Antarctica 2012: Bad Weather Making Things Tough

2009 antarctica landscape

The 2012 Antarctic season is officially underway, but so far there aren’t many South Pole skiers out on the ice. That is probably a good thing as the weather hasn’t been all that cooperative just yet. But one skier who couldn’t avoid launching his expedition as soon as possible is Aaron Linsdau, who is hoping to make the 1400+ mile (2253 km) round trip journey from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole and back again. Aaron is traveling solo and unsupported, so it was imperative that he get started as early in the season as possible. So far that hasn’t helped his progress much.

Aaron arrived in the Antarctic last week and after spending a couple of days getting his gear together and testing his equipment, he started the long trek to 90ºS. But so far his progress has been incredibly show thanks to the lack of snow to ski on. The ground is mostly covered in hard ice, which is not ideal for skis, and thus far Aaron has encountered very little snow. So, for the first few days he’s actually been walking and covering distances of just 3-4 miles (5-6 km) each day. In one of his updates he noted that he wished he had brought Yaktrax or crampons along with him, but since he has neither, he has found himself slipping and sliding alot.

His most recent dispatch this morning also gives us an indication of the weather he has been dealing with thus far. Yesterday he walked in near whiteout conditions for most of the day and with temperatures hovering around -30ºF/-34ºC, much of his gear and other supplies are freezing solid. High winds, generally blowing directly in his face, haven’t helped matters either. He estimates those winds are in the 20-30 mph (32-48 km) range, which is actually down from a few days ago when it was more like 50 mph (80 km/h). In short, it is cold, windy and generally nasty, but he’s keeping his spirits up, covering what ever distances he can and hoping for improvements in the days ahead.

Meanwhile, the Patagonia Glacier crossing team, which includes Irish Clare O’Leary and Mike O’Shea, as well as Canadian Bill Hanlon and Norwegian Bengt Rotmo, is dealing with inhospitable weather as well. After spending several days in transit, the team has finally reached the glacier, where they’ll soon start their expedition too. But they’ve been shuttling gear to the starting point while dealing with pounding rain over the past few days. As a result, the explorers and their gear are soaked through and they haven’t even had the chance to get underway yet. If all goes as expected, the hope to step into their skis tomorrow and begin the crossing in ernest.

Over on South Georgia Island, the Baffin Babes continue to plug away at their crossing of one of the most remote islands on the planet. They’ve been dealing with their own weather conditions, enduring wind and snow storms as well. But perhaps the most magical elements of their expedition thus far has been the wildlife encounters. A few days back the girls had a seal break one of their tent lines when he attempted to pay them a visit while they made breakfast inside their shelter and later they had to find a way to navigate through a beach swarming with the creatures. Despite challenging conditions, the ladies continue to make good progress, posting regular updates to their Facebook page.

Finally, waiting in the wings, is the Lake Ellsworth team which is now in Punta Arenas where they are organizing gear and preparing for their departure for the Antarctic. This is the squad of research scientists who will be drilling through 3 km (1 mile) of ice to reach a sub-glacial lake that hasn’t been exposed to the outside world in thousands of years. They hope that the hidden lake will provide some insights into creatures that live in the Antarctic and what the climate of the continent might have been in centuries past. The next scheduled flight from ALE is not until Sunday, November 11, weather permitting of course. I would expect this team will be hoping to be ready to go on that flight.

The season is still ramping up at this point and I know there are a number of other South Pole ski teams that are preparing to get underway later this month. Stay tuned for more updates in the days ahead.

Kraig Becker