Yesterday I posted the news that weather was threatening the start of the 2015 Antarctic season, and today we have confirmation of that delay. The first flight to the Union Glacier camp on the ice was expected to take place today, but there is now word that the flight has been scrubbed, and it could be a few days before the next window of opportunity opens.
For the most part, the South Pole skiers and Antarctic explorers are only now just gathering in Punta Arenas, Chile to prepare for their journey across the frozen continent. This delay will have very little impact on their expeditions, as this first flight was mainly meant to deliver fuel, supplies, and personnel to the Union Glacier. Most of the travelers won’t be arriving on the ice for a week or two yet, so no one is feeling particularly bothered by this not-unexpected turn of events.
But Henry Worsley is already watching the clock, and is hoping to fly out soon. He is attempting to become the first person to ski solo and unassisted across Antarctica, which will require up to 80 days to complete. For him, every day matters and it was his intention to be on this first flight out. He isn’t panicking just yet however, as his schedule had accounted for potential delays at the start of the expedition, and by his own accounts, as long as he is underway by November 10, he’ll have the time he needs to finish his traverse.
The next flight out to Union Glacier is now scheduled to take place on Saturday of this week, weather pending of course. That gives the team at the camp a bit of extra time to finish their prep work, which includes finishing up the temporary runway that allows aircraft to come and go. ANI, the company that maintains the camp and shuttles travelers to and from Antarctica, uses big Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft to carry explorers and all of their gear. Those planes need a bit of space to land, so having a good airstrip in place is important.
Right now, the weather remains on the dicey side through the end of the week. But hopefully it won’t be so bad as to prevent flights out. I’m sure Henry in particular is anxious to get going, and soon others will be in line to follow.
The Antarctic season is just on the edge of truly ramping up. In the weeks ahead, you’ll hear a lot more about the efforts of men and women who will be skiing across that challenging environment. But for now, it is the calm before the storm. Stay tuned for more to come.
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