Antarctica 2012: Cycling South!

eric larsen 600

Today is another busy one in Antarctica, where two new expeditions officially being, even as the early skiers continue their march to the South Pole. Meanwhile, over on Mt. Vinson, the teams prepare for another round of summits on the continent’s highest mountain.

Probably the highest profile expedition of this Antarctic season is Eric Larsen’s Cycle South project. Over the next few weeks, Eric, who is a veteran of arctic exploration, will be attempting to ride a specially designed mountain bike some 700 miles (1126 km) from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole. He arrived at Union Glacier yesterday and spent most of the day getting his gear prepped and the bike assembled. If everything goes according to schedule, he should hop a short flight over to Hercules today and begin the ride. If he is successful, Eric will be the first person to ride a bike the full distance to the South Pole. Earlier this year, Brit Helen Skelton rode her bike to the Pole, but it was from a much shorter distance.

For those that are curious, Larsen will be riding a Surly Moonlander outfitted with special tires that are 4.8 inches (12.1 cm) thick. The rugged frame and thick tires will allow him, in theory, to ride over the ice and snow more smoothly and hopefully survive the rough sastrugi that are so common in the Antarctic. He’ll be carrying most of his gear and supplies in panniers built by Granite Gear and he hopes to make the return trip from 90ºS back to Hercules, weather and time permitting.

Also on his way to the Hercules start today is Richard Parks, who arrived at Union Glacier with Eric yesterday. There hasn’t been any updates from Richard yet since he hit the ice, but if he is staying on course for his plan, he should have completed his gear prep and testing of equipment yesterday, and will be embarking today. Richard is attempting a solo and unsupported journey to the South Pole, but thanks to delays due to issues with getting his gear shipped to Punta Arenas, he now has very little wiggle room in his schedule. Hopefully we’ll get an update from him today as he hits the trail at last.

Solo South Pole skier Aaron Linsdau achieved two milestones today on his way to the South Pole. First, he has now been out on the ice for 45 total days, which is quite an accomplishment in and of itself. That’s a month and a half in a tent and struggling day in and day out to move forward, despite difficult surface conditions, high winds and bitterly cold temperatures. But he’s probably more proud of the fact that yesterday, for the first time, he managed to crack the 12 mile (19.2 km) mark. The weather has actually been pleasant for a change and that has helped him to make solid progress towards his goal. Better yet, the forecast looks to remain about the same in the next few days, so he’s hoping to take advantage of that to make good time. Right now he has his eyes on his next supply cache, which he hopes to reach in about five days. At the moment he only has about eight days worth of supplies on him, so it is important that he stay focused and on target.

Similarly, Vilborg Arna Gissurardóttir is back on track today and counting off the miles. After feeling a bit homesick yesterday, she now seems more determined and focused to reach the South Pole. Weather conditions were good today, with plenty of clear skies and sunshine, although temperatures were on the cold side. That allowed her to hit her standard 20km (12.1 miles) without too much difficulty. Vilborg’s trek as been a sure and steady one as she hits her target goals for distance each day just like clockwork. 

Finally, more teams arrived on Mt. Vinson last night, after just being shuttled onto the frozen continent by ALE earlier in the day. The 7 Summits Club has two teams preparing for the climb in Base Camp and RMI has their second squad in place as well. Mountain guide Dave Hahn says that as many as 60 new climbers arrived yesterday, which should make for a busy summit day sometime next week, provided the weather cooperates.
That’s all for now. More updates soon. 
Kraig Becker