An Unlikely Desert

By Chris Powell

I arrived at Base Camp in Union Glacier on Wednesday after an unforgettable flight on a solid old beast of a Russian transport plane. Antarctica is a magnificent place and unlike anything I have ever seen. It’s cold, it’s dry and it’s flat. In fact, it is a desert. South African writer Nadine Gordimer, a Nobel Prize recipient, once wrote, “The desert is a place without expectation.”

For me, this could not be further from the truth. Upon arriving in Antarctica, I can tell you I have hundreds of expectations.

Besides feeling slightly out of my physical elements, after our tour last night of Base Camp, I had the chance to meet some of the other team members. There are people here from all over the planet, and many of them are professional adventurers. In fact, on Wednesday night I overheard two guys talking in the dining tent saying, “Yes, we’ve met before… I think it was on Everest.”

Another knew someone on our plane who just completed a solo walk to the pole following Capt. Robert Falcon Scott’s route. I’m wondering if I dragged my sled enough during training. My tent-mate is Daniel, a recently graduated doctor from Australia, who is a good guy. I’m pleased to note the entire group is a nice mix of people.

As we prepare to get on the ice (as we polar explorers say), I am acutely aware of my surroundings. It’s very windy (the main reason why we moved our flight up to Wednesday) and the air humidity is near zero. The high winds cause the blowing of snowfall, so snow accumulations reach almost 8 inches per year. The sun rises once a year and gives the South Pole half a year of summer (which is now). The South Pole is always cold because the sun never rises high in the sky. So, if the cold isn’t enough, there’s the issue of altitude – 3,000 meters above sea level — that will require some acclimatization on my part, to be sure.

Already, the South Pole Energy Challenge (SPEC) team has traversed a floating ice shelf and climbed steep mountain glaciers. When my group joins the team, we will walk across an ice-covered plateau, working against strong freezing winds.

As I prepare to take my first steps toward the South Pole, I am filled with expectations – and the realization that this will be an adventure of a lifetime. Gordimer also said, “The facts are always less than what really happened.” Which is either similar or the polar (sorry) opposite to a quote often attributed to Mark Twain: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Upon my return, for those who know me well, you can be sure I will do my utmost to follow the advice of Twain.

Stay up to date with the South Pole Energy Challenge by following Robert Swan (@robertswan2041) and Chris Powell (@justpowell) on Twitter, using the hashtags: #SouthPole and #everydayremarkable