Antarctica 2019: And They’re Off…

Another quick update from Antarctica today, where a few more skiers have finally launched their expeditions to the South Pole. After waiting out poor weather in Punta Arenas last week, a number of adventurers and explorers flew to Union Glacier this past weekend. Earlier today, they were airlifted over to Hercules Inlet, the traditional starting point for most South Pole sojourns. Now, they’re underway at last, providing us with a chance to follow along on their adventure.

Amongst those dropped on the ice today is Brit Wendy Searle. She’s attempting to set a new speed record for skiing to the South Pole and is hoping to cover the 720 mile (1158 km) distance in less than 39 days. Apparently, she was dropped of along with four others and after a short delay, they were all on their way. One of those groups is being guided by polar explorer Ryan Waters, while the other is solo skier Neil Hunter.

Wendy has rebased just a brief update so far, but Hunter has given us more information in his first dispatch. He says that everyone set off with a lot of excitement, but as is typical on day 1, no one skied all that far. He put in just two miles, while the guided group stopped sooner than that. Unsurprisingly, Searle pushed on a ahead, already watching the clock for that speed record. Hunter says that he is pretty tired after just a half-day of pulling his sled, but after taking two weeks off from his training while traveling from the U.K. and waiting in Punta Arenas, he isn’t surprised by this result. The plan is to add more mileage tomorrow and in they days ahead, until he is eventually skiing 10 hours per day.

Finally, Aussie Geoff Wilson has been out on the ice for a couple of weeks already and is making progress where he can. His weather forecast indicates that a major storm his heading his way, so he got up at midnight, left his tent, and continued on towards toe Pole of Inaccessibility, his first stop on the way to the South Pole. It was a rough start, with plenty of sastrugi slowing him down, but before long he had a magical moment out on the ice. At long last, the surface smoothed out, things improved, and the kite he was using allowed him to make good time. At that same moment, ice crystals hanging in the air glistened above him, making it a sublime experience to say the least. Wilson reports that it didn’t last long however, as a snow storm descended upon him. He’s currently 533 km (331 miles) to the POI, so still plenty of distance to go. Weather permitting, he hopes to reach that point early next week.

Even as these skiers head out, we know there are several more waiting in the wings. We’re also only about a week away from the first climbers heading to Mt. Vinson as well, so things are about to get very busy at the bottom of the world. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the progress of all of these adventurers, and more to come, in the days ahead. The 2019 Antarctic expedition season is truly just getting started.

Kraig Becker