Monday, November 12, 2012

Antarctica 2012 Update: No Shelter From The Storm

The Antarctic season continues to ramp up with more teams arriving in Punta Arenas and preparing to head out to the frozen continent. As expected, unpredictable weather is still hampering operations there, but the time for travel is upon us and those hoping to reach the South Pole this year will need to get underway soon.

Before we get on with the update, I think it is important to recognize that today is a historic day in Antarctic history, as ExWeb has already noted. It was 100 years ago today that the bodies of Robert Falcon Scott, Henry Bowers and Edward Wilson were discovered by a British search party. The three men were found inside their tent, which was covered in snow, still tucked inside their sleeping bags. The story of their brutal return journey from the South Pole would be revealed in letters and journals from their fateful trek back from 90┬║S, where they had discovered that Norwegian Roald Amundsen had beaten them to their goal. It has to have been a heart wrenching loss to discover the Norwegian flag already planted at the bottom of the world, and their return trip was no doubt the coldest ever. From his journals, it was clear that Scott no longer had any love for Antarctica and he simply wanted the journey to end.

He and his men struggled mightily, but Antarctica is a cruel, heartless place. The brutal conditions wore on them, claiming the lives of two other members of the team, before Scott, Bowers and Wilson were caught out in a blizzard that lasted for days. Without fuel or food, but unable to move forward, they perished their in that tent, just 11 miles from the supply depot that would have saved their lives. All indications are that Scott was the last to die.

For the past year we've been celebrating the achievements of both Amundsen and Scott and today's date brings an end to that 100 year salute to the men who raced to the South Pole. It was a different era then, and while that journey has become somewhat routine (at least in adventure circles!) these days, back then it was an undertaking like no other.

One man who is walking in the footsteps of those polar giants is Aaron Linsdau, who has yet to catch any kind of break in his round trip journey from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole and back again. So far, Aaron's progress has been slowed by a lack of snow to ski through and he has had to trudge along on hard, packed ice, which hasn't been easy while dragging a 300 pound (136 kg) sledge behind him. On top of that, the winds have been incredibly bad and whiteout conditions have persisted. As a result, he's only knocking off about 2.5 nautical miles (4.6 km) per day. That is putting him into a deficit for what he had planned that may be impossible to overcome. There is still plenty of time in the season to go, and he may be able to pick-up speed once he reaches the Antarctica plateau, but for now it has been an agonizingly slow pace.


Meanwhile, the Lake Ellsworth research team was shuttled out to the ice this past weekend, allowing them to start their expedition at last. After spending a couple of days at a British research station, the team flew to Lake Ellsworth yesterday, where the advance team is busy setting up camp. The rest of the members of the expedition will start to straggle in over the next few days, weather permitting, and they'll begin their mission of drilling through 2km (1.2 miles) of ice to reach a subglacial lake that may contain clues as to the what the environment of Antarctica was like in millennia past.

Currently in Punta Arenas, and waiting her turn out on the ice, is Vilborg Arna Gissurard├│ttir an Icelandic skier who hopes to become the first woman from her country to travel to the South Pole. Vilborg has hoped to fly out to Union Glacier yesterday but bad weather kept the ALE flight grounded. If conditions improve, she hopes to be on the ground and sorting gear later today, before she hops a flight to Hercules for her official start. She's making the journey solo and unsupported and is eager to get underway soon.

Far to the north, the Patagonia Icecap Team is finally making progress after spending a day and a half hunkered down in their tents thanks to a vicious storm. Winds ranged between 60-100km/h (37-62 mph), with snow blasting across their campsite. As a result, no progress was made it was a struggle just to dig out the tents and gear when they did get back underway. Yesterday the team woke to clear blue skies and excellent weather, which they're hoping to take advantage of to complete the crossing. If they're lucky, they could finish up today, although they'll spend a few days descending from the glacier and getting their gear organized.

We have a few high profile Antarctic adventures that are just now starting to ramp up. The weeks ahead promise to be some exciting ones as the season really gets going. Lets hope the weather improves in the days ahead.

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