11 December, 1996

Today Jenni agreed to do my journal entry. This is her account of her Trip to the South Pole and how she was able to run around the world without breaking a sweat.

Talk about a whirlwind trip! Yesterday around 4 p.m. I was informed that I had been chosen as an alternate for a "Sleigh Ride" (that's McMurdo code for a sightseeing trip to the South Pole Station). The NSF (National Science Foundation) Chalet (main office in McMurdo) has everybody's name entered into a computer program that randomly chooses names for flights to the Pole when space is available. Amazingly I, who rarely wins anything, actually had my name chosen. Of course since I was an listed as an alternate I had my doubts about actually getting to make the trip! I was told to report at 8 am in full ECW (extreme cold weather) gear, for a departure time of 10 am. They also said one small hand carry bag was allowed. I planned on taking some snacks and of course my camera. Although I tried not to get too excited about the prospect of a Pole visit, I wasn't able to sleep at all, I kept waking up every half-hour to check the clock and make sure I hadn't overslept. (It's harder to know when you've overslept here since the sun is always shining!)

Finally at 7 am the alarm went off, and for once in my life I jumped right out of bed (I'm NOT a morning person). I dressed in my gear and Patrick and I walked up to the meeting place since he had to pick up a package there anyway. (I feel bad that he wasn't also picked to go, but he gallantly told me I could take pictures for both of us). When we arrived I found out that the time had been changed to 8:30, but decided to just wait there figuring that maybe being there early would give me a better chance at getting on the flight! Well, more and more people kept arriving and they kept briefing us, "make sure you have full ECW gear on, that you have a water bottle and that your hand carry bag fits within the little wooden box"(which they had sitting in the middle of the room). Still no word about standbys, so I figured maybe that was a good sign, but I wasn't counting on anything until I was on that plane! They eventually led us into a waiting room and then had us board a bus, having us check our names off of a passenger list each time. So far, so good, and everybody in the group seemed to think that once I'd made it on the bus, I was home free, I hoped so.

The bus drove us out onto the sea ice and to the ice runway. We were in full gear, so it was pretty warm, and of course we did the "hurry up and wait" routine that's becoming so common here. But, everyone was in really good spirits and excited about the upcoming trip, so the wait wasn't too bad. We sat in the bus at the runway for almost an hour. The only entertainment came from watching about 50 firemen, Navy personnel and ASA workers trying to chase off one lone Adelie penguin that had wondered onto the runway.

Finally they said it was time to board the plane (a C-130 with skis) and once I was actually sitting in my seat, I breathed a sigh of relief, I'd made it! (well almost) There was still a three hour plane ride, which has a whole new meaning when it's on a military plane with "sling" seats and earplugs are required. But who was I to complain? I spent most of the plane ride reading, taking pictures of the other passengers and looking out the small circular windows that were at the front and back of the plane. Finally it was time to land. They warned us that ski landings are usually rough, but the landing felt smoother than most commercial flights. Adam Marsh (another lucky sleigh rider) and I talked about how strange it is to fly in military planes with few windows, because when you land and walk out of the plane, you're in a whole new world and wonder how you got there! This was especially true for this flight, because upon leaving the plane, I saw the South Pole marker nearby and realized I was essentially at the bottom of the world, wow! It was a warm day at the pole, minus 20 with a minus 40 wind-chill and bright sun. The altitude today was 12,500 feet (figuring in barometric pressure) and the effects of altitude were noticeable if you tried to walk too fast or climb steps.

They had us split into small groups and a worker from the Pole Station gave us a quick tour. And I do mean quick, after a three-hour flight over approx. 750 miles, we had one hour to look around before they had us reboard the plane. We first went into the Pole Station, also known as the Dome. Most of the facilities at the station are contained under a large dome. When I walked through the entrance, I felt as if I was tunneling under the ground. I first walked through a long tunnel with rounded corrugated steel over the top. The inside was so frosted over with snow and ice that it felt like I was walking into a giant freezer. Once inside there were small buildings that housed the computer room, communications room, TV room, "library", the galley, and the living accommodations for the scientists and some of the other workers. I found out from our guide, that she and many other employees, live in James ways located outside the dome (brrrr!). This is known as the "summer camp", because all the winter-over people live under the dome.

After our tour of the station, it was time to go pole. We all took turns standing by the pole and snapping pictures left and right, what a bunch of tourists! We also took the opportunity to run around the world, guess that's my exercise for the day! After posing for various shots, it was time to board the plane for the three hour flight back to McMurdo. On the way back I got to go up into the cockpit for about ten minutes. It was an incredible panoramic view of pure white, broken up by black mountains peaking out now and then. All in all it was a crazy past twenty-four hours. Less than twenty hours after finding out I was an alternate for the sleigh ride, I was standing at the South Pole. What a day!

Jenni at the South Pole

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