Antarctica 2017: Antarctic Ghurka Hits the Ice, Maidens Still Waiting


Last week while I was away another plane carried more Antarctic skiers to the Union Glacier camp to begin their expeditions on the frozen continent. Some didn’t have to wait long before they were shuttled out to their starting points, while others continue to sit and wait for a weather window that will allow them to get underway at long last.

One of the new skiers who has just launched his expedition is Scott Sears, a former member of the British Royal Ghurka Soldiers, who is attempting to become the youngest person to ever ski the full distance to the South Pole solo and unassisted. Dubbed the Antarctic Ghurka, Scott flew to Union Glacier on November 15 and was able to be taken directly out to his starting point at Hercules Inlet the following day. He’s now three days into his journey and so far has had mostly excellent weather, with blue skies and bright sunlight. There have been occasional high winds, but for the start of his 1100 km (683 mile) expedition to the South Pole, it has been mostly smooth sailing thus far.

The same can’t be said for the Ice Maidens, a team of six women who are active and reservist in the British military. They’ve been sitting and waiting at Union Glacier for more than two weeks now simply because there hasn’t been a weather window at their starting location on the Leverett Glacier. Hopefully that will change soon, but for now they continue to sit and wait.

Delays like this one aren’t all that uncommon in the Antarctic, particularly early in the season. They can be extremely frustrating nonetheless, as teams are eager to get started. A two-week pause at Union Glacier is somewhat unusual however, although not unheard of it. The weather forecast is starting to improve however, so hopefully the Maidens will get underway soon.

British polar explorer Ben Saunders has faced none of these delays and has already been out on the ice for two weeks. He has started to find his his rhythm and is making decent time across the ice, although he has started to run into the regular challenges that are found in the Antarctic, most notably high winds, soft snow, and sastrugi, all of which can cause serious slow downs and zap the strength from your legs. Soft snow is hard to ski in and sastrugi are very hard ridges of packed snow on the ice that act as speed bumps. Neither are fun to deal with, but Saunders is making the best of his situation so far and is forging ahead with impressive resolve.

That’s all for today. I’ll continue to keep an eye on the things going on down on the frozen continent and post updates as warranted. The season is truly just getting underway, so there should be plenty of interesting updates to come.

Kraig Becker