Chambers County Men at South Pole

The Stars at Night are Big and Bright…from Texas to the South Pole.

Since the first expeditions in the early 1900’s, only a few thousand people have ever been to the South Pole. Many visit the Antarctic on cruise ships or tours. Even celebrities have momentarily stepped foot at the Pole for publicity’s sake. But only a select few actually live and work at the South Pole each year.

About 150 or so work during each summer to prepare the southernmost station for winter. Then they leave just over 40 to brave the extreme elements to winter-over each year. Once the last plane leaves in February, a skeleton crew will remain at the Pole until the summer sun shines allowing planes to land once again sometime in November. For 9 months, the crew has no way in or out and about 6 of those months will be in total darkness. To date, only 1702 have ever wintered-over at the South Pole Station.

What is special about Winter-Over 2023? There are multiple Texans weathering the elements, representing our great state on The Ice this year. At least four of them are tried & true native Texans, born and bred, long-term residents of the Lone Star State!

Originally from El Paso, Satellite Communications Engineer Ryan Gutierrez initially went to the Antarctic seeking a new and exciting adventure. He is on his second season and loves that it’s always cold!

Maintenance Specialist Jesus Maldonado Jr, from Abilene, didn’t believe the opportunity was real when the facilities manager reached out to him on Indeed. He filled out the application and went through the process and is now there for his first winter.

Zeke Mills is a Culinary Specialist and Head Chef from Groves. He helps boost morale by keeping the crew well fed. Zeke is returning for his 3rd full year and 8th season overall at the Station.

Matthew Hadley, a Warehouse Technician and Heavy Equipment Operator, originally from Chambers County and currently residing in Sinton, turned in an application as a joke. He just wanted to see what would happen if he applied. Within just a few weeks he was stepping foot onto the frozen continent for a 13-month term at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

Texas is surely well represented this winter-over at the South Pole.

As it turns out, the mothers of both Matt Hadley & Zeke Mills attended Port Neches-Groves HS and graduated only a year apart in ’81 & ’82. Further evidence of what a large impact Texas has even miles away!

What kind of history are our Texas boys making?

Some ancient maps do show evidence of the southern continent. However, it is not believed to have actually been formally discovered until sometime around 1820. There was no confirmed landing until 1895 and the poles were not reached until the early 1900’s. The magnetic South Pole being reached in 1909 and the geographic South Pole being reached in 1911. It is a relatively new discovery.

Even with Antarctica as the 5th largest continent, it is the least populated. Only about 5000 total live at the various science stations around the continent during the summer months. That number then drops to 1000 or less during the winter with only a small percentage of those actually residing at the South Pole at either time.

Though there are several stations and bases around the continent, Antarctica is not considered a country. Rather, it is governed and protected by the Antarctic Treaty of 1959. This agreement between the 12 countries then operating stations on the continent protect the continent from military development. It also preserves and encourages the use of the continent for scientific purposes. As other countries are added to the operations, protections have been put in place to ensure that the continent is used for scientific purposes only. Mineral and oil exploration and mining or dumping of any kind as well as any military installations or testing are prohibited in hopes of maintaining the best possible, pristine environment for scientific study.

Our Texas boys are among an elite few that have ever visited the South Pole and among the even fewer who have lived there.

What will they endure? The Antarctic continent is covered by about 2 kilometers or just over a 1-mile-thick sheet of ice. Though it is a frozen wonderland, it is also considered the driest desert on the planet due to its lack of precipitation. During its busiest time of summer, the warmest temperatures may hover around -10 to -20 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures start to drop extremely fast beginning in February. During the coldest and darkest months of winter, temperatures are known to fall well below -80 with wind-chills dropping to -120 or lower. The coldest parts of winter can get well below -100. As many of us are complaining about our 103 + summer heat, these Texans are enduring -103 or colder. (YES, that’s MINUS degrees folks!)

These temperatures are the complete opposite of the extreme heat sometimes endured in their home state.

Being at the bottom of the earth, the sun does not rise east to west as most of us are accustomed. The sun will move in a spiral around the horizon to its summer high-noon peak in December. Then it will begin its spiral descent towards the horizon leaving the crew in about six months of darkness during the peak of winter. It is during this extreme darkness that our Texas boys will witness some of the most amazing views of our cosmos. The stars may be big and bright deep in the heart of Texas, but this is one area where the Antarctic will certainly shine even brighter. This is also when they will witness the occurrence of the Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights — the Antarctic version of the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights as viewed from the northernmost regions of our planet.

The Star at Night…outshine us all! What an experience!

Why are they at the South Pole?

The pure climate, extreme darkness, lack of habitation and overall distance from any concentrated population of the South Pole makes it one of the best places for scientific study. The Amundsen-Scott station is home of the Martin A. Pomerantz Observatory which houses the BICEP array. The 10-meter South Pole Telescope (SPT for short) is housed in the Dark Sector Lab (DSL) along with BICEP 3. Also at Pole is the IceCube Neutrino Lab and the Atmospheric Research Observatory (ARO) run by NOAA. There are also dozens of other small experiments being run that do not have their own designated buildings. It’s a quiet place where still much exploration continues.

Science and just the experience of it all was intriguing to our modern-day adventurers.

Want to learn more? Visit these websites to be enlightened…

For information on the science of the station visit:

IceCube Neutrino Observatory

To view the live webcam at the station…

To follow the experiences of our Texas adventurers, they often post on Instagram…

Matt posts as @0v3rrat3

Jesus posts as @Dr.chuy92

Zeke posts as @zeketravels1536