Antarctica 2011: Racing The Clock And History


It has been another eventful and busy week in the Antarctic, where teams continue to struggle with weather and difficult surface conditions. We’re now far enough along into the season that the South Pole skiers are recognizing that time is at a premium, and while some will have to face harsh realities about achieving their goals, others are now racing the clock, and history, as they struggle to reach the finish line on schedule.

One of the teams that is painfully aware of their position and how the clock is ticking against them, is the Crossing the Ice squad of James Castrission and Justin Jones, affectionately known as Cas and Jonesy. The boys are attempting to go unsupported from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole, and back again, which has never been done before, but bad weather and a series of nagging injuries has slowed their progress greatly. At the moment, Justin is suffering from an infection in one of his toes and it is making skiing very painful. He is soldiering on of course, but it has made for some long days this week. The Aussie duo is well aware of the clock ticking against them, and if they want to complete their intended journey, they now feel that rest days will either have to be eliminated altogether, or will be a very rare commodity indeed. As if all of this stress wasn’t enough, Cas is also trying to help plan his wedding while he is headed towards the South Pole. I have a feeling he’d rather be dealing with the Antarctic, rather than the details of his pending nuptials.

The South Pole 1911-2011 team is also racing the clock, but for very different reasons. The four man squad continues to make solid progress, and have now passed the 88ºS mark. Yesterday, they managed to knock off 45km (28 miles), and start today just 31km (19 miles) off the pace of Amundsen, whose ghost they are chasing to the South Pole. The team hopes to arrive at 90ºS on December 14th, which is next Wednesday. If they do, they’ll reach their goal exactly 100 years to the day after Amundsen first planted the Norwegian flag at the bottom of the world.

The two teams taking part in the Scott-Amundsen Centenary Race are not quite literally racing one another the Pole, although for one team it has been a far easier go than for the other. The Amundsen Team continues to make good progress, and will cross the 85ºS line today, leaving them with less than 300 nautical miles to the Pole. Meanwhile, their counterparts on the Scott Team continue to struggle with adverse weather, and as of this writing, they still have 425 nautical miles until they reach that point. Unless something dramatically changes, it seems that Amundsen is poised to win this race once again.

Dixie and Sam have now spent 18 days out on the ice, and when they have strong winds, they are knocking off impressive chunks of distance. Just two days ago they covered more than 80km (49.7 miles) using their kites and skis, but those speeds and distances come with a price. Both men are experiencing pain in their knees and back due to the numerous and very hard sastrugi that cover the ground. Those pains, while minor, do add up after awhile, and considering these two men are planning to be out on the ice for awhile, it could make for some serious issues down the line. The team is hoping to cover more than 6000km (2728 miles) on their expedition, which is scheduled to last upwards of three months.

Felicity Aston is in better spirits today, despite the fact that she has entered “Sastrugi National Park.” She has now crossed he 87ºS latitude as well and is steaming towards the Pole at a good pace. You may recall that her expedition will see her traversing the continent, as she got underway from the Ross Ice Shelf, and will return to Hercules, after swinging by the South Pole first. If successful, she’ll be the first woman to make such a traverse solo and unsupported. Last night she made camp amongst the rigid sastrugi, thinking that she had found a nice, flat section to pitch the tent, but when she climbed inside her sleeping bag, she found she was resting along one of the hard ridges in the snow. I’m guessing that didn’t make for a great night’s sleep.

More updates early next week. The action is really starting to pick-up now, and there are plenty of skiers, in teams and solo, who are now well en route to the South Pole. 90ºS is going to be a very busy place starting next week.

Kraig Becker