Ann successfully made it back from Antarctica and was back on the show today.
When she walked into the studio this morning, she was greeted with a warm ovation, and the crew provided her with her very own igloo at the news desk. WATCH VIDEO
She also recounted some of the highlights of her trip with Matt, Meredith and Al. WATCH VIDEO
When things settled down a bit, she sat down with me to discuss her trip. Here's our conversation:
Q: First of all, how was the trip back? Was it as difficult to get home as it was to get there?
Ann Curry: We were delayed a couple of days because of weather, but the sobering fact is that soon after we got to Antarctica, McMurdo -- where we were landing -- got hit by a storm that lasted several days. We were one of the last flights into McMurdo, so we became very aware of how quickly weather can change. So we feel very lucky that even though we were delayed a couple of days, that we made it back, relatively, so quicky.
But it's about a 24-hour travel day, plus. It's about 18 hours in the plane and then all the driving and moving around. I got home around 9:30 or 10 last night, I can't remember exactly. It was just all kids all the time and hanging out with my husband. I think I got to bed around 11:30.
Q: Did you get to sleep at all on the trip back?
AC: My schedule is flipped, but I think that we were all so tired pulling all-nighters -- not only because we were working on the other side of the clock but we were also filing for Nightly as well as the Today Show. So we didn't have any problems sleeping a little. I didn't sleep enough, but I definitely slept...hard.
Q: Most memorable part of the trip?
AC: There were several things. The flyover at the Dry Valleys was a mind-blowing experience. The Dry Valleys is a place in Antarctica near the Ross Sea where the geological history and the biological history of the planet have been preserved. Antarctica was once connected to the continents further north and came south because of tectonic shifts.
So much of the history of the Earth is found in the perfectly preserved freezing temperatures of Antarctica. In the Dry Valleys, scientists can see deeply into this geological history. Waters came through and washed away a lot of the ice, so what you have is what was happening on the planet 160 million years ago, 12 million years ago and all the way up and down between.
So what was really shocking was flying over these beautiful Dry Valleys and seeing scientists in their little huts and tents, trying to understand climate change. They're in bone-chilling temperatures. Their only lifeline are these helicopters that can be stopped by the vagaries of the weather. You really get this admiration -- you feel so amazed by the willingness of the scientists to go out and find these facts.
We got to touch a glacier and touch and go off a glacier, which was really amazing. But the other thing that was shocking to me and sobering was in talking to top scientists, they said our planet should be cooling. Instead, we're warming. In fact, we're warming so fast, with so much CO2 in the atmosphere, that it's frightening to them. That part was very sobering to me, not to look at the political part of the story but to look purely at the science. They all said that we are in trouble. That was very memorable, because it was a clarity that I didn't have before.
Q: Did you get a sense of how these scientists are able to live in these conditions and why they do this?
AC: Most of them don't stay the full year. They come in for certain periods of time. A few weeks ago, they started what's called the "international polar year," which is a dedicated focus by 60 nations on the science of Antarctica, specifically about climate change.
So they come in for periods of weeks -- some of them stay the full year -- but this is their mission. They are driven by a desire to warn us about what we need to do to survive the change. They're looking back in time, with CO2 levels where they are today, to when there were crocodiles in Kansas. There were no human beings on the planet at that time.
I think they're driven by this insatiable curiosity, the humbleness of being on a frontier, something that no one understands, carving out a new way of looking at and finding the truth. And there's a sense of adventure that goes along with it.
Scientists have died looking for this information. It's a very scary kind of cold they live in. I did a piece last week calling them the "modern Shackletons," and I do believe it. While they're not wearing seal-skin boots and traveling on sleds, they are risking their lives, repeatedly, knowing the suffering that comes from dealing with this kind of cold. No matter how they prepare, there is physical suffering involved. And they do it to help us know more about the truth. And I find that incredibly admirable.
Q: Did you have any downtime while you were there? Did you do anything fun? Is there anything fun to do?
AC: There's a little town in McMurdo of 1200 people during this time of the year. It swells from 200 to 1200 during the summer months. They try to keep things interesting. They have a jewelry class and a belly dancing class, three bars, a coffee shop and there's a real social life there.
I didn't get a lot there, but it was really nice to go to the coffee shop and get a cup of espresso. I think what happens there is that you're so divorced from most things that feel normal, that to have that little normalcy kind of steels you for the rest of the Groundhog Day that McMurdo life can be.
The people there are phenomenal. For every scientist, there are four people who support the scientists -- people who make the food and make the housing work, work on the transportation and all that. They make it so the scientists can function. The people are how I imagine the pioneers of yesteryear to have been. They are adventurous and interesting.
The dishwashers have PhD's. They are people who have come for the experience of Antarctica. I felt so lame-brained there in their presence. Bob Lapp, our sound man, said that the moment he set foot on Antarctica, the IQ of the entire continent dropped. It was really remarkable to be in their presence. They live in difficult weather, and they endure with this great adventurous spirit. I really was amazed by the people.
Q: What did you miss the most and what did you do as soon as you got home?
AC: I missed my family the most. I just hugged them. My son, Walker, did two card tricks for me. I gave my daughter, Mack, a necklace. I hung out with my husband. We watched Harold and Maude for an hour.
Q: What did your kids say to you when you walked in?
AC: That they missed me and that they were proud of me. You know, it's hard to go away from your family, so you'd better have a good reason. That's the way I look at it. My son didn't want me to go when I told him I was going to Antarctica. But when he heard that I was going to go to find the truth -- if I could -- about climate change, a look of pride came across his face.
I think for our children, climate change is something that brings the kind of reaction that duck-and-cover brought in me and my generation and maybe killer bees brought in the next generation. This is their fear like those two things before. They want to know the truth about it. If they don't have to worry about it, they want to know that. If they do have to worry about it, they want to know that. And if there's something they can do about it, they want to do it.
It was interesting to see Walker's reaction. He was proud. Both of my kids were proud. They were very proud that we made it to the South Pole. Walker was very thrilled about that.
Q: Now that you've followed this story, made these connections with the people there...if you were asked to go back...knowing you'd have all of the travel problems and weather problems...would you go back?
AC: I hope I have the grit to go back, because it's worth going to. I would go back smarter, so yeah, I would go back. But I say that sobered by the risk and the suffering that you surely will endure. There is a degree of suffering when you're in minus-53 degree temperatures, no matter how much you cover up.
I'm in awe of people like Ernest Shackleton and Scott -- the great explorers who went back not geared as well as I was, not wondering whether the weather would clear for a flight. But people who actually drove dogs and endured great suffering out in the cold, trying to make it to the South Pole. I don't know that I have that kind of grit.
But in the comfort of a hut or an LC-130, would I go back? Yeah, I think I would. It is a miracle there. It's like going to the Moon. It's so completely different from anything I've ever experienced, and it is an inspirational thing to see something so beautiful. This beautifully preserved evidence of Earth's history and incredible beauty and fortitude to withstand all the changes it has gone through.
Also the people that endure can be described by those same words. Fortitude and beauty. It's a very diverse people who live and work there. Very smart people, and a very courageous group as well. So in all those ways, I have been changed by going. And why would I not want to go back to something that had such an impact on me?
Yes, I would go back. But maybe I would take more clothes.