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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

From McMurdo to the South Pole

The stars finally aligned on November 2nd as we made the 900-mile, 3-hr trip to the South Pole on the first Hercules landing of the season.  The day started as many of the last several days, with an 8 AM scheduled take off, which would be delayed all day long because of weather conditions.  The wind, the temperature, and the visibility, all must be within prescribed limits both at the South Pole and at McMurdo for a successful flight.  While waiting for the weather to improve on the sea ice runway we met the Italian expedition.  They arrived on a C17 carrying along two helicopters.  They would unload the helicopters and fly them to their base 300 miles away.  We exchanged stories and took photos.  Our window of opportunity opened up at 4:30 PM, when we took off on what must be the most spectacular flight in the world. 

We woke up on Nov 2nd to wind gusts of 40 knots, which stripped the surrounding mountains of the snow that had fallen the previous week, and engulfed us in clouds of drifting ice crystals.

Riccardo is my counterpart in the Italian expedition to the Mario Zucchelli base.  The Italians are renowned in McMurdo for their stylish outfits.

Boarding the ski-equipped LC-130 that will take us this time to the South Pole.

Inside the LC-130.

The cockpit.

The pilots' view.

Flying over the Transantarctic Mountains.

Landing at the South Pole.

Walking from the runway to the South Pole Station under sunny skies and -47 F (-44 C) temperature.

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