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Eugene Rodgers on: The Journey to Antarctica
Eugene Rodgers Q: What was the trip down to Antarctica like?

ER: The trip down to Antarctica from the United States took much longer than it does today. Nowadays, Antarctic explorers get on an airplane and they're down there in relatively few hours. Back then Byrd had to take ships from New York through the Panama Canal to the South Pacific and then to New Zealand, it took months. One of Byrd's ships was an old sailing ship. So the transportation is quite a bit different than it is today.


Q: So once they got to the ice pack and he had these two ships, right, what kind of tension was there?

ER: In order to get to Antarctica, Byrd had to travel from New Zealand halfway down, and then he would meet an, what's called the Antarctic Ice Pack. And this is a rim of ice that entirely circles the Antarctic continent. There are ice floes, which is frozen sea ice, and icebergs which are big masses of, of fresh water ice that break off the Antarctic ice shells which is around the continent. This is very dangerous for a ship to go through. Because while you're going through the ice pack which is many miles thick, if a wind comes up and starts banging these floes against your ship a ship can be sunk, and ships have been sunk in the ice pack, especially back in those days when the ships were much less strong than they are now. And Byrd had a wooden ship that was especially vulnerable to these things. So it was quite a dicey experience. Byrd had to get through the ice pack with his ships intact, and his men and himself intact. And it took several days. They were guided through the ice pack and in fact towed through the ice pack by a commercial whaling ship. And Byrd and his men breathed a sigh of relief when they got to the other side and only clear water separated them from their goal.


Q: And what was their goal at the time and what did it look like?

ER: Byrd's goal, once he got through the ice pack was to go to a place called the Barrier. There is a massive ice shelf that covers the southern part of the Ross Sea, and this shelf of ice is about the size of Great Britain. It's an enormous floating sheet of ice attached on all sides, but the northern side to the land. Sailors in the old days when they were trying to reach the South Pole and would come down from New Zealand, going straight south, would come to this mass of ice, and they would see from their ships a great wall of white ice floating in the ocean, stretching from east to west, that barred their way to the South Pole. So they called this the Barrier. So Byrd's goal was to go to the barrier, to get on top of it, and to make his camp there on the Barrier. To find a stable part of the Barrier where he could stay for a year and a half.

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