As I mentioned a few times last week, we’re on the verge of the start of the 2013 Antarctic expedition season and soon numerous teams will be heading to the bottom of the world to ski to the South Pole, climb Mt. Vinson or explore some other location on the frozen continent. But one team got an early start to the season by setting off last week, and while they’re just a few days into their epic journey, they are now moving south at last.
Last Monday, Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere of the Scott Expedition flew from Punta Arenas, Chile to the McMurdo Station in Antarctica. They spent a few days there getting their gear and supplies organized before they caught another flight out to the Ross Ice Shelf, where they spent another day and a half skiing to their official starting point at the Scott Terra Nova Hut. Since they will be skiing in the footsteps of polar legend Robert Falcon Scott, and hoping to complete the route he couldn’t, it seemed only fitting that Ben and Tarka set out from the same place that he did more than a century ago.
The boys have begun posting dispatches from the ice and so far it seems that conditions are good but the work is hard. Their sleds are at full capacity at the moment, which means they are pulling 200 kg (440 pounds) of gear and supplies behind them as they begin their 1800 mile (2896 km) journey to the South Pole and back again. Those sleds will get easier to pull as the food supplies start to dwindle, but for now it is tough going, especially since the snow is soft and powdery.
As a result of these heavy loads, Ben says they are covering about 2 km (1.2 miles) per hour, which doesn’t sound very fast but is actually quite good for so early in the expedition. It usually takes a week or two for Antarctic explorers to acclimate to the temperatures and altitudes there and the body must adapt to the work load of skiing all day while puling a heavy sled behind them.
The weather has been great for the lads so far although as expected the temperatures are a bit brutal. This morning they are dealing with -30ºC/-22ºF with wind chills taking those temps down to -40ºC/F. It is a bit unusual to have such good weather at this point in the season, but I’m sure Ben and Tarka are happy to have it. It is not uncommon for Antarctic adventurers to encounter high winds, blowing snows and whiteout conditions as they get underway. In recent years, there have even been delays to the start of the season due to poor weather at the traditional drop off point at Union Glacier.
With the first of November now just a few days away, we should start to see a few more teams making their way to Punta Arenas and preparing to head out on the ice. Because of the extreme distances involved with their expedition, Ben and Tarka set off as early as they could, but most won’t be making a return trip from the Pole, so they’ll have more to complete their expeditions. It’ll also give them more time to allow the weather to be more conducive for travel.
Stay tuned for more soon. The season is just getting started.
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