Antarctica 2017: Delays, Starts, and Whiteouts on the Frozen Continent

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The Antarctic expedition is in full swing now, and with another aircraft scheduled to arrive at the Union Glacier camp tomorrow, we could have even more teams embarking for the South Pole. To date, there has been only one flight out of Punta Arenas, Chile but soon others will follow and things will really start to get interesting.

For the teams who have already arrived in the Antarctic it has been a challenging week. The Ice Maidens, which is made up of six female British active military members or reservists, appear to still be waiting at Union Glacier, even though they’ve been there for more than a week. They will be attempting to ski from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole, then make a return trip via the Trans-Antarctic Mountains and over the Leverett Glacier and ending on the Ross Ice Shelf. In total, they’ll cover about 1700 km (1056 miles) once they get underway, receiving two supply drops en route.

Norwegians Astrid Furholt and Jan Sverre Sivertsen have finally gotten underway on their attempt to follow Roald Amundsen’s route to the South Pole and back again. They were dropped off at their starting point on Sunday, and have now started their trek to 90ºS. The duo are looking to cover more than 1900 km (1200 miles) and are using kite skis to help them complete the journey, which they expect to take roughly 80 days to complete.

Their route is a bit unusual in that they will first ski away from the Pole out to Amundsen’s camp on the coast, then turn around and head to South Pole, crossing the Axel Heiberg Glacier, climbing up onto the Polar Plateau, through the infamous Devil ’s Dance-floor, and over the Titan Dome at 3200 meters (10,500 ft). So far, they haven’t posted any updates from the ice, but I would expect a steady stream of news to start soon.

Finally, Ben Saunders continues to chug along on his solo, unsupported crossing of the Antarctic continent. He was dropped off at his starting point on November 8, and has been making steady progress despite challenging conditions. Whiteouts have been the norm so far, with small amounts of good weather mixed in here and there. Yesterday, Saunders reports that it was warmer than usual on the frozen continent and he was able to ski without his face covered for the first time. Prior to that, high winds, blowing snow, and cold temperatures made it impossible to enjoy exposing his skin to the elements.

So far, Ben is knocking off about roughly 17.5 km (11 miles) per day, which is a very good pace for the start of an Antarctic expedition. At the beginning, most of the skiers are still finding their legs and getting into a rhythm. On top of that, their sleds are extremely heavy too, slowing them down some. As they expedition unfolds, they usually consume food and fuel, which makes the sled lighter as they go along. Right now, Saunders is still in the process of finding that rhythm, but has been making good progress nonetheless.

That’s all for today. We should have more expeditions to follow out on the ice soon.

Kraig Becker