Antarctica 2017: Father-Son Team Skiing to the South Pole for Clean Energy

Day 8 Nov 28 Barney dragging thru Satsrugi

We’ve been following some ambitious expeditions across the Antarctic already this season, but now we can add another one to the list. A father and son team have launched their own ski journey to the South Pole and they’re doing it with an important environmental message too.

Rob and Barney Swan have embarked on what they call the South Pole Energy Challenge (SPEC) as part of their much larger 2041 Project. Over the course of the coming weeks, they’ll travel on foot for more than 600 miles (965 km) in order to reach 90ºS. It appears they are following the usual route from Hercules Inlet to Pole, with an estimated time of about 8 weeks to finish the trip.

What makes this particular journey unique is that they plan to unveil some cutting edge technologies while en route and become the first team to ski to the South Pole using only clean energy sources. The duo are promoting the 2016 Paris Climate Accords and are hoping to use the expedition as a way to demonstrate clean energy technologies, while also acting to preserve the continent from the advances of global warming.

The father and son team have been skiing for about a week now, and are making solid progress for their first few days out on the ice. During the early part of the expedition it usually takes awhile for skiers to get their legs under them, and the sleds that they pull are at their heaviest. As time goes buy, they begin to find a rhythm and as they consume food and supplies, the sled gets a bit lighter, allowing them to travel further and faster. So far though, Rob and Barney have been chugging long at a nice pace, with mostly good weather and surface conditions.

This isn’t Rob’s first time skiing to the South Pole. In fact, he first followed in the footsteps of Robert Falcon Scott back in 1985-86. Then in 1989 he also marched to the North Pole, becoming one of just a handful of people to make both of those journeys by foot. Now, he’s traveling across Antarctica once again, and finding it to be both a very different place than when he first visited, and yet often the same.

So why have they dubbed their expedition the 2041 Project? Because we have until the year 2041 to renew a treaty that bans mining and commercialization of Antarctica. In order to preserve this place, it is crucial that those agreements stand and are renewed. There are some indications that certain countries would like to mine or drill in Antarctica to claim precious resources, but those actions could be disastrous to the environment there. Rob and Barney are hoping to avert such a crisis.

Exactly how the SPEC squad distinguishes itself from other teams skiing to the South Pole remains a bit unclear. Most skiers use solar energy to power their gear while on the continent, although the fuel sources for their stoves vary a bit. On top of that, Rob and Barney flew to the Union Glacier camp from Punta Arenas, Chile, so I’m not certain how using a massive Ilyushin aircraft to get to Antarctica falls into their plan of using only clean energy. Still, I respect their message and mission and look forward to following them throughout the journey and learning more about the 2041 Project in general.

Kraig Becker