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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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.

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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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This Week in Antarctic History

We are reaching the height of the Antarctic summer, the solstice, in approximately three weeks. What that will mean for us is an ambient temperature of about 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The air is already warming up quite a bit—yesterday the ambient temperature was only –26 F, and windchill was –42. Walking in to station from summer camp, I wore boots and overalls and normal face coverings, but only a t-shirt, two sweatshirts and a down vest. The barometric pressure is fluctuating down, causing the physiological altitude to go up. The actual altitude is 9,300 feet, and we are presently experiencing an altitude of 10,647 as you can see from the weather scroll. Higher altitude means more strenuous work and exercise, a longer moment to catch your breath after ascending the 92 stairs of the “beer can” stairwell, and sometimes trouble sleeping.

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The warmest part of the season means the middle part of historical and present-day expeditions.

Here is what was happening this week in 1911, 1929 and 1959; we got this little history lesson from Comms and I thought you might be interested, too.

On November 28, 1929, Byrd and three others took off in their Ford Tri-motor and headed south. After a harrowing climb over the Transantarctic Mountains, Byrd and his crew became the first to fly over the South Pole at 1:14 in the morning on November 29, 1929.

The Antarctic Treaty was signed on December 1, 1959 and came into force on June 23, 1961. Among other provisions, this treaty limits military activity in the Antarctic to the support of scientific research. In essence, this treaty (ratified by all parties in 1961) set the continent of Antarctica aside for peaceful, scientific purposes and placed all territorial claims on hold.

100 Years ago…

 

Notes from Amundsen:

 

“On December 1 we left the glacier in high spirits. It was cut up by innumerable crevasses and holes. We were now at a height of 9,370 feet. In the mist and driving snow it looked as if we had a frozen lake before us; but it proved to be a sloping plateau of ice, full of small blocks of ice. Our walk across this frozen lake was not pleasant. The ground under our feet was evidently hollow, and it sounded as if we were walking on empty barrels. First a man fell through, then a couple of dogs; but they got up again all right. We could not, of course, use our ski on this smooth-polished ice, but we got on fairly well with the sledges. We called this place the Devil’s Ballroom. This part of our march was the most unpleasant of the whole trip.”

“On December 2 we reached our greatest elevation. According to the hypsometer and our aneroid barometer we were at a height of 11,075 feet — this was in lat. 87º 51′.”

Notes from Scott:

Thursday, November 30.—”Camp 26. A very pleasant day for marching, but a very tiring march for the poor animals, which, with the exception of Nobby, are showing signs of failure all round. We were slower by half an hour or more than yesterday. Except that the loads are light now and there are still eight animals left, things don’t look too pleasant, but we should be less than 60 miles from our first point of aim. The surface was much worse to-day, the ponies sinking to their knees very often. There were a few harder patches towards the end of the march. In spite of the sun there was not much ‘glide’ on the snow. The dogs are reported as doing very well. They are going to be a great standby, no doubt. The land has been veiled in thin white mist; it appeared at intervals after we camped and I had taken a couple of photographs.”

Friday, December 1.—”Camp 27. Lat. 82° 47′. The ponies are tiring pretty rapidly. It is a question of days with all except Nobby. Yet they are outlasting the forage, and to-night against some opinion I decided Christopher must go. He has been shot; less regret goes with him than the others, in remembrance of all the trouble he gave at the outset, and the unsatisfactory way he has gone of late. Here we leave a depot [31] so that no extra weight is brought on the other ponies; in fact there is a slight diminution. Three more marches ought to bring us through. With the seven crocks and the dog teams we must get through I think. The men alone ought not to have heavy loads on the surface, which is extremely trying.”

“Nobby was tried in snowshoes this morning, and came along splendidly on them for about four miles, then the wretched affairs racked and had to be taken off. There is no doubt that these snowshoes are the thing for ponies, and had ours been able to use them from the beginning they would have been very different in appearance at this moment. I think the sight of land has helped the animals, but not much. We started in bright warm sunshine and with the mountains wonderfully clear on our right hand, but towards the end of the march clouds worked up from the east and a thin broken cumulo-stratus now overspreads the sky, leaving the land still visible but dull. A fine glacier descends from Mount Longstaff. It has cut very deep and the walls stand at an angle of at least 50°. Otherwise, although there are many crowns on the lower ranges, the mountains themselves seem little carved. They are rounded massive structures. A cliff of light yellow-brown rock appears opposite us, flanked with black or dark brown rock, which also appears under the lighter colour. One would be glad to know what nature of rock these represent. There is a good deal of exposed rock on the next range also.”

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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.

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