Antarctica 2012: On Pace For The South Pole

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Yesterday I posted that good weather had made it possible for the climbing teams on Vinson to reach the summit of Antarctica’s tallest peak but that good weather is being felt elsewhere on the continent too. The South Pole skiers are taking advantage of the conditions and are enjoying a bit easier going as a result. That has made for solid progress across the board and while there is still a lot of work to be done, the skiers are putting in some significant miles at the moment.

One of those skiers who has done an excellent job thus far is Vilborg Arna Gissurardóttir. She’s now been on the ice for 18 days and from the start she’s been making good progress, generally hitting 20km (12.5 miles) per day. Yesterday she shared her daily routine, which consists of two 90 minute skiing sessions per morning, with a brief rest between each of them, followed by a longer 15-20 minute break for lunch. After that, the afternoon repeats the process before stopping for the evening. This routine has kept her on track to reach the South Pole and become the first woman from Iceland to make the journey solo and unsupported.

Similarly, the In The Footsteps of Legends team has also hit its stride and is averaging about 11 nautical miles (20.3 km) per day as well. The group of vets who were wounded while on active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to have acclimatized well to the Antarctic conditions while making a two-degree journey to 90ºS. They are currently estimating that they will reach the Pole next Monday, provide weather conditions hold and they’re able to continue making good progress.

Aaron Linsdau has also picked up the pace some, although he still has significant miles to make up if he ever hopes to complete his roundtrip journey from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole and back. The good weather has allowed him to cover more ground, but he is still well off the pace he needs to cover the 1400 miles (2253 km) during the Antarctic season. His gear isn’t helping him much either, as he has struggled with a number of problems along the way. Not only does he have a sled that is barely holding together, but one of his ski bindings seems to have come loose and a zipper on his snow pants has been completely destroyed as well. Throw in the fact that his shovel has been broken for days, and you can see how Aaron’s frustration levels could mount. This is typical for Antarctica of course, as the place is brutal on gear and the people who use it. Anyone heading to the South Pole has to know this ahead of time and learn to adapt as needed, but any gear failure can lead to lost time, which means less milage covered on a typical day.

Over at Ellsworth Lake, the research team is now full assembled and they’re going about their business. They group is still putting together their complex and sophisticated drilling rig, which will allow them to drill through 3 km (1.8 miles) of solid ice to reach the subglacial lake below the surface. They’re hoping that the water that is in that lake will give them some clues about the climate of Antarctica thousands of years ago and possibly reveal life there as well. The video below shows the site from the sky and a plane landing at the base to deliver staff and supplies. As you can imagine, it looks pretty remote.

In other Antarctic news, the SA Agulhas set sail from London yesterday on its way to the frozen continent. The ship is carrying tons of equipment for Ranulph Fiennes’ upcoming winter South Pole expedition. That journey isn’t expected to get underway until March 21st and will mark the first trek to 90ºS ever conducted in the dead of the winter. Because of the demands of traveling in such a cold and hostile environment, there will be a full support crew and plenty of gear. Fiennes and his traveling companion won’t set out for several months yet, but the ship will be en route for weeks.

We’re still waiting for two other major South Pole expeditions to get underway. Richard Parks has packed his gear and shipped it to Chile, but he hasn’t departed the U.K. just yet. Likewise for Eric Larsen, who will be riding his bike to the bottom of the world starting in a few weeks time. He is still home in the U.S. but should leave for Punta Arenas soon as well. Both should prove interesting to follow in the later part of the season.

Kraig Becker