Antarctica 2011: Teams Chase Amundsen To The Pole


A century after he made his historic run, the shadow of Roald Amundsen looms large this week in the Antarctic, where many of the South Pole skiers are no doubt thinking about the Norwegian explorer who went before them. Wednesday marks the 100th anniversary of Amundsen’s arrival at the South Pole, where a ceremony is planned to honor his achievement. That ceremony will kick off a month of remembrance for the triumph and tragedy that was the Amundsen-Scott battle for the Pole.

One team that hopes to be in attendance for that ceremony is the South Pole 1911-2011 team, who are vacillating between optimism and despair as they approach the final run to 90ºS. They hope to be there in time for the centenary ceremony, but they still have 130km (80 miles) to go as of yesterday. Fate worked in their favor however, as polar explorer Asle Johansen abandoned his quest to go to the South Pole over the weekend, and while he was being picked up in a Twin Otter aircraft from ALE, the team was able to offload gear they won’t need for their stretch run to the finish line. That means they are traveling lighter and faster than before, and feeling more confident in their chances of arriving on Wednesday. The plan now is to ski as long as possible today and tomorrow. Take a brief rest tomorrow evening, then ski through the night and into Wednesday, with the hope of hitting the Pole on the 14th, exactly 100 years after Amundsen. Stay tuned to see if they make it.

Elsewhere on the ice, South African Howard Fairbank seems to have caught his rhythm quite nicely and is eating up good chunks of ground on his solo journey to the South Pole. He has now passed the 86ºS mark and yesterday he completed his personal best of 30km (18.6 miles) in a single day. He has started to face more uphill challenges however, but seems optimistic about his pace and the overall conditions of the weather and ice at the moment. His biggest challenge right now? Getting enough to eat! Howard reports that he is absolutely famished at the end of the day, and his foot rations are not always enough to satiate his needs. Considering these skiers burn in excess of 8000 calories per day, that isn’t surprising.

Mark Wood took a much needed rest day yesterday to let his feet heal up some. He reports minor issues with blisters and the usual wear and tear, but considering he has a long journey ahead of him, he thought it best to take some time to recuperate a bit before returning to the trail. You may recall, Mark is attempting to become the first person to travel to the North and South Pole back-to-back, and once he finished up in the Antarctica, he’ll immediately head north and start the second stage of his expedition. Wood has now been out on the ice for 21 days and figures he has about 30 more days to reach the South Pole to stay on his schedule. Otherwise, weather conditions are good and things are proceeding as planned.

The two Scott-Amundsen Centenary Race teams continue to steam ahead as well. The Amundsen squad has the upper-hand in this “competition” but they hit a bit of a snag yesterday, starting the up-hill crawl along the Axel Heiberg Glacier. They’re also running into lots of soft snow at the moment, whic isn’t helping their efforts to pull their heavy sledges. The Scott Team on the other hand, have moved onto the Beardmore Glacier, where they’re hoping to improve their pace some. That won’t be easy however, as they’ve had to begin their climb as well, and the three men are roped together while they traverse a massive crevasse field. Both units have been been out on the ice for 40 days now, and have hundreds of miles to go before they reach the Pole.

Finally, Cas and Jonesy continue to generate plenty of media attention back in their home country of Australia. The video below is a television report that aired over the weekend, updating viewers of their progress. The boys crossed the halfway point to the Pole last week, but as the video reminds us, that is really only a quarter of the way to their goal. Hang in their guys!

Kraig Becker

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