It was another productive and challenging weekend in the Antarctic where skiers and climbers are both working hard to wrap up their expeditions before the season is complete. With just one week to go before the last flight off the continent, there is still a lot of work to be done for one of our South Pole skiers, while another is closing in on the finish line at long last.
As of today, Aaron Linsdau has now been out on the ice for a staggering 80 days, and if you’ve followed his progress over the past three months, you probably know that he has been challenged physically and mentally on nearly all of those days. But as of last night, Aaron had just seven miles to go to reach the South Pole, which means he should finish up today. I say should because there is a high voltage transmission line sitting between him and the finish line, which means he’ll have to go out of his way to navigate around this obstacle. With weather conditions remaining dicey and surface conditions far from smooth, it is possible that he could end up extending his expedition for another day. But I believe Aaron will do everything in his power to reach 90ºS today and finally complete his expedition. I’m sure at this point, he wants nothing more than to be in a warm location with some good food that he can share with others. It has been an extremely long and difficult road to this point.
Meanwhile, Richard Parks is struggling with his own challenges. At the end of last week he fell on a nasty sastrugi, twisting his knee in the process. He says the injury is minor but when combined with bad weather and incredibly bad sastrugi, his progress has slowed noticeably. Despite those difficulties he has managed to cross into the 88th degree and is hoping to leave the sastrugi fields behind in another day or two. That should allow him to get back up to speed and hopefully knock off these last two degrees in style. Parks knows that he is racing the clock, as ALE’s last scheduled flight back to Union Glacier is scheduled for next Monday, January 28.
Over the weekend, Richard was forced to make a tough decision about his expedition. With the days starting to run short and progress slowing a bit, he was forced to call in a supply drop to provide extra food. This will remove the “unsupported” label from the journey, but he knows it is the right choice in order to safely reach the Pole and get home to his friends and family. He expects that food drop to come today or tomorrow.
Last Friday, Icelandic skier Vilborg Arna Gissurardóttir wrapped up her expedition to the South Pole and according to her home team, she was picked up by ALE and flown back to Union Glacier along with a team of South Africans who completed a last degree journey. Weather at the Pole was reported bad, but it cleared just long enough for their flight out. Vilborg is currently at UG and waiting for a flight back to Punta Arenas, where she’ll make her way home.
Finally, the climbing season on Mt. Vinson came to an end over the weekend. ExWeb has a complete rundown of the final climbs of the season, with most of the big commercial outfits wrapping up their expeditions. It was a successful year on the mountain, that saw plenty of climbers with ambitions on the Seven Summits coming to take on the 4892 meter (16,050 ft) peak. Most of the members of those final teams are either back in Union Glacier or en route, as they prepare to head home as well.
Now, all eyes are on the South Pole, where the last of our intrepid skiers are closing in last. Soon, there will be just one remaining.