It has been a very trying Antarctic season already, and none of the teams skiing to the South Pole have even reached the ice yet. Weather has kept all flights out of Punta Arenas grounded thus far, and as a result the explorers that will be traveling in Antarctica this year have had to exercise a great deal of patience. But that will change starting today. The weather conditions have taken a change for the better, and the first flight is now set to go – nearly two weeks behind schedule.
According to reports, all is well and ready to go at the Union Glacier camp. The ice runway has been built, and the camp is well stocked with food, fuel, and supplies for the season ahead. In fact, the staff at the camp has been ready to accept visitors for several days, it has only been the poor weather that has kept anyone from actually getting there. It’ll now stay open until late January, as skiers and climbers shuttle to and from the continent, making stopovers at the camp at the beginning and end of their adventures.
The flight from Punta Arenas to Union Glacier is about 4.5 hours in length. Visitors to the frozen continent board an Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft, which is more well known for its cargo capacity rather than comfort. The big plane will carry a number of passengers, but it also has the ability to restock the ice camp, and carry all of the gear that the adventurers will need while out on the ice. It is also a jet that is rugged enough to survive the challenges of the Antarctic, and has the ability to take off and land on the ice. These work-horse aircraft are the lifeline between civilization and the teams that are traveling in one of the most remote and difficult environments on the planet.
One of the first skiers to head out to Antarctica today is Henry Worsley, who has been waiting patiently in Punta Arenas for this day to come for quite some time now. He is about to embark on an 80-day journey to traverse the continent solo and unassisted. His route begins on the coast at Gould Bay, proceeds to the South Pole, and then continues on to the Ross Ice Shelf, which is found along a completely different coast. All told, he’ll cover approximately 1770 km (1100 miles) while lugging all of the gear and supplies that he needs with him on a sled. It will be a tremendous undertaking to say the least.
When he left the U.K. a few weeks back, Henry had initially said that he had hoped to be on the trail by November 10 at the latest. At the time, it seemed like that was an easy thing to achieve, but since that date is today, he may not spend much time at Union Glacier, and may instead fly straight out to his starting point today instead. We should know more about his intentions tomorrow, and after that we will begin receiving regular updates on his progress. To put things in perspective, he doesn’t expect to finish until around January 27.
Which other explorers are on this first flight isn’t exactly clear yet, but we should know soon. I’ll be keeping an eye on the unfolding season in the Antarctic of course, with regular updates to come in the days ahead. Things are only now starting to get interesting, and it appears that this will be a very busy season at the bottom of the world.
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