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Moving to Antarctica Leg 3: McMurdo Station to Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

Jeffrey Donenfeld Travel and Adventure, Trips 2 Comments

To complete my move to the south pole, I finally flew all the way to the bottom of the world. McMurdo Station lies on the coast, and the South Pole Station is as you’d expect, at the South Pole, right in the middle of the continent. Photos.

To get there, I flew along with a small group of airmen, scientists, and other support contractors on an Air Force LC-130 Hercules. This plane, the “LC” variant, is specially adapted for use in cold polar environments – it has specialized equipment in the plane, and is equipped with both wheels and skis for landing on either hard runways or on snow and ice.

At the crack of dawn at McMurdo, I loaded onto a van equipped with snow treads, and we drove out to the McMurdo ice runway. Getting on the LC-130 was quite spectacular – it’s a large plane, but actually not as large as I thought it would be.

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Luckily, I had made friends with a bunch of the people I was flying with, and they knew how excited I was about the trip, so they were sure to let me get a seat by one of the small windows.

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Inside, we all sat along the walls of the plane, with the cargo tied down in the middle.

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There were only a couple of windows on the plane, including the emergency exits.

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Walking around the plane in Antarctic “bunny boots” was precarious – very few flat spaces, mostly tip-toeing around tiedown straps and bars.

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After we were in the air, the pilot let me come up the few stairs the the flight deck. The view was spectactular, and unlike most modern airliners with only a horizontal strip of windows, the LC-130 had windows all over the front of the plane, giving a great view. The layout and feel of the cockpit was very “old school” feeling, with lots of analog dials and toggle switches. The plane was in good repair, but it was obvious from the hard wear and tear on all of the surfaces that this plane has been around for a long time, and had some serious time on it. There was even a fold out bed in the cockpit, for longer missions.

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I had the good fortune of sitting next to Scientist Jon Kaufman, who is working on the Bicep2 CMB telescope. I’m going to be visiting the Bicep2/Keck Array lab later this week when the science team disassembles one of the cryostats. Very exciting!

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After about three hours in the air, we finally touched down on skis at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station Ice Runway. I was finally home!

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As soon as we got off the plane, there was a large group of people from the station there to receive us, and get us oriented.

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The view at the ice runway was spectacular – ice in all directions, with the futuristic station looming in the distance. And it was COLD. Very very cold. The cold hits you immediately – both on your skin, biting through your clothes, and in your lungs. Each breath of frozen -40 degree air freezes you from the inside out, causing serious injuries if you don’t cover up and breathe through a gaitor or balancava. And it’s extremely bright. With very little atmosphere protecting from solar rays, and white everywhere, it’s very very bright. Goggles are the only way to mitigate both the cold, wind, and sun.

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Finally, I am home at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica.

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Jeffrey DonenfeldMoving to Antarctica Leg 3: McMurdo Station to Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station