Tuesday, January 05, 2010

South Pole Traverse

South Pole Traverse map.

Currently, we deliver almost all of our supplies and people to the South Pole via LC-130 Hercules flown the New York Air National Guard. We also use the Hercs to deliver fuel by filling them up all the way and unloading all the fuel except what they need to get back to McMurdo. It takes 200-250 flights. The hope is that one day the traverse will be so refined that they can go up twice a year and deliver most of the fuel (hopefully, 200,000 gallons) and cargo that way. Currently, they have eight towing tractors that can each carry about 60,000 lbs. With that capacity, one successful traverse can offset 36 flights.

Pisten Bully with ground radar to find crevasses (photo by Pablo).

The traverse doesn't take the shortest route to the pole as the crow flies. They try to cross as much of the smooth ice of the Ross Ice Shelf as they can before they have to cross the Transantarctic mountains onto the polar plateau. Their smoother route is about 1,030 miles long. While this might not seem like much, they have to cross crevasse fields and snow swamps that make moving difficult. For the operators, imagine driving 5-10 mph for days at a time. It redefines enjoying the scenery on a road trip. That is slower than bike touring with even less to look at.

Part of the fleet.The first vehicle is pulling fuel bladders.

On January 4, 1958, Sir Edmund Hillary, the first to summit Everest, was the first to drive to the South Pole. It took him 81 days and 23 gallons of fuel. I believe our traverse made it in 46 days this year on December 16th. They'll get back a lot quicker because they'll be lighter and going downhill instead of climbing the 10,000 feet to the pole.


  1. I was wondering how your supplies got there. This is an utterly amazing effort, and I'm quite fascinated by it. Thank you for sharing. A little freaked out by having to search for crevasses, but a necessary exercise for sure.

  2. I'm assuming you are the same Vanessa who commented on my other post. McMurdo is on the coast and we get a vessel with all our gear there. For years, we have flown everything up to Pole with those 200+ flights. However, they hope that the traverse will change that.

    My pleasure to share. Thank you for commenting.

  3. ha! what an amusing piece of fact. last night i saw a show and learned about jetpacks...you know, like rocketman style?

    talk about learning something new everyday. in this case, i might have to render the information useless since i have neither opportunity to use jetpacks or traverses. :-P

  4. Yah it's me. I don't have a google account so I just use my name.

    So I guess the traverse a safer passage method? I mean you still have to worry about stuff too.

  5. The traverse is more dangerous than flying because they have to always scan for crevasses. However, they can transport a ton more stuff. The always use the same road so they know about where the dangers are, but they move and new ones appear.