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:






Polar Solar:


The ceremony sound guy:


Video in –25F:


The ceremony itself:



The unveiling of the ice bust of Amundsen:


The press:





The fashion:







And the celebration:







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


Centennial Menu





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):



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:


Antarctic waitress brigade:


Wine Service and Sound

To mark the centenary of man’s arrival at the South Pole, our station held a small ceremony and a fancy dinner for the Norwegian Prime Minister and his party, and Daniel and I were lucky enough to help with making it happen. Daniel ran sound, his coldest and most Southern live sound gig, and he spent many hours preparing for it by researching intensively in the way he does and creating schematics to build cabinets to hold the speakers, to prevent them from freezing up and malfunctioning while still sounding clear and rich and natural.

Standing gathered around the ceremonial pole, with the shrill, hollow protest of footsteps on snow amplified through the sound system, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg spoke. After planting Norway’s flag at the Pole, he honored Roald Amundsen and his achievement; Robert Falcon Scott who gave the ultimate sacrifice for discovery; Norway as a brand new country in 1911 (having gained independence in 1905); and the men and women who came to celebrate and honor this important year on skis and sledges, tired and celebrating with frostbite on their faces and ice in their hair. The head of the Norsk Polarinstitutt, having himself skiied in 45 days to follow Amundsen’s ski tracks, wrote a letter to Amundsen on the route from inside his sleeping bag, and he read it to us. An ice bust of Amundsen, molded by a Norwegian artist and poured here, was unveiled.

When we clapped, it was a muffled patter of mittens hitting mittens, a noise like rain in a place that has never seen it. Statesmen and adventurers alike jumped and hugged, lit cigars and drank akavit, tears in their eyes from cold and from overwhelming emotions.

We came in to prepare for the next part of the evening, a dinner for which the head executive chef has been preparing since last year, partially out of excitement and partially due to a very long, slow supply chain. I volunteered (begged) to be a part of the serving staff over a month ago, my waitressing past finally coming in handy here at the Pole. We set the table while the reception happened downstairs in the gym and the band (which Daniel was also a part of) played the national anthem of Norway. When the PM and his group came in for dinner, the champagne was already poured and waiting to be toasted with, servers waiting in the wings and the kitchen staff buzzing in preparation in a nearby conference room. We poured wine, took orders, and brought out an amazing and visually stunning meal (the Prime Minister takes his bison steak medium rare, fyi). The night went perfectly, with no sound malfunctions, no spilled wine or burned coffee, no cracked ice busts, no probems at all. It was exhilarating and relieving and felt so significant, with my Norwegian flag in my server apron pocket the whole night. I felt more Norwegian than I ever have before.

I’m working on photos tonight–more up in 12 hours when the satellite comes back up.

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.


no-nb_sml_ 1309

Amundsen 1

no-nb_sml_ 1310

December 14, 2011


“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.


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:


Daniel and I with Mr. Jens Stoltenberg:





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:


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:


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.


A good way to end a cold night.

Antarctica Bound 2011

After a few months of wrangling broken fax machines, drug tests, pap smears, dental fillings, mantoux screenings, turn-your-head-and-coughs, hundreds of pages of HR paperwork, many vials of blood and other costly indignities, we are on our way back to South Pole. Saying goodbye again was oddly difficult. Leaving Minneapolis was hard, and I cried on the plane after seeing downtown for the last time. I don’t even like downtown. But I am so excited to be deploying.

This is going to be a pretty special year to get to go to Pole; in December we will celebrate the centennial of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen’s arrival at the Pole in 1911, the very first human being to EVER make it to the southernmost point of our earth. It was a battle. Robert Falcon Scott’s team, only a month behind them, made it second and subsequently died on the way home. And only a hundred years later, people like Daniel and me get to apply for decidedly non-explorer-esque jobs (IT and inventory, respectively), and go there without being even slightly worried that we are going to freeze or starve or get so dehydrated or depressed or exhausted that we die. Well, maybe a little worried, but I can assure you that’s totally irrational.

I’m also pretty excited, because Amundsen was Norwegian and I’m racially Norwegian (is that a thing? I’m going to pretend that that’s a thing). I got to visit Norway two years ago to visit relatives (hello out there!), and they, understandably, had a light-hearted and proud sense of ownership of all things Polar, but especially of the fact that a Norwegian and his team were the first humans, maybe the very first living organisms for millions of years, to arrive at the South Pole.


It’s going to be so COOL! (Get it? Get it?)

London and Stansted, England and Oslo, Norway (April 2010)

London overwhelmed our noses in a frenzy of scents: cool, clean air, pink and white flower trees blooming in grassy parks, everything moist from spring rains. We took the Tube’s Picadilly line to King’s Cross, and after making our hostel beds took a walk through the neighborhood, visiting community gardens with painted plywood cutouts of children and a playground (something we hadn’t seen for a long time, and it seemed kind of strange). Kebab shops and pubs lined the street, old red brick buildings, or painted black and white wooden facades facing statues in the road, red double decker bendy buses barreling past.

The most striking thing about being in London was how easy it was to be there. Everyone spoke English, we could read the signs. It was shockingly clean. No one really needed anything from us, for us to buy something from them–our wealth was insignificant and relatively small. No one stared at us. No one approached us upon leaving the airport or hostel, offering a rickshaw or travel agency services. We were blissfully ignored.

We took a walking tour of London, checking out the sights that everyone sees: Buckingham Palace, mounted guards, a glimpse of 10 Downing Street (where Gordon Brown resided when we saw it but not at the moment I write this post), Green Park, and the London Marathon which happened to be the day after we arrived. While it was nice to blend in and pretend to not be a tourist for a while, it was also a relief to take a guided tour and see sights without having to research or plan–something we hadn’t really done at all yet. We even learned a few things! For example, did you know that the Queen owns a gold-plated Nintendo Wii, and that her favorite game is Wii Bowling?

Since money was (is) getting pretty tight, we walked all over the center of London instead of taking the subway, and ate picnics from Tesco grocery–baguettes with feta cheese and crisp apples, milk from a tiny jug. We gorged ourselves on art, visiting the National Gallery, the Portrait Gallery, the Tate Modern. We even splurged and saw a live performance of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, the musical (about two drag queens and a male-to-female transwoman crossing the Australian desert in a bus); while the dialog wasn’t quite as punchy as the movie, the costumes and dance routines were pretty fantastic.

On the day we were flying to Oslo, we checked out of our hostel and walked about two hours to the Victoria station across the center of London. We caught a bus to the Stansted Airport, about an hour out of the city, got there early and waited around until we could check in, checked in and cleared the passport/visa check counter, and began going through security to wait at our gate when the security officer did a double take of our boarding passes and cheerily said, “oh, you’re flying tomorrow!” I started to panic before assessing our options–it was incredibly frustrating because I’ve had a few major, moneysucking, screwups and roadblocks with air travel. I nearly missed my flight out of LA in February after being forced to buy a ticket on the spot to leave New Zealand before being allowed to board the flight, then I bought a ticket from Christchurch to Auckland to see Daniel (not realizing I had inverted the cities until I checked in at the Auckland airport). Now this, only half an hour after I had started writing the India blog post which started with “After more than two months of traveling, we think we’re getting a bit better at it.” Crap. Daniel kept me calm and we decided to stay in Stansted for the night. We walked two more hours to the center of town.

Stansted itself was actually very pleasant, beautiful and quaint with cobblestone roads and little brick homes surrounded by blossoming lilacs and various flower trees which looked like they were covered in a blanket of floral snow. And the weather was fantastic. It really felt like England, moreso than London did. We stayed in a hotel built into an old house, with sea-blue walls and starched white sheets, and wifi that worked if you laid on the floor with the laptop right up by the door. We had a picnic the next day on a lovely little public footpath (which we found purely by accident) nestled between a creek and the train tracks, which felt surprisingly like being at home near the Minnehaha creek. We were definitely both starting to feel a little homesick.

We flew into Oslo/Rygge, successfully this time, greeted by a cold rain and incredibly low cloud cover on the tarmac. We took the hourlong bus into Oslo, arriving late (in retrospect, Ryanair was not the right choice for this trip, since all these bus trips pretty much negated any cash we’d saved on ticket prices). My dad’s cousin Karen graciously picked us up at the bus terminal, took us home and fed us open-face sandwiches on hearty bread before we went to sleep.

In the morning, we had breakfast with HansErik and Christina (my dad’s dad’s brother and his wife) in their apartment, open with warm wood floors and a nice book collection. They fed us bacon and eggs, hot black coffee, wholegrain bread, grapefruit juice, and anchovies (which we passed on). Through a little wooded area we walked to the bus stop and rode to the center of Oslo and they showed us the city. We walked along the edge of the fjord, where chilly-looking fishermen were selling their catches from the decks of their boats, while kids skateboarded in the plaza, and a statue of FD Roosevelt overlooked the waterfront (we learned that Norway’s royal family lived in the White House during WWII, and that FDR upheld Norway as an example of how the US could improve). Nearby was a castle that is now unused except for visiting purposes, which was once surrounded by a moat that has now been converted into a street which is full of electric cars. Oslo, like London, is much more steeped in war history than you’d ever see in the US, for obvious reasons, in both public and private ways. HansErik took us to the red wooden house he and Farfar grew up in, pointing out the cellar door where they evacuated to when the war started, and told us how the older neighbor boys who lived downstairs rode their bikes to check out the nearby site where the fighting was happening.

The city itself was pretty, clean and surprisingly walkable, with modern and historical buildings mixed up together, hills with fashionable shops, populated by people looking effortlessly well put together and street musicians playing accordion and hammered dulcimer. We got to see buildings designed by HansErik, who was an architect, and by his daughter Alessandra(Sandra) and her husband Lars, who practice the same profession–it was kind of neat to feel related to the city like that. We had Indian food for dinner with HansErik, Christina, Sandra, Lars and their son Gustav, and returned to the young family’s apartment after dinner. It was high-ceilinged with a modern, open layout, warm yellow wood floors, and a low table with Moroccan floor cushions. Daniel played on the computer with Lars and Gustav while the rest of us talked, and the later the night went the more I fantasized about coming to Norway to study architecture. It was a great night.

The next day we went to the FRAM Museum, housing the ship on which Amundsen traveled to Antarctica during the expedition which reached the South Pole successfully for the first time. Amundsen was Norwegian and the country is pretty proud of him; they seem to have a lighthearted sense of ownership of the continent, complemented by Svalbard, which has the northernmost town and is a part of Norway. It was fun to read about the expeditions, successful and otherwise, and to realize that less than a hundred years ago no one had ever been to the South Pole. Today you can get there by having a job fixing computers, fueling airplanes, or washing dishes, without having to mount an expedition and risk getting yourself killed. We went to the Vigeland sculpture park, which was interesting but got a little boring since the sculpture is all by the same artist–I think Minneapolis’ sculpture garden is better, but I might be biased. The park overlooked the cemetery where my great grandparents are buried, and we stood for a while on the hill watching the ocean clouds which, to a midwest girl, seemed unreal and more beautiful and contrasting than clouds at home, no matter how many times I saw them.

That evening we had dinner with Karen, her husband Ronnie, and their two children at their home, and Nina, the youngest of HansErik and Christina’s daughters and her two children. Karen prepared salmon sashimi with sprouts, soy sauce and wasabi, a green salad with hand-roasted pine nuts and avocado, steak and roasted potatoes. They live in the house the three women grew up in (another beautiful dwelling–I wonder if all homes in Norway look so good?), which is the same house my dad and his brother stayed at when they visited Norway as kids. We had a great evening, and I only wish that we had been able to stay more than two days.

Everyone was so friendly and kind, and we got along with the whole family really well (I have to admit I was worried before we arrived that they wouldn’t like us or that something would go wrong)–it was so nice to be able to make that connection in person, and we simply wouldn’t have been able to travel to Norway if they hadn’t been so generous to us. At one point during the evening HansErik asked me how it felt to “be a part of the clan.” It felt good.