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The Southern Pole of Inaccessibility

The cold hard stare of Lenin penetrating the icy air is the only thing you’ll come across the vast frozen landscape in this part of Antarctica for hundreds of miles. His plastic bust was left here, erected on the roof of a research station, by the members of the Third Soviet Antarctic Expedition. Today, it is the only visible part of the now defunct station. The rest is buried in snow.

The Third Soviet Antarctic Expedition arrived at this remote location on 14 December 1958. This place is called the pole of inaccessibility because it is the farthest point on the Antarctic continent, in any direction, from the surrounding seas, and hence is far more remote and difficult to reach than the geographic South Pole. Reaching the pole of inaccessibility was an express objective of the Third Soviet Antarctic Expedition.

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The world’s loneliest statue: Lenin’s bust at the Pole of Inaccessibility Station in 2008. Photo credit: Stein Tronstad / Norwegian Polar Institute

The expedition was organized as part of the International Geophysical Year—a period lasting from mid-1957 to the end of 1958—during which scientific interchange between East and West was encouraged. In reality, it was another opportunity for America and Russia to outdo each other in the Cold War. Just months before, the Americans had established the Amundsen–Scott Station at the South Pole, and the Russians decided that they would respond by being the first to reach the southern pole of inaccessibility—the Antarctic’s most remote point—and build a research station there.

In December 1958, just before close of the International Geophysical Year, a team of 18 men set out for the pole of inaccessibility, dragging tractor-trailers loaded with equipment and prefabricated buildings behind them. After reaching their destination on 14 December, the men began building a small station that included a hut for four people, a radio shack, two 65-foot radio antenna towers and a set of meteorological instruments. A plastic bust of Lenin was erected on top of the hut, pointing towards Moscow.

The station was initially provisioned with food and fuel supplies for 6 months, but the team soon realized that the station was too remote for permanent use. After only 12 days, an aircraft landed on a makeshift airfield near the station and picked up four researchers, while the rest evacuated by sled.

The station saw no visitors for the next six years until January 1964, when the Ninth Soviet Antarctic Expedition visited the site on their return trip. The following year, an American team reached the station and found it well stocked with supplies, as well as cigarettes and matches. The Americans stayed there for less than a week taking measurements, but before they left they, in an act of mischief, rotated the bust of Lenin—which originally faced towards Moscow— so that it now faced Washington DC.

The Russians returned to the site for one last time in 1967. The next visit wasn’t until 2007, forty years later, when a British team became the first to reach the Pole of Inaccessibility Station without mechanical support.

The buried building and the lonely bust, along with a plaque commemorating the conquest of the Pole of Inaccessibility by Soviet Antarctic explorers, is now a designated historic monument.

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Photo credit: Cookson69/Wikimedia

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A team of Norwegian and U.S. explorers pose before the Lenin bust while on an expedition to the South Pole in 2007-08. Photo credit: traverse.npolar.no

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The hut as it appeared in 1965 before it got buried in snow. Photo credit: Olav Orheim

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The interior of the hut as seen by the American team of 1965. Photo credit: Olav Orheim

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The interior of the hut as seen by the American team of 1965. Photo credit: Olav Orheim

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