On the empty surface of the East Antarctic ice cap, about 680 miles from the South Pole, I kneeled inside a fluttering tent to fiddle with the HF radio dial. It was mid-December of 2000, peak summer in the heart of the Earth’s austral region. Our thermometer stretched toward a balmy 15°F as the sun spun elliptically overhead like a child’s flashlight.

After several days in camp, I was finally starting to relax. I’d been out in the middle of this bright white nowhere before, but I’d never been in charge. This time I’d taken on the responsibility to build and maintain an Antarctic field camp, a line of work that punishes even small mistakes. While we were unlikely to fall into crevasses, develop scurvy, or freeze to death, I had no desire to radio the authorities at McMurdo Station and request a special flight to bring out a forgotten… More…