Light Ground Traverse: I was the team leader on a 1500 mile tractor traverse across East Antarctica that started at theSouth Pole Station and arrived just above the Dry Valleys. We departed South Pole Stations with two Caterpillar tractors and several sleds for cargo, fuel and living modules. There were several objectives we needed to achieve on the traverse and we were leaving on this traverse knowing we would constantly be challenged with our ability to tow all of the weight of the supplies needed.
Our first objective was to locate a weather tower several hundred miles from South Pole Station. Armed only with coordinates which were several years old, we knew that the ice sheet had been moving so finding the station would be a challenge. Upon arriving at the last known coordinates, the weather station was no where to be seen. We knew it would be likely buried by tens of feet of snow, but believed that at least a few feet of its thee antennas would still remaining above grade. After searching the area for a couple of hours—often times using ground penetrating radar to detect the steel tower below surface—we gave up sometime around 2 AM up since we needed to continue our traverse in the morning. As the team leader, I was starting to feel depressed not only about our continuous struggles since we left South Pole Station, but we were going to fail our first objective.
After finishing up our hot breakfast, one of the crew members—John—went outside to smoke. Moments after he lit up, he called out that he spotted something in the distance. I went outside to see what it was and sure enough enough we could see the sun flashing off some metal a hundred yards away. After walking over, we discovered it was the top 2 feet of the weather tower poking through the snow. Elated by the discovery, we quickly flagged it with bamboo markers and took a new GPS reading as instructed by the science groups. It's funny to think that the previous day we looked in this area, but only until the sun had shifted into the late evening positions, did John see it reflect off the changing sun as he smoked a cigarette. We left the weather station with our spirits high and looked forward to the long journey ahead.