South Pole: ‘A magnificent, desolate place’

Published 8:27 pm Saturday, March 14, 2009

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Troy attorney Tim Magee must have a hundred thousand “words” or more.

Magee literally bounced in his chair from excitement as he scrolled through the hundreds of photographs from his trip to the South Pole in January.

For Magee, the trip “south” was the realization of a longtime dream of joining an elite group of adventurers who have visited both Poles – those who have been to the top of the world and to the bottom of the earth.

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Magee took a long, deep breath before he tried to describe the elation he felt when he stood at the Geographic South Pole and could, at long last, say, “I did it. I have been to the North Pole and now I’m standing at the South Pole.”

“It was awesome. It exceeded all expectations,” he said.

The Poles are about 22,000 miles apart, the way the crow flies, and Magee said being there in the interior … at the South Pole, he realized how vastly different the Poles are.

“One’s water and the other’s land,” he said. “The North Pole sits on ice and the South Pole has a continent under all its ice. But they are both windy and cold, so cold. Each one has a beauty of its own.”

Magee was a member of a group of adventures who signed on with a private company that leads expeditions to the South Pole.

“In addition to the South Pole Expedition, we had mountaineers and snowboarders with us,” he said. “We flew from Punta Arenas, Chile on Jan. 10. We were actually six days late leaving because we had to wait for near perfect weather conditions. We arrived at Camp Patriot Hills on the coast of Antarctica and spent several days there waiting to fly to the interior.”

Magee said about 30,000 people visit Antarctica each year but only a few hundred venture to the South Pole.”

“I was impressed by the beauty of Antarctica,” he said. “The Ellsworth Range surrounded our base camp. I didn’t know the mountains would be so impressive. And, the glacier ice – the blue ice – has been there for millions of years. Even though it was the Austral Summer, it was extremely cold but the sun was so hot that it would burn you. It was 28 below – beach weather in the Antarctica.”

The adventurers slept in clam tents that were warmed by solar panels. The Antarctic Treaty of Nations decreed that no waste could be left to mar the pristine environment.

“All human waste was kept frozen in tubs and transported out,” Magee said.

“It’s a pristine place like no other in the world.”

When the time finally came to make the trip into the interior – to the place only a few have seen, Magee said everyone was excited and anxious about the adventure before them.

“We flew on a small plane through a pass in the Transarctic Mountains,” he said. “The mountains are actually the tail-end of the Andes Mountains. They run under the ocean and into Antarctica.”

The flight to the South Pole was six hours and included a stopover in the Thiel Mountains for refueling.

“I’ve never seen so much white in my life,” Magee said. “Flying over Antarctica, I could see why it’s called the Great White Continent. All you could see was snow and ice. It was mind boggling to think that the ice never melts so it’s been there for millions of years.”

The South Pole Expedition arrived without incident at the South Pole and the Amundson-Scott South Pole Station.

“The station itself is a wonder,” Magee said. “The first stations that were built were, in a short time, covered with snow and ice. The Amundson-Scott station took eight years to build and is built on stilts so that it can be jacked up as the snow builds ups.”

The group visited the Amundson-Scott Station and its employees – 130 of them.

“They have a club, the 300 Club, that’s not easy to get in,” Magee said.

“When the temperature reaches 100 below, they strip to nearly bare bones, get in a 200-degree sauna and then hop out and run around the Geographic South Pole marker and run back and jump in the sauna.”

Magee said the distance from the sauna around the pole is about 50 yards so it’s much farther than a hop, skip and a jump.

“We each took turns at the Geographic South Pole,” Magee said.

“We got items that we had taken stamped with ‘Geographic South Pole’ as souvenirs. And, of course, we took photographs. Not many people ever go there and you want evidence that you’ve been.” On the first day of January a brass marker is placed on the Geographic South Pole indicating the exact South Pole for that year.

The South Pole sits on a thick shell of ice that moves 10 to 30 meters each year. The marker designates the exact location of the South Pole at 90 degrees south.

“We all went to the Ceremonial South Pole where the flags of the Antarctic Treaty of Nations signatory states are posted,” Magee said. The six-hour, 600-mile flight back to Camp Patriot Hills gave Magee time to absorb what he had seen but the full impact of being at the bottom of the world hasn’t really sunk in just yet. “It was an amazing trip,” he said. “The trip of a lifetime. The South Pole is almost impossible to describe. I just kept thinking, ‘Wow! This is crazy. I’m on a different planet. It’s a magnificent place. A magnificent, desolate place. I never could have imagined what it would be like. It’s impossible to describe.” Magee is still on a natural high and he might never come back down to earth.