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As CNN Correspondent Kyra Phillips discovered, even simple tasks like removing contact lenses become difficult in such a harsh environment.  

Reporter's notebook: Harsh continent

By Kyra Phillips
CNN

(CNN) -- We learned quickly why Antarctica junkies call this place the "Harsh Continent." Harsh, at times, is putting it mildly.

After nearly seven hours in a cargo plane, we had to survive snow survival school, which required living for 36 hours outside on the Ross Ice Shelf. It was 20 degrees Fahrenheit during the "day" -- a little colder with the wind chill. We were lucky in that respect. Other teams had to do the same training in blizzards.

We built and slept in an ice mound -- sort of an igloo without the ice blocks. Vickie Usher, the producer, Dave Rust, our photographer, and I truly bonded out there: the ice mound was only barely big enough for three people. Snuggled in our sleeping bags, we struggled to deal with our contact lenses and tried desperately to fall asleep in pure daylight. During the Antarctic summer -- October through February -- the sun never sets.

Phillips rappels down into a crevasse, a separation in the ice caused by the movement of the glacier. Often covered by snow, falling into a crevasse is one of Antarctica's greatest dangers.  

The whole trip we never went anywhere without 20 pounds of cold weather gear per person: bunny boots, long underwear, plenty of fleece and face protection. We even had to rub sunblock up our nostrils because the sun's rays are so strong.

One of the most exhilarating experiences was rappelling down a crevasse. Even though we were safely roped up by our instructors, it was amazing to see one of the hidden dangers of Antarctica up close. Old explorers and even today's scientists and support workers have fallen into crevasses and never come home.

Cleanliness can be tricky, except in McMurdo. We had hot showers there, no problem. You're lucky when you can take a shower at the South Pole -- just two showers a week for two minutes each. We actually did not stay at the pole long enough to "earn" a shower! Needless to say, body odor is part of the natural ambience. It's amazing how quickly you get used to things.

People always think of penguins when they think of Antarctica -- and yes, penguins ARE adorable. We couldn't try to touch them -- even though at Cape Crozier and Cape Royds we were out among them. Breaking the laws that protect the environment and the wildlife of Antarctica can result in heavy fines and banishment from this amazing place. We also saw killer whales and seals while out on the Coast Guard icebreaker. They all seemed very familiar with the helicopters, ships and weird vehicles everyone uses to get around Antarctica. You just can't get too close...

Phillips discovered that penguins are as cute in person as they are in photographs.  

And the scientific discoveries are fascinating. At the pole, seismologists can listen to the Earth without the interruptions of city noise -- something vital to their work understanding earthquakes. Astrophysicists can see deeper into space from the South Pole than from any other place in the world. On the coast, marine biologists make medical breakthroughs by studying what lies on the bottom of the ocean.

I also must admit, the people who live and work here are partly crazy. The old saying in Antarctica is, "The first time you go, it's for the adventure; the second time you go, it's for the money; and the third time you go, it's because you don't fit in anywhere else." The people who choose to work in Antarctica year after year are truly a different breed.

We'll never forget our journey. Besides, how many people can say they have been to the absolute bottom of the Earth?

(Actually less than 20,000!)

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