Antarctica 2016: Italian to Attempt Traverse of the Frozen Continent Again, Researcher Dies in the Field

Ceremonial South Pole

Preparation for the start of the 2016-2017 Antarctic season is now underway, with the advance team from ALE now arriving on the ice to prepare the permanent campsite at Patriot Hills for the arrival of the first skiers of the season. It will take them a few days to get the camp ready, and they’ll spend a considerable amount of time preparing the runway that will allow the big Ilyushin aircraft to begin transporting supplies, crew, and explorers out to site. That typically begins around the end of October, although the weather ultimately decides when those flights out of Punta Arenas, Chile actually begin.

Elsewhere, the McMurdo Station on the Ross Iceshelf has started to return to life. The station is an important research outlet for the U.S., and during the Antarctic winter it is manned by just a skeleton crew. Now, essential personnel are arriving there to prepare for another busy season ahead as a full compliment of scientists, researchers, and military crew have started to flow in.

Similarly, the Russian base called Novolazarevskaya is also starting to come to life with its crew scheduled to begin arriving later this week. That station is manned and supplied out of Cape Town, South Africa, with the first flight planned for Friday, weather permitting of course. If all goes as planned, one of the passengers on that flight will be Italian kite-skier Michele Pontrandolfo, who will once again attempt to traverse the continent via the South Pole.

Last year, Pontrandolfo made the same attempt, hoping to use his kite to cover large chunks of ground at a rapid pace. Unfortunately, he never was able to capture the winds like he had expected, so as a result his expedition was much slower than planned. He never managed to get much momentum going, and eventually had to pull the plug. Now, he’s back for another go. Hopefully this season he’ll have better luck. We’ll of course be following his progress in the days ahead.

There is some sad news coming our way from the Antarctic today as well. ExWeb is reporting that an Antarctic researcher has died in the field while collecting scientific data. Gordon Hamilton, who was on the frozen continent as part of a climate research team from the University of Maine, was killed when the vehicle he was driving fell into a crevasse. The accident occurred this past Saturday as Hamilton and his teammates were exploring an area known as the “Shear Zone” not far from McMurdo Station. According to the report, that region is known for being heavily crevassed, with ice that is as much as 650 feet (198 meters) thick at some points.

Hamilton’s body was recovered from the crevasse and is being prepared to be taken back home to his family in Maine. My condolences go out to his friends and family after this tragic accident.

That’s all for today. As we get closer to the start of the season, we’ll have more updates. Most of the South Pole skiers are now preparing to depart for Punta Arenas, and head to Antarctica, which will soon be a very busy place once again.

Kraig Becker