The 300 Club

The 300 Club is a mid-winter activity at Pole so named for the -300°F temperature shift one experiences when running from a +200°F sauna to the Pole and back when the outside ambient temperature hits -100° or below. The air is so dry here that it's possible to sit in a sauna that warm without getting scalded, and it's also possible to make a several minute walk to the Pole and back without losing fatal amounts of body heat. Air is a poor conductor of heat, and ultra-dry air at two-thirds of sea level pressure is even worse. Still, there are some safety-related traditions, such as the buddy-system (never do the 300 Club alone), wear shoes or boots, and there's no shame in wearing gloves or a face-mask.

There is a sauna in the new station, but I was happy to take the traditional route from the Upper Berthing sauna, down the tunnel, out the dome entrance, and up the ramp. Next year, I doubt folks will have the choice.

We've had an exceptionally good year so far for opportunities to join the 300 Club. I was walking back from MAPO the first time it hit -100°F, and missed out. When the second time came around a month later, I jumped all over it. Amazingly enough, the next chance came around exactly one week later, and lasted almost 24 hours, resulting in a group run of a dozen, followed by groups of two to three at various times over the next day. I'm sure that when the temps and wind get low again, even more of us will brave the cold to join the Club.

(on 21 July, it was once again cold enough to try again. A few of us loaded into the sauna and made another mad dash to the Pole. This time, though, there was someone waiting there to take my picture. For the record, it was -102.5°F (-74.7°C) at the time).

Since I'm behind in my journal, here's a sneak peek at what will eventually end up on the July page...

Saturday, 10 July 2004

I went to bed last night hoping to be woken up by an all call from Met that we were go for a shot at the 300 Club. At midnight, the weather seemed to be cooperating, but wasn't a sure thing by any means. At 05:15 this morning, the call came: -101°F (-73.9°C). I sprung out of bed, threw on my sneakers and ran downstairs to grab my headlamp and neck gaiter from my parka pocket. Back upstairs, Dana was shuffling around getting ready as I put my contacts in (I didn't want to frost up on my way back). Moments after Dana and I started roasting in the sauna (currently sitting at an ample +210°F (+98°C), Jason and Bride came in, followed a little while later by Barry, one of the plumbers here who has wintered before.

We sat in the sauna for as long as we could stand. Jason nipped out for something, so when we started sweating and we decided we'd had enough, Dana, Bride, and I bolted from the sauna, grabbed flashlights, and went out the door. Going down the stairs from Upper Berthing, and down the tunnel to the dome entrance, I hardly felt the cold. It was a bit windy going through the outer door itself, but the snow is so high on the sides of the ramp that the only problem there was the loose snow that's accumulated since they ploughed it out a couple of days ago. If they hadn't just done that, we'd have been taking the snow stairs instead.

Dana was in the lead, then Bride, then me. Kris was at the top of the ramp with a red flashlight so we would know where to run back to. I followed Dana's light until I was close enough to the Pole to see my own headlamp reflect off the sign next to the Pole. Bride and I arrived at the Pole marker at the same time, tapped it, and started back. I was in the lead, lighting up the snow and following our footprints. I wasn't in the mood for much sightseeing, but as I passed the beercan, I could see a sliver of the moon, yellow and close to the horizon, barely clearing the stacks from the powerplant.

About half-way back to the ramp, I started to really feel the cold on my arms and on the backs of my calves. I had forgotten to ball my fists on the way out, but my hands were warm enough on the way back once I remembered. As I passed Kris, he asked how I was doing. I shouted "Cold" on my way down the ramp. I was about to step through the door into the dome entrance, but paused to let Barry out. Bride wasn't right behind me anymore, so I went as slow as I dared down the tunnel until I could see her headlamp coming through the door behind me. I left the door to Upper Berthing open for her, and went right into the sauna.

Jason had left while we were gone, and was still out there. He returned seconds after Barry made it back himself. We sat in the sauna at +220°F (104.4°C) and tried not to breathe the scorching air too deeply. After we thawed out, we finished our recovery outside the sauna, comparing our experiences. I've wanted to do this for years, and it was worth it. I took a shower, then went up to the galley in plenty of time for breakfast, drained, but happy.

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