1,536th

Antarctica is like to no place else on earth with its unique natural beauty and perilous harshness. It can be a surreal experience when I look outside some days and I come to the realization of where I am and how special of a place this truly is. As the suns begins to set beyond the horizon and we stride into the unescapably darkness that is upon us, a sense of anticipation of the grandeur of the night sky that awaits is settling in.

It is in this anticipation and understanding of the spectacular experience that awaits that I realize how fortunate I am to be here. However, the long, cold, and harsh winter that comes with it is the reason that I’m only the 1,536th person in history to ever spend a winter here at the bottom of the world. With the beauty comes living in a place where the environment is not meant for life. Human beings let alone of any living organism for that matter are just not meant to survive in these extremes. Modern technological advancements have made life considerably comfortable inside the station however it’s a constant battle with Mother Nature daily.

I have heard the phrase from many people whom have had spent considerable amounts of time here at The South Pole about how this place is constantly trying to kill you. It can be difficult to describe the level of cold that we experience here in the winter. It’s a bone chilling bitter cold that will humble even the most audacious and heroic of men. The Sun is just now setting and we have already reached temperatures as low as -80 degrees Fahrenheit with wind chills in the range -120 degrees. Most winters the temperature will at some point drop near or around -110 with the record being -117. In reality, however, the wind are what are dangerous, -80 with 15-20 knot winds are far more dangerous and difficult to deal with than -100 with little to no wind.

In conjunction with the virulent cold we are also faced with the challenge of living at a considerable altitude of 9,300 feet which is in fact closer to 11,000 feet of physiological altitude due to the thinner air at the bottom of the world. Living at altitude affects everyone differently but everyone is affected in some way or the other. It can take up to just a day or two to a few weeks or more to acclimate while some are never able to safely acclimate. This is all due to the lack of oxygen in higher altitudes which can cause serious illness and difficulties in many. Most people are able to adapt but it does have its noticeable effects on most whether it’s periods of difficulty breathing, headaches, and fatigue or considerable weight loss.

The South Pole and Antarctica as a whole is also extremely dry. One of the driest places on earth in fact. The majority of the continent particularly the interior is considered a desert, a cold ice covered desert, but a desert none the less. Here at the South Pole we receive less than 4 inches of precipitation a year in the form of snow or ice crystals. Due to the consistent winds and the small, light, and granulated snow and ice crystals that cover the region we see considerable amounts of blowing snow and drifting that make it seem as if it is snowing when in fact it’s not. The dryness can have its effects on you particularly for a person like myself who has spent the majority of my life in the balmy humidity of Southeast Texas. It’s a constant battle with keeping enough lotion on your skin to keep it healthy particular your hands. There is also the chronic crusty blood nose that pretty much everyone down here suffers with and enviably comes to terms with.

As we head into the darkness of winter we will be faced with the lack of sunlight for the next 6 months which can have its psychological effects due to lack of Vitamin D that you naturally receive from sunlight. There is also the consideration that as human beings we naturally crave sunlight. The lack there of can affect your mood which is compounded with the fact that we are surrounded by the same 39 other people in the most isolated place on earth. Despite the lack of sunlight and that some of us will inevitably start getting on each other’s nerves at some point I’m confident with the amazing group of 40 that we have that any form of winter craziness will be mild and harmless at that. It’s in the imminent moments of absolute solitude while looking up into the cosmos that will bring upon healthy self-reflection and extensive realization of our place in the universe.

Despite all the challenges that comes with living at The South Pole they are miniscule to extraordinary experiences and fulfillment this place can bring to a person’s life. I’m forever grateful for this opportunity as it has not only opened up to the wonderful frozen world of Antarctica but has lead me to a life of travel that I once only dreamed and imagined.

 

Zeke Mills

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

21 March 2018 NZD

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The Dichotomies of a Life Well Traveled!!!

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We are going on 2 weeks since the last plane left us 40 Souls here at The South Pole to endure the long and cold winter ahead. The temperatures have quickly began to drop as the sun gets closer and closer to the horizon as we are only 3 weeks away from the official Sunset here at The South Pole. We only have one Sunset and one Sunrise a year here which means 6 months of constant light and 6 months of constant darkness. A fascinating fact is that the end of the year we will experience the same amount of sunlight and darkness as everyone else on earth, however, allocated a bit differently.

Growing up in the swamps of Southeast Texas, I never in million years would believe I would one day be living in a place like the South Pole and have the opportunity to travel and explore the world like I currently have the enjoyment of being able to do. There is so much to learn when you leave the confines of your comfort zone and trek out into the unknown world. As much as I travel the world, learn, and experience new places my home will always be home. Antarctica will forever be my second home with a special place in my heart but never truly be my home.

Come June and July when we are deep into the cold and dark South Pole Winter, the difference in temperature between here and back home in Groves, Texas will many days be equivalent to the difference between the freezing and boiling points of water. Yet both places, no matter how extremely different, are the two places in the world that I feel the most part of the community and a sense of home than any place in the world. What I find to be one of the most interesting dichotomies in my life is that no matter how much I travel and relish in what world the world has to offer and see places very few people get to experience, at the of the day, I see myself most likely settling down and living out the most of the years of my life in my small town in Texas. I honestly believe that it’s my travels and excursions away from home that have given me such an appreciation for it. Yes, I’m a vagabond bouncing around the world in search for my place in it, but I’ll always be a Groves, Texas boy through and through. Traveling the world changes you but it doesn’t change who you are.

Zeke Mills

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

March 4th, 2018 NZD

 

 

 

 

The Dimming of The Light

It’s been nearly 4 months since I left for my second deployment to what’s become my home away home in the frozen and wild lands of Antarctica. I have spent the majority of the last year and half on this continent but I still myself awestruck almost daily by the splendor of its raw beauty. As spectacular and unique these lands can be however, it’s not the entire reason myself and many others are drawn to return this place year after year. The unique community of Scientist and Trades-Workers that make up the populations of the camps and stations scattered throughout these desolate and ice-covered lands can leave many of those who have been blessed to experience them longing to return.

This past weekend, the last official plane of the 2018 Austral Summer Season took flight out of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station leaving behind myself and 39 others to live through the longest, darkest, coldest, and harshest winter on earth. It’s truly an honor to be a part of such an amazing group people to experience something very few people in the history of the world have ever had the opportunity to do. Going into this season, less than 1500 people since we first established a permanent Science Station here at the South Pole in 1956 have spent a winter here.

We are roughly 3 weeks away from Sun dipping below the horizon and not returning to shine its heavenly light upon us again until September. For the majority of us and particularly those of us who have been here since November and have been exposed to 24 hours of sunlight for the last 4 months are anxious for the bright ball in the sky to take a rest.

The inevitable darkness that is upon us will bring us a view of the cosmos like no place on earth. It’s the one thing I look forward to the most as we progress into this winter. I had the opportunity to experience spectacular Aurora and star filled night skies last year at McMurdo Station but nothing will compare to what we will see and experience this coming South Pole winter. There truly is no better place on earth to witness with the naked the eye the brilliance of the cosmos.

As light the begins dim and my fellow South Pole Winter Polies and I head into one of the most unique experiences on the planet, I will do my best to keep up with writing and providing some insight on our lives down here at the bottom of the world.

 

Zeke Mills

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station

February 27th, 2018 NZD