We are now just days away from the start of the 2019-2020 Antarctic expedition season, with anxious polar explorers, South Pole skiers, and mountaineers putting the last minute touches on planning for their upcoming adventures. The ALE base camp at Union Glacier is set to see its first flight of the year tomorrow, as staff and crew begin arriving ahead of the first clients. One of the first to arrive on the frozen continent will no doubt be Australian adventurer Geoff Wilson, who has set some ambitious goals for the season ahead, including completing the longest solo journey through Antarctica ever.
Wilson’s goal is to cover more than 5800 km (3603 miles) in 91 days, visiting not one, but two South Poles, while also skiing to the coldest point on the continent, and exploring uncharted territory along the way. To accomplish this, he’ll be using a kite to help him cover longer distances, while also pulling a sled weighing in excess of 200 kg (440 pounds) containing all of his supplies and gear. While he will be traveling solo, the use of a kite negates the “unsupported” status of this expedition, although it doesn’t detract from the epic nature of Wilson’s plans.
The plan is to start at a place called Thor’s Hammer, which is a 2000 meter (6561 ft) peak located in the Queen Maud Land region of the frozen continent. From there, he’ll ski to the South Pole of Inaccessibility, which is defined as the point furtherest from the coast, making it extremely remote. Once he’s reached the POI, it’s on to the Geographic South Pole at 90ºS, before heading to the Dome Argus, which is often referred to as the coldest place on Earth. Temperatures have been recorded at -82.5ºC (-116.5ºF) on the Dome, where it is believed that it can get as cold as -100ºC (-148ºF) at times. No one has ever reached the top of this place on foot and it has only been visited by aircraft landing on its flat top. From there, its back into Queen Maud’s Land with the goal of reach the Russian Novolazarevskaya Station back on the coast, where Wilson will be evacuated at long last. But before he reaches that research center, he’ll be passing through a portion of Antarctica that has never been visited by humans before and is largely uncharted.
To add yet another interesting dimension to this story, one of Wilson’s sponsors for this expedition is none other than Sam Hordern, the great grandson of Samuel Hordern, the patron of Antarctic explorer Douglas Mawson. Mawson did as much as anyone to explore the white continent back in Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, but his name isn’t mentioned as often as that of Amundsen, Shackleton, or Scott. He even suffered for the cause as much as the others, having spent two years living in East Antarctica back in 1912-1914. The elder Hordern played a crucial role in sponsoring those expeditions, and now the younger Sam is doing the same for Wilson.
Geoff Wilson’s expedition is only one of several that we’ll be following closely in the coming weeks. I suspect that he’ll be one of the first out on the ice this season and will reportedly be taking some state of the art equipment with him to help share the experience. Stay tuned.
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