ANTARCTICA, May 2017—There’s been some whiskey drinking. The blue-tinged ice cubes in our glasses—older, we are told, than the very idea of whiskey. It’s warm tonight by local standards, which can see temperatures drop to 50 below and beyond. So, as one does in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica, at the bottom of the world, I go to the beach and play Frisbee.
I pick my way across the ice-covered lake, unsteady on my crampons, and flop gratefully down on soft sand, staring up at a midnight sun that never sets. Behind me a few yards away, looming overhead, is the massive, 200-foot-high wall of a glacier. In the other direction, what looks very much like Mars.
Rarely, if ever, has an episode of “Parts Unknown” so descriptively lived up to its title. Antarctica is the last un-fucked-up place on Earth. Chances are you can’t go there. Certainly not the way we did.
We were extremely fortunate to have been invited by the National Science Foundation. Which meant that, along with incredible access and logistical support, there were rules and requirements.
All of us on the crew had to get rigorous medical exams, full labs, dental—the works. You break your hip at the South Pole, it’s going to be difficult and expensive to get you out. If your helicopter or your C-130 plane has to ditch, requiring an overnight stay on the ice, you better be physically up to it and fully briefed on procedure.
As unbelievably beautiful and unspoiled as Antarctica is, it’s no joke if things go wrong.
This could easily have been a show about history and geology and the changing climate, about penguins and seals and breathtaking vista—-and it is about those things. But what it’s really about is the incredible community of people who choose to live and work in the harshest environment on Earth, working long hours in decidedly Spartan conditions for months on end, all in support of the acquisition of knowledge. It is an extraordinary and inspiring thing.
So shout-out to the Wasties and Fuelies and Carps and Riggers and Beakers and everybody else who works tirelessly in support of that increasingly unpopular discipline called “science.”
You will meet some extraordinary people on this show, and I’m grateful to them for their work and their many kindnesses.