Friday, January 20, 2012

Lonely Lenin

Fifty four years ago today, on January 20th 1958, Sir Vivian Fuchs arrived at the south pole after having left Shackleton base on the 24th of November 1957. Fuchs was leading the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition which would be the first land crossing of the Antarctic. When he got there Sir Edmund Hillary had already been waiting for 17 days. Hillary’s team’s tractor train had left from Scott base, and had set up supply drops for the final leg of Fuchs’s team’s trans-Antarctic expedition.

When Hillary arrived he found a group of 20 Americans led by Rear Admiral George Dufek. In 1956 Dufek with Captain Cordiner, Captain Hawks, and the pilot Lieutenant Commander Shinn became the first Americans to set foot on the south pole after flying there on a R4D (C-47) Skytrain. After wandering around in the snow for a few pictures they attempted to fly back to McMurdo Station, but the plane’s skis were stuck fast. They fired off 11 JATO bottles at once to break the plane free.

In October of 1956 work on the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station had begun. Hundreds of tons of materials were airdropped onto the South Pole. The base was finished in March of 1957. Eighteen Americans overwintered there that first year. Temperatures reached -74 F. The station has been inhabited ever since; though rebuilt and expanded several times.

Not to be outdone the Soviets established a base at the South Pole of Inaccessibility (SPI) in 1958. The SPI is the location on the continent farthest inland from any point. The Soviets put up a building and topped it with a gold bust of Lenin. The base was abandoned because it was too far away from anything to be practical.

On the 19th of January 2007 (or the 20th depending on how you interpret the international dateline at the south pole) team N2i (Rory Sweet, Rupert Longsdon, Henry Cookson and Paul Landry) arrived at the abandoned SPI station after traveling the 1032 miles it took to get there on foot and kite-ski. The Soviet SPI station was covered in snow; only Lenin’s bust remained visible. They flew out on a Russian-piloted DC-3.

Hillary flew from the South Pole to McMurdo station shortly after Fuchs arrived. Just before Fuchs completed the first-ever trans-Antarctic expedition on March 2nd Hillary was flown out to him so they could gloriously enter Scott Base together.

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