Antarctica 2019: Milestones and Warm Weather at the Bottom of the World

It has been another busy week at the bottom of the world, where things are certainly heating up in the race to set a new speed record to the South Pole. The 2019 Antarctic expedition season proceeded at a rapid pace over the past few days, as nearly everyone achieved important milestones. Several of the ladies are now beyond the halfway point, while one explorer went where no one has gone before.

We’ll start with an update on the two female skiers eyeing a new speed record to the South Pole. Both Jenny Davis and Wendy Searle continue to be coy about their daily distances, although both say they are happy with their progress thus far. They started out from Hercules Inlet about a day apart, with Searle the first to hit the ice. At this point, they have both passed the halfway point to the South Pole and for the speed record, having now spent about 24 days out on the ice. It is impossible to know exactly where they are at in their chase for the record, because neither is offering up GPS coordinates either. Davis hasn’t even activated the GPS tracker on her website to allow fans to follow along, so at this point, where they are is anyone’s guess. We probably won’t know for sure until they both appear at the South Pole, but we do know that they have about two weeks left to get there if they want to lower the speed record.

One thing of interest that Wendy Searle posted yesterday is just how warm it has been there over the past few days. Obviously, dragging a heavy sled across the ice for hours at a time will get you warmed up quickly, but Searle reported that she was working so hard and was so warm that her goggles continued to steam up. This meant she either had to stop to clean them on a regular basis, annoyingly slowing her down, or ski with fog and condensation over her eyes. That was also annoying and led to a lot of stumbling about. She also mentioned that she was a lot more dehydrated because of the warmth too, but had to ration her water for the day so she had some when she stopped to make camp.

Warm days can be a blessing on an Antarctic expedition, but they can also make things troublesome too. South Pole skier Mollie Hughes is reporting that the snow is quite soft at the moment, which is making for slow going. The skiers prefer when he surface is a bit more solid and frozen over, as it requires less effort to glide alone. This seems to be taking a bit of a toll on Hughes, who has now been out on the ice fro well over a month. Fortunately, she is making progress as a few days back she shared the news that she had crossed over the 85th degree, meaning she is halfway to her goal. With the Antarctic expedition season stretching until the end of January, she still has time to reach 90ºS.

Neil Hunter is now 24 days into his expedition, having been dropped off at the same time as Wendy Searle. He also closing in on the 85th degree and should probably pass that point this weekend. Neil has also commented on the warm temperatures, but says a light breeze today brought some relief. He says he should reach Thiel’s Corner by Saturday, which is another milestone for the skiers as from there they’ll have cleared some obstacles and will be making a more direct push to the South Pole.

Finally, Aussie Geoff Wilson has hit the biggest milestone of the week. A few days back, Wilson managed to ski to the top of the Dome Argus, a place that has never been reached on foot before. All previous visits were done by aircraft landing on the summit and this was a major goal of his expedition. As you may recall, that journey has been cut a bit short because of the loss of three fuel canisters while traveling. Because his fuel supply was cut short, Wilson scrapped the idea of skiing to the South Pole after he had already reached the Pole of Inaccessibility. Cutting the South Pole from his plans was a prudent move, particularly since the Dome was a much bigger goal for him.

From the sounds of things, getting down off the Dome was a bit of a tricky situation and quite harrowing at points. Fortunately, he got down safely and is now turning his skis and kite for home. He’s still constantly chasing the wind in an effort to make meaningful mileage, which allowed him to pass yet another milestone today. Wilson has now kite-skied for more than 3040 km (1889 miles), which is a long way. Definitely the longest expedition in Antarctica this season, and he isn’t done yet.

That’s the update for today. Ill share more news as we get good updates.

Kraig Becker