Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Antarctica 2014: Christmas Eve South Pole Arrivals

The past few days have been busy ones for the Antarctic skiers, some of which are now nearing their ultimate goal of the Geographic South Pole. The weather continues to be a challenge, as high winds, frigid temperatures, and whiteout conditions remain the norm, but that is typical for this time of year, which is actually the calmest season at the bottom of the world. But the finish line is now in sight, and it is now looking like a few of the explorers will have a very Merry Christmas indeed. 

The trio of Are Johnson, and Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel, look like they will be the next team to reach 90ºS. As per an update today, they are now just 26km (16 miles) from that point, which they expect to reach tomorrow afternoon. That will allow them to celebrate Christmas at the South Pole, where they'll rest, regain some strength, and have a few good meals with other people before starting the return journey. By the time they get to the Pole, they will have been out on the ice for 40 days. That's a good time for skiing across the Antarctic, and it has no doubt taken its toll on their bodies. 

Meanwhile, Frédérick Dion is also nearing the Geographic South Pole, although it remains unclear as to whether or not he'll make it for Christmas as well. His latest update indicates that he is closing in on the 88th degree, but since he is kite-skiing, his progress is mostly dictated by the winds at this point. If he gets strong winds that blow in his favor, there is a chance that he'll cover the distance necessary to reach the Pole by tomorrow or Thursday as well. Yesterday he knocked off 107 km (66.4 miles), which if he continues to do that, he'll have a great shot at joining Are, Stéphanie, and Jérémie for a holiday celebration. As you probably already know, Fréd first skied to the South Pole of Inaccessibility before proceeding on to 90ºS. Once there, he'll evaluate his plans for possibly skiing back to Hercules Inlet. 

Faysal Hanneche is another kite-skier trying to reach the South Pole, but is battling the elements mightily. Faysal has had more poor weather, which has slowed his progress once again. High winds are good for kiters, but not when whiteouts prevent you from seeing the surface around you. That can be dangerous for regular skiers, but when moving at high speeds while kiting, it is incredibly treacherous. To make matters worse, the explorer is starting to see signs of frostbite in his feet, which is becoming painful as well. He still has quite a distance to go before he reaches the South Pole, but thankfully the winds have turned more in his favor, and he is starting to pick up speed. 

Solo-skier Newall Hunter has now been out on the ice for 28 days, and has found a good rhythm that is allowing him to cover 28+ km (17 miles) per day. This weekend he picked up a resupply, which provided him with extra food and water for the final push to the Pole. As of now, he is about 280 km (173 miles) from that point, so he is still a number of days away from wrapping up his expedition. Yesterday he ran into a bit of trouble when he entered a crevasse field covered in about 4 inches of fresh snow. Fortunately he didn't suffer any injuries, or damage to his skis and sled. Still, it underscores the dangers of skiing in the Antarctic, where the weather and surface conditions will constantly test your awareness. 

Canadian Ian Evans and his team of skiers passed a significant milestone a few days back, reaching the half-way point on their journey to the South Pole. After picking up a resupply, they turned due south at last, and are likely to reach the finish line sometime next week. They have quite a few miles to go before they are at 90ºS, but the team is in good spirits and enjoying the journey so far. 

Finally, Manon Ossevoort (aka Tractor Girl) has wrapped up her return trip to Novo station. After driving a Massey Ferguson tractor to the South Pole in awful conditions, the return trip went much faster and easier than expected. They wrapped up the journey yesterday, and are now preparing to depart the frozen continent for home. 

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