The 2014 Antarctic season is scheduled to come to a close this Wednesday, January 28. That’s the day that the last plane is scheduled to fly out of Union Glacier on its way back to Punta Arenas, Chile, carrying the remaining climbers, explorers, and South Pole skiers – as well as the support team for their efforts – home at last. While most of those teams are comfortably waiting in camp, another remains in a desperate race against time to get back to Hercules Inlet in time for their flight. And while it looks like they are going to make it, it is going to be close.
Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel, along with guide Are Johnson, have now been out on the ice for 73 days. They started their journey way back in November, and were able to ski to the South Pole in time for the holidays. Since then, they’ve been attempting to complete the return trip to Hercules Inlet, where they’ll end their epic excursion at long last. The journey back to the coast has not been an easy one however, as they have had to maintain a steady pace the entire time, even as poor weather has hindered their progress, particularly in these final days.
After spending much of the end of last week in complete whiteout conditions, the trio had better visibility over the weekend, although high winds still made it challenging to proceed. They were able to catch a glimpse of some mountains on the horizon however, which broke up the endless plane of white that they have been staring at for days on end. Deep snow has made it difficult to pick up any speed however, but they still struggled forwards, as they really don’t have any choice at this point.
Yesterday the managed to knock of an impressive 44.8 km (27.8 miles), which leaves them with just 43.9 km (27.3 miles) to go tomorrow. That is a sizable distance to cover on the final day, particularly when the team is reportedly very tired, weak, and hungry. They are starting to run low on supplies, and have been conserving rations for a few days now, which has taken its toll some on their spirits too.
Despite these challenges, it seems that Stéphanie, Jérémie, and Are should arrive at the finish line tomorrow on schedule. It will be a long day, but considering their current pace, they should be able to wrap things up provided unexpectedly bad weather doesn’t arrive on the scene. The forecast does indicate that conditions could take a turn for the worse, but at this point that is likely to hinder their return flight more than their final push to the coast.
I’ll keep an eye on the team’s progress over the next few days and post updates. Hopefully they’ll reach Hercules tomorrow and will be able to get picked-up for a flight to Union Glacier where they can enjoy some good food and warm accommodations. From there, it is just a matter of time before they head back to Chile, and eventually home.
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