Antarctica 2019: Another Season in the Books

The curtain is about to drop on another long and busy season in the Antarctic. For the past two months we’ve been following the proceedings on the frozen continent, watching as various skiers attempt speed records or challenge themselves in one of the harshest environments on the planet. We’ve even followed a few who have ventured into unknown regions seldom visited by man. But the conditions at the bottom of the world are about to take a change for the worse, as the austral summer fades and the deep polar cold returns. This will make an already difficult environment all-but inhospitable, which is why the end is in sight at long last.

ALE, the company responsible for providing transportation and logistical support to the majority of the expeditions taking place in the Antarctic, have their last flight for clients scheduled for January 23. That’s this Thursday for those keeping track at home. The company has another flight scheduled for next week to bring staff and supplies back to Punta Arenas as well, with the weather potentially dictating whether or not those flights takeoff and land on time. Since those are the last two scheduled flights for this season, there won’t be any more until the 2020-2021 season begins in November of this year.

As far as I can tell, there aren’t any full-distance expeditions still staking place in the Antarctica. The last of the South Pole skiers arrived at that point last week and have slowly been making their way back home. That usually involves catching a flight back to the ALE’s Union Glacier camp, where they may spend an extra day or two before flying to Punta Arenas, Chile. At this point, the camp is almost completely deserted, with mostly just staff and support crew manning the base. There may still be a few “last degree” expeditions that are wrapping up, but even those groups have dwindled significantly in the past week.

One expedition skier that we mentioned way back in November, but hadn’t heard much from since, was Wen Xu. The Chinese adventurer was hoping to complete the longest solo and unsupported crossing of Antarctica ever, starting on Berkner Island and ending on the Ross Ice Shelf. That’s a distance of more than 2000 km (1242 miles), which was expected to take him somewhere between 80-85 days to complete. After the expedition was announced however, we didn’t get much in the way of updates while he was out on the ice. On January 9, he turned up at the Pole though, having completed much of the journey. He was reportedly in good condition, was feeling very strong, and wanted to keep going. Unfortunately, he still had 600 km (372 miles) to go and only two weeks left on the schedule, so ALE convinced him to stop and head home. It is possible that he would have had a chance at the new record however, but his start date was delayed by 12 days due to a strike in Chile that prevented him from reaching Antarctica sooner. He also faced very soft snow on Berkner Island, which slowed him down considerably too. Such are the challenges of Antarctic travel.

This will likely be the last Antarctic update until November, barring any unforeseen surprises popping up. It’s been another fun year to follow and I’m already looking forward to next season.