The first week of November is upon us, which means it is now time for the start of the 2014 Antarctic expedition season. But, as in the previous few years, the weather isn’t cooperating just yet, and so flights are being delayed, and expeditions are currently in a holding pattern. Hopefully things will clear up soon however, and the first South Pole skiers can get underway.
There hasn’t been a lot of news to report from Cape Town or Punta Arenas, Chile, the two staging grounds for most of the Antarctic expeditions. At this point, the explorers are still arriving in those cities, and preparing their gear for the journey ahead. But we did receive one tidbit of information today that gives us some insight into how the schedule for these first few days are shaping up.
Solo skier Frédéric Dion has arrived in Cape Town, and was scheduled to be out on the first flight to the Novo station today. He is planning to ski to the South Pole of Inaccessibility in the days ahead. But in his first dispatch he indicates that a massive storm is preventing that flight from taking off, and that it will be a couple of days before it can be rescheduled. If the weather improves, he’ll now depart from the Antarctic on Sunday. In the meantime, he is enjoying the warmth and hospitality of South Africa, while he makes his final preparations.
Frédéric’s home team reports that the Cape Town heat may be melting all of the chocolate he has packed for his South Pole expedition however, which is a cause for mild concern. South Pole skiers will burn upwards of 8000-10,000 calories per day, so they usually pack high caloric foods to give them the fuel they need to keep moving. Apparently, Frédéric brought a lot of chocolate along for his journey, and now it is suffering the ill effects of extra time in a warm storage facility.
While in the grand scheme of things, this probably seems like a minor issue, the food situation is always on the minds of the skiers. When every detail of an expedition has been planned down to the smallest level, even something as minor as this can become troublesome out on the ice. In an effort to preserve his precious chocolate supply, Dion is hoping to find a refrigerated storage facility for his sled.
Over in Punta Arenas, the first flights out are scheduled for a few days from now as well, but they’ll be watching the weather closely too. It is not uncommon for flights to be scrubbed this early in the season, and it tends to have little impact on the expeditions to the South Pole. Occasionally, one of the teams is on a more constrained schedule, and a late start can put them behind the eight-ball. But this year, no one is attempting a round trip journey to the Pole and back to the coast – at least to my knowledge – so there is still plenty of time for anyone to ski to 90ºS.
In a few days, the news out of Cape Town, Punta Arenas, and Antarctica itself, will begin to pick up. The teams are still gathering, prepping their gear, and anxiously waiting for their flights. Once the season is officially underway, we’ll start to get a steady stream of updates from the ice. It promises to be a typical year on the frozen continent, although the number of expeditions seem to be a bit lower. Still, it is always an interesting time of year, and the next couple of months should prove as exciting as ever for those who follow polar travel and exploration.
More to come soon.