Monday, January 06, 2014
Antarctica 2013: Speed Records, Resupplies, And Agony At The Bottom Of The World
We've been following the Scott Expedition for two and a half months now, and Ben and Tarka have now rounded the Pole and are headed back towards their starting point at the Scott Hut along the coast. But last week the boys were forced to call in a resupply as they were starting to run dangerously low on food and fuel. On top of that, the physical toll of the expedition has really hit the team hard. They had hoped to pick up speed on the return trip, but so far that hasn't happened. Over the course of the past few weeks, their blog updates have hinted at the struggles they had been facing, but Ben and Tarka did a good job of hiding just how difficult the journey had been, and how close to the edge they were playing their dangerous game. In the end, they came very close to having to call off the expedition altogether, as they misjudged how difficult it would and pushed themselves to the very limits. To get a true sense of what they were up against, I'd suggest you read this blog post from last Thursday. It'll give you a true sense of just how incredibly rough the mission has been so far. Needless to say, the resupply may have saved their lives, or at the very least has allowed them to continue. The drama isn't completely over yet however, as the duo continues to face challenges, including a bout of hypothermia, even as they have reached their first supply depot on the return trip. Now 74 days into their journey, they still have roughly 740 miles (1190 km) to go, with the clock ticking towards the end of the season.
While the Scott Expedition continues its long, cold march back to the coast, another explorer has wrapped up his expedition as expected. On Saturday, Richard Parks reached the South Pole, completing his speed record attempt in an impressive 29 days, 19 hours, and 24 minutes. That is five days off the record pace he had hoped to set, but still good enough to give him the fastest time by a Brit to the the Pole in solo and unsupported fashion. I'm sure Richard is a bit disappointed at not getting the record, but considering the conditions he faced, he should be quite proud of his efforts. It hasn't exactly been a good year in the Antarctic and in order to break the record in the future, conditions will have to be nearly perfect. Parks had little time to celebrate his achievement at 90ºS, as he has already returned to the Union Glacier Camp and will soon be making his way back to Punta Arenas, Chile, and then home to the U.K.
Aussie kite-skier Geoff Wilson has also completed his expedition at last. After 53 days of catching the wind, he has traversed the continent via the South Pole and now arrived at Hercules Inlet, where he is reportedly exhausted and happy, but still waiting for extraction to Union Glacier. In his latest blog post from today, he reports that he is down to his last full meal, so he is hoping that weather conditions improve soon. High winds are keeping flights in Antarctica grounded for now, but the forecast is reporting better weather ahead. Geoff says that he won't starve, as he has a few other scraps to keep him going, and plenty of fuel to melt snow for water. But by now, he is ready for a big meal and a warm bed.
16-year old Lewis Clarke continues to make good progress in his efforts to become the youngest person to ever ski to the South Pole. He and his guide Carl Alvey have now crossed the 87th degree and covered more than 500 miles (804 km) in the process. They've now entered the massive sastrugi field that is located at that point on the map, which is slowing them down some and making progress much harder. Still, with less than 200 miles to go until they reach the Pole, Lewis is doing quite well. They should be on track to reach the finish line sometime next week.
Also now inside 87ºS is South Pole cyclist Daniel Burton, who continues to extend his record for riding the longest distance in Antarctica. Every day continues to be a struggle for Daniel, but he shows remarkable resolve in his efforts to become the first person to ride his fat tire mountain bike the full distance to the South Pole. He's dealing with the sastrugi as well, and reports that they continue to grow in size. As tough as they are to ski over and around, I'm sure they are just as challenging on a bike, which has precarious balance in the high winds and slick surface conditions of Antarctica. If all goes well, there is a good chance that Daniel will wrap up his expedition next week as well. He has continued to increase his mileage, although the challenge is still quite great.
Finally, husband and wife team Chris and Marty Fagan are pushing ahead toward the Pole. It is now the 35th day of their expedition and they have just 12 days to reach 90ºS before they run out of food. Unless they go on half rations, that means they now have less than two weeks to cover the remaining 160 miles (257 km) that remain. That average out to 13.5 miles (21.7 km) per day to reach their goal. Certainly doable, but they'll need to push hard over the last stretch.
The Antarctic season isn't over yet, and there still plenty of drama to come as we head down the stretch. Stay tuned for more updates in the days ahead.