Antarctica 2013: Teams Closing In On The South Pole

Day 44 image1

The end is in sight for most of the teams skiing to the South Pole, as several of them close in on the finish line at last. The next few days should be busy ones at 90ºS, as a spate of skiers arrive there after weeks out on the ice. For most, it’ll be a welcome relief as they complete a journey that has been both mentally and physically exhausting. The season is beginning to wind down quite quickly now, but there is still plenty of work to be done before it is over.

One of the more distressing stories coming out of Antarctica is that of Juan Menendez Granados. I haven’t written much about Juan’s expedition this season, but he has been skiing and cycling to the South Pole, alternating between modes of transportation depending on the conditions. ExWeb is reporting that because the expedition is taking longer than he had originally expected, Juan is now running low on food. He has plenty of fuel to keep melting snow for water, but his rations are running out quickly and he is still several days from the Pole at best. ALE could drop him a resupply, but he was hoping to make the journey unsupported. We’ll have to wait to see if he can still finish in that fashion. When you’re working hard 12 hours a day and burning more than 8000 calories in the process, there is never enough food for a journey of this type. But in this case, it sounds like Juan will be extremely hungry when he gets to the Pole.

Elsewhere, Antony Jinman is closing in on his finish and now expects to reach 90ºS sometime tomorrow night. Yesterday he traveled in a complete whiteout for the entire day, but still managed to knock off 16 nautical miles (29.6 km). That leaves him with about 30 nautical miles (55.5 km) to go to the Pole. The plan is to push it extra hard today, and cover as much distance as he can, so that he can wrap things up relatively easily tomorrow. Hopefully the weather will cooperate, making his final push to the end an easier one.

Lewis Clarke is in the homestretch and should be on pace to reach the Pole this weekend. He, and his guide Carl Alvey, have reached the Polar Plateau and are now skiing on a relatively flat surface that has fewer sastrugi and other obstructions, which should make for easier skiing. As of yesterday, they still had 65 miles (104 km ) to go before they finish, but at their current pace that should put them in on Saturday as expected. When he is done, Lewis will become the youngest person ever to ski the full distance to the Pole at just 16 years old.

Chris and Marty Fagan are also nearing the end. They’re traveling at a slightly slower pace at this point, but have only 46.6 miles (75 km) to cover before they reach the South Pole. That should also put them in on Saturday, provided everything goes as expected.

South Pole cyclist Daniel Burton only rode for a couple of hours yesterday due to heavy snow falling. That made for tough going on soft new snow and with limited visibility. He had hoped to make it to the South Pole this weekend as well, although since he is still sitting at 88ºS42″W, he has some miles to cover before he is done. The weather is expected to improve today, so hopefully he can make up some ground and reach the Pole this weekend after all. Any more delays will probably push that arrival into early next week.

Finally, no Antarctic report would be complete with out an update from the Scott Expedition. Ben and Tarka reached one of their supply depots on Monday, which allowed them to restock their food and fuel for the next stage of their journey. The next few days promise to be incredibly tough ones for an expedition that has seen its fair share after 82 days on the ice. The boys are descending the Beardmore Glacier and aren’t able to use their skis at the moment. Instead they have donned crampons and are slowly and carefully making their way back down to the Ross Ice Shelf. Once there, they feel like the pace will pick up considerably as they make their push toward the coast, but it’ll take them four days to complete the descent, which will make things more difficult in the meantime. In order to negotiate the tricky blue ice of the glacier, they’ve connected their two sleds to one another, and they are taking turns splitting the duties of one of them in the front pulling the sleds, while the other is in the back, helping to steer. This will be their approach for the next few days, until they can don their skis again and get back to their normal mode of transportation.

That’s all for today. Watch for more updates later in the week as the teams begin to arrive at the South Pole.

Kraig Becker