Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Antarctica 2014: Closing in on the Pole of Inaccessibility

It continues to be a busy week in the Antarctic, where the explorers are pushing ahead toward their respective goals. While most are squarely focused on skiing to the South Pole, others have other objectives in mind, and one explorer is closing in on what is quite possibly the most remote place on the planet.

Canadian kite-skier Frédérick Dion posted an update yesterday in which it was revealed that he is now just 400 km (248 miles) from the Pole of Inaccessibility. If he were skiing under his own power, that would seem like a daunting distance to cover, but with strong winds, he may be able to reach the POI by this weekend. Yesterday alone Frédérick was able to cover 92 km (57 miles), and that wasn't even close to his best day out on the ice so far. The explorer expects to face steady winds as he nears his goal, but even with that challenge, it is only a matter of days before he has finished the expedition.

For those who don't know, the Pole of Inaccessibility is defined as the location that is furthest from all of the Antarctic coastlines. That point is found at 82º06'S 54º58'E, which also happens to be the location of another Russian research station. That puts it roughly 878 km (546 miles) from the geographic South Pole, which gives you an idea of how far away Dion is from the other skiers at the moment.

Meanwhile, fellow kite-ski Faysal Hanneche is experiencing the worst weather conditions that Antarctica can throw at him. After skiing half the day today he encountered whiteout conditions that made it impossible to see more than a few feet in any direction. He tried navigating by GPS, but soon realized the dangers of not being able to identify obstacles such as sastrugi and cracks in the ice, so he abandoned his efforts to press on any further. With conditions that dangerous, he elected to instead set up camp, climb inside his tent, and wait out the storm. Hopefully that will mean he can hit the trail again tomorrow, but a storm like this one can last for days in the Antarctic, and he is prepared to wait if necessary. Faysal began his journey at the Novo station, and is now on the way to the South Pole, before continuing on to Union Glacier.

The trio of Are Johnson and Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel are back on trail again today as well. After receiving a resupply on Monday, they took a rest day yesterday to regain some strength and stamina. Reportedly they had good skiing conditions, with smooth terrain and decent weather, which allowed them to knock off another 25.8 km (16 miles) of their journey to 90ºS.

The South Pole is the eventual destination for Newall Hunter as well, and after 8 days on the ice he is reporting great skiing conditions. Clear skies, moderate winds, and warm temperatures have made him a happy skier thus far. Yesterday he covered a distance of 23 km (14.3 miles), which is a solid pace for the start of his expedition.

Dutch adventurer Manon Ossevoort is about halfway through her journey to the South Pole in a Massey Ferguson tractor. She began at Novo Station back in late November, and expected to finish the journey by December 7, but it now looks like it will take a bit longer than that. Surface conditions have made for slow going so far, and while she isn't skiing, she still has to deal with cracks in the ice, poor weather, and subzero temperatures.

Finally, there was sad news from the Antarctic this week as well. A contract worker at the Amundsen-Scott research station, located at the South Pole, passed away a few days back. His name was Thomas Lawrence Atkins, and he was in Antarctica in a support role for the research scientists there. Atkins was 40, and the cause of death has been ruled as "natural causes." My condolences go out to his friends and family.

That's all for now. More updates as the news warrants.

No comments: