During the 2018-2019 Antarctic season we watched closely as Colin O’Brady and Lou Rudd both attempted to become the first person to ski solo and unassisted across Antarctica. The two men did the diplomatic thing and insisted that they weren’t racing one another, but were instead focused on the challenges that Antarctica was throwing their way. In the end, O’Brady would be the first to reach the finish line and was there to welcome his non-rival when he arrived, both men all smiles. This year, we’re likely to have a similar situation, but with two very different polar explorers, as endurance athlete Jenny Davis of the U.K. and British civil servant Wendy Searle both attempt to set a new speed record for a woman skiing to the South Pole.
If you followed along with our coverage of the Antarctic ski season last year, you may recall hearing Jenny Davis’ name. She had a go at the speed record then, but was hampered by soft snow that slowed every South Pole skier down. In fact, some took as much as twice as much time to reach 90ºS as anticipated, while plenty of others simply gave up altogether. It was an incredibly challenging year to say the least. Davis would eventually have to abandon her plans to reach the South Pole as well after taking ill out on the ice and requiring an emergency evacuation. This year, she’s going back to finish what she started.
Searle played a significant role in the 2018-2019 season as well, even though she never stepped foot onto the ice. She served as Lou Rudd’s expedition leader, helping to facilitate communications, track his progress, and share updates. When he reached the far side of the continent, she was the first person he contacted with the news. This year, he’ll take over that role for her instead.
While the two women will certainly be aware of each other’s progress, their real race will be against the clock. They’ll be looking to ski to the South Pole in less than 38 days, 23 hours, and five minutes. That’s the current record held by Swedish explorer Johanna Davidsson and set back in 2016. Both Davis and Searle will set out from Hercules Inlet, where they’ll have to ski 700+ miles (1126 km) to reach the Pole. This is the most standard route that most skiers take, and although it is a well-worn path at this point, it remains a significant challenge. Particularly when pulling a heavy sled.
Searle has already arrived in Punta Arenas, Chile and is preparing to head out to Antarctica. She’s posting updates to her website and is currently prepping her gear and supplies. The plan is to fly out to the Union Glacier camp on November 18, weather permitting. From there, it may be a day or two before she is dropped off at Hercules Inlet, but she will likely be underway sometime next week, again depending on the weather.
Meanwhile, Davis has yet to post an update on her timeline, but should be heading to Chile soon as well, if she isn’t already there. I would expect her to begin updating her progress in the near future as well as she gets ready to undertake this herculean task too. Last year, she shared regular dispatches from the ice and her experiences will likely prove valuable this time out as well.
Once again, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the progress of these two ladies as they chase the record books. Hopefully the ground conditions will be more conducive to going faster this year. Good luck to them both.
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