Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Antarctica 2014: The Antarctic Expedition Season is Officially Underway

The Himalaya climbing season may have come to an end while I was gone, but the 2014 Antarctic expedition season is just getting underway. The first teams hit the ice last week, and after a few delays due to weather, have now started to make their way towards the South Pole, or other objectives on the  frozen continent. Over the next two months or so, we will have a steady stream of updates from the bottom of the world, as these explorers make their way across the highest, driest, and coldest desert on the planet. 

The first person to hit the ice this year was Canadian Frédéric Dion. He is attempting to reach the South Pole of Inaccessibility via kite-ski, and has already started to make good progress toward that goal. For those that don't know, the POI is the point that is furthest from the coast, making it an incredibly remote, and inhospitable place. Frédéric set off from the Russian Novo station on November 11, and has already covered more than 350 km (217 miles) in just a week. In contrast, those who are skiing to the South Pole will have struggled to cover 112 km (70 miles) over that same period of time. The expedition hasn't been without incident though, as just yesterday he set his tent, and himself, on fire while making his morning breakfast and hot chocolate. Fortunately, there was no major damage, and is off and running again today. 

Meanwhile, South Pole skiers Are Johansen and Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel have launched the first expedition out of Union Glacier. They spent the first few days tent bound as they waited for the weather to clear up, but finally hit the trail along the Messner Route on November 15. They have been making steady progress as well, covering upwards of 16.2 km (10 miles) per day since they left from the coast. Johansen is severing as the guide for the team, while the Gicquel couple focus on skiing to 90ºS. 

Faysal Hanneche also set out from Novo station in his attempt to traverse Antarctica from that point, to Unction Glacier, via the South Pole. He launched his expedition just two days ago, and is already experiencing some challenges with the weather. Yesterday, he spent most of the day in his tent, as high winds made for whiteout conditions. The region he is traveling through has numerous crevasses and other challenges, which makes it very dangerous to proceed when visibility is poor. He hopes that conditions will be better today, allowing him to make some progress. With a long journey ahead, Faysal is remaining patient at the moment. 

While these teams already struggle with the challenges of the Antarctic, others are waiting in the wings. It appears that the next flight out to Union Glacier will take place on Friday, and will take Newall Hunter, Ian Evans, and a few other skiers along with it. At that point, the season will most certainly be in full swing, with lots of updates to follow. 

The Antarctic expedition season is one of my favorite times of the year, as it provides different stories from the mountaineering-focused updates that I deliver at other times. It is also fascinating to read about the explorers making their way across what remains the most remote and untamed continent on our planet. There is still a lot to be discovered about the Antarctic, and while most of these teams are taking well traveled routes, the challenges of the frozen continent remain, even in the 21st century. It is a long, difficult road to the Pole, and anyone who attempts that journey has my utmost respect. It should be another interesting season at the bottom of the world. 

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