The 2016 Antarctic season is barely a week old, and yet it is already shaping up to be an interesting one. The first skiers were dropped off on the ice at Hercules Inlet last week, and are now making their way towards the South Pole. And while conditions have been good so far, each is dealing with their own set of challenges on the frozen continent.
One of the more interesting trends that is developing for this season is the number of solo women out on the ice. Last week, Emma Kelty and Johanna Davidsson started their bids to ski both to, and from, the Pole, and they are now joined by another female explorer as well. Polish explorer Malgorzata Wojtaczka was dropped off at Hercules Inlet last Friday, and is now making her way towards 90ºS. She reported great weather for her start, but since then has skied into whiteout conditions, with large sastrugi already making the going tough.
Meanwhile, Emma Kelty has actually had to surrender her “solo” status according to ExWeb. Early into her ski expedition she began to have issues with her cook stove, which is vital for not only making meals but melting snow for water too. After struggling to get it working, she eventually realized the problem was with her fuel canisters, so she requested more be delivered rather than end her expedition for such a relatively small issue. This means she’ll be able to continue on towards the Pole, and hopefully back to Hercules, but in the grand scheme of things she had to give up the “solo and unassisted” part of the journey.
Bad fuel canisters are not the only issue she’s been struggling with however. She also has a sore neck that hopefully won’t continue to give her problems throughout the length of the expedition. And, sastrugi have been an issue for her as well. Those tough snow ridges on the ice can make skiing extremely difficult, and slow things down greatly. To make up for it, Emma has been skiing into the night, which is a different experience for sure.
The third adventurous lady currently skiing to the Pole is Johanna Davidsson, who plans to kite ski back to the start at Hercules Inlet when she’s done. So far, Johanna seems to be doing quite well, knocking off solid distances early on in the expedition. On her sixth day out on the ice she has already amped up her mileage to 20 km (12.4 miles) in a single day and has crossed the 100 km (62 mile) mark. The weather so far has been mostly good, although whiteout conditions have started to creep in for her too. Still, she seems focused, happy, and engaged thus far.
The six-man British military team are scooting right along on their way to the South Pole as well. They report cloudy skies, which has made navigating a bit challenging at times, but otherwise morale is high, their cranking out 12 nautical miles (22 km/13.8 miles) per day, and the sastrugi haven’t been quite so bad so far. Having a full team around them, rather than going solo, makes a huge difference on progress, mood, and overall approach to the expedition.
Italian kite-skier Michele Pntrandolfo continues to look for favorable winds for his expedition from Novo Station to the South Pole. So far, much like last year, the winds have not been particularly helpful in achieving that goal. Things are expected to change this week however, and he hopes to begin making meaningful progress at long last. He plans to ski past the Pole of Inaccessibility on his way to 90ºS, which means he’ll be covering about 4000 miles (6437 km) if he’s successful. In order to do that, he needs to get moving however so hopefully the winds will shift in his favor soon.
Finally, it appears that Mike Horn has left Cape Town and is now sailing towards Antarctica. He’ll be traversing the continent via the South Pole as he attempts to circumnavigate the globe north-south, rather than east-west. He and his crew left South Africa a few days back and now expect about a two-week journey to reach the frozen continent. From there, he’ll begin the ski portion of the expedition. It should be interesting to follow his progress as well.
Now that the season is in full swing, expect more teams to hit the ice soon. It is going to be a busy year at the bottom of the world, and we’ll continue to keep an eye on the progress there.