Monday, December 08, 2014

Antarctica 2014: Frédérick at the Pole of Inaccessibility?

It was another busy weekend on the frozen continent, with teams pressing forward on their attempts to ski to the South Pole, or other destinations in Antarctica. As you might expect, challenging conditions persisted over the past few days, but that didn't stop the explorers from making progress, with one skier potentially etching his name in the record books.

As we start the week, we're awaiting confirmation of the current location of Canadian kite-skier Frédérick Dion. As of Saturday, when he posted his most recent dispatch, Fred was just 98 km (60 miles) from his goal – the Pole of Inaccessibility. That means, that with a little luck and some strong winds, he may have reached that point yesterday, or could finish up the expedition today. Until we get confirmation from his home team however, we'll just have to wait for the news of his arrival at the POI.

For those who haven't been following Frédérick's progress, the Pole of Inaccessibility is defined as the point on the Antarctic continent that is the furthest from any coastline. In this case, the POI is found at 82º06'S, 54º58'E, which is about 878 km (546 miles) from the Geographic South Pole. The POI is considered to be one of the more difficult places to reach on the continent due to its remote location, and once Fred reaches that point, he'll be the first person to do so without resupply, with a start from the Russian Novo station. I expect we'll get confirmation of his finish by tomorrow or the next day, so stay tuned for updates.

Meanwhile, Faysal Hanneche continues his kite-skiing expedition as well. He also started at Novo, and will traverse the continent to Union Glacier, with a stop at the South Pole along the way. When last we checked in with Faysal, he was tent-bound and waiting out a storm. Over the weekend, he returned to the trail, making slow, but steady progress, towards the Pole. On some days, he is able to use his kite to catch the wind, and cover excellent distances. On others, the wind is nonexistent or too rough to kite, so he presses forward under his own power instead. Yesterday was one of those days, but as with all polar explorers, Faysal takes what he can get.

The team of Are Johnson, and Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel, are now 24 days into their journey to the South Pole. They are skiing at a solid pace, generally knocking off between 23-24 km (14-15 miles) per day, despite challenging conditions. They have been climbing steadily uphill to the Antarctic Plateau, and making good progress, but temperatures remain cold, with high winds creating whiteout conditions throughout the day. They should reach the top of the Plateau in another day or two, and then it will be straight on to the Pole, with the weather and surface conditions providing the biggest challenge moving forward.

South Pole solo-skier Newall Hunter is battling whiteout conditions as well, which has made for difficult going now that he has entered his first crevasse field. As you can imagine, navigating through this section of ice can be difficult under the best of conditions, but when visibility is cut down to nothing, it can be a terrifying, nerve-wracking affair. Just how bad was it? Newall says that he couldn't even see far enough to pick a place to pitch his tent for the night. He had to walk over an area multiple times to ensure that it was flat and safe before he could proceed with building the tent. It was so disorienting that he fell a few times, and was only able to maintain his orientation by staring at the tips of his skis. In other words, these whiteout conditions are incredibly difficult for the skiers, and exhausting to continue through. Fortunately, the weather is expected to improve over the next day or two.

Updates from Paula Reid have been sparse so far, but her team continues to press forward towards the South Pole as well. As of this morning, she was checking in from just past the 84th parallel, so she still has plenty of distance still to go. One of the team mates commented on the temperatures that are being reported by their tracking device, which indicate much warmer weather than expected. But the device sends an update from inside the tent, which is a warm and cozy refuge from the Antarctic conditions. On the trail, the temperatures are hovering around -20 to - 30ºF (-28 to -34ºC), with the windchill making it even worse.

Finally, Manon Ossevoort continues her quest to drive a tractor to the South Pole. She has now crossed approximately 2150 km (1335 miles) in 16 days, which puts her about 2550 km (1584 miles) from her goal. The team is considerably behind the schedule they had set for themselves, but are counting to press forward none the less. Originally they had planned to be at the South Pole yesterday, but with 300 km (186 miles) yet to go to get to that point, it will be another few days before they arrive. Then they'll begin the long arduous trek back to their starting point, across terrain that has been described as some of the worst that Manon's veteran support team have ever seen. Snow conditions are said to be soft, and the heavy tractor is sinking into the powder, making it incredibly slow going, and unstable at times. Still, they are pressing ahead, and hope to reach 90ºS later this week.

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

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