South Pole Facts
- Elevation: 2,700 m (9,000 ft).
- Located on glacier ice that moves about 10 m per year.
- The ice sheet is 2,850 m thick.
- Annual snow accumulation is approximately 20 cm.
- Lowest recorded temperature: -83°C (June 1982).
- Highest recorded temperature: -12°C (January 2012).
- Annual mean temperature: -49°C.
- First explorer to reach the South Pole: Roald Amundsen, December 14, 1911.
- Robert Falcon Scott arrived January 17, 1912 (and did not return).
- First flight over the South Pole: Richard Byrd, 1929.
- First South Pole station was completed January 1957 for the International Geophysical Year (IGY).
- Second South Pole station (the Dome) was completed in 1975.
- Current Amundsen-Scott Station began operations in 2003.
- Summer population: typically 200+.
- Winter-over population: 40 to 50.
After breakfast at base camp and a final weather check by our pilots, we pack up and fly south – on the final leg of our journey to the bottom of the world. The flight takes from four to five hours and may include a stop to refuel at Thiel Mountains. But the time passes quickly and the inevitable excitement builds as we look down over the ice fields, mountain peaks, and endless, pristine snow.
Then, after all that emptiness, a tiny landmark on the horizon: South Pole Station. As we land on the ice and taxi over to the South Pole Base Camp, it’s difficult to believe we’re actually here. But the camp team makes it real – greeting us with dinner in the heated dining tent, which is also the gathering point for all indoor activities. Our hosts then help us settle into our sleeping quarters.
What to Expect
The pressure elevation at the South Pole is equivalent to roughly 3,300 m (11,000 ft), so you may feel some physical effects including shortness of breath and a mild headache. Take it easy, especially this first day, to help your body adjust. And don’t be shy about telling our hosts how you feel; they want to help ensure we’re all comfortable. (As a general rule during our time at the South Pole, we ask that you please follow all instructions from the base camp staff, which reflect agreed international protocols.)
Our camp is about 1 km (0.6 mi) from the South Pole markers and the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. A flagged route marks the path to and from camp. There’s a tented visitor center where you can learn about the South Pole station and its scientific research. (You can also purchase mementoes – this is one souvenir shop you’re unlikely to skip.) As well, you have a number of opportunities to tour Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station during our stay.
Our camp’s schedule is based on Union Glacier/Chile time (UTC-3). However, we may find ourselves keeping odd hours as we coordinate our activities with those of the Amundsen-Scott Station, which follows South Pole/New Zealand time (UTC+13).
In addition to visiting the polar markers and research facilities, you can enjoy lectures and presentations on Antarctic subjects, chat with expedition teams who’ve skied overland to the South Pole, and take part in games and activities organized by our guides.
And of course you can spend time simply contemplating the fact that you have accomplished something few people will ever have the opportunity to do. Standing at the South Pole, with only the sound of the wind in your ears, gazing out at an endless sheet of white stretching in every direction (all of them north!), it’s easy to imagine how polar explorers like Amundsen and Scott must have felt, creeping across this beautifully desolate landscape. The mere fact of being in this place is an incredible lifetime travel achievement.
Our return flight to Union Glacier is scheduled for late afternoon on our second day. Back at home base, look forward to sharing some favorite South Pole moments with your fellow adventurers over a celebratory dinner.