Antarctica 2013: Speed Record Restart And Emergency Evac

Now that the majority of the teams have hit the ice down in Antarctica, things are starting to get very busy indeed. Weather continues to be an issue of course, but most of explorers are now trying to find a groove and get into a rhythm that involves skiing (and in some cases biking!) on the frozen expanse of the coldest, highest and driest desert in the world.

Day 3 special

One of the biggest stories of the day is Richard Parks restarting his attempt at the speed record for skiing from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole. You may recall that parks set out on that quest last week only to find that the high winds and copious amounts of soft powder were making it impossible for him to make good time. In just a few days he was already falling off the pace, so he elected to return to Hercules and wait for a better weather window to relaunch. That window is now open apparently, as he’ll start his second attempt today. Parks arrived back at his starting point on Tuesday, then took a rest day yesterday, ahead of his restart this morning. He now has 23 days to try to reach the South Pole and the clock is ticking.

The other story that came out yesterday was the evacuation of Eric Phillips, who was a the polar guide for one of the teams taking part in the 2013 South Pole Allied Challenge. Phillips was apparently suffering from altitude sickness after the teams were flown to the 87th degree prior to the start of their race to the Pole. Apparently he had fluid in his lungs, so they made the wise choice to fly him back to camp for an assessment. If he responds well to treatment and shows signs of improvement, he may rejoin the team in a day or two.

Elsewhere, Daniel Burton celebrated his 50th birthday out on the ice yesterday. He is attempting to ride his bike to the South Pole and so far things aren’t going particularly well. He spent 10.5 hours on the move but covered just 6.5 miles (10.4 km), well below what he had hoped for. He does say that the slope he has been climbing since leaving Hercules Inlet is starting to get less severe and the snow is getting harder, both of which bode well for his plans. Hopefully he’ll be able to pick up speed soon, because at his current pace he’s traveling about half the speed of the skiers. That means he’ll have a very long trip to the Pole, if he can reach it at all. I give him high marks for determination however, as he has refused to put his bike on his sled and ski any distance, which is in contrast to another explorer who is attempting to bike to the South Pole as well.

Australian kite skier Geoff Wilson managed to catch the wind today and made good progress in the process. He says that by late afternoon he had knocked of about 40 km (24 miles) before the breezes dissipated once again. The forecasts call for better winds in the next few days, so he hopes to capitalize on them and cover more ground.

Chris and Marty Fagan seem to have developed a good rhythm and are already making great progress on their attempt to ski to the South Pole. The husband and wife team are already just 540 miles (870 km) from the Pole, which sounds like a lot but is actually a good number considering the number of days they’ve been skiing. They’re knocking off a steady 11-12 miles (17-19 km) per day as they make solid progress toward their goal.

Finally, the Willis Resilience team has actually reached the South Pole, although not on foot. This expedition started with a driving tour of the Antarctic that allows them to conduct scientific research of the impact of climate change on the continent. They’re also collecting ice core samples as they go, so that they can be examined by researchers back home after the expedition wraps up. After being out on the ice for about a week, the team has already driven 1790 km (1112 miles) as they cross Antarctica. In a few weeks however, Parker Liautaud and Doug Stoup will return to the Pole on skis as well.

That’s all for today. More to come soon I’m sure.

Kraig Becker