Geophysical South pole...Discovered Dec 14, 1911...note the date stamp on the picture.
As some of you know, I have recently returned from the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. I was there for three days conducting the annual fire inspection with the assistance of the four full time firefighters stationed there for the summer. Going to 90 south I didn't really know what to expect besides to feel terrible due to the high altitude. The altitude is about 9,600 feet, but due to the air pressure and such, your body reacts as if it is at 10,500 feet. I went to the McMurdo hospital before hand and got my presciption for Diamox which makes your body tissues more accepting of oxygen, this making you acclimate easier. Upon stepping off the plane I immediatley could feel a differance in the air, and was very quickly short of breath by just one flight of stairs.
This is the room in the elevated station...yes...thats all of it.
The other thing I noticed over the first two days was a very persistant headache, almost a migrane. So, I drank my water and took my tylenol the doctor gave me, and by day 3, just hours before leaving I felt like a million bucks... then i left. When i was in Medical at the South Pole the doctor took my blood oxygen saturation, which is usually 98 or 99 at sea level for me... it was 86. So that explains a lot...by day three it was up to 93. So that is how it went for me with the adjustment to altitude, not nearly as bad as it is for some people, thankfully.
As I was there for fire inspections I was able, with the help of my good friend Will, the Fire Lt. there for the summer, to see basically every square inch of the place. The station its self is brand new, and very nice.
This is a Sun Dog or Halo. It only occurs in a complete circle around the sun like that at the South Pole. Its caused by the ice crystals in the air.
It is well designed and has a lot of nice features. The set up of the station is simple, yet practical, the main "spine" of the station houses basically....everything...offices, the galley, the gym, medical, the lounges, etc. The "branches" off one side is where all the housing is. Additional housing is in "summer camp" which is a series of many Jamesways* about a quarter mile from the elevated station where a majority of the summer population lives, as the elevated station only houses about 150 people. Luckily I was in the station. The rooms are prison cell small.... about 6 x 8 feet, but very nice, so it was good enough for me. Also there is the Beer Can, which is the large silver cylander at one end of the station. This extends for three flights of stairs above ground, and anouther four flights below ground leading to the snow tunnels, power/water plant, Mechanics shop, and the trade shops.
Thats me under the poop-cicles.
Finally there is the dome, which is the former station, now it is just a large dome with some food storage in it. The plan is to dismantle the dome and ship it to a museum to be reassembled as part of an Antarctic display.
The food is downright amazing. My hat goes off to the galley staff at pole. We ate things like home made lasagne, NY Strip steaks, beer brats, etc. All of it tasted great. The lounges at pole are euqally amazing**, with very comfortable couches and recliners, huge plasma TVs and Bose surround sound.
Back to the Beer Can.... while you are still adjusting to altitude, seven flights of stairs is not fun. Oh..and the beer can is unheated. After a inspection of the various facilities down there (besides the tunnels) it was time to climb back up.
View from the backside of the station...that row or arched tents in the background is Summer Camp
... that was the hardest stair climb of my life, but I did it, and that was that.
On day two, Will took me back down the beer can to the snow tunnels. The reason for these tunnels is based in how water is handled at the pole. Think of the old saying "water water everywhere and not a drop to drink" that sums it up pretty well. Using a heated drill device called a Rodwell, they bore deep into the snow from these tunnels and start melting a cavern, which they then syphon the water out of and use it for the station. The other issue at pole is where to put...waste water...well... the other problem is filling the empty caverns with something once they are too big to draw more water from. Insert waste into cavern, and problem solved...until hundreds of years from now when it melts and there is human waste everywhere.
This is the pigs head.
..oh well. The snow tunnels exsist basically to service and reach these caverns and Rodwells. So, down we went, though the stink of a waste water plant, and down to 181 feet below the surface of the snow, and several thousand feet beyond where we started. The air temperature down there is -66 degrees F, obviously there is no wind down there...so that is just the ambient temperature. Some other points of interest are the "poop-cicles"*** which are caused by the methane from the waste floating into the tunnels and crystalizing into large icicles, which are much more fragle than they seem, and sway through the air as you pass them. Also there is a frozen Pigs head placed by the first elevated station crew...with sunglasses and a martini glass. Also there is a sturgeon.
-66 Degrees...the termometer in the tunnels.
.yes the huge fish... placed in a cut out in the wall. At -66 of course they are not decomposing. As far as safety, the tunnels will not collapse...the snow is so dense there that is the equivilent of the tunnels being build out of solid Douglas Fir wood. So, with my legs freezing we hiked back out of the tunnels.
Of course the final highlight of the trip was the pole its self. Me and one of the firefighters realized I was there on Dec 14, and Roald Amundsen discovered the pole on Dec 14, 1911, ecactly 96 years ago to the day. So we of course went ot the pole and took our pictures. The next day after lunch i hopped the first flight back to Mactown, and here I am. It was an amazing trip and something I will always be happy to say i was fortunate enough to be able to do.
*A Jamesway is essentially a long arched tent. They were used in the Korean War.
**Keep in mind at the Pole there is no TV service at all. All these expensive intricate set ups are just for watching DVDs
*** The "poop-cicles" usually go by a differant more adult name...but im trying to keep my blog PG...use your imagination.