Antarctica 2017: Two More Teams Hit the Ice as Ben Saunders Prepares to Begin

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The first flight of the Antarctic expedition season delivered three teams to the Union Glacier camp over the weekend, and soon all of them will begin their march across the ice. Things are still ramping up at ALE’s base of operations on the frozen continent as supplies and support staff are delivered to the camp. But for the teams who are now in place, there is little time to waste before setting off.

British polar explorer Ben Saunders is getting ready for his massive undertaking. He is in Union Glacier waiting for a flight out to Berkner Island, where he’ll begin his attempt to ski solo, unassisted, and unsupported across more than 1000 miles (1609 km) of Antarctica. Saunders route will take him to the Ross Ice Shelf via the South Pole, following roughly the same path as Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition more than a century ago. It is also the same route that Henry Worsely was attempting during the 2015-2016 season when he took ill and lost his life.

Ben has reported in from Union Glacier, where he says the temperature at night is a balmy -7ºF/-22ºC, but things remain very civilized with warm tents, good food, and pleasant company. Soon, he’ll leave all of that behind and will spend upwards of two months on his own out on the ice. Saunders expects to truly be underway in the next day or two.

Meanwhile, there are two other teams who are also at Union Glacer and getting ready to start as well. The Ice Maidens are a group of six women who will also attempt a traverse of the Antarctic continent, becoming the first all-female team to accomplish that task. Each of the ladies is a former member of the British military, and are looking to cover 1700 km (1056 miles) starting at Union Glacier and ending on the Leverett Glacier, with a stop at the South Pole along the way. The team will go unsupported, but will receive two supply drops while en route.

Finally, Norwegian adventurers Astrid Furholt and Jan Sverre Sivertsen are also at Union Glacier waiting to begin their expedition as well. The duo play to follow the same route that Roald Amundsen took on his way to the South Pole back in 1911, and will cover approximately 1500 km (932 miles), starting on the Ross Ice Shelf at Ross Island. The’ll cross the Axel Heiberg Glacier on their way to the South Pole, then turn around and return to Cape Evans. The entire trip is expected to take about 80 days.

Right now the weather is a bit rough in certain parts of the Antarctic, so when exactly these teams will be dropped off remains unclear. Saunders expects to start today or tomorrow, while the Ice Maidens may get a drop off in that same time frame. Meanwhile, the Norwegians may have to sit tight to wait out a storm. Either way, we should be getting regular updates from the ice within the next few days.

Kraig Becker