Antarctica 2011: Frustration At The Bottom Of The World


If there is one word that can be used to sum up the 2011 Antarctic season thus far, it has to be frustration. Teams have been struggling all over the continent with bad weather, cold temperatures, and generally miserable conditions. Most are soldiering on, keeping their eyes on the prize, which in most cases is the South Pole, but these first few weeks out on the ice have not been easy for the explorers.

Yesterday I mentioned that Dixie Dansercoer and Sam Deltour will restart their epic three-month long, 6000km (3728 mile) journey after getting off to an incredibly rough start. Cold weather and unusual Antarctic ice conditions has prevented them from breaking out the kite-skis, and slowed progress to a crawl. If all goes as planned however, they’ll be picked up by plane today and flown back to one of the near by bases this evening. From there, they’ll select a new starting point, and resume their intended exploration of a seldom visit section of the eastern Antarctica.

Things haven’t been going much better for Cas and Jonesy, the two Aussie lads attempting to travel unsupported from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole, and back again. In their latest audio dispatch, they express their frustration quite plainly, mentioning how whiteout conditions, strong winds, and the long, slow slog up to the Antarctic Plateau have taken their toll on them. Yesterday, the boys enjoyed a much needed rest day, which will put them back on the trail with a bit more energy today, but having only traveled 161km (100 miles) thus far, they aren’t very pleased with their progress.

The two teams taking part in the Scott-Amundsen Centenary Race  are continuing at a solid pace, despite plenty of obstacles. The Scott Team has had to navigate sastrugi fields for the past few days and it looks like they’ll continue for awhile yet. Those hard ridges in the snow are like continuous speed-bumps, preventing the skiers from finding their rhythm and tiring them out at the same time. Despite those challenges however, they have managed to make steady progress, with both teams covering more than 10 nautical miles today alone.

One team that is making progress is the South Pole 1911-2011 squad. They hit a major milestone today be moving within sight of land at last. They have been skiing along the Ross Ice Shelf, but are now moving onto the continent itself, and have started to see changes in elevation on the horizon. That means that they’ll start the climb up to the Plateau soon as well, which will slow down their progress some. Still, the team seems to be in good spirits and enjoying the journey thus far.

Meanwhile, back in Punta Arenas, a host of new explorers are just itching to get out on the ice. Flights have been delayed by weather once again, which has left the likes of Felicity Aston, Mark Wood, and Richard Weber all waiting for their turn. I’m sure it is quite ironic for them to be sitting in town, waiting to start their respective journeys, while others are already out on the ice and struggling to make progress as well. You know you’re a hardened polar explorer when you can’t wait to get out on the ice and start suffering, rather than relaxing in Punta Arenas.

Kraig Becker