South Pole Traverse

Back when I said everything comes on a Hercules I lied. It’s hard to get facts, but the rumor says that it takes five gallons of fuel to fly in one. There must be a better way.

A long drive and no Stuckey's Pecan Log Rolls

A long drive and no Stuckey’s Pecan Log Rolls


A few days ago SPoT 1 rolled into town after 26 days of hard wheeling. Their route is well-marked from past years, both with real physical flags and accurate GPS readings. They had some rough days, like the 18th, when they made almost no progress. It takes a certain kind of badd to get in some highly funky vehicles and drive 1,000 miles from McMurdo to the South Pole. Actually, it takes twelve of the nicest people I’ve met so far.

If I woke up in the traverse galley and you told me I was on a boat, I’d believe you. It has that spartan and functional look. Other people said it reminded them of an RV, and that’s a fair comparison. Boats, RVs, and the traverse quarters have an economy of purpose and design which I find admirable. They are basically well-insulated, well heated, wood-framed buildings on skids. I was also reminded of the Circus Train. [Please, no “freaks and clowns” speculation. Like I said, the nicest.]

Decorative touches are important to feeling at home

Decorative touches are important to feeling at home


There are eight berths off the galley, four aft and four uhh fore. It can get a bit crowded when everyone tries to get up at the same time. The kind of people who do this can self-organize; without ever actually discussing it, they end up getting up at staggered times, hanging out in different places, and generally giving one another enough room.

Look at them skids

Look at them skids


The vehicles are on skids, and pulled by some serious machines. In addition to the main living quarters, there is another bunkhouse for four called Faulty Towers, a food storage building, a generator building that also contains the shower and an incinerating toilet. Poop always ends up somewhere.

Find the Easter egg

Big innit?


This is an example of the kind of monster vehicle the traverse uses. Someone was telling me a story at McMurdo … she had a handful of boy-cousins and was trying to convince them to come to the Antarctic to work by sending them pictures of women at the station, but that wasn’t working. Then she switched to sending them pictures of the heavy machinery, and they started to apply. That wasn’t my motivator, but I can see it happening. These pups are spec’ed to operate at -60F, but typically aren’t getting much under -40F. There are a lot of repairs the crew can do on the road, but the goal is to drive through. I don’t know if it has ever happened, but repairs they can’t do on the road, I think they just abandon the vehicle and figure to come back later, or fly in a repair crew on a Twin Otter. This trip, they were having some problem with some of the grease in the wheel bearings, and just pushed through. Ruining the bearings is better than leaving the vehicle.

Fuel is the main load from SPoT 1

Fuel is the main load from SPoT 1

There are 11 heavy vehicles on SPoT 1 this year, and they are pulling big loads over the snow. The major part of the load is fuel. While the Hercs take 5 gallons to deliver a gallon, the traverse takes “only” a half-gallon. SPoT 1 left McMurdo with 48 bladders containing 3,000 gallons each. They have a complex plan of picking up and using caches and dropping off other caches, not to mention that they do use some fuel themselves, so they arrived with about 64,000 gallons.

One of the traverse drivers just dropped in, and says that the most amazing part [aside from himself] is the drive up the glacier; blue ice and crevices on either side.

The Best Part. Aside from Storm

The Best Part. Aside from Storm

SPoT 1 you say? Indeed there’s also a SPoT 2. My understanding is that SPoT 2 left McMurdo with some ambitions and new designs, got not very far and turned back to McMurdo. The SPoT 1 buildings have 4 independent skids; SPoT 2 had fewer degrees of freedom. The buildings began to twist, doors wouldn’t oen and close. SPoT 1 now has a bunch of extra missions. When they are done with repairs here they are going to go out and clean up after SPoT 2, and coming back here. The schedule has them racing into McMurdo around sunset, which is crazy-late for something like that. Wish them all the best.

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One response to “South Pole Traverse

  1. Great article Barry,
    Just returned to Scotland from 70S 20E. where we left the six ice team guys for ‘The coldest Journey’ 2013 winter traverse. We are using D6 Caterpillars for our journey and modified shipping containers as living & science/ workshop cabooses.
    The guys will be hoping to arrive Pole, mid winter. Then on down the Leverett/ Ross Shelf route to McMurdo by September 2013.
    See our bloggs/ info at http://www.thecoldestjourney.org & Facebook.
    Will be following you articles
    Best
    Duncan

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