Antarctica 2013: Solid Progress For All Teams

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The past few days have seen high winds sweep across the Antarctic continent, but that is to be expected this time of year. Despite conditions however, nearly all the teams are reporting solid progress on their various expeditions to the South Pole. It seems that most are now finding their groove and covering more milage, although few are anywhere close to finishing their journeys just yet. If things stay as they are however, it seems it could be a busy New Year at the bottom of the world.

It has been a few updates since we checked in with Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere, the two members of the Scott Expedition. Now, after nearly 55 days out on the ice, they are simply in a daily grind as they push on towards the South Pole. Daily distance have slowly started to creep upwards and they are steadily getting closer and closer to 90ºS, which in this case will be the halfway point of their expedition. As of this morning, they still had 1096 miles (1763 km) to go before they are done, but the incredibly hard work should be behind them now, although I doubt that is much consolation after nearly two months on the frozen continent.

Richard Parks continues to push ahead with his speed record attempt on the South Pole. He continues to take solid chunks of milage out of the distance and now, with ten days to go, it appears that he has a shot at achieving the record, although it is going to be tough. Now that he has hit his stride, he’s been routinely traveling 43 km (26.7 miles) per day, and as of this morning he still had 454 km (282 miles) left to go. If he can manage to eek out a few extra miles each day, he should still have a chance of arriving ahead of the current record pace. It’s going to be close, so we’ll be watching intently over the next few days.

The Willis Resilience Team is marching ever closer to their goal. After conducting a environmental research survey by vehicle early on, and even stopping at the Pole during that stage of the expedition, teammates Parker Liautaud and Doug Stoup later started skiing to 90ºS as well. The ski portion of the trip began at the Leverett Glacier, which is about 640 km (397 miles) from the South Pole. Yesterday, the duo passed the 88th degree, so they are quickly closing in on the finish line. On their website, they make several mentions of breaking the speed record, although they aren’t doing the full distance from Hercules Inlet, so it is doubtful that anyone will recognize their achievement as such.

Chris and Marty Fagan are making good progress on their ski expedition to the South Pole. The married couple has now passed the 84th degree and have been on the ice for a little over two weeks. So far their morale has remained high and they seem to be enjoying the challenge. Right now, they’re covering about 9-9.5 miles (14-15 km) per day, which isn’t going to set any speed records, but will get them to their goal before the season ends in January.

Daniel Burton continues to struggle with the terrain in the Antarctic and he is discovering why no one has ever ridden their bike to the South Pole before. Each day seems to be quite the struggle, with soft snow, high winds and continued steep climbs keeping him from really opening up the speeds and distance that he’d like. Still, he is showing a lot of grit and determination as he covers roughly 15 nautical miles (27.7 km) per day. He estimates that if he continues to hit that distance, he’ll be able to make it to the Pole on the supplies that he has and in the time allotted.

Finally, kite skier Geoff Wilson’s fortunes continue to be governed by the winds. When he has strong winds, he makes good time, each mile bringing him closer to the Pole. When the winds are quiet, he has a rough day out on the ice, making very little progress. Yesterday was just such a day, although things improved some today. He now sits just shy of the 86th parallel, but he’s really had to earn the miles. While being pulled along by his kite today, his skis caught on the ice, sending him sprawling onto the ground. The high winds continued to drag him along the surface while he struggled to get to his feet. As a result, he has shredded his mittens and some of his other gear, but fortunately he didn’t lose anything, including food.

That’s Antarctica for you. Nothing is ever easy. More to come soon.

Kraig Becker