Friday, December 20, 2013
Antarctica 2013: Turning Points
No more is this evident than with the Scott Expedition, where Ben Saunders and Tarka L'Herpiniere are now on their 57th day out on the ice. It has not been an easy one, and morale takes a hit from time to time, but they continue to press ahead as best they can. Yesterday they dropped their final supply depot, and they are now down to just one sled, which should help them to go a bit faster as they head to 90ºS. The duo are now approaching the 88th degree and will be attempting to cover more ground each day. From here on out, they intend to ski 9-10 hours per day, as opposed to their 8-8.5 that they have been doing so far. This will allow them to cover a bit more ground, and hopefully still complete the journey on schedule. Once they round the Pole, they should make better time on the return trip, as they'll be going down hill and carrying less of a load. But incredible weariness will have set in as well. For this team, which it seems we've been following forever, the end is still a long way off.
Meanwhile, I made an error in reporting on Richard Park's speed record attempt a few days ago. I mistakenly read his "distance travled" for "distance remaining" and was way off on the average distance he would need to cover in order to reach the Pole in his allotted time. Richard has been putting in some excellent days and covering impressive distances, but he still has a very long way to go and just eight days left to attempt to break the record. He is currently covering about 45 km (24 miles) per day, which is faster than anyone else currently skiing in Antarctica. But as of two days ago, when he last posted an update, he still had 650 km (405 miles) to cover if he hoped to break the record. At the time, that meant he needed to ski 65 km (40.5 miles) per day. That just isn't going to be possible over that final stretch. It has been a valiant effort, but surface conditions and weather haven't been favorable almost from the start.
Chris and Marty Fagan, the husband and wife team on their way to the Pole, reached an important turning point today – quite literally. As many of you probably know, when you start at Hercules Inlet, there are a number of obstacles to clear before you actually turn due south. Namely some crevasse fields and mountain ranges, that impede progress. The Fagans have, more or less, gone past those obstacles now and can point their skis directly towards 90ºS. This has already made it easier for them to ski, as the wind comes from the south and creates sastrugi on the ground that are hard to cross over, but much easier to run parallel to. I would expect these two endurance athletes to pick up the pace some in the day ahead.
Both physical and mental fatigue are starting to take their toll on Geoff Wilson, who is kite skiing to the South Pole. As such, his pace is often dictated by the wind, covering impressive mileage on one day, and making little progress the next. Still, he has the Pole in sight as well with just 314 km (169 miles) to go. If the winds are in his favor, and surface conditions are good, he still hopes to finish by Christmas.
If anyone is suffering out on the ice at the moment, it is probably Daniel Burton. The American who is attempting to ride his bike to the South Pole has been struggling the past few days to hit his intended mileage, sometimes riding longer than he had expected to ensure that he hits his goals. If all goes as expected, he should cross the 83rd degree today, which means he is making slow, but steady progress. It also means he still has a long way to go if he hopes to succeed. He has achieved one milestone though, setting a new record for most distance traveled on a bike in the Antarctic.
Finally, and update on veteran polar explorer Antony Jinman's progress, who I've mentioned a few times but haven't followed as closely as I should. As expected, Antony is doing an impressive job on his march to the South Pole. He's now 18 days into the expedition and has covered more than 211 miles (390 km). That has been a sure and steady pace for him over the first few weeks of the journey and he seems well poised to reach the Pole in a few weeks time.
Thats all for today. Expect to hear word about the first Vinson climbs soon. It seems most of the mountaineers are in transit now and should start their ascents soon. Things are only getting busier in the Antarctic as the holidays loom.