Antarctica 2012: Major Set Back For Richard Parks

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It has been an eventful week so far in the Antarctica with the first team reaching the South Pole after covering the last two degrees, and climbers getting ready for the next round of summits on Vinson. But unfortunately one of the explorers has found his expedition in jeopardy before he has even gotten the chance to hit the ice.

Solo and unsupported South Pole skier Richard Parks had hoped to depart for Union Glacier yesterday and begin his long journey today. But it turns out none of his gear or supplies arrived in Punta Arenas, even though he had shipped it well before he left London. That set off a mad scramble with Parks working with the shipping company and the logistical geniuses at ALE to try to track down the missing equipment. For a time, no one could find the gear at all and it was unclear exactly where it was. The shipment was suppose to be routed from London to Chile via Miami, but as of late Monday, no one had a clue as to what had become of the all important gear.

Late yesterday the shipping company finally found all of Richard’s equipment, still sitting on a dock in London. That of course meant that there was no way for him to depart for Union Glacier yesterday and it means that his gear won’t be on site for at least a few more days. The next flight out to Antarctica is scheduled for Monday the 17th, and if the gear hasn’t arrived in Punta by then, there is a good chance that Parks will have to cancel the expedition altogether. For safety reasons he had padded his scheduled with a couple of extra days, but those will now be gone for sure and if he can’t get underway on Monday, he says that he won’t feel comfortable setting out at all. With over 700 miles (1126 km) to cover, and a smaller window than expected, the expedition is now in serious jeopardy.

For his part, Richard is keeping a positive outlook. He says that he is taking the extra days to study the route and get familiar with the challenges he’ll face along the way. That extra study time can come in handy and may help him make up some lost time, as he’ll have plotted the best course to avoid crevasse fields and other dangers along the way. Lets just hope he gets the chance to test that route.
Meanwhile,  Vilborg Arna Gissurardóttir continues her steady but sure trek to the South Pole. Yesterday she struggled to make good time in the fresh powder that had fallen across the region, but she still managed to hit her target goal of 20 km (12.4 miles). She also notched two new milestones along the way, crossing the 83rd degree and now having completed one third of her journey after 23 days on the continent.

Aaron Linsdau reported a good day of travel across hard packed surface, although surface whiteouts made it a challenge to stay on track. His two damaged sleds are not helping to make the journey an easy one, but so far they are managing to hold together, even if they don’t make for efficient pulling. Aaron has now been heading south for 39 days on his attempt to go from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole and back.

The skiers aren’t the only ones in the Antarctic who are reaching milestones. The Lake Ellsworth team has completed the assembly of their equipment and have commenced drilling through the Antarctic ice today. They’ll now try to penetrate more than 3 km (1.8 miles) of solid ice to reach a sub-glacial lake that could hold clues to what the environment in Antarctica was once like and what kind of lifeforms can exist there.

Finally, over on Mt. Vinson, the RMI squad, led by Dave Hahn, has moved back up the mountain to High Camp. As they went, the weather cleared and the climbers were treated to great views of the surrounding area. This weather window is expected to extend for a few more days, and while it will be quite cold, it looks like they’ll be on their way to the summit today. Temperatures are predicted to be about -28ºC/-18ºF today.

Kraig Becker