Antarctica 2013: South Pole In Sight For Allied Challenge Team

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It has been a busy week at the bottom of the world. The South Pole skiers have been putting in a lot of time and effort on their way to the finish line, and for most of them that point is still quite a long way off. But for one team, the end is now in sight and they should reach 90ºS later today.

The first ski team to arrive at the Pole this year will be the South Pole Allied Challenge squad. You may recall that this team actually started as three individual units that were racing the final three degrees to the South Pole, but that race was suspended over concerns of safety. At that time, all the teams merged into one and continued on together. Now those efforts will pay off, as the combined squad will arrive at the South Pole today. This team includes Prince Harry, as well as actors Dominic West and Alexander Skarsgård, who are the celebrity patrons of the expedition.

Elsewhere, Richard Parks continues his efforts to break the speed record for skiing to the South Pole from Hercules Inlet. He has definitely started to hit his stride and is knocking off more distances as he goes, but he still faces quite an uphill battle. Yesterday he covered 40.6 km (25 miles), which leaves him with an estimated  897.4 km (559 miles) to go. The sobering truth is that that means he’ll need to average 59.8 km (37.1 miles) per day for the next 15 days in order to achieve his goal. While he continues to increase his speed and distance, that seems like a herculean task over the days ahead.

Aussie Geoff Wilson is back on the trail and speeding towards the South Pole. He is kite skiing to 90ºS and has some momentum behind him now. At the moment he’s heading towards a Russian research station, where he’ll drop off some gear and say hello to the people living and working there. He is now under 900 km (560 miles) to the Pole and he is hoping the winds will help him get there by Christmas Day. That seems achievable, provided the weather cooperates – something that hasn’t happened much so far this season.

Daniel Burton achieved a milestone yesterday on his attempt to ride his bike to the South Pole. He managed to cross the 81st latitude, which means he has crossed his first degree. He’s also hitting a solid 15.1 miles (24.3 km) per day, which should allow him to complete one degree every four days. If he can stick to that schedule, he feels like he can finish the expedition. He ask feels that even though he has only crossed one degree, the worst is behind him. He’s no longer struggling up hill and the largest crevasse field is now behind him, which should help him to pick up the pace in the days ahead.

The Scott Expedition has finally reached the top of the Antarctic Plateau, after nearly 50 days out on the ice. That means that the terrain has leveled out and moving takes less effort, but the temperatures have gotten colder as they are now at 2652 meters (8700 ft) in altitude. The boys are quite tired, but they continue to move ahead. I suspect from now on they’ll cover more distance and pick up their pace. After dropping another supply depot a few days back, their sleds are the lightest they have been since the start of the expedition. Ben and Tarka still have 1182 miles (1902 km) to go before they are done – remember they’re going to the Pole and back to their starting point – so there is a lot of distance to travel, but they’ll be heartened by the fact that they long climb is now behind them.

Finally, 16-year old Lewis Clarke is starting to pick up speed in his attempt to become the youngest person to ski to the South Pole. He now has just over 600 miles (965 km) to go but he seems to be finding his groove and covering increasingly longer distances each day. He is still days away from reaching the Pole, but he is doing all the things he needs to do in order to be successful.

There will be more news from the Antarctic next week and soon we’ll see climbers on Vinson as well.  Stay tuned for more very soon.

Kraig Becker