South Pole Traverse arrives!

As I mentioned before, almost everything we use here at the Pole is delivered by C-130 aircraft. Historically that includes all the fuel that is used to run vehicles here, and to heat and generate electricity for all our buildings. That’s a lot of fuel.

A few years ago they started a “traverse” over land from McMurdo to the Pole, consisting of big tractors pulling “fuel bladders”, or heavy-duty rubber bags of fuel. It’s much cheaper to get the fuel here by that route: in an airplane, for every one gallon of fuel delivered to Pole you burn another 2.5 gallons or so getting it here. By land, it’s 0.5 gallons burned to deliver 1 gallon. (I’m quoting these from poor memory, but will check and correct if they’re off – at any rate, it’s a huge efficiency difference).

They arrived, after 31 days “on the road”, here at Pole early today. By the time I got out to see what was going on they’d unhooked their fuel sleds and parked all their vehicles, but we did talk to a few of the 10 guys (one per tractor) that made the trip. Here are some of the tractors they drove.

They have to be ready for anything along the way – if a tractor or sled breaks, they have to fix it. So, they tow two trailers filled with mechanical supplies and tools, and several of the drivers are heavy-equipment mechanics. Here’s their mechanical supplies/tools trailers:

They sleep in trailers too – here’s the trailer that 8 of them sleep in, which also has a little communications center, a small kitchen and table in it.

Finally, here’s me standing in front of one of the sleds with “fuel bladders” on it. Seeing all this reminds me how odd and unique of a place I’m in – where else gets its fuel delivered like this? 31 days of driving tractors across an ice shelf, up glaciers and across the polar plateau to deliver this to us? This is indeed a place of extremes.