Antarctica 2014: Bitterly Cold Temps and More Arrivals on the Ice

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The 2014 Antarctic season is in full swing now, with more teams setting off for the South Pole amidst  “brutally cold” temperatures and high winds. Even during the austral summer, conditions on the frozen continent can test a person’s resolve. With miles of open expanse in all directions, surface conditions that are incredibly difficult, and visibility often reduced to zero, it can be difficult to continue to forge ahead. But on the other hand, Antarctica is a stunningly beautiful place that is about as remote as any on the planet. All of those things, and more, are running through the minds of the skiers, many of whom have barely begun the long journey to the South Pole.

We’ll start today with an update from Are Johansen, the guide who is taking Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel to the Pole. He reports that temperatures have dropped below -40ºC/-40ºF, with winds that are making things very challenging. But, the team has also managed to cover an additional 21 km (13 miles) in a little over seven hours of skiing. That’s a solid distance for these opening days, especially as they pull themselves up to the polar plateau, gaining altitude as they go.

For their part, Stéphanie and Jérémie seem to be holding up well to the rigors of the trail. They making great progress, and seem well prepared for the journey. In their most recent dispatch they talk about the heavy sleds they are pulling behind them as they travel across the ice. Those sleds are their lifelines, packed full of gear and supplies. But it seems they are already thinking of ways to lighten their load, and are considering dropping some extra items that they feel they may not need such as a computer and possibly solar chargers. It is interesting that they are already looking for ways to go faster, even though they’ve been out on the ice a fairly short time, and have plenty of season left to go. The sleds themselves will naturally get lighter as they make progress, burning food and fuel along the way. They must feel especially burdened however if they are discussing plans to drop gear so soon.

Meanwhile, Canadian kite-skier Frédéric Dion ran into more problems with his sled over the weekend, and had to make some serious repairs this time. In order to ensure he doesn’t run into problems, the explorer actually used a saw to cut the sled in half, then pieced it back together using tools and fasteners that he had on hand. The result is a smaller, more secure sled, that will also see its load lighten over time. Fred is on his way to the Pole of Inaccessibility, and needs his gear to function at a high level. He hopes that this latest round of repairs will allow him to progress without further problems.

After fixing the sled, Fred ran into a different issue – low winds. He is in a bit of a calm area at the moment, and as a result, his distances covered have dropped dramatically. On Sunday he managed just 17 km (10.5 miles) as he conserved his energy for when the big winds return, and he can put his kite up once again. The forecasts indicate those winds will return soon, so he’ll be back on his way to the POI before we know it.

A couple of new expeditions got underway yesterday as more explorers and adventurers arrived on the ice. Amongst them was Paula Reid, who is skiing the full distance to the South Pole from Hercules Inlet. She has only just barely gotten underway, and her dispatch yesterday says she is testing gear before she really sets out. I would imagine she’ll start covering longer distances today as she launches her bid to reach 90ºS.

Another expedition that set off yesterday is that of Manon Ossevoort, a Dutch woman who is driving a tractor to the South Pole. She’s starting at the Russian Novo station, and is targeting an arrival at the Pole on or around December 7. Manon claims that it has always been her dream to drive a tractor to the bottom of the world and now, after years of planning, she’s set off to do just that.

Finally, ExWeb has posted an interview with polar explorer Keith Heger, who shares some insights and tips for traveling in the Antarctic. Keith says that prospective South Pole skiers should stay organized, trust in their preparation, and never forget to have some fun along the way. He also shares his five favorite gear items, which include his Iridium Go satellite communicator, his Ibex Tuck SoftShell pants, and a specially made banana chocolate chip bread that is baked by his wife. Keith further goes into the food that keeps him fueled up on the Antarctic as well, where calories are of the utmost importance.

That’s all for today. More updates as the season continues to unfold.

Kraig Becker