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Lessons from an Antarctic adventure

Huge. Quiet. Beautiful. These were the thoughts of mechanical engineering alumnus Bob Bero (BS ME '66, MS ISE '69) as he deplaned in Antarctica.

It was January 1996—summer in the Southern Hemisphere—and Bero had just taken a six-hour flight from Punta Arenas, Chile to Patriot Hills, Antarctica on a C-130 supply aircraft with very basic passenger accommodations.

Bero's route from Chile to the South PoleBero's route from Chile to the South Pole. Submitted.“Landing was a drama,” Bero enthusiastically recounted. “The plane had to do a wheel landing on a hard ice sheet with no boundary markings in a 40 mile-per-hour cross wind.”

The novice explorer was en route to meet his son, a researcher assigned to a long-term project at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

“My son, Chris, graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University and took a number of astronomy courses at Ohio State,” said Bero. “As he was preparing to leave for Antarctica, I got it into my head that I wanted to go to the South Pole to visit him.”

That fleeting thought had become reality after some quick research led him to locate an Antarctic adventure camp 660 miles from the South Pole. He confirmed that the organization could fly him the rest of the way to where his son was stationed, and the adventure began.

After the dramatic landing in the C-130, Bero spent a few days—24 hours of sunlight each—at the camp before it was time to take another flight to the South Pole.

Bero recalls the experience vividly. “Flying over central Antarctica is like flying over another world. For 360 degrees around there is nothing but a brilliant rolling ice sheet with a few mountains poking their tops through thousands of feet of ice. It was a clear day so all of this was capped by a dark blue sky.”

Another thrilling landing—this time in a comparatively much smaller de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft—then Bero stepped onto the frozen otherworld near the South Pole. There he met his son and saw first-hand the remarkable work being done under such extreme conditions.

“I felt well prepared to understand most of the sophisticated research being carried out at the South Pole, because of my mechanical engineering background and the modern physics courses at Ohio State,” he said.

“Just to build and run a research facility at the end of the earth with temperatures that drop to eighty degrees below zero in the winter is an impressive engineering feat.”

Bero South PoleTop: Bero during his mountain climb; bottom: Bero and his son, Chris, at the geographic South Pole. Submitted.After wrapping up the visit to his son’s research labs, there was one more experience awaiting Bero: an impromptu mountain climb. Having returned to the adventure camp, he met a group of professional mountain climbers ready to set out on a day trip to scale a nearby mountaintop, its craggy head sticking out above the snow- and ice-filled valleys.

“The footing was a little challenging and the wind was blowing about 40 miles-per-hour again,” said Bero. “I had to hang on tight.”

But the impressive view—and ability to check off “climb a mountain” from his bucket list—was worth it. “The view was absolutely spectacular.”

At the end of his adventure, Bero returned home exhilarated. Now, over 20 years later, the lessons learned on that trip still impact him.

“I had never really imagined myself in Antarctica or thought about what a trip there would involve,” he said. “But my son heading off for his great adventure struck me that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to experience a great adventure. The adrenaline started to flow and pushed me ahead to get all the preparation done on a tight schedule.”

For anyone facing the unknown, whether it be heading off to college, graduating or embarking on a career change, Bero’s words of wisdom can ring true.

“When faced with a large and important decision, a passion for the opportunity and experience should be the driving force to work through all the obstacles and risks involved in making a good decision.”

“Seek out input from those who have gone ahead of you—chances are, they can offer some advice from experience.”

by Holly Henley, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering