Antarctica 2013: Soldiering On

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Yesterday’s Antarctic update focused mainly on the new arrivals to the frozen continent and their early progress towards the South Pole. Today, I have news from some of the other expeditions that have been underway for awhile, and continue to face their own struggles with the challenges brought on with traveling in one of the most extreme environments on the planet.

Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere, the two members of the Scott Expedition, reached a major milestone on their round trip journey from the Scott Hut to the South Pole and back. Now 40 days into their adventure, the two men have reached the Beardmore Glacier and are continuing to work their way up to the Antarctic Plateau. Weather conditions have been mostly acceptable over the past few days but surface conditions continue to be a challenge. The ice where they are currently traveling is more uneven than in other areas, which has presented some challenges to their progress. Still, they’re clocking in at about 20 miles (32 km) per day, which is a solid pace. The finish line is still a long ways off however, with more than 1345 miles (2164 km) to go before they are done.

Australian kite skier Geoff Wilson is hoping the wind will return soon to actually assist him in his quest to reach the South Pole. He has had a few frustrating days going from too much wind to too little. A couple of days back conditions were so bad that Wilson nearly lost control of his kite. He had limited time to train with it before leaving his home country for the Antarctic, and as a result he is learning on the job. When high winds struck on Monday, he was violently tossed about and sent sprawling on the ice on more than one occasion. Fortunately, the kite, nor the man, was damaged badly and the expedition can continue. The problem now is that there has been very little wind and Geoff has been forced to move forward under his own power, dragging his sled behind him as he goes. This has greatly slowed his progress of course, but puts him on par with the other skiers heading to the South Pole.

The three teams competing in the 2013 South Pole Allied Challenge are now off and running. Team UK, Team USA and Team Commonwealth are all racing across the last three degrees to the South Pole after launching the friendly competition over the weekend. The teams consist of experienced polar guides to help lead the way, and some support vehicles to help lend a hand as needed. But the bulk of the explorers skiing to the Pole are servicemen who were wounded in the line of duty. The high profile event, which happens to include Prince Harry skiing for the UK team, is being conducted by the Walking with the Wounded program, an organization that helps those injured in the line of duty get back on the road to recovery. So far, the teams have faced strong winds and lots of sastrugi, which are hard ridges on the ice that make it difficult to ski. They’ll be covering a total of about 335 km (208 miles) with an expected arrival at 90ºS around December 17 or 18.

Finally, there is no word yet on when Richard Parks will relaunch his attempt at the speed record for skiing to the South Pole via the Hercules Inlet route. As of yesterday, he was still en route back to his starting point, where he’ll wait for more favorable weather conditions. Once he gets back underway, he hopes to go solo and unsupported to the South Pole in just 23 days. That will be a remarkable achievement if he can pull it off.

More news to come soon. Now that there are so many teams on the ice, I expect there will be something to report nearly everyday. The Antarctic season is in full swing now and the Vinson climbing season will soon follow. Good luck to everyone.

Kraig Becker