Antarctica, as my colleague Olga Khazan explained in 2013, is basically outer space on earth. Scientists who hole up at Antarctic research stations during the continent’s eight-month-long winter deal with serious burdens of both the physical and mental sort: the cold is deadly, the darkness oppressive. Once cabin fever sets in, it’s tempting to just knock yourself out with alcohol. But one particular line in Khazan’s article demanded further investigation:
Occasionally, they entertained themselves with daredevil stunts, like running from a 200-degree sauna to touch the South Pole while wearing nothing but shoes.
Make no mistake: Streaking at the South Pole isn’t an activity to be taken lightly. And it’s not something you do on a whim, after one too many shots of whiskey at Club 90 South. On the contrary, getting naked in Antarctica is a hallowed tradition that requires planning and teamwork.
The objective: to endure a temperature swing of 300 degrees Fahrenheit by warming up in a sauna, heated to 200 degrees, and then running, naked, to and around the Ceremonial South Pole when the outdoor temperature is below -100 degrees. The select few who have participated in this rite belong to an exclusive group: the 300 Club.
First, let’s get you situated. The U.S. operates three research stations in Antarctica. McMurdo Station, on Ross Island, is considered “the New York City of Antarctica” because many visitors to the continent either go there or pass through the facility en route to another station. Palmer Station, on Anvers Island, is smaller and only accommodates 46 people at most. Then there’s Amundsen-Scott, also known as “the South Pole Station” because it’s located on the Antarctic plateau at the geographic South Pole. The Ceremonial South Pole, an actual pole with a sphere on top, circled by flags of nations, stands a few hundred feet from the station. Up to 150 people work at Amundsen-Scott during the South Pole’s summer, which lasts roughly from November to February. Around 50 scientists and other workers stay there over the winter. It’s this latter group that has the opportunity to join the 300 Club.