2011.01.26 Real winter just a check and plane flight away

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

Enjoying winter so far? I can’t say that the lack of blizzards has upset me any, but some of our local meteorologists seem to be feeling the pressure. 

I spent last Thursday in Adrian, where there were a few snow showers during the day. I returned home just in time for the 6:30 p.m. news, which announced a snowstorm which was “dumping” on the area. When it was time to give details, they admitted “most of our viewing area received a trace to a half inch.” Doesn’t sound like much of a “dump” to me. But if a lot of snow appeals to you, this is the year to visit Antarctica.

This December marks the 100th anniversary of Roald Amundsen reaching the South Pole, followed by Robert Falcon Scott’s arrival a month later in January 1912. According to a recent New York Times article hundreds of “tourists, adventurers and history buffs” are planning trips of their own to the pole, following the tracks of the two pioneers.

I can understand someone wanting to retrace Amundsen’s trip, but why Scott’s?  The British explorer not only lost out on the glory of being the first to the South Pole, but he and his entire party died on the return trip, victims of bad weather and inability to reach a stock of supplies. 

To me, following Scott’s journey is like gathering a group of your tastiest-looking friends and retracing the route of the Donner party. Yet two teams of three men each plan to leave from the starting points of both Scott and Admundsen and race to the pole.

Besides the skiing option, some will attempt to drive to the pole by truck. There will also be airplane flights, some of which will land just short of the goal and allow you to ski a few miles to the pole, just like you accomplished something. That option costs $57,500. This strikes me as similar to someone building an elevator on Mount Everest which allows you to ride to the 2,900th floor, then get out and climb the final few feet.

Once at the pole, there’s not much to do. The National Science Foundation, which runs the research station at the pole, isn’t too excited about an onslaught of visitors. “We really don’t have a process for them other than letting them know that they are at the pole...and we’re not able to provide them with any amenities,” said Peter West of the NSF’s Office of Polar Programs.

Actually, the NSF does have a commissary at the station, which allows visitors to send mail, which will be delivered with a South Pole postmark, and yes, they do sell T-shirts. Probably something like “My friend froze to death at the South Pole and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.”

Most Antarctic tourism will be by cruise ship or sightseeing airplane for those less adventurous travelers. Even so, back in 1979, a sightseeing plane crashed into a mountain in Antarctica, killing all 257 persons aboard. You won’t find any mention of that in a flight brochure I downloaded.

The tour operator offers a variety of options aboard a chartered Quantas 747-400. Flights leave from Sydney and Melbourne and last approximately 12 hours depending on departure city and which of 19 different routings offers the best weather conditions. About three or four hours of the flight is over the continent coastline and includes flying over the South Magnetic Pole, but not the South Pole itself, which is another 1,500 miles or so away.

Tickets run from $999 to $6,799 with a variety of seating options and hospitality. For the $999 option, you spend the entire flight in the center row in Economy Class, which seems to mean you’re paying for a 12-hour flight which returns you to your starting point without your having seen a thing. 

Most of the other options also offer seat rotation, which gives you a window or next to window seat half of the flight and leaves you stuck on the aisle the rest. The $6,799 ticket is the only one offering a window seat the whole trip.

My favorite seating option is the Business Class Centre. For $2,999, “although they do not rotate to a window seat, full Business Class facilities, food and drinks are provided.” Yes, for 12 hours you can gorge yourself and drink until you’re stupid, while others on the ground are freezing. In explorer heaven, Robert Falcon Scott must be rolling in his grave.

  • Front.train
    WRECKAGE—Morenci Fire Department member Taylor Schisler walks past the smoking wreckage of a semi-truck tractor on the north side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on Ranger Highway. The truck trailer was on the south side of the tracks
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    SCULPTORS—Morenci third grade students Emersyn Thompson (left) and Marissa Lawrence turn spaghetti sticks into mini sculptures Friday during a class visit to Stair District Library. All Morenci Elementary School classes recently visited the library to experience the creative construction toys purchased through the “Sculptamania!” project, funded by a Disney Curiosity Creates grant. The grant is administered by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
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    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
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    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
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    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.

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