Antarctica 2012 Update: Struggles Continue

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While I’ve been away enjoying the holiday break here in the U.S. the intrepid teams of polar explorers that we’ve been following in the Antarctic have continued their expeditions on the frozen continent. Despite the fact that a few days have passed since our last update, conditions haven’t necessarily improved much and the early South Pole skiers are struggling against a number of challenges.

The one who seems to be struggling the most at this point is 24-year old American Aaron Linsdau. As you probably recall, Aaron is hoping to make the roundtrip journey from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole and back, covering more than 1400 miles (2253 km) in the process. So far there have been few things that have gone his way and he has struggled to put any significant dent into that distance over the course of his first three weeks out on the ice. For what ever reason, Aaron’s method of travel simply hasn’t been all that efficient and he has spent long days covering short distances.

On top of that, he has also now developed chilblains on his hip, which could be a cause for concern moving forward. The condition stems from someone being exposed to cold and humid conditions for a prolonged period of time, creating blisters on the skin that can cause itching, inflammation and infections. Aaron has been taking step to prevent the blisters from cracking, but it sounds like it is painful condition to be dealing with right now.

Fortunately he was able to speak to Antarctic skier Hannah McKeand who offered him some advice on how to travel more efficiently in the demanding polar conditions. Hannah has made several trips to the South Pole over the past few years and will be guiding another team to 90ºS soon, so she is an expert on travel on the frozen continent. Aaron hopes to use her tips to help start covering more ground in less amount of time, but if he isn’t able to generate more speed, he’ll have to consider his options for what he can accomplish during his time in Antarctica. He says that he has already been in contact with ALE and  is weighing some choices at the moment. If I had to guess, I would bet the journey will be cut in half, ending at the South Pole rather than attempting the turn around back to Hercules. But for now we’ll just have to wait and see if Aaron can pick up the pace.

Meanwhile, Icelandic solo-skier Vilborg Arna Gissurardóttir has been out on the ice for a full week now and is certainly making better progress that Linsdau. She’s covering between 9-10 miles (14-16 km) per day despite the surface conditions not being optimal. Vilborg says she’s been encountering a lot of sastrugi – small ridges in the ice – which are hard on the body and the gear. Throw in some strong headwinds and at the end of the day she’s crawling into her tent exhausted. Still, se remains in good spirits, has her focus squarely on the South Pole and is covering the distances she needs in the early days of this kind of expedition. Once she reaches the Antarctic Plateau, I suspect she’ll be off and running quite nicely.

A new group of skiers arrived in the Antarctic yesterday and are currently at Union Glacier preparing to start their journey to the South Pole as well. They are part of the In The Footsteps of Legends team who are celebrating the 100th anniversary of Robert Falcon Scott’s fateful expedition to the bottom of the world. The squad, which is led by Justin Packshaw and David Hempleman-Adams, mainly consists of British soldiers who were injured while on active duty in Afghanistan or Iraq. The team is making a 19-day, 140-mile journey the South Pole to raise funds for the Walking With The Wounded and the Alzheimer’s Research UK organizations.

Finally, Eric Larsen is busy getting ready for his Cycle South expedition during which he’ll be riding a specially outfitted bike to the South Pole. He hopes to set out in just three weeks time and before he gets underway there are a lot of details to consider. Eric shares many of those details in a blog post today that anyone who is interested in expedition logistics will find quite interesting. He talks gear, training, menu planning a whole lot more. It is a good read for those considering their own Antarctic expedition or simply just want to know more about what goes into one.

That’s all for now. More updates later this week as we see new arrivals setting out at last.

Kraig Becker