Wednesday, May 08, 2013

The Coldest Journey Update: Slow Going In The Antarctic Winter

It has been awhile since we checked in on the progress of the Coldest Journey team. You may recall that this group of five adventurers, which includes Brits Spencer Smirl, Ian Prickett, Rob Lambert, Richmond Dykes and Brian Newham, are attempting to cross Antarctica on foot in the dead of winter, something that has never been done before. Before setting out on March 21, the men knew they were facing a difficult challenge. Now, seven weeks later, they realize that it is far more demanding than they ever imagined.

The team initially set out from Crown Bay in late March and began heading south from there. The plan is to traverse the continent, eventually finishing on the Ross Ice Shelf, but not before visiting the South Pole first. The entire expedition was expected to take six months to complete and cover approximately 4000 km (2485 miles) along the way. That time estimate may be off however, as the team has been behind schedule almost from the start when a four-day long blizzard prevented them from setting out as planned.

Things haven't exactly gotten better after that either. Antarctic winter weather conditions area amongst the worst on the planet with heavy snows, high winds and whiteout conditions. They team has routinely faced temperatures below -40ÂșC/F. Those conditions have at times made it difficult for the men to make any significant progress and there have been days that have been so awful that they didn't move at all.

In order to make the Coldest Journey a reality, the expedition is supported by two tractors which pull large sleds loaded with supplies and a shelter behind them across the ice. Those tracked vehicles were selected specifically to help the skiers make progress on their journey, but lately they have been slowing them down. Over the past week or so the entire team has been moving through a vast field of blue ice, which is a danger zone for anyone traveling through an arctic region. The blue ice forms over large crevasses which are difficult to spot and can pull a tractor into a gaping hole just as easily as a person. In fact, a person might even be able to safely ski over some of these patches of ice, while the much heavier machinery will crack right through. The team is using ground penetrating radar to watch out for these crevasses, but progress slowed to a crawl while they made their way through this treacherous area.

Now it seems that they have passed through that region safely and are hoping to make up for some lost time. The radar shows that no crevasses along their current route, which is giving everyone renewed confidence. But the ground isn't fully cooperating either as the blue ice has now given way to a hard, smooth surface that has been difficult for the tractors to get traction on. So while they are safer now, progress is still incredibly slow.

You can read all about the expedition, including daily updates from the ice, at TheColdestJourney.org.

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