Antarctica 2011: Milestones

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This past Wednesday, which marked the 100th anniversary of Amundsen first reaching the South Pole, was a major milestone in the 2011 Antarctic season. For several teams, it was the end point of their expeditions, as they had hoped to make it to the Pole in time for the celebration. For other skiers, it was a day to reflect, take stock of their progress, and consider all of the brave men and women who had traveled this route before them.

For one team, the Antarctic 1911-2011 squad, Wednesday was most definitely the end of the line. After having two team members airlifted to the Pole to take part in the ceremony, the remaining two members, Vegard Ulvang and Harald Dag Jollie, did complete their ski expedition, albeit a bit late to join the festivities. Now, the four men are headed home, bringing a close to their Antarctic adventure.

Another skier who feels like he’s achieved a milestone is Mark Wood, who is now 25 days into his solo and unassisted journey to the South Pole. Mark managed to cover 16 nautical miles (29km) today and feels like he has turned the corner in terms of feeling good, acclimatizing to the environment, and finding his rhythm on his skis. He still has plenty of distance to go of course, and when he’s done in the Antarctic he heads directly to the Arctic, but he now feels that his first goal, the South Pole, is a tangible destination.  The expanse of white that is the Antarctic continent can be a bit tiresome though, as he noted in an audio broadcast today, during which he equated it to that scene in The Matrix, when the characters were standing in an all white environment with no points of reference.

Also now in their 25th day on the ice, are Dixie Dansercoer and Sam Deltour, who are continuing to explore the continent via kite skis. Since enduring a horrible start to their journey, which forced a restart, the boys have managed to really chalk up the mileage. Yesterday alone, they covered 115.3km (62 miles),  which brought their total distance up to 1246.5km (673 miles) so far. Their latest dispatch reports that they are very much enjoying the steady and strong winds that are allowing them to make this kind of progress, and they hope to be at the South Pole sometime early next week. But again, this is just the start of their journey as well, since they intend to be on the ice for more than three months and cover 6000km (3239 miles) while they are there.

The two teams in the Scott-Amundsen Centenary Race are still plodding along, despite challenging conditions. The Amundsen squad now has 271 nautical miles (501km) to cover before they reach the Pole, while their compatriots on the Scott Team are facing 346 nmi (640km) before they get to their destination. Both teams are dealing with rough terrain at the moment, with the lead team hoping to put the Axel Heiberg glacier behind them this weekend, while Scott squad battles the Beardmore Glacier and all of its crevasses, stastrugi, and other assorted issues.

Finally, Cas and Jonesy continue to be media darlings back in their native Australia. The latest news report on their expedition, which you can see below, says that the boys plan to reach the Pole in the first week of the new year, although they’ll barely have time to celebrate. Once their, they intend to turn around and ski back to Hercules Inlet in an attempt to become the first to go solo and unsupported to the Pole and back. Thats still a very long way to go, with the clock ticking against them.

Kraig Becker