Antarctica 2011: Calm Before The Storm

With the fall Himalaya season finally winding down (There were a few late summits on Manaslu), the adventure community will next turn its eyes to the Antarctic, where things are just now starting to ramp up. Over the course of the next few weeks, explorers, both solo and in teams, will descend on Punta Arenas, Chile, where they’ll take care of all of their last minute preparations before hopping a flight aboard an ALE plane to the frozen continent.

Some of those explorers will be headed to the South Pole of course, while others will travel to Mt. Vinson, the tallest mountain on the continent. A few will venture off the beaten path to some other peak or take an unexplored route into a seldom visited, little known area of the Antarctic.

One of the first teams to arrive in Punta Arenas in the Crossing the Ice squad of James Castrission and Justin Jones, affectionately known as Cas and Jonesy. The boys touched down there a few days back, but have been recovering from jet lag and organizing their gear, as they get ready to hit the ice in just a few days time. They are a bit earlier than most, but they’re going to need all the time they can get, as they intend to make the 2200km (1367 mile) journey from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole, and back again, on foot and unassisted. If successful, they’ll be the first to accomplish that feat.

This year will be a special one in the Antarctic, as it will mark the 100th anniversary of the famous (infamous?) race to the Pole that was waged by Norwegian Roald Amundsen and Britain’s Robert Falcon Scott. There are a few teams that will be following in the footsteps of those explorers and plenty of stories about their heroics. For those that don’t know, the two men were locked in a struggle to become the first man to reach the South Pole. Amundsen ended up getting their first, 35 days ahead of his rival, and Scott and his party suffered mightily, before dying on the return trip.

The full story is a sad one, and I’m sure I’ll be sharing more details of it over the coming days, starting next week, when we’ll mark the start of 100 year celebration with the anniversary of the start of Amundsen’s expedition.

Because of this big anniversary, the Antarctic is going to be a very busy place this year.