Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Antarctica 2013: No Rest For The Weary

The agonizing march to the South Pole continues for several of the teams that we've been following this Antarctic season, and while the end is in sight for most of them, there is still a lot of work to be done before they can rest. Right now, the grind continues, with day after day of tedium with just the counting down of mileage to record their progress. This is probably the toughest part of the expedition for these folks, who are ready to be done after weeks out on the ice.

Ben Saunders and Tarka L'Herpiniere, the two men who make up the Scott Expedition are most definitely in the midst of their grind. Having rounded the Pole, the duo are on their way back to the coast where they started, although it has been far from easy as today's blog post will attest. They are at the physical and mental limits after 75 days out on the ice, and it appears that tempers have flared a bit more quickly in recent days. That seems pretty understandable considering everything they've been through over the past two and a half months. Now, they're rushing to get off the polar plateau, with the hopes of picking up speed on their return journey. With just under 700 miles (1126 km) to go until they're done, the end is still quite a long way off. Hopefully their spirits and bodies will hold out until the end.

Similarly struggling is Daniel Burton, who is riding his fat tire bike to the South Pole. This morning he should have retrieved his final supply cache and he is now set to make the final push to 90ºS. Daniel estimates he has about 10 days of riding left before he crosses the finish line and he believes things will get somewhat easier once he passes the 88th degree. He is currently wading through the nasty sastrugi field that is found inside 87ºS, which is slowing his progress and making it extremely difficult to ride at times. Some of those sastrugi are reportedly as much as 4-5 feet (1.5 meters) in height, forcing him to go around the snow-dunes, or even get off his bike and push for a time. On top of that, he is also currently passing through an area with several large crevasses, which aren't exactly helping the pace either.


Lewis Clarke is forging ahead as expected and is now working his way through the same sastrugi field, although in his case it is on skis. He has now been on the trail for 36 days and is knocking off solid chunks of mileage each day. He and his guide, Carl Alvey, now have about 176 miles (283 km) to go until they are done, which at their current pace means they should finish sometime around the end of next week. If successful, Lewis will become the youngest person to ski to the South Pole at just 16-years of age.

For some real insights into what it is like to travel in the Antarctic, check out the guest blog post on Lewis' website that was written by Jon Bradshaw, who made the same journey back in 2008. He shares some interesting thoughts on what it is like to be so far into an expedition but still not quite being able to see the end. He discusses the physical and mental challenges that the skiers are facing and talks about his own experiences on the way to the South Pole. It is quite an interesting perspective.

Polar veteran Antony Jinman continues his march to the South Pole. He has quietly been going about his business as usual, and is now nearing the 88th degree. He has just 140 nautical miles (260 km) left to cross, and seems happy to be heading into the homestretch. Like the rest of the skiers however, he is still dealing with the dreaded sastrugi as well.

Also closing in on the end are Chris and Marty Fagan. They did cross 88º yesterday and now have a mere 134 miles (215 km) to go before they are done. The toll of the expedition has really started to wear on them, but they continue to press ahead as best they can. With just ten days of food left, they can feel the clock ticking. They need to reach the Pole before they run out of rations. That would put them at the finish line by Friday, January 17.

Finally, an update on kite skier Geoff Wilson. When we last checked in on him, he was waiting for a flight off of the ice at Hercules Inlet that would take him back to Union Glacier. At that point, he was stuck in his tent and out of food, but the weather was keeping him locked in place there. The weather did clear however, and is now safely back at camp, waiting for a flight to Punta Arenas. I'm sure he is enjoying the food and relative comforts of Union Glacier, but more than ready to start the journey home.

That's it for today. More updates soon.

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