Monday, January 27, 2014

Antarctica 2013: And Then There Was One...

The Antarctic expedition season is nearing an end, and soon travel across the frozen continent will become even more difficult than it currently is. While most of the teams have wrapped up their projects and have headed home, we still have one expedition that continues to push on to the end. But the finish line is nearly in sight now, and it looks like the most ambitious undertaking of the season will be a major success.

Ben Saunders and Tarka L'Herpiniere, the two blokes who collectively make up the Scott Expedition, continue to set small goals for themselves as they keep pushing forward on their return trip to their starting point at the Scott Hut out on the Ross Ice Shelf. They currently estimate that they have about ten days left on their journey, although judging from the distance they have yet to cover, I'd say it is closer to 11-12 days. That means they should be wrapping up sometime near the end of next week. Currently they have been out on the ice for 95 days, and they have endured just about everything that Antarctica can throw at them. Now, they are eager to be done, but still have quite a few miles yet to cover.

As of yesterday, there were 271.2 miles (436.4 km) to go until they are done. Currently they are averaging about 24 miles (38 km) per day, hence the reason it will possibly take them longer than ten days to wrap things up. They continue to pick-up supplies from their various caches on the way back, so they seem to have plenty of food and fuel to see them through to the end. The real difficulty comes from their exhausted bodies and minds. Three months out on the ice has certainly taken its toll.

Ben and Tarka have been following in the footsteps of the tragic Robert Falcon Scott. Back in 1911-1912, Scott was locked in a race with Norwegian rival Roald Amundsen to see who would be the first to reach the South Pole. Amundsen eventually won that race, although Scott arrived at 90ºS a few weeks behind. On the return trip, things took a turn for the worse, and Captain Scott, along with his four companions, all died along the way. The purpose of the Scott Expedition was to trace the same route as the famous polar explorer and complete the journey that he was never able to do.

For the most part, they will be successful in that endeavor. Ben and Tarka have skied every mile of that expedition and will finish a journey that is more than a century overdue. Starting at the Ross Ice Shelf, they were able to reach the South Pole, which was the halfway point of their journey. With little time to rest, they then turned around and started skiing back to the start. Along the way, they did receive a single resupply along their way, which Scott wouldn't have had the luxury of in his day. Other than that, they have been able to do something that many thought wasn't possible.

The Scott Expedition isn't quite done yet however and there are still nearly two weeks to go before they return to their starting point. I'll continue to follow their progress and post updates right up until they reach the finish line at last.

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