The people you meet at the bottom of the world

My favorite thing about the South Pole Station is the interesting characters you meet. This one skinny kid I sat next to in the galley is getting his PHD in astrophysics from Harvard. He spends his days interpreting the cosmic microwave background of the universe. What?! Yea, he uses data from the SPUD Telescope to look at the EDGE OF THE UNIVERSE! It’s crazy, it’s amazing, and it’s so far out there I have no idea what he’s talking about.


And folks are so talented it makes me sick. Not only do they have a specialized trade but they always have some other remarkable skill or hobby. One of the cooks playing guitar at open mic night was “John Denver” good. I’m serious. I wanted to grab that guy and yell “What are you doing here! Quit your day job and go on tour for gosh sakes!”


The Pole also attracts various adventurers and thrill seekers. Prince Harry (yes, thee Prince Harry) is skiing into Pole from a couple hundred miles out. I believe his group is raising money for wounded soldiers. With him is that really hot guy from the True Blood TV vampire series, or so I’m told. As you can imagine the women in town are going crazy. After all, this is their last chance to become a princess.


So we are on the trail again headed north, back to McMurdo. Last night we ran in to SPoT2, stopped and had a fine meal together. We hadn’t seen our friends in over a month and decided to have an impromptu party in the middle of the Polar Plateau. We arm wrestled a lot for some reason.


For the championship
For the championship


Besides us, there are four parties using our trail this year. Two of them are driving across the continent in Toyota trucks, one of them on skis, and one lady on a bicycle. We passed one of the trucks today- they are on a different time schedule than us and were asleep. With all this white snow everywhere different colors really stand out and it appears they are pooping and peeing all over the place! From their tracks it also appears that they are very interested in our fuel caches. Someday we might have to lock the fuel up somehow- perhaps behind a fence with barbwire.






Blowing up the Old South Pole Station

Old Pole Blast 12-04-13-10

Photo by Reinhart

We’ve been at Pole for 10 days now. The fuel is offloaded and our parts are here. We will probably be on the trail again Sunday.

Recently we’ve been helping the Polies locate the Old South Pole Station with our radar and hot water drill. The Old Station is completely buried and has become a hazard to those working in the area. Our friend and fellow traverser ‘Storm’ was grooming the area near Spud Telescope with a Cat tractor and fell through one of the old buildings and plummeted about 15 feet down into the ice. He could have easily been killed. The NSF has decided to destroy these undersnow buildings so this accident doesn’t happen again.

The following photos are courtesy of Philip K. Swartz Jr. M.D. who served as Officer in Charge, South Pole Station, during the U.S Navy’s Operation Deepfreeze 1960-1961.

Scientific disciplines during the summer/ winter included weather monitoring, glaciology, seismology, magnetology, aurora and ionospheric physics.

During the summer months (late 1960, early 1961) there were a variety of additional personnel at the station. There was a several-man contingent from IndMan 14 (civilians from an industrial arm of the Navy, based in Hawaii) to erect a new communications building and install a large number and variety of radio receivers and transmitters. Additionally, Dr. Carl Hamner (UCLA) and a small crew brought hamsters, cockroaches, and bean plants to the station to investigate the possibility that these organisms timed their diurnal activities by sensing the rotation of the earth. By placing cages etc. on rotating platforms, the spin of the earth could be exactly countered or doubled.

old pole

The station was built on the surface of the snow in 1957 but was soon buried under drifts. Over the years the snow accumulated and its tremendous weight would become a problem.

AA 081


The roof beginning to buckle under the enormous weight. The black cables were main power and alarm systems.

AA 089

old station

RMC (Radioman Chief) Joe Cornely, one of two Navy radiomen, maintaining communications.


Ron Witalis, U.S. Weather Bureau. Notice the pin up girls on the wall.

old station galley

One of the support tasks of the Navy crew was to provide food, but
everyone (station personnel and visitors alike) were expected to share in
the mess cook detail. Left to right are BU1 (Builder First Class)
Palazewski, next a member of the summer scientific crew, then Jim Burnham
(wintering over member scientific crew), CMH3 (Construction Mechanic Third
Class) Jose Gomez (with back to camera), & CS1 (Commissary man First Class)
Charlie Wegner (cook). There had been concerns voiced over having minorities at these small isolated
stations. Previously they had been all white. In 1960 Jose Gomez was sent to Pole,
and an African-American was sent to Byrd. The program has been fully integrated since.


Happy Hour was held once a week, with a case of beer. The beer was stored in one of the ice tunnels and was frozen. It had to be thawed for a couple of days before use. Whiskey was US Navy issue brand “Old Methuselah”

Occasionally, a bottle of gin was produced by mixing medical alcohol, water, a tablespoonful of glycerin, and a few drops of oil of juniper. Vodka could be used in place of oil of juniper. Wine was also attempted by mixing canned grape juice and baker’s yeast but the concoction was undrinkable.

AA 093

There was only one episode of drunkenness during the entire year, when one of the wintering-over crew received word his fiancé had just married someone else.


Sick bay area medical office. Storage room in the background. Until this was built, all the supplies had been in the tunnel areas and not inventoried. There were enough death certificates to issue one to everybody coming to the station for the next 20 years. The only antibiotic available was oral penicillin G that had outdated 5 years before the station had even been built! There were over 100 doses of morphine.


Flag raising at Siple’s (South) Pole winter ’61. Taken from a B&W photograph. Team had started to head to Siple’s Pole on a sled hauled by a D4, but the tractor stalled and would need re-heating to start, so they ended up walking out to the pole. Very cold (possibly -80f). Most cameras were frozen by the time they arrived there, and this is the only surviving picture.

Old Pole was completely abandoned by 1975.