Day 45 – Leaving South Pole

We ended up stranded at the South Pole for a week after finishing all our work.  An unfortunate combination of bad weather and mechanical issues meant flights were cancelled daily.  The South Pole may sound like a great place to be stuck, but cabin fever sets in rather quickly with no work to do.  The NSF finally pulled together support and got a Basler to retrieve 12 of us who had been waiting for a while.

All aboard! The Basler is a  refurbished DC-3, a WW2 era design.
All aboard! The Basler is a refurbished DC-3, a WW2 era design.

The Basler is smaller than a C-130 but much roomier than the Twin Otter, especially without all the extra camping equipment.  The best part is that the windows are plenty big.

There are seats for over 20 people but when half the aircraft is occupied by luggage and survival gear the maximum passenger capacity drops in half.  Still, the plane was plenty spacious and ride was very smooth.
There are seats for over 20 people but when half the aircraft is occupied by luggage and survival gear the maximum passenger capacity drops in half. Still, the plane was plenty spacious and ride was very smooth.

The first couple hours of flying looked like the South Pole, just a whole lot of flat white horizon.  Eventually we came upon the Trans-Antarctic mountains.

The mountains seemed to just rise up out of the snow in the plateau.  It was exciting to see a ground feature that wasn't white for the first time in over a month.
The mountains seemed to just rise up out of the snow in the plateau. It was exciting to see a ground feature that wasn’t white for the first time in over a month.

The Basler doesn’t fly over the mountains very well so instead it navigates a pass through the mountains.  Before long we were looking out the window directly at rock faces.

The scenery was absolutely stunning.  We were lucky to be in the Basler since the C-130 flies too high and its windows are too small to get this sort of view.
The scenery was absolutely stunning. We were lucky to be in the Basler since the C-130 flies too high and its windows are too small to get this sort of view.

This went on for more than an hour before we got through the pass and past the range.  Before we got out of the mountains, the clouds started to roll in.

It was difficult at times to tell where the snow stopped and the clouds began.  It really played tricks on my eyes.
It was difficult at times to tell where the snow stopped and the clouds began. It really played tricks on my eyes.

The clouds made for incredible photos but proved to be an issue when we got close to McMurdo and wanted to land.  The pilots had to wait for the clouds to clear up so we circled the area for about half an hour.  We had plenty of fuel so there was nothing to worry about except keeping ourselves occupied.

The first glimpse of McMurdo was a welcome sight after the long travel delay.
The first glimpse of McMurdo was a welcome sight after the long travel delay.

Once the clouds cleared we got a good view of the base before coming in for final approach.  We landed safely a little over a month after we left for the South Pole.  There is 12 hours before the next C-130 leaves for New Zealand, so our time here is short.

Our ride back to New Zealand is waiting for us.
Our ride back to New Zealand is waiting for us.

I better get out and look for penguins, I don’t have much time left!

Until next time…

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spacewx

Graduate student at the University of New Hampshire

3 thoughts on “Day 45 – Leaving South Pole”

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