The past two years have been extremely quiet at the South Pole. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been very few nonessential travelers to Antarctica. But this year, the expedition season—which typically runs from November through January—started to show signs of life on the frozen continent. As usual, there were triumphs and hardships along the way, with more than a few familiar faces out on the ice.
Probably the biggest story from the current Antarctic season is that of Preet Chandi—aka “Polar Preet.” The 32-year old Britsh Army officer became the first person to reach the South Pole via the Hercules Inlet route in more than two years. She completed her 700-mile (1126 km) trek on January 3, wrapping up the entire journey in just 40 days, 7 hours, 40 minutes. That’s an average of more than 17 miles (27.3 km) per day and a new speed record for a solo woman if you’re keeping track at home.
More importantly, Chandi became the first woman of color to ski to the South Pole completely solo. Apparently, she enjoyed the trip so much, she’s already planning to return to attempt to ski coast-to-coast sometime in the future. Considering how well suited she seems for polar travel, we’ll be looking forward to that attempt.
Pole of Inaccessibility Team
Back in December, we shared the story of Justin Packshaw and Jamie Facer Childs, who had originally set out from the Russian Novo station to kite ski across Antarctica via the South Pole, with a stop at the Pole of Inaccessibility along the way. Things didn’t go exactly as planned for the duo however with the winds and weather not cooperating. As they started to run low on food, they elected to abandon attempts to reach the POI and turned to the South Pole instead.
Packshaw and Facer Childs reached the South Pole last week, spending 57 days en route. The men no longer have the supplies and time to continue the rest of the journey, which originally was set to end back at Hercules Inlet. While they were successful in crossing the frozen continent, they have to feel somewhat disappointed that their original goals were out of reach. Unfortunately, as other explorers before them have found out, things don’t always go as planned in the Antarctic.
Japanese polar explorer Masatatsu Abe was back in Antarctica once again this year and was making another attempt at skiing solo to the South Pole. Two years ago, we followed his expedition from Hercules Inlet to 90ºS, holding our breath as he reached the finish line just as the last plane back to Punta Arenas was departing.
This year, Abe had hoped to ski from the Ross Ice Shelf to the Pole and give himself plenty of time to do so. But he also ran into bad weather conditions and rough skiing, which put hime way behind his schedule. As a result, he was forced to abandon the expedition and was picked up by a Twin Otters aircraft on an ice landstrip near the Transantarctic Mountains.
Mike Horn was back in Antarctica again this season, although he didn’t seem to be there to complete any kind of set expedition. Instead, he was sailing the coast in his ship Pangea and looked to be ringing in the New Year in one of the most remote corners of the planet. Other than that, he didn’t appear to be skiing for any signifcant disance as we’ve seen him do in the past.
Horn does appear to be gearing up for 2022 and has some big things planned. He recently announced his first podcast and has some other intriquing things in the works. I guess we’ll have to stay tuned to see what he has planned.
Lou Rudd and Martin Hewitt
Antarctic veteran Lou Rudd was back on the ice again this year, but he wasn’t going solo. He teamed up with a British Army vet by the name of Martin Hewitt on a trip to the South Pole. Hewitt, who lost an arm due to an injury suffered while serving in Afghanistan, stuggles as result of his impairment, but was able to complete the full journey.
The two men arrived at the Pole on January 5 after skiing 400 miles (644 km) in 50 days. It was touch and go for Hewitt throughout of the journey, as he suffered tremendous pain in his achilles tendon in his left leg early on. Because he doesn’t have a right arm, his left arm and leg had to work harder while skiing and pulling a heavy sledge. At one point, it looked like he would have to abandon the trip altogether, but he was able to soldier on to the finish line. From there, he and Rudd traveled to Mount Vinson to make an attempt on the summit of the tallest mountain on the planet.
Return to Normalcy?
Speaking of Vinson, there were a modest number of climbers on the mountain this year as things begin to return to normal for guides on that peak. COVID continues to make things challenging in terms of travel to just about anywhere in the world, and Antarctica is no exception. But, things seem to be looking up and having a successful expedition season down south bodes well for the future.
Hopefully the next Antarctic expedition season will be back up to full speed, with more visitors, skiers, and climbers. Congrats to everyone who helped make this season a success.
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