Antarctica 2013: Running On Empty

With the end of the Antarctic season now in sight, a number of the teams are pushing through the last stretch of mileage before reaching the South Pole. Next week should see a spate of arrivals at 90ºS, but in order to get there, the explorers are going to have to push themselves to the limit. The days are starting to get short, and while no one seems to be in any real danger at this point, it won’t be long until travel in Antarctica will become all but an impossibility for another year. Before that happens however, there is still plenty to accomplish.

Landing Hercules Inlet 1Dec

The Scott Expedition continues to forge ahead, despite the fact that both Ben and Tarka are clearly ready for their grueling journey to be over. Their blog updates have begun to offer more insights into their feelings, and it seems evident that the rigors of 2.5 months out on the ice have taken their toll. With more than 650 miles (1046 km) yet to cover, they still have a very long way to go however. Surface conditions have begun to improve for them to a degree, although their weary legs aren’t allowing them to take advantage of the situation as much as they’d like, and the featureless landscape offers them little to look at as they trudge back to their starting point on the coast. It has been a reals slog for the boys of late, but they’ll reach one of their caches early next week and they are approaching the 86th degree, which means that slowly but surely they are inching their way back to the Scott Hut, and eventually home.

Chris and Marty Fagan are nearing the homestretch of their unsupported expedition from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole. After today, they should have less than 100 miles (160 km) to go before they are done. They are starting to run low on rations and are fearing a shift in weather could cause delays to their schedule, so yesterday they adjusted their meals over the next few days to eek out an extra day of travel. They now have enough food to last nine days, although their pace should have them at the Pole in eight. The race is on, but it seems they should reach the finish line with just enough supplies to spare.
Cyclist Daniel Burton reached his supply cache a couple of days ago and as a result, he has a heavy sled once again. The cache provided some much needed food and other supplies for his final push to the South Pole. He now estimates that he’ll arrive their next Saturday, and in doing so become the first person to bike the full distance to 90ºS. He’s having a tough time of it in the lower light conditions that have been common in the Antarctic the past couple of days however, as the difference in contrast makes it tough to see surface details in an otherwise mostly featureless environment. He is still struggling through the sastrugi field at 87ºS at the moment, but his pace should pick-up once he clears that area, and with only about 1000 feet (304 meters) of climbing left to go, he should have the worst part of the expedition behind him soon.

Lewis Clarke and his guide Carl Alvey continue to press ahead. They haven’t quite crossed 88ºS just yet, so they’re still dealing with plenty of sastrugi and still moving up hill. As of yesterday, they still had 142 miles (228 km) to go until they’re done, which at their current pace should put them into the Pole sometime at the end of next week. If they make it, Lewis will then hold the distinction of being the youngest person to ever ski the full distance to the South Pole.

Finally, Antony Jinman has now crossed over 88ºS and has just 110 nautical miles (203 km) to go until he reaches the South Pole. The polar vet has been quietly going about his business all season long and has managed to make solid progress toward his goal. He reports that today was a tough day however, as the low light caused visibility issues for him as well and surface conditions were not as clean as he would like. Still, he should have the toughest part of the journey behind him now as well and will likely arrive at the pole late next week too. Perhaps as early as next Thursday. Considering the fact that he has now been out on the ice for 40 days, I’m sure he is anxious to wrap things up soon too.

That’s all for today. Good luck to all of the Antarctic travelers in the days ahead. Hold tight. The end is near.

Kraig Becker