British polar explorer Ben Saunders is off! The man attempting to become the first person to ski solo, unassisted, and unsupported across Antarctica has begun his journey after getting a drop off on Berkner Island earlier today. Now, he faces more than a thousand miles of icy landscapes and challenging weather as he traverses the continent via the South Pole.
Saunders was expected to be dropped off at his starting point yesterday, but poor weather grounded the Twin Otters aircraft that would have flown him to Berkner. That isn’t uncommon this time of year, as the austral summer hasn’t quite settled in yet and conditions remain wildly unpredictable. He didn’t have to wait long for the next opportunity to fly however, as he was on another flight early this morning that took him to the drop-off point.
Upon arrival, Ben gathered his equipment, hooked up his sled, and soon began skiing across the ice. High winds made things a bit challenging for the start, and blowing snow dropped visibility. Still, he reports that things are going well and he was happy to be moving at last. He skied for about 45 minutes before establishing camp for the night, all part of his plan to stay on UTC time, rather than switch to the Chilean time zone.
Ben reports that Antarctic explorer Hannah McKeand was also on his flight this morning. Back in 2006 she skied solo to the South Pole and has been guiding on the frozen continent for years. She is reportedly setting up a camp near a penguin colony near Gould Bay, and is likely guiding clients once again this year. Hannah was the record holder for the fastest time to the Pole for quite a number of years, and is obviously still very comfortable in Antarctic.
No word yet on whether or not the Ice Maidens or the Norwegian team have been flown to their starting point just yet. Both squad have yet to update their schedules. But, if the weather has improved, they should both be getting underway soon as well.
The next ALE flight to the Union Glacier camp isn’t scheduled to take place until November 15, and it is listed as “Full” on the company’s website. That is when we’ll likely see the next wave of Antarctic skiers be delivered to the ice, although the flight schedule could be shifted around depending on the weather conditions.
Things should start to ramp up quickly now and we can expect a steady stream of updates moving forward. It promises to be another interesting expedition season down at the bottom of the world. Stay tuned for more.
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