Antarctica 2010: Still Waiting In Punta Arenas

It has been a few days since we had any updates from Punta Arenas, Chile where the expeditions are still waiting to get underway. Bad weather in Antarctica has caused delays across the board, and ALE’s jets are currently unable to land at their new base located at Union Glacier. But the weather has taken a turn, and is said to be improving, although it now looks like it’ll be Sunday before the shuttle runs begin.

According to ExWeb, the weather conditions at Union Glacier are currently windy and bitter cold. The increased winds have blown the snow, which was causing problems through last week, out of the region, but they have also ushered in -52ºC (-61ºF) temps. That is making it challenging for the ALE advanced team to clear the blue ice runway that will give the Ilyushin cargo planes a place to land.

How these delays will impact the explorers had yet to be seen. For instance, Chris Foot, who plans a there-and-back-again expedition to the South Pole on skis, has said that as long as he hits the ice by Saturday, he’ll still feel fine about making his milestones and deadlines. But anything after that could put his mission in jeopardy. You can bet he’ll be one of the first to be taken to the continent, but he is already facing adversity before he ever sets foot on the ice.

Similarly, Willem ter Horst, an Antarctic guide for ANI, is also stuck in Punta Arenas and waiting for a flight out. In his latest dispatch he talks about having nothing to do while waiting in Limbo for his chance to get going. Willem will be making the journey along with fellow ANI guide Hannah McKeand who has already visited the South Pole on three other occasions.

Meanwhile, some of the expeditions are already en route. Doug Stoup is headed to Antarctica the old fashioned way, which is to say by boat across the Beagle Channel and through the Drake Passage. Doug says that the conditions are good so far, although 15-foot swells have challenged their 75-foot sailing ship. He plans to ski and climb along the Antarctic Peninsula in the days ahead.

It seems like I’ve been saying it all week long, but it looks like we’ll have to wait a bit longer for the kick-off of the 2010 Antarctic Season. Every time I write one of these posts, it seems that another delay is in effect. Lets hope that Sunday proves to be a successful one for the teams, or they may ended up missing any chance of going the Pole at all. Keep in mind, the difficult part of the journey is still ahead for these polar explorers.

Kraig Becker