“A small research base huddled against the flat white icescape of the East Antarctic ice cap, Vostok is the farthest terrestrial outpost of an impoverished Russian empire. Occupied since 1957, Vostok is also the most isolated of Antarctic bases. Its few old buildings sit in the middle of the godforsaken polar plateau, near the South Geomagnetic Pole, at an elevation of 11,220 feet. It is as far away from the familiar you can go without leaving the planet.
Vostok (“East”) is also officially the coldest place on Earth, once reaching a ghastly winter temperature of -129°F. Even now, just past midsummer, -20°F would be a heat wave. Two dozen men work in the cold here each summer, while only a dozen stay for the brutal winter. Still bridging the gap between the old wood-and-canvas “heroic age” of Antarctic exploration and the digital age of modern occupation, the Russians at bitter Vostok contend with conditions long forgotten by other Antarctic workers.
No one visits Vostok. It doesn’t exist in the world traveler’s currency of guess-where-I-went. The odds that someone will find their way there to see it on their own are infinitesimal. No one will stumble onto this weathered colony or follow a guidebook to its doorstep.
Over the white emptiness, we veered across Antarctica’s bent tapestry of tightly packed lines of longitude. For three hours of our months-long summer day, time zones passed beneath us like crevasses. Imagine flying from Boston to Chicago and seeing nothing but whiteness out the window until suddenly, out of the snowy expanse, a small speck appears, like a distant dark raft.”