“Great God! This is an Awful Place.”

Tuesday, a much quieter centennial than the one last month, we marked the 100 year anniversary of Robert Falcon Scott’s arrival here at South Pole. His team, a few days earlier having seen the first sure signs they were not the first to arrive at the Pole, came to the pole to discover a tent and a letter left by Amundsen over a month before.

What I find interesting about Scott’s expedition is the amount of energy they dedicated to scientific exploration—despite dwindling food and hope, they continued to drag with them geological samples: they died on the way home with rocks in their sleds in the name of science.

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South Pole Centennial Photo Extravaganza!

As promised, here is a glut of photos from the Centennial and the days preceding it. 

Tourists camping on hardened sastrugi and skiing for transportation and recreation:

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Polar Solar:

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The ceremony sound guy:

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Video in –25F:

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The ceremony itself:

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The unveiling of the ice bust of Amundsen:

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The press:

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The fashion:

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And the celebration:

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We went inside to get ready for the cocktail hour in the gym and the special dinner in the conference room.

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Centennial Menu

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Sydney Clewe, Dining Assistant by day and Graphic Designer/Artist by night, painted this amazing canvas mural especially for the dinner (as always, click to enlarge):

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The night went perfectly and the dinner was divine (I tested everything, especially the julekake, which brought me back to childhood Christmases).

Kitchen staff, waitstaff and runners:

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Antarctic waitress brigade:

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South Pole Centennial

December 14, 1911

One hundred years ago today, after months of desperate cold, preserved food, wicked dryness and beating wind, after skiing many, many miles and enduring lost and broken gear, tired men, cranky dogs and dangerous terrain, Roald Amundsen and his crew (Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, Oscar Wisting, four sledges and 52 dogs) reached the South Pole, alive and happy and sunburned, the first men in history to reach the bottom of our earth. They took measurements to determine their accuracy, and planted the flag of Norway to mark their achievement.

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December 14, 2011

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“When the explorer comes home victorious, everyone goes out to cheer him. We are all proud of his achievement—proud on behalf of the nation and of humanity. We think it is a new feather in our cap… But the rails of science are laid; our knowledge is richer than before. And the light of the achievement shines for all time.”

–Fridtjof Nansen, May 3, 1912

~

We are so proud to be here and to be a part of the US Antarctic Program, to support in our own small, peripheral ways the science that is carried out: astronomy and astrophysics, aeronomy, auroral, and geospace science studies, meteorology, geomagnetism, seismology, earth-tide measurements, and glaciology. Here we live on the seventh continent, dedicated to science and peaceful international exchange, and we are grateful to be a part of its history.

Happy Centennial, everyone. Here’s to the next hundred years.

The Prime Minister and the Polie

Yesterday, Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and his party landed at South Pole Station, just in time for lunch. The galley was packed full of people, craning, trying to look like they weren’t looking, trying not to choke on their sandwiches.

Tomorrow, Mr. Stoltenberg and his party will ride out to twenty or so miles off station to spend a night with their countrymen, the Norwegians who have skied in from the coast, and they will, on the Centennial itself, ski back in together following Amundsen’s footsteps.

He gave a speech at dinner last night, trying to put words to the grave and joyous importance for Norway as a country in 1911 to arrive first to the South Pole in an era where parts of the world such as Antarctica were still unexplored. He thanked us for a warm welcome, and congratulated us on the work we do here (now, I’m not sure he was referring specifically to shoveling or inventory, but I’m being liberal with my interpretation).

It was quite sweet, really.

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After dinner he went out to the geographic South Pole to take a photo with most of the station population. We were able to meet him and take a few photos.

Here are the Norwegians walking out to the Pole:

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Daniel and I with Mr. Jens Stoltenberg:

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As you may know, the ice shelf drifts constantly because of the geography of the continent. What that means is that the geographic South Pole shifts something like 30 meters in relation to the station every year. On New Year’s Day, there is a ceremony in which the Pole marker is changed to a new design and the whole Pole gets plucked out of the ice and moved to the actual location. It is not New Year’s Day yet, and so we currently have three Poles: the Ceremonial Pole, with the barbershop red and white stripes and the silver garden ball on top, surrounded by the flags of the original treaty nations; the 2011 Geographic Pole, with the artist-cast Pole marker (which unfortunately gets missed by many distracted tourists); and the actual, current Geographic Pole which has been determined by the surveyors:

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I’m not joking: that’s the real deal! The stick with the orange surveyor tape is the southernmost point on our planet. Here’s the Prime Minister (center) with the real-deal South Pole:

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It’s humble, but also awesome.

We all came in to some special Norwegian mulled wine, the spelling of which I can’t remember for the life of me (glůgg? glŏvvig? I’m going to stop trying). It was delicious, hot and spiced with slivered almonds and raisins plopped in to the bottom.

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A good way to end a cold night.

Snow

Today snow is falling: real snow. Fine, nearly imperceptible flakes that you can barely see unless you hold your head really still. Real snow is so rare here, mostly the ice crystals just blow around, and every time I see snow it makes my heart hurt because I feel so homesick for Minnesota. For winter, for snow, for sunrise and sunset, for family and winter bonfires and for dogs to play with and real evergreen trees, for frozen lakes and ice skating and hearing snowflakes fall by streetlight. I usually feel like I’m too busy to be homesick, except on Sundays, and this season has been no exception.

The Centennial of Roald Amundsen’s arrival is in just one week, and the first tourists have already begun to arrive. Some in planes, some in trucks, and they have started to set up little tents that we can see looking out from the galley windows over the ceremonial South Pole. The ski-in expeditions will start arriving soon, as will the Distinguished Visitors from Norway and beyond. The station is buzzing; the carpenters have built a visitors’ center, the head executive chef is planning a special dinner for the Prime Minister and his party, and the IT folks are busy preparing for a live broadcast to Norwegian television the morning of the centennial. It is so exciting.

Two weeks ago we celebrated Thanksgiving, which is really not the same as it is at home but still really nice. We slept in, showered, ate a ton like you’re supposed to, went sledding in our formalwear on a hill that has been removed by now, and went to a dance party in summer camp. I think I’ve been to more dance parties in Antarctica than I have even been to in my entire life combined.

Here is a panoramic photo of sledding behind the elevated station, taken by Daniel. More sledding soon. Click to enlarge.

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