What is the 300 club?

The 300 club is a rite of passage for those of us who have spent a winter at the South Pole research station in Antarctica.    The name comes from the degrees in Fahrenheit of difference between the ambient temperature of the air outside (-100F, -73C)  and the temperature of the sauna inside when heated to  200 degrees F.  Gaining membership in the club is a simple, but brutal process. Simply run, naked, from the sauna to the geographic south pole and back.  Just surviving the challenge means you’re a member of the club, but extra points are awarded for style.  You’re allowed to have boots on to protect your feet, and a neck gaiter  to protect your lungs, but everything else has to stay uncovered.

What is it like to join the 300 club?

I’ve become a member of the 300 club twice; once during my first winter in 2002 and again in 2004.  The first time I joined, the anticipation was the worst.  Other winter-overs who had been through this previously definitely enjoyed telling us newbies about how bad it is.  The temperature  dropped below -100 several times that year, for a few moments,  but we finally had a day that it stayed there for more than just a few minutes. It’s also the first time that it dipped below the magic number at a decent time of the afternoon.

The old South Pole Sauna in the domed station.

12 of us gathered together in the old dome sauna, but with that many bodies it took forever to get up to 200 degrees. After an hour the heat was finally enough, and we crammed in and sweated awkwardly together wearing nothing but a towel. Finally the heat got too much too much to stand and we all dropped our towels and headed out.  Now, I knew the trick to this is to not run because the -100 air will just damage your lungs, but unfortunately the excitement of the moment caught up with me, and I headed out at full throttle. About halfway to the pole, I realized I was pointing the wrong direction, and finally spotted the guy who was out there marking the spot with a flashlight. I decided to slow down, and did a fast walk the rest of the way, but the damage was done. By the time I got back, I was already coughing and hacking…enough people had done the same thing that the sauna sounded like a TB ward while we all tried to warm up. After about 90 minutes I started breathing normally again, but it took a couple of days to be back to 100%.

Henry Malmgren joins the 300 club

How far do you have to run?

The distance that you have to run has gotten shorter each year.  Due to a quirk in the way the ice sheet that the south pole sits on flows, the geographic south pole actually gets about 10 feet closer to the station each year.  Back in 2002 we ran from the old domed station to the pole which was a distance of about 100 yards each way.  In 2004 and every year since, the run goes from the new elevated station cutting off about 30 yards each way..and still getting easier each year! Below you can see a night shot of the elevated station, and the geographic pole is at the right edge of the frame.

green auroras over the south pole station

 

 

About The Author

Henry has spent three winters living in Antarctica which funded his early explorations and adventures around the world. Now he holds down a full time job in Denver, CO and continues to make travel a priority in his life, both internationally, and on weekend warrior type trips.

35 Responses

  1. dtc

    You are insane. I know there must be some thrill but personally, I’d avoid -100 degree weather. 🙂 Be careful Henry!

    Reply
  2. dtc

    Hey, I just noticed your days til you hit the road just hit below 100! Woot! Won’t be long now.

    Reply
  3. Henry Malmgren

    Well, I thought it had, but it’s actually gone up by four days. My replacement is going to be a little late getting down here, but really after this long, a few more days won’t matter much.

    Reply
  4. Wood

    Dude, at least make the smiley face a little bigger. Have some frickin’ dignity!

    Reply
  5. Robert

    Good to see some things haven’t changed… you’re still a moron… and we love your for it.

    Robert

    Reply
  6. Bruce

    Henry,

    Would love to become a member of the 300 Club! Is there any way that civilians can take part in this event? Would love to visit the Amundsen-Scott station at least ONCE in my life, 300 Club not withstanding.

    Bruce

    Reply
  7. Roger AC Williams

    I’ve been reading “penguincentral” about the Pole (a series of links from “Antarctic Sun”)–not sure if you’re the same guy. Enjoyed reading about the “300 Club” as he did that too. We used to do it in Barrow, AK but it was only ~30 below 0 not -100. You’d warm up in a sauna in the NARL power plant then go out & roll in the snow then go back in. I worked at the NOAA GMCC clean air station up there (now CMDL), then the one in Samoa (what a change). Worked with winterovers (ARO at the Pole) but haven’t been to the ice myself. Fun reading about it.

    Roger Williams, Boulder, Colorado USA.

    Reply
  8. Mike

    Just read the article in InformationWeek – you rock! I live in the Denver area, not too far from your support office – if you ever get up this way, I’d love to hear some war stories.

    Take care,

    Mike

    Reply
  9. Craig

    Hey,

    I’m an avid traveler. My next big trip will be Antarctica. I would LOVE to join the 300 club. Is there anyway you can give me more information on how to join or become apart of this club? I can’t find any information off the internet!

    Reply
  10. jetsetstephblog

    This puts the polar plunge to shame! Thanks for sharing about a club that I didn’t know about – and not sure that I could ever join!!

    Reply
  11. Meghan

    Wow! I want to visit Antarctica so bad and this looks like a crazy experience. You are so brave and it looks seriously freezing! Haha

    Reply
  12. themormonadventurista

    OMG and I thought I was brave for jumping into a frozen lake on New Year’s Day! Man, you’re tough! And you’ve done it twice?? What experiences!

    Reply
  13. Ali May

    This is one of those crazy thing s that you would just HAVE to do if you were in Antarctica. Great story! I can totally imagine the anticipation before attempting your first 300 club effort.

    Reply
  14. Pete

    What’s the significance of a Fahrenheit measurement? Surely this is a scientific research station?

    Quibble aside, I take my hat off to you!

    Reply
  15. yukti

    Oh it is too chilly! I went once to a place -20 and it was too much for me. How could you survive here? Brave and a true ice lover you are. After returning you must be feeling that whole world is so hot.

    Reply
  16. Mimi & Mitch

    Oh my god you just taught us something completely new! Love yours “naked” picture with the emoji haha. You are nuts! But it sounds like a great challenge woa! Bucket list maybe now? hihi

    Reply
  17. Natasha

    Well I wasn’t expecting to read something like this today! Sounds like an interesting challenge haha

    Reply
  18. Henry

    Good point on the degrees Fahrenheit, but keep in mind that while it’s a scientific research station, when it was established back in 1956, it was staffed by 95% US Navy folks who were more familiar with F than C. All the science down there is definitely done in metric, but some traditions and vocabulary die hard. They still use a lot of old Navy terms…for example refer to the kitchen as the Galley and the bathrooms as the head.

    Reply
  19. asoulwindow

    Wow. That’s so intriguing. I had read so many stories about Antarctica but this is unique. I am not sure if I am going to run naked in icy weather. Kudos to those who do it. Thank God for the lung and feet protection.

    Reply
  20. Arnav Mathur

    That is undoubtedly one insane club demanding insane tings to be done to qualify. The thought of running naked at the south pole bring chills in my spine. But kudos to everyone who does this and am sure the adrenaline rush helps cope up with the cold in the moment.

    Reply
  21. Gina Bear

    This has to be one of the most hilarious posts I have ever read and a wonderful travel story! I would totally try to join the 300 club as my rite of passage to being a badass in Antarctica.

    Reply
    • Henry

      Thanks Gina! I’m trying pretty hard to make this a little different than other blogs. I appreciate your comment. 🙂

      Reply
  22. Ha Truong

    I laughed so hard at the process of being a member of 300 club. “Run, naked, from the sauna to the geographic south pole and back” sounds so cold but interesting! Thanks for sharing such a hilarious post xD

    Reply
  23. Ticking the Bucketlist

    This is possible one of the most intestering posts I have read in a long time … and you were part of the club twice. I don’t mind the cold and have been to the Lapland in winters, but this is some extreme! Look forward to reading more about your time at the South Pole. Loved the pic of the lights!

    Reply
  24. andamanbnbnation

    I loved the way you have gained the experience to enter the 300 club! I found this blog post a bit different and loved the membership process! Kudos to your endurance!

    Reply
  25. Jack

    Wow that sounds like an amazing experience, definitely something for my adventure bucket list 😉

    Reply
  26. Zel

    I really enjoyed reading this article. I can’t imagine myself doing this. That was a really brave thing to do! Thanks for sharing about the 300 Club.

    Reply

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