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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