I’ve been told that people who go out there, in the summer, when they do go out there, which isn’t often, usually take a snow machine. We are on foot.
“Man, I can’t believe how warm it feels!” It is -34F, -60F with wind chill. Fortunately, this wind isn’t blowing much, so it’s closer to -34F. Which somehow doesn’t actually feel that cold. Because we live at the South Pole. And the South Pole is really cold.
The sun is out and visibility is unhindered. Which only matters depending on the direction of travel. If it’s travel out, visibility doesn’t matter – pick a direction and there will be ice. Travel in, however, is greatly aided by clear visibility. Otherwise, the station, as close as it may be, maybe only a ½ mile, would be difficult to see and navigate to. Outside of our station bubble, there are no landmarks. Clear visibility when looking out doesn’t really matter. It is flat, white and frozen. There are no clouds today, so we get a full glimpse of the desert. There is nothing. Only white and sun. We are at the End of the World. And the South Pole is barren.
“Take your gloves off for 30 seconds, then it feels cold!!” It’s true. We are both bundled up. Layers of down and thick canvas from head to toe. Faces covered by thick fleece; fleece frozen with snot and exhalation. There is only a slit between a fleece hat and a face fleece. The slit is covered with goggles, because the sun is out and snow blindness happens fast. It does feel warm. Because we are insulated against our environment from head to toe, without a single patch of bare skin. Because it is summer at South Pole. And the South Pole is exposed.
I wear goggles and carry glacier sunglasses. My breath will escape up from my face fleece and fog up my goggles. The fog will freeze. I have tried different breathing patterns to no avail. Breathing techniques will only delay the freezing fog and diminished vision. I switch to my sunglasses and hike my face fleece up just a bit. The built-up ice in my goggles will melt in my pocket and I will switch back. I have used these same glacier glasses on mountains the world over, at altitudes higher than this. I have never had any problems with them. But here, they aren’t quite dark enough. Because it is summer at South Pole. And the South Pole is glaring.
There is a little snow ledge at the End of the World. It is only a few feet tall. Somehow, it feels right to walk to the edge of the ledge and jump. So, we do. From here, everything is behind us. Life besides ours, safety, warmth, shelter – it is all behind us. We look out and see only the nothing. We sit down against the embankment and enjoy the view. Until goggles freeze up again and the view is lost. Because South Pole is inhospitable.
We trudge back to our station, the ice building back up inside my googles the whole way. After changing back into more humane clothing, I make my way to the galley. And warm up a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. And add some mint chocolate chip ice cream on top of the warm cookie. Cold, barren, exposed and glaring, the South Pole may be inhospitable, but the South Pole station isn’t.
So, I eat my warm, melty, ice cream adorned cookie. Because I can.