Antarctica 2012: Signs Of Life

Low Camp

It was another busy weekend in the Antarctica, where the SouthPole skiers are continuing to enjoy an extended period of good weather. That doesn’t  mean they haven’t had their share of challenges, but for once it wasn’t the weather that was causing them concern.

Take for example, Aaron Linsdau, who has struggled to make meaningful mileage almost since he began his expedition 38 days ago. He is attempting to become the first American to ski solo and unsupported from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole and back again, covering 1400 miles (2253 km) in the process. Last week, in an effort to improve speed and distance covered, he made the decision to drop some extra supplies and to have ALE move them ahead as caches he could pick up later. This of course removed the “unsupported” status of the expedition, but did allow him to gain some speed. Unfortunately however, an equipment failure this weekend will make things more difficult once again, as the skis have now come off both of his sleds, making them harder to pull and more unpredictable in their behavior. Apparently Aaron was traveling through a sastrugi field and the time and it played havoc with the runners, which were already barely hanging on to begin with.

Listening to Aaron’s audio dispatches it is clear that he is trying to make the best of the situation. It is also clear that this challenge is wearing on him. The physical and mental demands that go along with a solo ski to the South Pole are tremendous and his frustration at the lack of progress is not helping the situation. Still, he continues to go about business as best he can, despite the fact that few things have gone his way since he started.

For the first time in more than a month, he has also spotted other human beings. Over the weekend he caught a glimpse of tiny black dots on the horizon, not especially close to his position, and it was later confirmed that it was ALE crew going conducting some logistical maneuvers. I’m sure it must have been startling to see signs of life where there hasn’t been any for days on end. I wonder if he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him.
Having a considerably better time with her solo expedition to the South Pole is Icelandic skier Vilborg Arna Gissurardóttir. Her dispatches don’t share a whole lot of information about her progress, but it is clear that she approaches each day in workmen like fashion. She seems razor focused on hitting the 20km (12.4 mile) mark each and every day, and so far she seems to have little problems doing so. That won’t get her to the 90ºS in any kind of record time, but that solid work will ensure that she does complete her journey on time and as expected.

Vilborg also caught signs of life over the weekend, coming across the tracks of another skier. I suspect those tracks probably belong to Aaron, who started a number of days ahead of her, but she has steadily been closing in on his position ever since. The two probably won’t meet out on the ice, particularly if they want to stay “solo” on their adventure, but I believe that the Icelandic woman will pass the American man later this week.

In other news, Richard Parks is now in Punta Arenas and awaiting his flight to Antarctica. He’ll be making a solo and unsupported expedition from Hercules to the South Pole as well, and he spent most of yesterday getting his gear organized and ready. If the weather holds out, and everything goes as planned, he should fly out to Union Glacier tomorrow and begin heading south a day or two later.

Finally, more climbers are getting into position on Vinson and hoping to make summit pushes soon. The RMI team spent the day yesterday shuttling gear up to High Camp and are now back down the mountain today and taking a much needed break. They’ll like get their legs back under them, then assess the weather to see when they’ll have a safe window to make their ascent. If the weather is kind, they may summit later in the week as well.

That’s all for now. More updates soon.

Kraig Becker