Antarctica 2011: Endless Ice, Endless Boredom

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Most of the Antarctic expeditions are clearly focused on reaching their respective finish lines at this point of the season, with some continuing to race the clock. With now less than two weeks to go before the last flight off the continent for another season, most of the South Pole skiers are keenly aware of what they have left to accomplish.

One of those skiers is Aleksander Gamme, who continues to make great progress towards becoming the first person to ski solo and unassisted from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole and back again. While he is now managing to knock off more than 30 miles per day on his journey, it hasn’t been an easy one. The Norwegian explorer has now been out on the ice for 78 days straight, and boredom has definitely caught up with him. Aleksander reports that he has now read all of the books he brought along and has started to re-read them once again. He also notes that he has listened to every podcast and audio book on his iPod, and that the days on the trail, which are stretching to 10+ hours in length has he tries to beat the clock, are getting very long indeed. I think it is safe to say that Gamme will be happy to have some new material to stimulate his brain once he returns to civilization.

Meanwhile, Cas and Jonesy have crossed another milestone on their journey from Hercules to the Pole and back. They now have less than 500km (310 miles) to go before they complete their return trip to the coast. As of this writing, they actually have 469km (291 miles) left until their done, and doing some simple math, that tells me they have to average 39km (24.25 miles) per day to reach Hercules Inlet before the last plane takes off. They have been hitting those numbers in recent days, so it is certainly attainable, provided the weather doesn’t change and their gear continues to operate as needed. Keep your fingers crossed for these two, as they have struggled almost from the start, and it would be a very satisfying end to the Antarctic season if they were able to achieve their goal.

The weather closer to the South Pole hasn’t been especially good, which isn’t helping the Scott Team on the Scott-Amundsen Centenary Race to reach their goal. Their mates on the Amundsen Team finished last week, and are awaiting the arrival of their friends at the Pole, but as of yesterday, the Scott squad still has 41 nautical miles to go. They did crank out more than 20 miles yesterday alone however, so with any luck, they could finish as early as tomorrow. It has been one long and exhausting journey for this group, who will be ecstatic to reach 90ºS.

British adventurer Mark Wood also reached the Pole last week and is actually still there. Mark intends to head to Canada soon and begin his solo expedition to the North Pole as well, but at the moment, the weather is keeping him squarely in place. He hopes that that will change in the next day or two, but for now he is enjoying a bit of downtime at the South Pole, which he says isn’t a bad place to be at all.

Finally, Felicity Aston continues to close in on Hercules Inlet as well, which will bring an end to her solo traverse of the continent. She now has just 341km (211 miles) to go after just 51 days out on the ice. Thats a pretty impressive pace to say the least. She did have a minor emergency today when she tweeted that she had reached the bottom of her jar of peanut butter. Without this precious commodity to keep her going, it is hard to say how those final two hundred miles will go. Something tells me she’s going to make it to the finish line just fine however.

Kraig Becker