Monday, February 12, 2007

Visitors

-39.1 C (-38.5 F)
Wind Chill: -57.0 C (-70.7 F)
Wind: 15.3 knots




We’ve had many visitors of all different sorts to the Pole through the course of this season. Some have walked, skied, or flew by helicopter or plane. All of them have been extremely excited by their achievement of just visiting the Pole. Those of us who work here laugh at the tourists who pay over $35,000 per person to visit and are incredibly humbled by those who’ve trained for over a year to walk or ski.

Most notably of the visitors was Hannah McKeand. Hannah set out to conquer the record for an unsupported, solo skiing expedition from Patriot Hills base camp to the South Pole (XX miles). The current record stood at 42 days by Fiona Thornewell in 2001. Hannah achieved her goal and made the trip in 40 days surpassing the record by 2 days. I watched her ski up to the Pole during her final approach and it was an amazing site. I’m awed by the internal fortitude in making this incredibly challenging journey alone. Shortly after her arrival, she entered the galley and we were able to congratulate her and have pictures taken with her. She looked amazing after her journey and had no signs of frostbite or fatigue. She was in much better condition than many of the others who had either walked or skied to the Pole. She was very funny and I was awestruck by her presence as she described how once she got a song stuck in her head for over 7 hours and it was the only time she wished for someone to talk to in order to make it stop. Hannah is now the fastest unsupported South Pole Skier in the world and only the 9th women to ski to the Pole without resupplies.

Other notables were the Russians who flew in two Mi-8 helicopters and had the entire station pressed up to the galley windows during their arrival. The Mi-8 helicopters were amazing. I’m not entirely sure who these Russian dignitaries were but there were rumors that some of them were associated with Vladmir Putin and his cabinet. Only 2 or 3 of them spoke English. They had a tour of the station along with coffee, tea, and cookies. Out of respect before their arrival, the Russian flag was put on an extension pole and raised higher than all the others. They posed around the Pole with various flags representing the contributors to their expedition. They also took pictures with some sort of regional flag or crest. Will, James, and I finished Sunday dinner and then ran out to watch them take pictures and see the Mi-8’s up close and take our own pictures. I found it extremely funny that they walked around with a tape player loudly playing their national anthem. They also posed with the tape player in their pictures as if you’d be able to hear the anthem through the pictures. At one point, a few of the Russians noticed me standing by myself and started grabbing me and took turns taking pictures with me. I imagine it was because I was only one of a few females around at the time, but with ECW gear on it’s very hard to distinguish gender. Then again, I can’t say many Russian females are all that feminine. I laugh thinking about the pictures I’m in with these Russian diplomats and what they say when they show their friends these pictures. We ended up wondering over to one of the helicopters to discover one of our friends sitting in the cockpit. We managed to get on board for a look around and to take pictures. Several of the crew were sitting inside exhausted by the altitude and on oxygen. Only one of them spoke a little English. I can’t imagine I’ll again sit in the drivers seat of an Mi-8.


The most fun visitors were the 4 gentlemen from the British Royal Navy/Royal Marines who skied in 46 days from Patriot Hills. They camped near the Pole for several days until the weather was in their favor to kite back on the return trip. They became wonderful members of our South Pole family as they volunteered washing dishes in the galley in turn for a hot meal. At one point, we helped one member make his ski boots fit better by placing them in the oven so they would conform to his feet as they cooled. They managed to extend their stay to help us ring in the New Year. The station was able to grant them official visitor status and allow them each a 2-minute shower and a 2 am station curfew. One member is a lead singer in a British band and rocked the house by taking over and singing the blues after only a few hours of practice. They were a joy to have on station and became great friends with all of us. They gave the Sunday night science lecture and shared pictures and of the journey to date.

The Indian Navy completed a skiing expedition of the last 2-degrees (approximately 120 miles) on December 28. They began their journey with 11 members of which a few needed to be evacuated along the route due to extreme frostbite. I believe they were the first from India to complete such an adventure. They were extremely funny in participating in the Sunday science lecture lending to jokes about their difficult training in India without any snow.

Most expeditionists travel one-way and are then flown out. All non-governmental visitors camp with their own gear out near the Pole. Information on these along with several other unmentioned expeditions can be found on their individual websites or on http://www.thepoles.com/, of which I’ve provided the links. Many of those that adventure to the Pole succumb to extreme frostbite. One individual had frostbite so severe on his thighs that you could smell the rotting flesh. One woman was found crying in the bathroom because the horrible condition of her feet left her unable to walk and tour the station.

Distinguished visitors of note to the Pole this season were Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand, Glyn Davies, US Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa (State Department), Dr. Arden Bement, Director of the National Science Foundation along with various staff of Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science. I found it amusing to prepare bag lunches for the Prime Minister of New Zealand and her traveling party for their return trip to McTown. They had brought us several cases of fresh cherries to distribute at meal time to everyone on station.