Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Antarctica 2010: Good Weather Puts Explorers On The Move

After suffering through 2+ weeks of weather delays in Punta Arenas, it seems that things have finally taken a turn for the better. Reports out of Antarctica indicate that the weather is excellent and that progress has been good for just about everyone. I think it is safe to say that the season is officially on, although it remains to be seen if the delays will have an effect on any of the explorers.

Chris Foot has been sending dispatches back from the ice, including an audio file yesterday that updated us on his progress. From the sounds of things, he is in good spirits after six days out on the ice and is actually surprised with his progress so far. He is making good time, notching up 13.3 nautical miles yesterday in just eight hours of work. He expects to cross his first degree today, which is always a good milestone for anyone heading to the Pole. If anyone is likely to be effected by the delays out of Chile, it's Foot, which is why it's great to hear that progress is going better than expected. The adventurous Brit hopes to become the first person to travel from Hercules Inlet to the Pole, and back again, solo and unsupported on skis. He has a long way to go yet of course, but so far it is going well.

Things haven't been quite a rosy for Willem ter Horst, who is making the trek to the South Pole with his guide Hannah McKeand. While Willem and Hannah have enjoyed the great weather so far as well, Willem has experienced some rather painful blisters on his feet. He found little sympathy from Hannah however, as he was informed that he would need to suck it up and continue on. Hannah has made this journey before, and knows how to keep an expedition on track. In his latest dispatch, Willem notes that the sastrugi are already tough to deal with, and probably will continue to be a challenge for some time to come. Sastrugi are hard, rolling ridges in the snow that are formed by the wind, and are often the bane of any Antarctic explorers existence.

The Moon-Regan Transantarctic Expedition is making good progress, despite having a few continued mechanical issues with their vehicles. They managed to reach their first fuel cache and enjoyed a good nights rest in their tents, followed by a hearty breakfast, before getting back on the "road." Up until now, they've mostly been sleeping in their support vehicles, which are cramped and crowded. The team has crossed over the 84ºS mark already and are just 800km from the Pole, but of course that's just half-way home for this squad, who will cross the continent testing a specially built snow vehicle that runs on biofuels. They are also taking a series of scientific readings on the environment and the effects of climate change while they go as well.

The Fuchs Foundation Expedition has reached Union Glacier and has been exploring that region as well. This team is made up of teachers from the U.K. who are in Antarctica to conduct research and exploration on their own while inspiring others back home. They've been sending back updates on a daily basis, with their list of the Top 10 Things To Be Aware of on an Antarctic Expedition being especially entertaining. An example of the wisdom contained there in: "Always bring your fleece salopettes with you when going up a mountain. It may get very cold indeed. You will look extra sheepish when you need to borrow your guides spare pair."

Finally, Alan Arnette has been sending regular dispatches back from Mt. Vinson already. He also reports great weather, although it is quite cold, and progress has been steady even in these first few days. Today he reports that the team is carrying gear and supplies up to High Camp on the mountain as they begin the process of acclimatization. Vinson is, of course, the first peak on Alan's 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer's, during which he hopes to raise $1 million for research to cure that awful disease while climbing the highest peaks on each of the seven continents over the next year.

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