Notes from the Field

Merry Christmas from the South Pole!

December 26th, 2017 by Kelly Brunt

Tom and I have been very busy this week, working with our team and with the folks here on station to build the infrastructure associated with our traverse platform.

A nearly complete sled. Modules from left to right: 1) sleep module; 2) cargo module; 3) fuel and generator module; 4) kitchen module; and 5) bathroom module.

We arrived at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station about a week ago and were extremely pleased to find that the sleds for our traverse were ready for us to start rigging up our tents and gear. The folks here on station have been extremely helpful. They laid out the ‘high molecular weight’, or HMW, plastic sheets that are the foundation of our sled platform. The HWM sheets are pretty cool: they have an awesome coefficient of friction and allow for 10,000 lbs of gear to tow more like 1,000 lbs. And they are wicked slippery – you do not want to walk on this stuff. It’s much safer to walk on the surrounding ice!

A slippery HWM sled, with pallets and fuel drums.

On top of the HMW sheets of plastic, the folks here at Pole attached some special pallets that allow us to strap our gear down to plywood, as opposed to directly to the HMW plastic. Each pallet will contain things like our sleeping tents or our kitchen tent.

The pallets provide a surface area of about 8 ft by 8 ft, so we are making the most of these small spaces. Our sleeping tents (which are just run-of-the-mill mountaineering tents) barely fit on these platforms!

Tent on pallet and HMW sled.

So for added structural integrity, the tents are tied off and bolted (!) to the pallets.

Corner of a sleeping tent, bolted down.

So many folks here at Pole have been enthusiastically helpful to our project. JD, who seems to be a jack-of-all-trades, has visited our site every day and even some evenings. He’s like the South Pole Fairy, who sneaks into our site during the night and leaves exactly what we need, when we need it, including drill bits, fuel, and storage boxes. Darren the carpenter has also been out to our site nearly daily. He has been instrumental in working with our mountaineer, Forrest, to ensure that our gear (especially our tents) will travel smoothly over what might be bumpy terrain.

JD delivers cargo to our site.

By the end of this past week, given the support of folks around town, our two sleds have turned into modest living quarters, capable of withstanding the roughly three weeks of traversing on the ice sheet that lies ahead.

But just when you feel proud of your accomplishments, along comes a not-so-gentle reminder that you are just a light-weight traversing effort: The massive South Pole Traverse rolled into town, delivering fuel to the station. They passed our staging area using Caterpillar tractors, towing hard-sided sleeping and living modules.

A South Pole Traverse (SPoT) vehicle and cargo modules.

And finally, despite our best efforts, we have been slightly delayed in getting into the field. But that meant that we were able to spend Christmas here at Pole, as opposed to huddled together in our small kitchen tent, out on traverse. The station went out of its way to make folks feel warm and festive, even though we are all ~10,000 miles from home. The galley was done up special for the event and the food was simply fantastic.

Christmas dinner at South Pole.

Happy Holidays everyone! We will write again in 2018!

-Kelly and Tom


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7 Responses to “Merry Christmas from the South Pole!”

  1. Steve Neumann says:

    Another great post – thanks Kelly and Tom for putting together these updates complete with interesting tidbits and photos!

  2. C. McK says:

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! A good friend of mine and fellow graduate student from the Dauphin Island Sea Lab spent Christmas there at the station in the mid nineties. Though Instant Messaging I was able to talk with him on Christmas that year, so I know what it was like for him to be so far away from home and famiily on Christmas Day. So my thoughts and well wishes go out to all of you who are doing such amazing work to further our scientific knowledge of the planet Earth!

  3. Martin Montney says:

    Merry Christmas and a happy New Year


    LOVE these notes – what a wonderful experience.

  5. Cynthia says:

    So cool. What memories you will have in years to come.

  6. Patrick McCormick says:

    Hi Kelley, Had Christmas dinner with my son-in-law, your high school friend, Rob Harrison and have had some communication with my good friend Elaine Hood. A small world with some strange circumstances. I spent Christmas of 1956 at the Pole with the initial construction crew there. Good luck on your traverse, but above all stay safe, that place can bite and bite hard. Pat ‘Rediron’ McCormick

  7. Bill Spindler says:

    Awesome that you will not have to take time to pitch your tents! Best wishes for the traverse!