There seems to be a misconception about the amount of Antarctica we are exposed to. We are seeing and experiencing only a miniscule amount of the continent. Before actually getting here, I had visions of going to the South Pole, visiting different penguin rookeries, climbing Mount Erebus, seeing Mount Vinson (Antarctica’s highest peak) exploring glaciers, taking helicopter rides, and the like. But, life here is much different than I imagined. Those types of experiences are not afforded to those of us in the working class, especially a first timer, like myself. It is highly unlikely I will make it to the South Pole or Mount Erebus. I can forget about a helicopter ride.
Finances are probably the major reason for this, although other factors include safety, environmental impact, and logistics. The NSF has a budget and can’t really afford to send all the employees at McMurdo on sightseeing trips, especially via airplane and helicopter. They are also trying to limit the “environmental footprint” that we humans leave on the continent.
Mike and I have both inquired about obtaining rides to the South Pole with the air national guard folks (they fly the LC-130’s around the continent). We have not had any success, or even any encouragement. The same is true with a helicopter ride. There are too many people here who would like these experiences and not enough resources to accommodate all of us. We have heard that a limited number of rides to the South Pole are offered near the end of the season. So, we still have a chance, albeit a small one.
The size of Antarctica is similar to the size of the United States. Ross Island, where McMurdo Station is located, is shaped like a T and is roughly 45 miles long and 45 miles wide. McMurdo Station and Scott Base are located on the southern tip of Ross Island. Our “free movement” area is approximately a 5 mile radius of McMurdo. I can say I have been to Antarctica, but I can’t claim I have seen or experienced very much of what the continent has to offer. Imagine having to stay in a 5 mile radius of your home, when the enormity of the United States and the diversity it has to offer is out there begging for exploration.
Below is a map of Antarctica, with an arrow pointing towards Ross Island.
Below that is a map of Ross Island, with an arrow pointing to McMurdo Station.