Antarctica 2019: Good Weather Makes For Good Progress

It’s been about a week since we posted an update from the Antarctic, where the South Pole skiers continue to make steady progress towards the bottom of the world. The past few days have brought good weather to most of them, which has helped with distances and time spent on the skis. But two of the solo skiers are being a bit cagey about just how well they’re doing as they keep their distances traveled a bit close to the vest.

If you were to ask Jenny Davis and Wendy Searle about their individual attempts to set a new speed record for skiing to the South Pole, I’m sure both ladies would be very diplomatic in their responses. Neither would want to call it a “race” of course, and both would wish the other the best of luck. Those sentiments would no doubt be genuine, but we also know that both of the ladies are hoping to be the one to set the new record. To that end, I’ve found it interesting that neither is posting much information about the distances that they are covering at the moment. Davis hopes to get her online tracker up and running on her website soon, but in their dispatches so far there hasn’t been much of an indication of how far they’ve traveled on any given day. Both are saying they are making good mileage, but just how much is a mystery right now.

That said, we are still getting good progress reports from both women. Searle says that she should cross the 83rd degree in the next day or two, which is certainly a major milestone on her way to the Pole. Meanwhile, Davis is suffering from a bit of “polar thigh” which is chafing that develops on the inner thigh from cold conditions and skiing for hours on end. The good news is, both are reporting great weather conditions at the moment which is helping them make progress. Wendy said that it was so calm today that there was nothing but silence around her. She even turned off her music and audiobooks just to enjoy the complete and utter silence. Those days don’t come along all that often in the Antarctic, so it sounds like she was savoring it.

Sastrugi are already a problem for all of the skiers too. These hard ridges of ice form on the surface and have to be skied over or around. Some can get quite large — nearly a meter tall — but they can really slow the skiers down and make their progress difficult. In the case of Searle, the sastrugi have sent her tumbling down a time or two, which can be frustrating in its own right.

Speaking of female solo-skiers from the U.K., Mollie Hughes continues to power forward. She started her expedition about ten days before Davis and Searle, but those two women are steadily gaining on her at this point. Still, Hughes also reports great weather over the past few days, which has made skiing much more tolerable, even if the expedition has been a tough one. She’s now crossed 83ºS on her way to the Pole, notching another major milestone as well.

Neil Hunter has completed his 13th day out on the ice, happy to have what he calls a “glorious day.” Like Searle, he says that there is hardly any noise to be had right now, as predicted high winds didn’t arrive as expected. That’s a welcome respite for any skier in the Antarctic to say the least. He’s crossed over the 82nd degree and while he’s not racing to the South Pole, Hunter seems quite pleased with his adventure so far. He has experienced his firs equipment failure however, as he’s already worn out the thumb on his glove. Thankfully he has spares, and always the optimists he’s pleased with the quicker access to his phone too.

Finally, an update from Australian Geoff Wilson, whose original plans saw him kite-skiing for more than 5200 km (3231 miles) over the span of 90 days. Unfortunately, he’s run into a bit of a problem and may have to cut his expedition short. This past week he discovered that three of his fuel canisters had broken in the sled, most likely due to a rough ride over sastrugi. That loss of fuel is causing him to reconsider his plans, even though he still should have enough to see him through the journey unsupported. Because of this development however, he’s switching directions and is no longer skiing towards the South Pole, but is going to the Dome Argus, a place that just might be the coldest on the planet. His goal has always been to ski to the top of the Dome, which has never been reached on foot before.

Right now, Wilson is dealing with calm winds just like everyone else. The problem is, for the other skiers those calm winds are a welcome respite, while for the Aussie they are the bane of his existence. He needs strong winds to push him along, and right now that isn’t happening. As a result, progress has been a bit slow and frustrating over the past day or two. This being Antarctica, the calm winds aren’t likely to last.

That’s all for now. More updates later in the week I’m sure.

Kraig Becker

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