Antarctica 2011: Tough Going For Multiple Teams

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The 2011 Antarctic season is now in full swing, with plenty of explorers out on the ice and making their way to the South Pole or other destinations. Weather conditions continue to create problems for some of the teams, who are struggling to make progress through cold temperatures and difficult terrain.

Australians Cas and Jonesy have been out on the ice for 11 days now, and have encountered a wide variety of conditions. The boys have spent full days in whiteouts, faced heavy winds, and regular snow falls. As a result, they’ve only covered approximately 118km (73 miles) so far, which isn’t necessarily something to panic about normally, but considering they are doing a round trip journey from Hercules Inlet to the Pole and back, I’m sure they would prefer to be knocking off more mileage at the moment.

Dixie Dansercoer and Sam Deltour launched their Antarctic ICE expedition earlier this week. They’ll now spend the better part of the next three months explore remote regions of the continent using kite-skis to travel vast distances. They’ve gotten off to a bit of a rocky start however, as high winds and snow storms have greatly impeded their progress. Throw in a touch of altitude sickness, and the duo haven’t exactly been in a rhythm just yet. They have plenty of time to get into their groove, as they aren’t scheduled to be retrieved from the ice until February. 

One team that has struggled mightily already is Steffan Dahl’s squad. His audio dispatches and blog postings are in Norwegian, so it is difficult for me to tell exactly what is going on, but it appears that the expedition may be in jeopardy due to the health of one of the team members. Their options are to evacuate back to Union Glacier, thus ending their journey early or be picked up by a snowcat and taken to a near by base in the Thiel Mountains, where the sick team member can get assistance and Steffan can eventually continue on to the South Pole. The second option appears to be what they’ll go with, although it does mean the expedition will give up its “unsupported” status.

Weather hasn’t been an issue at all for the South Pole 1911-2011 team, who have now enjoyed more than ten straight days of clear skies both day and night. That brings cold temperatures, but that is to be expected in the Antarctic. The lack of wind has aided their progress as well, and they report that the snow varies from smooth as silk to rough patches with thick, hard sastrugi. When skiing over those wind swept drifts, progress can be slow, but morale remains high with the squad, and they continue to trudge along efficiently.

Meanwhile, Felicity Aston and Richard Weber have both arrived in Punta Arenas for their respective expeditions. Webber will lead a team to the South Pole, while Aston will attempt to become the first woman to make a solo, unsupported traverse of the Antarctic continent. Both of them are busy getting their gear organized and completing last minute prep work, while also waiting for ALE to let them know when they’ll depart for Antarctica. Flights are currently grounded due to lots of snow falling on the runway at Union Glacier and its not clear when the next plane will depart. It is likely that when it does finally fly, both Felicity and Richard will be on the same flight.

That’s all for now. It’s been a pretty typical start to the Antarctic season. Slow going early on, but teams pick up speed as the season goes on. The weather tends to improve as well, so hopefully these explorers will have better conditions ahead.

Kraig Becker