Antarctica 2011: Its Always About The Weather

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The more things change in the Antarctic, the more they stay the same. After spending nearly two weeks stranded in Punta Arenas due to bad weather, the teams were finally able to hit the ice last week. Now that they’re actually there however, they have to deal with that weather themselves.

Case in point, Aussies James Castrission and Justin Jones have been on the move for a week now and they started their journey under sunny skies and good (albeit cold!) conditions. What a difference a few days can make however, as they’ve now been battling 50kph (31 mph) winds and whiteout conditions, which have dropped their visibility down to a few meters at times. They’ve also started to encounter plenty of sastrugi (hard, irregular ridges in the snow), which has slowed progress to a crawl at times. The duo are still making their way up to the Antarctica Plateau, and according to their most recent update, are now at 760 meters (2493 ft) above sea level. They have a long way to climb yet however, as the Pole if located at 2835 meters (9297 ft). So far, the boys have covered 96km (60 miles), and still have 1039km (645 miles) to go on their there-and-back again journey.

Meanwhile, one team has been putting those high winds to good use as they continue to chase Amundsen’s ghost. The South Pole 1911-2011 expedition broke out the kites over the weekend and as a result, were able to make good time. The team is hoping to arrive at the South Pole on December 14th, exactly 100 years to the day after Roald Amuundsen was the first person to reach that spot on the map, but due to their delayed start, they were two weeks and hundreds of miles behind the Norwegian’s pace. Thanks to the kites however, they were able to narrow the gap by more than 20km in a single day, although they admit that they were forced to give up their sails in favor of good old fashioned skiing late in the day in order to stay on course. The team also reports that despite the solid winds, they haven’t had to deal with some of the other poor weather conditions thus far.

The two teams of the Scott-Amundsen Centenary Race also continue their slog towards the Pole, although they report that the temperatures have dropped significantly. They’re currently dealing with -24ºC (-11ºF) temperatures while they battle some tough conditions as well. One of the team members who released their audio dispatch today, described it as “like pulling a sumo wrestler through custard.” As a result, they notched just 5.7 nautical miles today. They also shared insights into their nutritional requirements for the expedition, as they estimate that they are burning in the neighborhood of 6000 calories per day at the moment. That’s pretty typical for a polar expedition, particularly at this stage of the journey when the sleds are heavier and the explorers are tending to move up hill.

The weather is expected to be generally poor throughout the Antarctic over the next week or so. Heavy snows are forecasts and they tend to bring high winds along with them. Teams are expecting whiteout conditions to prevail, and when things to do eventually clear, temperatures are likely to drop once again. All part of the fun of an expedition to the South Pole.

There will soon be a couple of new teams out on the ice as Felicity Aston left for Punta Arenas this past weekend, and presumably arrived in good shape. She’ll be attempting to become the first woman to cross the Antarctica solo via the South Pole. Polar legend Richard Weber arrived in Chile yesterday as well, and once he gets his gear organized and prepped, he’ll be set to go as well. Richard will be leading a team on a 35-day adventure that begins at the Filchner Ice Shelf and ends at the South Pole.

Finally, one other expedition officially launched today as well, as Dixie Dansercoer and Sam Deltour set off on their three month long survey of Antarctica. The two men will use kites to cover a distance of approximately 6000km (3728 miles) in what will become one of the longest self supported journeys in Antarctica history. Dixie and Sam arrived on the ice on Saturday, but were flown their starting line today. That’s going to be one long, cold expedition. Good luck boys!

Kraig Becker