Antarctica 2014: Frédérick on the Home Stretch, Others Press Forward

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It has been another busy couple of days in the Antarctic, where the teams of skiers continue to press on towards their goal despite difficult and trying circumstances. The South Pole has now seen several visitors this season, but others are still heading towards the bottom of the world as quickly as they can.

We already knew that the trio of Are Johnson, and Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel had reached the South Pole in time to celebrate Christmas. They arrived at 90ºS on Christmas Eve, and after spending a day recharging their batteries, the team has already struck out on their return journey to the coast. They have an additional 1100 km (683 miles) to cover on their way back to where they started, so while they were happy to reach the Pole, it was only the halfway point of the expedition.

Since resuming their journey Are, Stéphanie, and Jérémie have encountered poor surface conditions, with lots of soft snow, which has made for tough going. Additionally, they received a resupply at the South Pole, so now their sleds are very heavy once again. That said, the return journey should be an easier and faster one, as they will be traveling down hill, and over ground that they are already familiar with. Still, they are feeling the physical demands of the expedition more than ever, and it is going to be a long, slow haul to get back to the coast.

Canadian kite-skier Frédérick Dion also reached the South Pole, arriving at that point on Christmas Day. It took him nine days to travel the more than 800 km (500 miles) from the Pole of Inaccessibility to 90ºS, and while he was happy to add another milestone to his journey, Fréd isn’t quite finished yet. He has already started on his journey to Hercules Inlet along the coast, which will be his final destination for what has been a long and difficult journey. He hopes to wrap up the final leg of the expedition in just five days, which would put him at Hercules by tomorrow. The winds will need to be working in his favor for that to happen, but even if he doesn’t nab that record, there are several others he has the potential to set, including the fastest traverse ever. We’ll have to see what his final numbers will be, but it looks like he’ll wrap up the expedition later this week.

Fellow kite-skier Faysal Hanneche continues to press on towards the South Pole as well, although he hasn’t found the winds to be quite so helpful as Frédérick. It has been slow going for sure, and often he is reduced to skiing without the use of his kite. Faceless last dispatch came on December 24, a day during which he only covered 6 km (3.7 miles). Frustration and exhaustion seem to be his biggest challenges, and with a long way to go before he is done, it isn’t clear yet whether or not he’ll actually reach 90ºS. Hopefully the winds will turn beneficial once again, and he can start covering longer distances at last.

Solo skier Newall Hunter is closing in on the Pole, and should arrive there sometime within the next week. As of yesterday, he had just 150 km (93 miles) to go until the finish, and since he is covering approximately 25 km (15 miles) per day, that would put him at the Pole around January 3 or so. It won’t be easy covering those final miles however, as he too reports soft snow, which is making it harder to pull the sled. Still, he is just 34 days into this journey, and making great progress. Reaching the end in about 40 days would be an impressive accomplishment for sure.

Ian Evans and his team crossed the 88th degree this past weekend, inching them ever closer to the South Pole. He reports that the 60 nautical miles (111 km) between the 87th and 88th degree were by far the toughest of the journey. Not only did they continue to climb up the Polar Plateau, but they encountered plenty of sastrugi along the way. These hard ridges of packed snow and ice are obstacles that must be overcome by the skiers, as they make progress incredibly difficult and slow. Still, they hope to reach the finish line in another week or so as well, provided everything continues on schedule.

That’s all from the Antarctic for today. More updates coming later in the week.

Kraig Becker