“How do you get to Antarctica?” may be the third most common question I get when I tell people I’ll be spending the winter there. (The first, of course, is, “How cold is it?” The answer? “Colder than a … !” You get the idea.)
After several days’ delay in Christchurch, New Zealand, due to very bad weather on The Ice, I arrived at Antarctica’s McMurdo Station. The 2,180-mile trip took about five hours in a US Air Force C-17 plane. If we had taken the alternative, a C-130, the trip would have been an excruciating eight hours. Neither plane has the amenities you expect when flying. They do provide a bag lunch, but heating is minimal, there are few windows, most seats are webbing, and the “bathroom” is a bucket surrounded by drapes.
Antarctica, the continent I’ll be living on for the next seven months, has a surface area of 5.4 million square miles, 1.4 times the size of the United States. This makes it the fifth largest continent. Almost 98 percent of the continent is covered by an ice sheet that averages 6,000 feet (more than one mile) thick. Antarctica has 70 percent of the world’s fresh water, frozen as ice. Yet, to our knowledge, explorers only reported seeing it in 1820 and landed on the continent in 1821. Explorers first “overwintered” there in 1898, a tradition I will be continuing.