Antarctica 2019: Good Weather Continues as Skiers Continue South

The austral summer seems to have arrived in the Antarctic, where the expedition skiers report continued good weather over the past few days. That means good things fo them as they continue their march towards their respective goals. For most, that means he South Pole, which grows ever closer by each passing day, but remains elusively out of reach for now. Still, the good weather means good progress, with clear skies, low wind, and plenty of warm temperatures — at least by Antarctic standards.

British speed record chaser Wendy Searle seems to be reveling in her days out on the ice. She reports that morale is high on day 17 of her race to the Pole, as she continues to ski over good snow and ice and make solid progress. She is closing in on the Thiel Mountains and the fabled Thiel Corner, which is not only site of a resupply runway for the aircraft that criss-cross Antartica, it is also the halfway point of her journey. If she reaches it in the next day or two, we’ll know she’s on track to have a real run at the speed record, as she is also nearly the halfway point of the time is looking to beat. The current record is slightly less than 39 days, and Searle continues to be a bit guarded with the amount of milage she is actually completing each day. But her dispatches sound upbeat and she is hitting the distances she was hoping for, which for now is all that matters.

Speaking of the speed record, Jenny Davis is the other woman in pursuit of that goal this year and she is being fairly cryptic about her progress as well. There is a tracker on her website that is built to provide information about her current position, but it still lists her as being in Hercules Inlet, a place she left more than two weeks ago. She has been sharing some info via Instagram, but like Searle there aren’t any mileage totals. Still, Davis is also is reportedly in good spirits and happy with her own progress. Last year, she had to battle across deeper and softer snow than she expected, which caused her to slow down dramatically. Conditions are much better this time out and it shows in the updates.

Mollie Hughes has now been out on the ice for 30 days. How do we know this? She reports that her Spotify music has stopped playing because it hasn’t had an Internet connection for that long. That has seriously put a crimp in her plans to be able to sing all the way to the South Pole, but she is learning to cope. She also shared evidence that she did her civic duty for the British election, even though she was thousands of miles from home. A photo of her approved proxy voter documents was posted to Mollie’s Facebook page, the question is whether or not she wants to know the results while she’s so far away?

If you’re looking to track a skier’s progress, then look no further than Neil Hunter. He isn’t chasing a speed record, but is instead skiing to raise awareness of diabetes and the things that diabetics can accomplish. Each day, Neil not only posts a good update from the ice, sharing his experiences for the time he was traveling, but he also shares his current location, mileages, and altitude. At the moment, he’s inching closer to the 83rd degree of latitude and is covering about 14 nautical miles (16 miles/25 km) per day. Thats a very solid output as he continues towards the Pole. Hunter says the weather is great with plenty of sunshine, although he has started encountering more sastrugi, which is always tough and tends to slow skiers down.

Finally, there is one Antarctic explorer who isn’t all that interested in traveling to the South Pole and that is Geoff Wilson. As mentioned previously, he’s abandoned his goal of reaching 90ºS after three fuel canisters malfunctioned in the sled, causing him to lose a significant supply of his gas. He’s still within the safety zone but the margin was going to be quite thin if he continued towards the Pole as planned, so instead he’s turned towards Dome Argus, another big goal that he has set for himself. Located in a remote area of the Antarctic, the Dome is said to be one of the coldest places on the planet. No one has ever climbed to the top on foot before, so Wilson is hoping to be the first. To that end, he’s pointed his skis in the direction of the Dome and is making good progress thanks to some steady wins. The Aussie is using a kite to cover longer distances and for him, wind is not just a good thing, it’s essential.

After 30 days on the ice, Wilson treated himself to a bath today, a luxury you don’t get very often in Antarctica. He reports that the winds have been good, allowing whim to make good time. So much so, that he expects to reach the Dome in a matter of days. But, he had an issue with his left ski binding today that ejected his boot while traveling rapidly over the ice. It sent him unceremoniously crashing onto the ground, while the kite continued to drag him for another 30 meters. It sounds like he’s a little bruised and battered, but otherwise in good spirits. The same equipment malfunction happened twice though, which has I’m concerned moving forward. Geoff hopes to examine the binding and potentially make repairs while he’s in his tent tonight.

That’s the update from the Antarctic heading into the weekend. More to come as these skiers inch closer to their goals.

Kraig Becker