It has been a long and difficult week for the latest round of adventurers looking to ski to the South Pole this Antarctic expedition season. The flight that was scheduled to take them from Punta Arenas, Chile last week was delayed until the weekend, setting them back several days in the process. But conditions have finally improved and ALE was able land its big Ilyushin aircraft at the Union Glacier camp, where several skiers are now preparing to start.
British adventurer Wendy Searle is amongst those who have finally made it to frozen continent. She checked in from the Union Glacier camp yesterday after arriving there on Saturday. She says that she now hopes to start her expedition on Tuesday of this week, at which time she’ll launch her attempt to set a new speed record. At the moment, she’s in the process of whittling down her gear to save space and weight in the hopes of going faster. Just how serious is she about cutting ounces from her sled? She’s leaving her passport at the camp in an effort to go lighter and faster. Considering a passport doesn’t really weigh that much, that says something, but on an expedition like this one, every ounce counts.
The other British woman who is chasing the South Pole speed record is Jenny Davis. Reportedly she is at Union Glacier too, although she has yet to post any updates on her progress. Chances are, she and Wendy will be on the same flight out to Hercules Inlet, the starting point for their South Pole sojourn. If they start at the same time, it will be pretty easy to track their progress as they both chase the same goal.
Neil Hunter has also been posting updates from Union Glacier, having arrived on the same flight and schedule as Searle. He says that he’s spent his time preparing his food bags for each day of the expedition while waiting for a flight out to Hercules Inlet. It probably comes as no surprise that he’ll be starting tomorrow as well. In the meantime, today he’ll hit a 10 km (6.2 mile) circuit near the camp to do a test pull of his sled. This will help prepare him — and the other skiers — for what to expect once they are dropped off at their starting points.
Mollie Hughes has actually already been out on the ice for nearly two weeks now. Most of that time has been spent in incredibly bad weather, including 8 days in nearly complete whiteout. The past few days she’s been battling high winds as well, although over the weekend she reported that conditions were improving at long last. This has allowed her to start finding her rhythm and increasing her mileage too.
Finally, Aussie Geoff Wilson has been posting regular updates and has announced that he has hit a major milestone. Wilson is attempting the longest solo journey ever in the Antarctic, covering upwards of 5200 km (3231 miles) using a kite to assist him along the way. So far, the winds haven’t been particularly strong, although he’s been making solid progress when he can. That changed over the weekend however, as the gusts have begun to pick up. So much so that he is now covering much larger distance and has managed to cross the 1000 km (620 mile) mark. He still has a long way to go, and is currently traveling to the South Pole of Inaccessibility, but this current distance hasn’t come easy. Conditions have been rough to start the season, although things are starting to improve a bit now.
There are several other skiers that we’ll be tracking and following throughout the season, but most haven’t shared updates on their progress yet. Stay tuned for more as the season continues to unfold.