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Journey to the South Pole

November 9, 2008

-41 deg C

SOUTH POLE STATION, ANTARCTICA– The Norwegian-US Traverse, Year 2, Begins! We still haven’t started on our big trip, (the actual traverse), but we are getting closer and closer! This seems amazing given how far we’ve come already. I started my trip early the morning of October 25, first driving to Boston from my home in Vermont, with my husband, Mike. Our wedding was September 27, so we just missed spending our first month anniversary together.

From Boston, I flew first to Newark, then on to Los Angeles, where I spent a couple of hours waiting for my flight to Auckland, New Zealand. This is where things became a little bizarre. First as I was waiting in line to go through security, a very large limo pulled up to the terminal and a whole entourage started piling out. By this time in my trip (which was just the beginning, really), I was already too hungry and tired and homesick to care, and grabbed some food and went to my gate without waiting to see who it was.

As it so happens, the very famous person, hip hop super star Ice Cube was also flying to Auckland, with his entourage. Ice Cube sat in first class, while about 15 members of his entourage were back in coach where I was sitting. They were very, very entertaining for the first few hours of the 13 hour flight, and then thankfully fell asleep. The funniest thing for me is that when I tell people heading to Antarctica that I saw Ice Cube on the plane, everyone first assumes that it’s IceCube, the neutrino telescope that is being run at the South Pole, not the international hip hop/movie star.

In Christchurch, I had a few busy days gathering up the supplies we will need for the traverse, and meeting up with the rest of the group as we were all coming in from all over. There’s Lou, our driller, who flew in from Montana, Tom, the field team leader, who came from Vermont, Glen, coming from Colorado, and the Norwegians, Rune, Svein, Einar and Kjetil, who were coming from Tromso, Norway. The last member of our group to arrive in Christchurch was John, who had to make a last-minute, unexpected detour to Cape Town, South Africa to take care of some business for the Norwegian Polar Institute there. Compared to John’s trip, mine was nothing to complain about. He didn’t even get to see Ice Cube in person.

Tom Neumann, our fearless leader, in line to check in bags for the flight from Christchurch to McMurdo, which we had to do the day before our flight.

In Christchurch, we all worked finding the various odds and ends we would need to find in New Zealand that we hadn’t already shipped, and that we wouldn’t find in Antarctica, including a 5 m ladder, 400 loaves of bread (Norwegians really, really like bread), potholders, a spatula for pancakes, 20 large batteries, and 80 pounds of coffee (most of us really, really like coffee). This at time proved rather amusing, as it meant either Tom or Glen had to drive on the “wrong” side of the road in our rented van, sometimes with oddly sized loads.

This first group of us is participating in the first phase of our traverse from South Pole Station to the Norwegian Antarctic base, Troll. Phase One is to recover the four tracked vehicles we are using, which are currently located 300 km from the South Pole, where we are now. Svein, Kjetil and Rune are the cracker-jack mechanics who will fix two of the vehicles, which are currently non-operational, and replace the differentials (this being the part that broke several time last season) in all of the vehicles. Lou and I are going to drill an ice core while the mechanics do the repairs. The spot where we will be working is called Camp Winter, since that is where everything spent the last season.

Hand drilling an ice core.

After everything is fixed and we are done with our core, we will pack everything up, and head back here to the South Pole where we will unfortunately lose Kjetil and Rune and Glen. Rune’s wife is expecting a baby soon, so it’s important to get him back home to Norway before that happens. The rest of us will head to Troll with another group of researchers meeting us here in December. Then we will begin Phase Two, which is getting from South Pole to the coast, drilling ice cores, taking radar data, and collecting snow samples along the way.

The area we are passing through has not been visited since the 1960’s, and some spots we are covering have never been traveled over before. Our measurements will help determine whether this part of Antarctica is growing in mass (more snow is falling here due to rising temperatures), staying the same, or shrinking in mass.

I was able to spend a couple of hours roaming around Christchurch my last day before leaving for “The Ice,” and so I hit my favorite spots (I had spent quite a lot of time in Christchurch the last time I was in Antarctica). I went to rub Roald Amundsen’s nose at the Canterbury Museum (there is a bust of him there, and it is tradition to rub his nose for good luck), and then spent some time walking around the botanic gardens. I will try to remember what it is like to be warm, to smell flowers, and to be surrounded by color in the next few months. On these trips, I am always amazed by the sensory deprivation I experience.

Roald Amundsen’s bust at the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, NZ. His nose is shiny from people rubbing it for good luck.

Plants from the botanic gardens in Christchurch…

Plants from the botanic gardens in Christchurch…

…where we all spent our last day roaming around or laying in the grass, enjoying the sun.

After one delayed flight, we left for McMurdo a day later than expected, where we spent another crazy few days gathering, sorting, and packing all the food we would need for the entire trip (phase one and two). This was usually pretty amusing, trying to compromise between Norwegian and American tastes. We are bringing lots and lots of fish, aforementioned bread, rye crackers, brunost (Norwegian “brown cheese” or whey cheese), sardines, some other Norwegian snacks, and luckily a few packages of hot dogs (my request!). The amount of food is mind boggling, as is the amount of toilet paper (about 300 rolls). We won’t have an opportunity to resupply while we are traveling, so it’s important to get it right.

Lou and Einar going for a quick hike up Observation Hill in McMurdo.

The cargo system in McMurdo can be a bear to deal with, meaning that every box is weighed and measured, sometimes multiple times, and entered into the system before it can head out. In addition, we (mostly me) had to keep track of what was going into each box for our own records. The result is that we are very well organized now though, and have sorted the food so that for every week, there are three boxes that contain all our food. We can just grab the boxes and bring them inside the vehicles, and not spend time outside (where we are expecting temperatures around -50deg C in the beginning). That will be worth it in the end.

At the top of Observation Hill is a cross dedicated to members of Scott’s expedition who died on their return trip from the South Pole.

So far, we are all getting along marvelously. Somehow the nine of us, with our diverse backgrounds, all share a similar sense of humor, and work to take care of one another. The Norwegians have been particularly impressed with my skills in the Norwegian language (I had Norwegian roommates in college), even though most of what I remember is a little less than polite. We have all had a lot of experience in the field, and we all enjoy what we do. Who could ask for anything else?

Kjetil and John hiking up Observation Hill, with Mt. Erebus, and active volcano, in the background.
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6 Responses »

  1. Zoe, We’re out in balmy Bend reading your blog and wishing you all the best. It was great seeing you and Mike so happy together and enjoying all your wedding festivities. Ha det bra! Banske! Skaal! and all that stuff.

  2. blog, it looks cold there but fun all the same.

  3. Zoe, Glad to hear you made it safe and sound. Our climate change class is looking forward to following your progress. Good luck from GEOL1302: Intro Global Climate Change (University of Houston)

  4. Zoe!!! It’s Emily and Sarah Baker from back at home. So good to hear how you are doing, and all the excitement. Have a wonderful journey, congratulations on your marriage, and we can’t wait to read your posts! Safe travels! Emily and Sarah

  5. Zoe,

    Sarah Baker passed your blog on to me! It was awesome to read about what you are up to! What an adventure! Congrats on your marriage!

    I’ll be watching for updates!

    Stephanie (used to be Hanson)

  6. Hey Zoe, good to hear from you. It sounds like you are doing very well ! Good luck – I send you all the best wishes and warm thoughts I have. Good pictures ;-) especially the flowers. Greetings from grey Bremerhaven and say hello to Tom … Maria