Antarctica 2010: The Grind Begins


It has now been more than a week since the first few Antarctic expeditions hit the ice, and while there was a rush of excitement and adrenaline when the teams started arriving at Union Glacier, the reality of travel in Antarctica has begun to settle in, as the daily grind of skiing to the South Pole starts to take its toll.

Probably the person who is feeling that grind the most is Willem ter Horst, who is making the journey to the Pole with guide Hannah McKeand. A few days back it was reported that Willem was dealing with terrible blisters on his feet, but Hannah wouldn’t allow him to use that as an excuse to not keep going. In his latest dispatch today however, Willem reports that things are not getting much better, as both of his ankles and a tendon in his right foot have begun to give him problems. It was so bad at one point that he actually got off the skis and hiked for awhile instead, but that drained his energy very quickly and brought its own set of issues. With three more weeks to go on the expedition he’s either going to have to suffer for a long time yet or toughen up and get use to the daily demands on his body. My guess is he’ll be just fine in a few days.

Other expeditions have offered scant updates or none at all over the past few days. Chris Foot continues to make good progress, and as expected, he crossed his first degree on Wednesday but hasn’t sent a dispatch back since. Similarly, the Indian Army Team is out on the ice as well, but have yet to send back any kind of report. Hopefully they are making good progress and we’ll here from them soon, but for now, they’ve gone radio silent.

One team that is making good progress is the Moon-Regan Transantarctic Expedition, which is crossing the continent in vehicles, including a specially designed snow-buggy that runs on biofuels. The team reached a major milestone yesterday by arriving at the South Pole, where they now intend to stay for a few days and check in with reporters, friends, and family back home. They crew is looking forward to getting a break from their cramped vehicles, but will continue their journey early next week.

Finally, as is typical with these reports this past week, I’ll end with update on the progress of Alan Arnette on Mt. Vinson, the first climb of his Seven Summits for Alzheimer’s project. Yesterday was a rest day for Alan and the rest of his team, who have been working hard since arriving at Vinson last Saturday. On Wednesday, they made their first climb up to High Camp to shuttle supplies into place for when they make their summit bid, and while High Camp is at just 13,000 feet, Alan explains that the altitude actually feels higher, as the barometric pressure is very low near both Poles. As a result, Vinson is a much more challenging climb than the altitude of 16,050 feet would indicate. Throw on top of that the extreme cold, and you start to see the challenges that climbers have there. Alan says that when the sun drops behind mountain, temperatures drop to -30ºF very quickly. Today, the team begins to move their entire camp, including all gear, to High Camp, where they’ll launch a summit bid once they’ve rested there. That summit bid will be dictated by the weather, which has been excellent so far, but is likely to change in the days ahead.

That’s all for now. More updates from the Deep South next week!

Kraig Becker