Jan. 19, 1999
Letter 9: Visitors
Someone asked me not long ago if we receive any unexpected guests at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Although they are never unexpected, we do receive visitors. Our guests are comprised of Trans-Antarctic expeditions, distinguished visitors (we call them DVs), and a few tourists.
The Trans-Antarctic expeditions tend to generate the most excitement and enthusiasm of all of our visitors. Ola Skinnarmo was our first such guest. Ola is a 26-year old Swede who is the youngest person ever to complete such an Antarctic expedition. He departed from Hercules Inlet on the coast at the Weddell Sea on Nov. 5, 1998 and skied the 1,500 km solo and unsupported (no airdrops of provisions) to our station in only 47 days. He had enough food in his sledge for 58 days. Having good health with no frostbite and fairly good weather for most of the journey, Ola looked like he'd simply gone out for an afternoon ski. Les and I were part of the group of 10 people who rushed off to the South Pole marker to welcome and congratulate him when he arrived. Like most of our NGA (non-governmental activities) guests, Ola agreed to give a presentation about his adventure. He mesmerized a full house audience in our galley on Dec. 23rd with his humor, life's turning point story triggering the conception of his goals, his mental and physical training for this event and his tales of survival alone on the ice. Throughout, Ola interspersed his candid philosophy of life. If you follow such events, you may find him in speaking engagements or media in the future. Ola's web site is in Swedish at: http://www.sydpolen.com.
Photo by Sandi Kolb.
Ohba Mitsuro, a 45-year-old Japanese adventurer and Trans-Antarctic skier, arrived at the South Pole marker at exactly midnight on New Year's Eve to little fanfare. When Les informed Ohba of his 12:00 a.m. arrival time, it was both shocking and thrilling to him because it was totally unplanned. I was working in Comms when a beaker called me from the Clean Air Building (Atmospheric Research Observatory) to ask if we were expecting someone. He said he spotted a skier pulling a sledge coming our way. While most of the station danced the night away to midnight revelry, Les rushed out to the South Pole with the video camera to document his arrival. Later Les told me that he was one of three people at the pole to greet Ohba and that he was the only one to actually film Ohba's arrival. Once Les, Jerry, and Floyd brought Ohba to the galley for some food, Les covered the radios for me so I could dash over to congratulate him. Because Ohba experienced frostbite his face was painful to see, but he radiated happiness. Within 3 days he looked much better. Ohba was here for about one week while he waited for his contracted expedition support agency to fly in his resupply of food and other provisions by Twin Otter. The agency's photographer also arrived on the Twin Otter for Ohba's photo shoot before he skied off for the remainder of his Trans-Antarctic expedition. Ohba, like Ola, was skiing solo but for a much greater distance. Ohba began his adventure on Nov. 10th at Dronning Maud Land via the South Pole to Fletcher Island, Ellsworth Land comprising a total distance of 4,070 km. Ohba told me that his pick-up date out of Antarctica was set for Feb. 20, 1999. When I expressed concern about the lateness of the date and our quickly approaching winter, he was not at all worried. If Ohba succeeds in his goal, he will become the first person to complete solo treks across both Antarctica and the frozen Arctic Ocean. In 1997, Ohba became the first person to solo the Arctic after frostbite had taken all his toes in his 1995 attempt to cross it. Because Ohba did not change to New Zealand time while here, he frequently came to Comms to chat with Les and me during our night shift. One night Les assisted Ohba with amateur radio communications to Japan, his homeland. They made about 20 contacts and had a fabulous time. Les says this is the philosophy of "ham" radio at its best. I took several photos of this session. Ohba gave me this address for his English web site: http://ohba.online.co.jp/ohba/o-frm.htm. For the Japanese site go to: http://ohba.online.co.jp/ and then scroll and click on the English language icon. I visited Ohba's web site yesterday morning and was both touched and astounded by his biography. Les and I sensed the specialness of his personality and now we know why.
The French expedition of 5 skiers, Group Militaire de Haute Montagne from Chamonix, France arrived at the South Pole on Jan. 10th around 8:30 a.m. Les and I were in Comms having just finished work, breakfast, and putting on our ECW clothing when Martin called on his hand-held radio saying he spotted the group. We immediately took off for the South Pole practically running up Heartbreak Hill (also called Heart Attack Hill and Cardiac Hill) from the dome and were by far the first to arrive as they skied to the pole marker. Much handshaking and chatter followed as Les filmed and I snapped photos first with our cameras and then theirs. We never imagined that our French would be so convenient here as it was when we welcomed and congratulated the skiers at their arrival and talked to them about their adventures during the following days. This French military ski group is a part of the Mountain Division of the French Army and the French Military Mountain School. While on their 50 day unsupported Antarctic expedition, the team members tested equipment at high altitude and parcticipated in medical studies for the French military. They consumed 6,000 calories per person per day and included around 80 kilograms of dried food per person for 55 days in their supplies. Each of the 5 sledges weighed 130 kilograms total and not only included the food but also about 10 kilograms of gas for cooking, the tents and sleeping bags, clothing and all provisions. Their sledges were emblazoned with the insignia of their expedition: The Challenge of The Three Poles. When I asked why, they explained that 3 of their group conquered Mt. Everest in expeditions during 1993 and 1997, 4 members completed a 55 day unsupported trek to the North Pole in 1996, and now all 5 have achieved the third part of their challenge, the South Pole! The French expedition team members are: Cap. Thierry Bolo, group leader; Lt. Antoine de Choudens, Maj. Bernard Virelaude, SCH. Antoine Cayrol and Adj. Francois Bernard. If you read French and would like further information, their web site address is: http://www.defence.gouv.fr. Lt. De Choudens told me to scroll and click on "armee de terre" and continue on to the Antarctica icon to locate their expedition.
The French expedition, Group Militaire de Haute Montagne
Photo by Sandi Kolb.
Coen Hofstede, a 33 year old geophysicist, and Ronald Naar, a 43 year old professional climber, photographer and author, from The Netherlands arrived on Jan. 11th, the day after the French expedition arrived. The Dutch Trans-Antarctic Expedition began their unsupported adventure on Nov. 8th at Blue 1 in Dronning Maud Land (near South Africa). They crossed over the Drygalsk Mountains covering a distance of 2,200 km in 60 days before reaching the South Pole. Their original goal was to continue to McMurdo via the Axel Heiberg Glacier to cover a total distance of 3,780 km. Because they used parasails, calling them kites, they planned their course according to favorable winds versus straight line of travel and were unable to cover the distances they hoped due to low seasonal winds. Although they continued skiing from the South Pole a couple days later, they were not planning on continuing the entire distance to McMurdo before asking for air pick up. At their joint presentation with the French Expedition in the galley on Jan. 12th, Ronald briefly mentioned their sponsorships covering the $500-$600,000 costs of this expedition for two. Among the 6 or more sponsors supporting them, he discussed the sponsorship of a European aspirin company that was interestingly promoting the use of one aspirin each day for the prevention of frostbite and high altitude illness on such expeditions. Coen and Ronald, like Ohba, did not switch over to New Zealand time while here. The evening before they sailed off into infinity, they spent several hours chatting with Les and me in Comms during our night shift. The web site address for the Dutch expedition is: http://www.tpgantarctica.nl.
We are still anxiously awaiting the arrival of Icetrek, the Peter Hillary (son of Sir Edmund) expedition group, supported by Antarctica New Zealand (ANZ) making it a science event. In addition to Peter Hillary, Eric Phillips and Jon Muir comprise this team of 3 trekkers who are being sponsored by Iridium. They left Scott Base near McMurdo on Nov. 4th and had planned to ski to the South Pole and return. This round-trip was estimated to take a maximum of 100 days. However, they have encountered many difficulties along the way and will not be completing the return portion of their expedition. The latest information our station manager has received on the Peter Hillary party is that they expect to arrive here between Jan. 25, Monday, and Jan. 27, Wednesday. You can follow their adventure at: http://www.icetrek.com.
Photo by Sandi Kolb.
The month of January has been crammed with visits from the media. The most obvious visit was the team of four from CBS. During their three days at the South Pole it seemed as though they never slept as they attempted to capture the science, construction and daily life of our station. On the first morning of their visit, Les facilitated the CBS request for a pre-recorded telephone broadcast from the Ceremonial South Pole marker by staying after work to run many yards of telephone wire outside, make the necessary connections and run the tests just minutes prior to recording. This segment with Jerry Bowen in conversation with the news anchor was to have been aired in the U.S. on Sat., Jan. 16 from 7 to 9 a.m. EST. The longest segment will be approximately 9 minutes and will air on "CBS Sunday Morning With Charles Osgood" sometime in late February or early March. Although the exact date remains undetermined, CBS will air promos the week prior to airing. Looking ahead, CBS is working on releases for "60 Minutes" (changes in penguin populations and implications for humans), "Evening News With Dan Rather" (global warming/El Nino effects and tourism), "Weekend News" ( welcome to Antarctica and search for extra-terrestrial life) and "CBS This Morning" ( women in Antarctica). During the time CBS was here the French expedition arrived and we experienced an extremely rare and gorgeous halo display in the skies of Jan. 11th. (Halos are created by sunlight and ice crystals in the sky.) Click on the Antarctica icon of the CBS web site at: http://www.cbs.com/navbar/news.html to follow CBS in Antarctica.
During the week of Jan. 10th, four groups of journalists arrived. Curt Suplee from the Washington Post was primarily interested in writing about S. Pole science research projects and new station construction. His arcticles are tentatively scheduled for publication beginning in February. A writer from the New Scientist, Gabrielle Walker, was mainly interested in astronomy and astrophysics and station daily life. Bob Boyd from Knight-Ridder focused on astronomy and astrophysics research while Jack Williams from USA Today was primarily interested in climate and ozone monitoring, halos, and S. Pole weather forecasting.
Early in the season there was a visit from congressional science committee staffers who all have input for funding of the U.S. Antarctic Program: Phil Kiko, Steve Eule, Skip Stiles, Mark Powden and Suzanne Day. There have also been several visits from various NSF (National Science Foundation) and ANZ (Antarctica New Zealand) delegates. During the last week of January we are expecting DVs from the U.S. Dept. of Energy as well as from the House of Representatives. This weekend we are looking forward to a visit from the Chilean Air Force arriving in two Twin Otters and a Blackhawk helicopter. This will be an unusual experience as most of us have never seen a helicopter landing at the South Pole!
Tourists are few and far between, but there are some each austral summer. Tourists travel to Punta Arenas, Chile and are flown by a private adventure company to their base camp at Patriot Hills, Antarctica. After frequently waiting days for weather to clear, they arrive by Twin Otter at the South Pole Station where they visit for only about 3 hours before their return flight of approximately 4½ to 5 hours to Patriot Hills. I've heard from various people that the company charges roughly $25,000 to $30,000 per person. This is in addition to roundtrip travel costs to Chile from point of origin. As far as I can tell there have been less than 10 tourists so far this season.
Our South Pole web site address is: http://www.spole.gov. Here you will find our up-to-the minute weather, latest flight schedule (flights are mostly cargo for new station construction and standard station resupply), satellite rise times (our live internet connection to the world), movie data base, local science project links and USAP (U.S. Antarctic Program) grantee web site list. Click on "Other South Pole Events" and again on "Spectacular halo display at South Pole" to see rare photos of the great South Pole halo display of Jan. 11th, computer simulation, explanations and data. Under "What a New Year's Day!" click on "Roger & Donna tie the knot!" and "Moving the geographic pole" to see photos of these special events.
We are in the midst of an Antarctic storm. Early Thursday morning, Jan. 21, I noticed from the weather observations I was reporting that wind speed was increasing. Since then, visibility has been down to 400 meters with winds gusting up to 32 knots. Both inbound flights on Thursday aborted due to weather and all flights were cancelled today. The forecast does not look for improved conditions until Saturday night. The skiway will need grooming before aircraft can land once the storm clears.
Following is a 1998 summary of South Pole Station weather prepared by station meteorologists Victoria, John, and Dar.
amateur radio: NE7V
Month Temperature (C) Winds (Kts) Dep. From Avg Peak Max Min Avg Normal Spd Dir Spd Date January -20.9 -39.2 -27.8 +0.3 7.6 360 21 8th February-26.4 -54.0 -38.8 +2.0 8.0 060 20 3rd March -41.8 -64.3 -53.1 +0.9 9.8 040 21 15th April -44.6 -74.0 -62.4 -5.2 9.6 090 23 3rd May -34.9 -75.8 -58.6 -0.5 11.6 010 35 17th June -37.2 -72.8 -55.9 +2.5 9.5 040 24 28th July -44.4 -75.6 -59.4 +0.2 12.4 020 37 10th August -46.9 -74.1 -63.2 -3.5 11.0 020 28 2nd September-46.1 -76.7 -63.6 -4.3 9.8 080 26 12th October -37.9 -66.8 -55.0 -3.8 10.1 010 25 12th November-23.5 -48.8 -37.6 +0.7 12.5 020 36 3rd December-22.2 -34.8 -29.0 -1.2 6.2 030 22 2nd 1998 Climatological Summary >From January 1, 1998 Through December 31, 1998 UTC Temperatures: Avg Temp....................... -50.5 (C) / -58.9 (F) Departure from normal... -1.1 (C) /-2.0 (F) Max Temp...................... -20.9 (C) / -5.6 (F) on January 9th Min Temp....................... -76.7 (C) / -106.1 (F) on September 3rd Sky Cover: Avg Sky Cover ............... 6/10th / 5/8th Days clear... 104 Days partly cloudy... 96 Days cloudy... 164 Wind: Avg wind speed.................. 11.4 mph or 9.9 kts Departure from normal....... -1.0 mph or 0.9 kts Max gust............................. 43 mph or 37 kts on July 10th Max gust direction.............. From Grid Northeast Vectored wind direction...... 048 degrees Vectored wind speed........... 7.7 kts Prevailing direction............. Grid North Station Pressure (millibars): Avg pressure........................ 678.8 mbs Departure from Normal....... -2.6 mbs Highest pressure................... 699.2 mbs on January 14th Lowest pressure.................... 654.7 mbs on May 2nd Physio-altitude in feet and meters: Average physio-alt = 10674 ft / 3253 m Highest physio-alt = 11597 ft / 3535 m on May 2nd Lowest physio-alt = 9912 ft / 3021 m on January 14th Visibility: 67 days with visibility of 1/4 mile or less. Prepared by: Victoria Campbell, John Gallagher, and Dar Gibson