The 300 degree club is possibly the most exclusive club on Earth, certainly
it is one of the stupidest. Entry requirements are challenging. First you need to
be at the South Pole in winter. Then you need to wait for the temperature to drop
to -1000F. This only occurs a few times each year. When it happens the
sauna (yes we have a sauna at the South Pole) is cranked up to plus 2000F
and all potential members climb in and get really sweaty for 20 minutes. When you can
bear the heat no longer you strip off all your clothes (some form of footwear and
a face mask are permitted) and run all the way to the South Pole! The temperature
drop of 300 degrees gives the club its name. You don't actually have to reach the pole,
most people just run to the top of the snow drift outside the dome. A few more
make it to the Ceremonial Pole and one or two even make it as far as the Geographic
In 1996 it was not until the 17th of July that we got temperatures below
-1000F. Fortunately it was a clear crisp day with almost no wind,
perfect conditions for the 300 degree club. It took a couple of hours to get
the sauna up to +2000F and then 19 of us (a record I think?) crammed
into the sauna for a good sweat. 2000F becomes very unpleasant in
a short space of time and with the large crowd we had there was not much air to
breath. Most people were a bit nervous waiting to go outside and so we were
egging each other on and trying to get psyched up for the challenge ahead.
The tradition is to do the 300 degree club naked but footwear is allowed. A
face mask is also advised since running at such low temperatures forces the
lungs to take deep breaths of very cold air. After 15 minutes of sweating we
could bear the heat no longer and cheering we ran from the sauna dropping our
towels to the floor. Instantly we hit the cool outside air the sweat on our bodies
turned to steam filling the entrance archway of the dome as we raced through the
Luckily the sauna had raised my core temperature high enough that I didn't feel
the cold initially but once outside and on route to the Pole the sweat began to freeze.
Its a steep climb up the snow drift outside the dome and then a straight 100 yard dash
to the Pole. Unfortunately I had forgotten my face mask and my lungs were screaming
with the pain of the cold air by the time I was halfway there. I slowed to a walk
and saw others returning from the Pole racing back to the warmth.
I walked up to the Ceremonial Pole marker, touched it and turned to home and then I realised just how far I had to walk back, naked cold and with frostbitten lungs. I tried jogging slowly as I was starting to feel the cold. I could feel the flesh on my shoulders, now frozen solid, crack as I moved. My fingers were getting the tell-tale numbness of frostbite. I knew the next 100 yards was going to hurt. Just then Dan Potter came jogging along his usual smiling and joking self. He had been all the way to the Geographic Pole and along with me was the last one outside.
Dan could tell I was hurting and stayed with me as we jogged the rest of the way back.
Just as I reached the top of the snow drift I looked around. What a perfect sight. The
stars were out, the skies were clear and dark and floating gently over the station was
the arc of a bright green aurora. For a second I forgot the pain and just marvelled
at the view, remembering just were I was. Then the cold reminded me that it was
-1000F and I was naked. With a last burst of speed Dan and I returned to
Back in the sauna, the air was filled with the sounds of cheering and coughing. Most people, even those wearing facemasks, had frosted their lungs. For the next half hour as we warmed ourselves in the sauna I broke into convulsive body-shaking fits of coughing. It was very unpleasant but between coughing fits we were patting each other on the back, giving high fives, comparing our experiences, and vowing , never again.
Thanks to Chris Bero for the photographs.