Sunday, December 01, 2013

Traverse Open House

Yesterday the South Pole Traverse team held an open house, allowing us stationary folk a chance to sample the Antarctic commuter lifestyle. The main purpose of the traverse is to deliver huge bladders of fuel, eight 4000 gallon bladders per tractor. The statistic I've heard is that one traverse can transport 40 flights of fuel.

There are eight tractors hauling fuel along with a couple of other tractors hauling their living quarters, cargo trailer, etc. They use both Case and Caterpillar tractors.

here's also a vehicle they use for deep scanning of the snow ahead. The route is pretty well established by now, but we do dwell on a huge moving sheet of ice and crevasses can open up over a year's time, so the first traverse is careful to scan the route and make sure it's safe.

The border between the Ross Ice Shelf and the McMurdo Ice Shelf is particularly hazardous, though the guide also mentioned something dubbed the Sastrugi National Forest which sounds like it would be an awesome place to see.

They're not the only guys driving around Antarctica. The guide mentioned Russia, Greenland, and other countries, and he said the Greenland guys really know their stuff so our guys try to steal all the Greenlanders' best ideas :-)

The traverse has some of the comforts of civilization, including a laundry room and bathroom with shower. Per the Antarctic treaty they haul their "waste" back to McMurdo for disposal. The guide mentioned that, unlike Polies, they're not limited to a 2 minute shower but they do need to fill the snow melter for their showers so the length of their shower is limited by their desire to shovel snow.

There's also a kitchen where they eat and hold group meetings. Cooking duty rotates through the entire crew, but the evening cook is excused from fueling and servicing duties when they stop each night.

They can even do some outdoor cooking when the mood strikes them.
This traverse set a new record, taking only 19 days to drive from McMurdo to the Pole. In future years they may move to driving 24 hours a day to decrease the driving time, so they can jam more runs into each season. They'll also be driving to more sites around the continent. And the coolest possibility, they're looking into semi-autonomous vehicles -- a human would drive the lead vehicle and the automated vehicles would follow its path.

If you want to read more about the traverse, one of the guys is keeping a blog about his journey at

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