Antarctica 2011: Struggles Continue


Over the weekend I was fortunate enough to spend some time in very beautiful tropical conditions. The Antarctic skiers can only dream about the warmth of the Caribbean at this point however, as many have now been out on the ice for more than a month, and while the weather has improved, it is still plenty cold and challenging at the bottom of the world.

Australians Cas and Jonesy returned to the trail over the weekend after spending a few rest days in the tent. Both are nursing injuries of one sort or another, and while they’re not completely healed, the rest did allow them to get regain some energy and return to their journey with renewed vigor. As a result, they’ve managed to pick up the pace some and cover some solid ground although they still have a long way to go. As of this writing, they’ve now covered 470km (292 miles), which leaves them with the rather ominous number of 666km (413 miles) yet to go until they reach the South Pole. Of course, that is just their half-way point, and once there, they intend to turn around and ski back to Hercules Inlet. They’ll need to really increase their pace to make that happen however, as the clock is constantly ticking against them.

It was a rest day today for Felicity Aston, but not by choice. Bad weather confined her to the tent today, as high winds and whiteout conditions continue to dog her travels and make it rough going for the solo skier who is hoping to become the first woman to traverse the continent alone. Felicity’s expedition has been a challenge almost from the start, and by her own schedule, she is now five days off the pace she had hoped to set. Reading her Twitter feed gives you a sense of her frustration at the moment, and it isn’t all aimed at the weather. The crevasse fields that she has encountered along her route, which began at the Ross Ice Shelf, has caused her to trek an additional 45 nautical miles, which is the equivalent of three days on her schedule. That bit of news helps to understand how she’s getting off her pace so early on in the expedition.

Solo South African skier Howard Fairbank has now spent nearly two weeks out on the ice, and like everyone else, he has experienced his fair share of challenges. On Saturday he encountered a crevasse field of his own, which forced him to navigate in a wide circle to safely continue heading south. It cost him precious time, but Fairbank is knocking off 25+km (15.5 miles) per day, so his progress has been excellent thus far. After he reaches the South Pole, he intends to kite-ski back to Hercules Inlet along with the team that is currently being led by Richard Weber.

Mark Wood continues to make solid progress on his North-South Expedition, which will see him visiting both Poles back-to-back. He has now been out on the ice for two weeks as well and is enjoying some good weather at the moment. Yesterday it was cold (of course), but there was no wind and the sun was shining. As a result, he managed to cover 15.4 nautical miles and remain energetic and in good spirits. It seems Wood is starting to really catch his rhythm now, as he says that for the first time he is enjoying where he is and feeling good as he travels alone the ice. He’ll need that positive energy in the long days ahead.

Finally, an update on Johan Ernst Nilson and his Pole2Pole expedition. I haven’t mentioned this little adventure in awhile, but as you’ll recall, it began at the North Pole in the spring, with Nilson heading south on skies across the polar ice caps to Greenland. From there, he used dogsleds to get to the coast, sailed across the North Atlantic into Canada, and started a long journey via Bicycle to South America. The plan was to be in Punta Arenas by now, and then sail to the Antarctic, where he would kite-ski to the South Pole. Nilson is currently in the Antarctic, but his expedition hasn’t gone exactly as planned.

A few weeks back, Johan realized that he was never going to arrive in Punta Arenas on his bike in time for the Antarctic season. So, he elected to give up the ride, for now, so that he could complete the ski-section to the South Pole. Once that is done, he’ll return to where he left off on the bike, finish his ride, and sail to Antarctica. He hopes to complete the entire journey in less than a year.

He’s now been out on the ice for 3 days, and covered 30km today alone, which is a great pace to be on. Unfortunately, the team also lost a significant amount of fuel and food as well, which could mean trouble down the line. Lets hope it doesn’t come to that point however.

Kraig Becker