Antarctica 2019: Skiers Heading to the Finish Line

Yesterday I posted an update on the 2019-2020 Antarctic expedition season that mainly focused on Jenny Davis and Wendy Searle, the two women who had hoped to individually set new speed records for skiing to the South Pole from Hercules Inlet. As noted in that article, neither of the ladies will beat that record, but they are both pushing towards the finish line at the South Pole. As it turns out, Davis is suffering mightily in these final days and may have difficulty finishing, while Searle is expected to arrive at 90ºS on Thursday, as she is currently just 30 nautical miles from the end. But how are the other skiers faring as they approach the final push? Here’s a few updates on the progress of the season as a whole.

Before we turn our attention to some of the other skiers, a quick note on Jenny Davis. From previous reports we know that she’s been suffering from a bad case of polar thigh, which is a condition that results from severely chapped and sore skin brought on by extreme exertion and chafing in a very cold environment. Apparently, the sores from the condition have split open, making it very painful for her to ski and slowing her down as a result. She is hoping to press on to the South Pole and finish the expedition, but she’s also experiencing problems with her stove as well. Apparently, it hasn’t been functioning as well as it should, which is making it difficult to not only cook meals, but also melt snow for drinking water. If the stove were to malfunction altogether, she would have to abandon her final push to the Pole. As of this writing, she is just 53 miles (85 km) to go, so it would be a shame to have to abandon the expedition at this point. Hopefully she’ll be able to push through to the end.

Not far behind Searle and Davis is Mollie Hughes, who is now inside the last degree and pushing towards the South Pole as well. She started more than a week in front of Wendy and Jenny, but has continued to just push forward no matter what obstacles have been put in her way. At her current pace, she’ll probably wrap things up in another 10-12 days, putting her at 90ºS just ahead of the last flights for home.

Neil Hunter, who started on the same day as Wendy Searle, is now passed the 87th degree and continues to press ahead as well. He had been making solid progress, but now 40 days in it seems he has slowed down some. With more than two degrees yet to go until the end, he’ll be racing the clock to reach the finish line as well. It has been some cold nights in the tent in recent days, which has made the long days on the trail all the harder. He has passed through a major sastrugi field however, which should help quicken his pace. After passing the 88th degree, the surface will be flatter and faster too, which should help in his final push to the end as well.

Finally, Aussie Geoff Wilson has been out on the ice longer than anyone, having originally hoped to complete the longest solo polar journey ever. Due to the loss of fuel, he had to cut his expedition a bit short, but not before he became the first person to reach the top of Dome Argus—often described as the coldest place on Earth—on foot. Since that time, he’s been skiing across vast sections of the mostly-unexplored Queen Maud Land to reach the Russian Novo Station, which serves as his finish line. He reached that point earlier today after 13 hours of kite-skiing. He has now wrapped up the expedition having covered just a shade over 5300 km (3293 miles), which is pretty impressive for a journey that was “cut short.” He’ll now rest up and prepare to head home, having completing an incredibly difficult journey.

That’s all for now. We’ll continue to keep a close eye on these explorers as they struggle with the final stages of their expeditions.

Kraig Becker