Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Antarctica 2014: Are, Stéphanie, and Jérémie at the Pole and Near Disaster for Frédérick

Just a quick update from the Antarctic today to share the news that Are Johnson, and Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel have arrived safely at the Geographic South Pole as expected. The team skied the final 26 km (16.1 miles) today to arrive on schedule. It took them 39 days, 6 hours to complete the journey, which began back on the Antarctic coastline, and traveled along the Messner Route.

The trio have already begun celebrating Christmas Eve at 90ºS, where they've had a tour of the Antarctic research station and a good meal while chatting with the staff assigned to the base. They'll now spend the next couple of days resting and recuperating, before they start their 1100 km (683 mile) return trip to the coast. While they are happy to have reached the Pole, it is only the halfway point of their expedition, and they still have a very long way to go before they are done.

Meanwhile, kite-skier Frédérick Dion is on his way to the South Pole, and should arrive there today or tomorrow as well provided the winds stay in his favor. A few days back though he had a very close call that could have resulted in a true polar disaster. While he was kiting, strong winds lifted Fréd and his kite completely off the ground, and tore the guide lines that run between him and his sled. Ultimately he was tossed into the air and pulled 300 meters, finally coming to a halt on the snow and ice.


But since he was no longer attached to his sled, he wasn't sure where it was, and in the featureless landscape of Antarctica, it can be incredibly difficult to get your bearings, and spot a tiny object, which just so happens to be white as well. As you probably already know, in the Antarctica the sled is the explorer's lifeline. It carries his or her food and fuel, their tent, spare clothing, emergency equipment, and so on. Without it, Fréd would have been stranded quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, after 20 minutes of searching, he was able to locate the sled and continued on his way. It turned out to be quite a productive one at that, as he ended up covering 127 km (79 miles), pulling him ever close to the South Pole in the process.

Our other kite-skier, Faysal Hanneche, continues to struggle with the wind and is making much slower progress towards the Pole. As of now, he is across the 77th degree, which means he still has a very long way to go before he is done. A few days back he was able to cover 51 km (31.6 miles) in a single day, which is far faster than most skiers can go, but he isn't putting up the impressive distances that we've seen out of Frédérick. Both men started at the Russian Novo station, with Fréd first skiing to the Pole of Inaccessibility before turning to the the Geographic South Pole. It now looks like he'll arrive well ahead of Faysal, who has battled poor weather much of the way. Hopefully the winds will continue to fill his kite, and he'll be able to start making more steady progress moving forward.

Finally, after 29 days out on the ice, Newall Hunter has reached the top of the Polar Plateau, and is now heading due South to the Pole. He reports that the actual temperatures in the Antarctic at the moment are about -10 to -20ºC (14º to -4º F), which isn't too bad. Unfortunately, the wind adds to the chill in the air, making it incredibly uncomfortable. Newall says that while moving it is easy to say warm, but stopping for a break can be painful. Fighting off frostbite is a constant battle, and in his latest dispatch he reports that his chin actually froze to the inside of his mask today. That sounds painful and incredibly cold indeed.

That's all for today. My next update will come after Christmas. Hopefully there will be more good news to post at that point.


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