Antarctica 2014: More Skiers Hit the Ice, Slow Progress Elsewhere

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It has been a few difficult days in the Antarctica, where the season is ramping up nicely. More South Pole skiers arrived on the frozen continent on Saturday, after suffering a one day delay in getting out of Punta Arenas due to poor weather. Meanwhile, others continue to battle hight winds and the dreaded sastrugi – ice ridges that form on the surface, creating obstacles that slow progress. All of this is pretty much standard operating procedure in the Antarctic however, and is all part of traveling in the highest, coldest, driest place on the planet.

A big Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft had been scheduled to shuttle more explorers to the camp at Union Glacier last Friday, but that flight was scrubbed due to bad weather. Fortunately, it was only delayed by a day, and as a result, South Pole skier Newall Hunter is now on his way towards 90ºS. He spent part of yesterday skiing away from his drop-off point, and has been testing his gear to insure everything works properly. If all goes according to plan, he should hit the trail today and start the long journey from Patriot Hill to the Pole. Over the coming weeks, we’ll be following his progress closely as he makes his way across the frozen expanse.

Presumably Ian Evans is also out on the ice, although he has not updated his blog just yet to indicate his current whereabouts. He has been scheduled to fly out on last Friday’s flight as well, so it is logical to assume he was on the re-scheduled flight on Saturday instead. He could be at Union Glacier, and preparing to get underway, but until his website is updated, we’ll just have to wait to find out where he is exactly.

Meanwhile, Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel, and their guide Are Johansen, continue to press ahead. The team is currently knocking off somewhere in the neighborhood of about 23 km (14.2 miles) per day, which is a solid effort at this point of their expedition. They are seeing their progress slowed by sastrugi however, which can take the energy out of the legs, and slow progress dramatically. Still, they are happy with how things are proceeding thus far, despite a difficult headwind and temperatures that are hovering around -30ºC/-22ºF.

Canadian kite-skier Frédéric Dion continues to make great progress on his way to the Pole of Inaccessibility. Last week he suffered a setback when his sled suffered severe damage, but he was able to repair it to a degree, and continue on with the expedition, at least so far. After stitching up the 30 cm crack in the side of the sled, he was able to catch the wind with his big kite, and cover an impressive 150 km (93 miles) in a single day. That was enough incentive for him to for go calling it a day, and climbing inside of his tent for rest. Instead, Fred chose to push on, collecting a few extra miles in the process. Right now, he and his home team are keeping a close watch on the repaired sled. If it fails, he would have to cancel the expedition altogether. A replacement sled belonging to polar explorer Dixie Dansercoer is stashed at the Novo station, and could be delivered to Frédéric in a pinch, but to do so would mean that he would have to abandon his “unsupported” designation. He is understandably reluctant to do that at this point, so for now he’ll press ahead, and hope his repairs hold.

Finally, Faysal Hanneche is starting to see some solid progress on his attempt to kite ski from Novo to the South Pole, then on to Union Glacier. After being tent-bound for several days last week, he has been making solid progress with good winds as well. After covering 60 km (37 miles), Faysal reports that he found himself in a large sastrugi field, which is exactly where he didn’t want to be. If sastrugi are a problem for skiers, they are even more challenging to kite-skiers, who are generally traveling at a much higher rate of speed. Hopefully he’ll pass through the field in short order, and will have better skiing all the way to the Pole.

That’s all for the start of the week. Stay tuned for more news out of the Antarctic soon.

Kraig Becker