Antarctica 2018: Some Skiers Still South Pole Bound

Over the past few weeks much of the attention centered around Antarctica has been focused on Colin O’Brady and Lou Rudd, and their attempts to ski solo and unsupported across the continent. Those two men have now wrapped up their expeditions –– not without controversy I might add –– and are heading home, but there are still some skiers out on the ice and the expedition season in the Antarctic isn’t over just yet.

British ultrarunner Jenny Davis is on her way to the South Pole, celebrating New Years Eve out on the ice all alone. At the 17-day mark she had covered 196 miles (315 km) with about another 519 miles (835 km) yet to go. She’s been covering solid distances each day, but like the other skiers this season she’s had a rough go of it. Soft snow, whiteout conditions, and surprise storms have made for difficult travels so far. Davis, who summited Mt. Vinson prior to starting her ski expedition, had hoped to set a speed record for traveling from Union Glacier to the Pole, but unless something dramatically changes, that looks like a long shot at this point. Still, she is doing very well and still has a few weeks left in the Antarctic season to reach the finish line.

Fellow British adventurer Barry Gray is also on his way to the South Pole and is nearing the end of his adventure. According to his satellite tracker, Gray is now closing in on the 89th degree, which means just one more until he reaches his goal. He’s spent 35 days en route so far, and looks like he could finish in the next week or so, although the journey hasn’t been without its challenges. The soft snow has slowed Barry’s progress as well and according to his updates he is exhausted by the effort. The plan was to ski to the South Pole this season, then attempt an unsupported, unassisted traverse of Antarctica next year. It will be interesting to see if those plans change following this expedition.

The Clean 2 Antarctica team consisted of Edwin and Liesbeth ter Velde, who had planned to drive a solar powered vehicle all the way to the South Pole. They’ve now pulled the plug on their expedition, having experienced far bigger challenges than they had expected. Still, they did manage to spend a month in the Antarctic driving their clean vehicle around on the ice. The logistics and terrain didn’t allow them to reach 90ºS, but the did prove the viability of using solar powered buggies to travel on the frozen continent. As a proof of concept, the project was a success, but it also has shown there is still a ways to go before these kinds of vehicles will be ready for use in a truly demanding environment.

It has been in an incredibly demanding year in the Antarctic and there are a few other skiers who may or may not be still out on the ice. Updates have been challenging to come across, but I’ll try to continue keeping tabs on the progress of skiers heading to the South Pole and post updates as they become available. Several skiers have quit and I suspect a few others have as well, but I’m still working on tracking down status reports following the holidays. Stay tuned!

Kraig Becker