Antarctica 2016: Slow and Steady Progress on the Frozen Continent

Daily pic 27 Nov

Another week has passed for the South Pole skiers heading across the Antarctic this season. As usual, they face a variety of challenges on their way to the bottom of the world, not the least of which is the weather. But everyone who is currently on the ice is pushing ahead nicely and making steady progress towards their various goals.

We’ll start with an update from the six-man British military team that has been skiing for nearly two weeks now. Yesterday they reported “horrendous” conditions as high winds made forward progress, and visibility, very difficult. The winds roared at 40-50 knots (46-57 mph), which caused temperatures to plunge and sap their strength. Add in some very difficult sastrugi to the surface, and it tallied up to an incredibly rough day. Fortunately, things improved today and they were able to knock off a solid 13.6 nautical miles (25 km/15.5 miles) as conditions improved. They also managed to cross the 82nd degree as well, which means they still have 8 more degrees to go before they’re done, but they are slowly but surely moving ahead.

In contrast, Emma Kelty reports great weather over the past few days, allowing her to start to get a rhythm on her ski expedition to the South Pole. She says that the sastrugi are making it tough on the legs at the moment, but they are just part of the challenge that anyone traveling in the Antarctic faces. She did have a brief scare in which she thought her back-up stove had stopped working, but thankfully she was able to make repairs and get it operational again. As you may recall, she had a problem with the fuel for her stove early on, which requires a supply drop. That cost her the “solo and unsupported” status she was hoping for, but she continues to forge ahead nonetheless.

Johanna Davidsson has certainly gotten up to speed quickly. She’s now been out on the ice for 12 days, and managed to cover 27.7 km (17.2 miles) yesterday. That’s a solid pace for this early in the expedition, as most skiers pick up steam as they get closer to their goal. This is in part due to their bodies getting more acclimated to the daily grind, and because their sleds start to get lighter too. But Johanna seems to be cranking out the distances now and is looking very good out on the ice. 

Explorer Mike Horn is continuing to make progress sailing toward Antarctica. He departed South Africa last week aboard his ship the Pangea, and reports ice in the waters but nothing dangerous enough to slow him down. It appears that he’s still a few days away from making landfall, at which point he’ll attempt to traverse the frozen continent by way of the South Pole. The ship will then pick him on the other side, and he’ll start sailing north where he intends to continue his quest to become the first person to circumnavigate the globe in a north-south direction. 
It appears that the climbing season on Mount Vinson is about to begin. Guide Dave Hahn and his team of climbers arrived in Base Camp on that mountain yesterday after a long day of travel from Punta Arenas to Union Glacier and onto the mountain. They’ll spend a day or two getting camp set up and rested before they start to head up the mountain, but it appears that operations are now underway to summit the tallest peak on the continent. 
Finally, Italian Michele Pontrandolfo is finally getting some winds to work in his favor. Progress is still slow, but his expedition to kite-ski to the South Pole has begun covering some distances at long last. He still has a long way to go, and faces the real possibility of not reaching his goal as he did last year, but for the moment he seems content and happy to be in the Antarctic. Hopefully he’ll get some good winds in the days ahead so he can really start knocking off the mileage. 
That’s it for today. More updates as the season progresses.  
Kraig Becker