Antarctica 2016: More Arrivals at the Pole

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While the rest of us have been enjoying an extended holiday break, the skiers at the bottom of the world have been continuing their push towards various goals. The calendar may have now turned to 2017, but there are still several weeks left in the 2016 Antarctic season, and the explorers there are making the most of it.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Swedish solo-skier Johanna Davidsson arrived at the Pole on Christmas Eve, and in record time. Now, she’s started her return journey back to Hercules Inlet by kite-ski. The winds haven’t been all that favorable so far, so she has had to ski some days, but when they are blowing in her favor she’s making good time. But, she admits she isn’t rushing all that much and is enjoying “taking it easy” for the return trip. Going back to Hercules is usually easier and faster since much of it is down hill. Plus, when the winds are blowing it is possible to cover further distances. For instance, yesterday she managed to knock off 73 km (45.3 miles), which is equal to about 2-3 days of skiing towards the Pole.

Meanwhile, the Six-man British Military squad that we’ve been following all season reached the South Pole back on Christmas Day, and while they enjoyed a little down time there, they’ve already set off on the next leg of their expedition too. Now, they’re looking to traverse the Shackleton Glacier on their return trip to the coast as well. They are currently traversing the tough Titan Dome, where conditions are very challenging, including -36ºC (-32.8ºF) temperatures. The team is tired, but in good sports and health, so they are pressing onwards.

Finnish skier Risto Hallikainen arrived at the South Pole over the holiday break as well, and has already launched his return journey to Hercules too. On his way to 90ºS he left behind a series of supply depots to help lighten his load, and give himself plenty of food and fuel for the return trip, which ExWeb says must be completed by January 27, which is when ALE will fly the last plane off th continent. The first supply depot will be picked up when Risto reaches 88ºS.

ExWeb reports that A four-person team guided by Ryan Waters, who was joined by Katrina Follows, Paul Adams, and Scott Kress arrived at the South Pole on December 30. The group has already flown back to the Union Glacier camp and are likely off the continent and on their way home.

Emma Kelty crossed the last degree on her way to the South Pole on New Year’s Day. She hopes to arrive at 90ºS tomorrow or Wednesday, and after a brief stop will turn around and begin her attempt ski back to Hercules as well, time permitting. If she hopes to complete that journey, she’ll need to pick up the pace however, as time is starting to become short. She’s also hampered by a bad cough and deep, soft snow which is making it more difficult to make progress. Still, spirits are good and she is determined as ever.

Mike Horn is in the midst of his Antarctic Traverse by kite-ski, and while the winds have turned in his favor, it hasn’t been an easy expedition so far. Yesterday alone he covered 160 km (99.4 miles), but it was over a hard surface covered in sastrugi that jarred his body at every turn. As a result, when he made camp he was exhausted and beat up, with 510 km (316 miles) to go to the Pole, which will only be the midway point as he makes his way to the other side of the continent. A few days back, it looked like the entire expedition was in jeopardy when Mike stopped for the night and discovered he had lost his cooking pot, which was custom made to integrate with his stove. He also lost several utensils, but the difficult part was how he would melt snow for water. Fortunately, he was able to jury-rig a system using his existing gear, and can continue to press on, but he was dangerously close to having to pull the plug altogether.

Canadian Sébastien Lapierre is closing in on the Pole, slowly but surely. He has now crossed over the 88th degree, and should arrive at the research station located there sometime next week. He has cleared the notorious sastrugi field in the 87th degree and is making better time now.

Finally, it should be noted that a new South Pole marker has been put in place at 90ºS. The old marker moves with the ice and had begun to drift way from the true location of the Pole, so a new one is put in place from time to time. After you’ve skied hundreds of miles to reach that point on the map, you definitely want to know you’re standing in the right place.

That’s it for now. More updates as the teams and solo skiers continue to make progress. Still lots to report on this unfolding season.

Kraig Becker