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Pole to Pole

Day 141: To the South Pole

At the South Pole 
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The entrance to America: at the South Pole - only 80 years too late.
Michael Palin - Pole to PoleGaze longingly at the hamburgers and French fries, wondering if consumption of either or both would contravene the rules of the National Science Foundation, but after a coffee we trudge back outside. Scott, Fraser, Nigel and Clem go off to dig up the tent which was left here last year, so that we can eat and sleep. Rudy goes back to the plane. I'm about to join them when I realize that in the midst of all these rules, regulations, coffees and poppyseed handshakes I have completely forgotten why we are here.

The temperature, with wind chill, is a cutting, almost paralysing minus fifty Centigrade, and it's 3.15 in the morning at 10,000 feet when I set out on the final lap of this extraordinary journey.

A few hundred yards from the dome, out on the snow, is a semi-circle of flags of all the nations working in Antarctica, in the middle of which is a reflecting globe on a plinth. This is the 'Ceremonial South Pole' at which visiting dignitaries are pictured.

Crunching slowly past it, numb-faced and short of breath, I come at last to a small bronze post sticking three feet above the ground. It looks like an unplumbed lavatory outlet but it exactly marks ninety degrees South. From this spot all directions point north. At this spot I can walk around the world in eight seconds. At this point with one bound I am back, on thirty degrees East . . . and thirty degrees West, and seventy-two degrees East and twenty-three degrees West. I am on the same longitude as Tokyo, Cairo, New York and Sheffield. I am standing at the South Pole.

In the distance I can see a group of anoraked figures pacing the snow, stopping occasionally, forming a circle, pointing then striking at the earth with a shovel. They seem to be repeating this strange ritual over a wide area. Eventually Clem and Nigel and Fraser and Rudy give up looking for the tent and we all stand together at the bottom of the world. Or the top. It depends which way you look at it.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 141
  • Country/sea: Antarctica
  • Place: Amundsen-Scott S. Pole Station
  • Book page no: 319

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