The 300 Club Is So Much Worse Than You Can Imagine

By David Solomon on Monday, March 3, 2014
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“Nothing fun about frost biting your lungs. [. . .] The most important thing is that I’m now the owner of a ultra cool cloth patch.” —Darryn Schneider, 300 Club member

In A Nutshell

The 300 Club is the name given to people who have experienced an instantaneous 166 degree Celsius (300 °F) drop in temperature. The practice takes place at the Amundsen-Scott Base in Antarctica during winter on any day when the outside temperature reaches -73 degrees Celsius (−100 °F). The participants will then sit in a sauna set at 93 degrees Celsius (200 °F) for 10 minutes before running outside . . . naked.

The Whole Bushel

During the winter in Antarctica, the few dozen staff members of the Amundsen-Scott Base at the South Pole are completely isolated from mid-February to late October while immersed in a perpetual night. For eight months, the station must be entirely self-sufficient. Energy is produced by three generators running on JP-8 jet fuel while a small greenhouse hydroponically (using only water and air) grows fresh fruit and vegetables. The station is so inaccessible in the winter that the resident physician once had to self-administer chemotherapy after she discovered she had breast cancer.

Under such psychologically trying conditions, there are very few things to do for entertainment. Over the years, the winter-over crew of the South Pole came up with one daring and creative activity—they experience an instantaneous 166 degree Celsius (300 °F) drop in temperature by running outside naked.

The participants must first wait for a day when the temperature reaches a brisk -73 degrees Celsius (−100 °F), not factoring in wind chill. With wind chill, this has been known to feel more like -97.7 degrees Celsius (-144 °F). Then, everyone piles into the sauna set at 93 degrees Celsius (200 °F) for 10 minutes. Once the heat becomes too much to handle, everyone runs outside. The bravest will run all the way to the geographic South Pole and back, going through all 24 time zones. However, as long as they make it to the top of the nearest hill, they receive a commemorative patch. Aside from the patch, the frosty participants also reward themselves with a return trip to the sauna and some alcohol.

To be clear, there are two exceptions to the rule about being nude: insulated boots and an optional neck gaiter. The neck gaiter is worn over the mouth and the nose to prevent frostbite in the lungs. The lack of underwear is both amusing and practical. It is highly discouraged because it would gather moisture from perspiration while in the sauna and instantly freeze when worn outside in the sub-zero temperatures, and that certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable scraping against the wearer’s genitalia.

One participant described the experience of running outside as feeling “like somebody was hitting me with a tennis racket full of needles.” So why do something so painful and dangerous? Perhaps it is to be able to say you belong to one of the most exclusive clubs on the planet. Or maybe it is just a way to keep your spirits up when faced with what must be an overwhelming sense of cabin fever.

Show Me The Proof

Reuters: South Pole’s 300 Club not for the cold-blooded
Darryn’s Antarctic Diary: Week 37—300 Club
National Science Foundation: Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station
KOMO News: There’s exclusive clubs, then there’s the South Pole’s “300 Club”