With the missing insulation, it is much louder and much colder than on a normal plane. There are only few windows, and queues form in front of them when we approach the Antarctic continent after several hours of flight.Luckily, when we arrive, the weather is calm enough to land. Several of my colleagues already did the flight of several hours on the previous day. Strong winds had made a landing impossible, and they were sent all the way back to New Zealand.

Stepping off the plane is an amazing feeling. Yes, it is all white, and there is ice, and the planes and infrastructure look like from a documentary on TV, and there are mountains in the distance. Yes, that’s all true. But the most important is that I am in Antarctica, a continent I never thought I’d ever set feet on.

From the airstrip, we are brought to McMurdo station. We are going to stay there until we receive notice about our onward flight. McMurdo is a large station with a huge summer population. I am assigned a bed in a room for eight but I rarely meet any of my roommates. The only one I get to talk to is a young biologist with the most amazing job ever: counting penguins!

Bad weather at the South Pole prolongs our stay in McMurdo.  Everyone else at the station is important and working while we are useless tourists. We walk up a hill to have a view and it is a pain to do that in my oversized boots. We visit Scott’s hut, a creepy and dark place where the early explorers of the continent have stayed. We wander through the large shop which sells all kinds of Antarctic souvenirs.

From the top of a small hill, we are able to watch the cutest Adele penguins jumping into the water and waddling over the ice. We sign up for a tour to a small group of emperor penguins who have settled between the station and the airstrip as if to greet the new arrivals. They do not do a lot but they are still pretty cool.

When it almost gets boring at McMurdo station, we are finally scheduled to depart towards Amundsen Scott South Pole station. We embark on a military airplane once again, this time one that is able to land on skies, and are flown across Antarctica.

When we arrive it is all white, all ice, all flat, all so remote and at an altitude so high that it literally takes my breath away. I have made it! After a few days of acclimatization, I will be able to start my work and adventure at the South Pole.

Read on here for pictures and impressions from around the station.

Time of visit: January 2010

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This article was published on perelincolors.com

16 thoughts on “To the South Pole – Antarctica

    1. perelincolors

      Thanks for passing by on my blog! But don’t be too jealous. Antarctica is really special but other places can be just as exciting. If I’d go again to Antarctica and were able to choose where to, I’d opt for the coast, there is much more to see and experience there than at the Pole.

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  1. Hilary no tabi

    I was curious how long you stayed and what took you there, if you can say. Tee hee! Is that long cord to the plane on skis for the block heater? 😀 The inside of the first plane was interesting! No seatback movies, eh? 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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    1. perelincolors

      No, no seatback movies at all! It’s not a secret at all what I did there. The trip was part of my thesis in astroparticle physics and I had a task in the construction of one of the experiments. I was scheduled to stay six weeks but I was flown back to New Zealand almost a week early as they wanted to get the station ready for the winter.

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      1. Hilary no tabi

        Wow! That must have been an incredible experience to stay that long. Did you go a bit stir crazy after a while or did work take over? I’ll have to wander through your blog more. Were you doing a thesis for a masters or PhD?

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      2. perelincolors

        That was for my PhD thesis, master students are only rarely sent there. But I never thought that a PhD in physics could be inviting for anyone to explore my blog, so you will not find much about it here! It’s all travel and photography, even though some of these trips were related to work. I did think that the confinement was difficult to endure while I was at the station. I learned there that I really appreciate being able to walk far and explore the area around me. Plus, in the second half of my stay there, they couldn’t fly in fresh vegetables because of strong winds. I don’t know if you can imagine how glad I was when we had the first salad after two weeks of mostly canned food!

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      3. Hilary no tabi

        What was your PhD title? Not that I have much to respond with but I’m curious. 🙂
        Yes! Fresh greens and anything else that is impossible to get quickly becomes an obsession for me. Like if I run out of water and it’s hot and there’s none around and I was’t thirsty but then I think I’m going to collapse of dehydration.

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      4. perelincolors

        You know what, I should actually be able to describe what I did in my PhD in understandable words. It might be too long for this comments section but your questions teach me that I should include that when I dust off the next round of Antarctic pictures. I wanted to do a post about the inside of the station anyway, and I think I will add one about the actual science. Thank you for being so curious!

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      5. Hilary no tabi

        Ha ha ha! Yes, that seems to be an occupational hazard. No worries. I’m a curious sort, always full of questions. In high school, at that time, you could only take the sciences separately. I was determined to complete all three to grade 12 – bio, physics and chem. Physics in grade 10 was fine. Grade 11 was so so. Grade 12 was a disaster until I switched to a semestered class with a new teacher. I went from failing to a decent 75% and less confusion. Physics got resurrected in uni during biomechanics. Fascinating content but my brain tends to convolute matters and I confuse myself.

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