Antarctic Expedition Completes 52-Day Crossing of Frozen Continent

Generally I’m pretty good at keeping track of the various expeditions that set out for the Antarctic each season, but this year there was a big one that completely slipped my noticed. Dubbed the Antarctica Unexplored Fuji Dome expedition, this amazing adventure seemly flew under the radar for most media outlets, although its scope is certainly an impressive one. In fact, the four members who made up the team set out way back on December 12 and only now have just wrapped up. That means they spent 52 days out on the ice, covering more than 2538 km (1577 miles) without the use of a motorized vehicle of any kind.

Unlike most of the teams that head to the Antarctic, the members of the Antarctica Unexplored squad took a cue from their name and ventured into mostly uncharted territory. The group, which was led by Ramón Larramendi and included Ignacio Oficialdegui, Manuel Olivera and Hilo Moreno, set out from 73º south, 11º east on the Polar Plateau. They then spent the next month and a half traveling through east Antarctica, before returning to their starting point this past Saturday. They’ve since arrived at the Russian Antarctic Novolazárevskaya Base where they are now preparing to head home.

While most Antarctic explorers uses skis, or occasionally kites, to travel to the South Pole, this team came up with a completely new and different form of transportation. They used a vehicle called the WindSled, which was designed by Larramendi himself, to cover the vast distances they traveled in the largely unexplored East Antarctic. The WindKite is so efficient in fact, that it is able to carry 2000 kg (4409 pounds) of gear, supplies, and equipment. It’s design is derived from sleds used by the Inuit people travel in polar regions, but the Spanish explorer updated it by including large kites to pull it along. The vehicle, which obviously creates no emissions, has been tested extensively in the Arctic and Antarctic, and was even used to reach the South Pole and the South Pole of Inaccessibility back in 2017.

A major goal of the expedition was to explore the Fuji Dome, a massive ice dome that reaches 3810 meters (12,500 ft) in height. The squad managed to climb up to a height of 3768 meters (12,362 ft) there, but didn’t quite reach the top. Still, this seldom visited post on the Antarctic continent was one of their main objectives, and they reached it with ease. In fact, due to the WindSled’s abilities to move across the ice, they team managed to travel 20% further than they had originally expected.

Traveling to the Fuji Dome was only part of the team’s plans however. While exploring the Antarctic, they also collected hundreds of samples of ice and snow that will be used in various environmental studies project across the globe. The team partnered with a number of different organizations as part of the expedition, including the European Space Agency, the Autonomous University of Madrid, the University of Alcalá de Henares, the University of Valencia, the Center for Astrobiology (Inta-CSIC), the Institute of Environmental Diagnosis and Water Studies (IDAEA-CSIC), the University of Maine (USA) and a researcher at NASA.

Impressive expedition indeed. Congrats to the four explorers for finishing up their journey.