The 2018-2019 Antarctic expedition season continues to unfold at the bottom the world, with unusually warm temperatures causing all kinds of challenges. It is those warm temps that are causing the snow to be soft and the whiteouts to occur, making this one of the most challenging seasons in recent memory for everyone involved. So much so, that one veteran explorer has abandoned his plans to ski to the South Pole altogether and is now preparing to head home.
If you’ve been following Eric Larsen’s attempt at a speed record for skiing to the South Pole you probably know that he hasn’t had much luck in making headway towards that goal. In fact, the current speed record is 24 days and as of this writing Larsen is 22 days into his own attempt to break that mark. The soft snow and whiteouts mentioned above conspired against him, slowing progress considerably. So as the days slipped away, it became abundantly clear that he wasn’t going to break the record, or even seriously challenge it.
Over the weekend Eric announced that he was giving up his attempt to ski to the Pole this season and will instead turn towards the Thiel Mountains where an aircraft can come pick him up. He expects that it will take roughly two days to reach his extraction point, at which time he’ll have to wait for the weather to cooperate. Once the skies are clear and conditions are good, he’ll fly back to Union Glacier, then on to Punta Arenas and home. If everything comes together as it should, he should be back with his family in time for the holidays.
There are several reasons for abandoning the expedition to the South Pole, not the least of which were Eric’s dwindling supplies. He took just enough gear, food, and fuel with him to reach the Pole, with a little padding for safety. Those supplies are now starting to run low and with nearly 290 miles (466 km) to go to the finish line he was simply going to run out of time and food.
Reading Eric’s blog post announcing his decision it was clear that this was no an easy one to make. He gave his best effort in this attempt but Mother Nature simply didn’t cooperate. For quite a few days now he’s been going on just four hours of sleep. He had hoped this would allow him to make up the distance that was slipping away, but the conditions simply wouldn’t allow it. In fact, he was getting slower in the recent days not because he was tired but because the weather and surface conditions were not conducive to going fast.
If all goes as expected, Larsen should reach the Thiels skiway tomorrow. From there, he’ll just have to wait to see when he can be picked up from the ice and how long before he can board a flight to Punta Arenas from Union Glacier. His current expedition will soon come to an end, but something tells me he’ll be back in the polar regions again soon.