Thursday, December 11, 2014

Antarctica 2014: Tractor Girl at the Pole, Frederick Still Stalking the POI

It has been another couple of busy days in Antarctica, where the teams are pressing ahead with their expeditions, despite conditions continuing to be challenging at times. Yesterday we had our first arrival to the South Pole, marking the end of one journey, while a kite-skier patiently waits for the wind to return.

We'll start today's update with news about Dutch adventurer Manon Ossevoort aka Tractor Girl. It has been a dream of Manon's for some time to drive a tractor to the South Pole, and on Tuesday she accomplished that feat at long last. The journey covered more than 2500 km (1553 miles) over 17 days, starting at the Russian Novo Station. Along the way, they encountered incredibly tough weather and surface conditions, which slowed progress to a crawl and extended the trip for a few extra days. Now, they'll take a little breather, before beginning the long journey back to the coast.

This expedition was not only conducted to give Manon a chance to realize her dream, but was also meant to commemorate the 1958 journey to the South Pole by Sir Edmund Hillary. The legendary explorer led the first motorized expedition to that point, after he and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to summit Everest five years earlier.

Congratulations to Manon and her entire team on reach the South Pole. Enjoy the drive back.

Elsewhere, Canadian kite-skier Frederick Dion continues to patiently wait for his opportunity to wrap up his expedition as well. The winds have not been in his favor in recent days, and while he is now just 90 km (56 miles) from the Pole of Inaccessibility, he can't quite reach the finish line. A few nights back, he was awakened by the stirrings of the wind, only to find that they were blowing in the wrong direction. So, for now, he sits and waits for his opportunity to forge on. In the meantime, he rests, reads, and eats.

It is a bit unusual for a kite-skier in the Antarctic to simply wait for the winds. Most explorers would at least continue to make progress by skiing under their own power, although that is much more of a physical challenge, and travel is at a very slow speed compared to when they are kiting. I'm a bit surprised that Fred hadn't prepared for this possibility, and isn't at least covering a few kilometers each day in an effort to get closer to the POI. Hopefully the winds will turn in his favor soon.

Faysal Hanneche is also kite-skiing in the Antarctica, although he is headed to the Geographic South Pole instead. He has had issues with weather and wind so far too, but continues to press ahead as best he can. In his recent dispatches from the ice, he has shared his early inspirations for visiting the polar regions of the planet, and discussed his training as well. For a solo-skier, it can be a long, lonely journey that starts well before they ever hit the ice. Faysal is also hoping for the return of the winds soon, so he can speed along on his progress too.

The team of Are Johnson, and Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel, continues to press forward on schedule. The team crossed the 87th degree yesterday, as they inch ever closer to the South Pole. They also covered 29 km (18 miles), which is their best day yet. They hope to reach their second resupply point today, and then take a rest day tomorrow, as they prepare for the final push towards their goal. So far, morale seems high, and spirits are good, despite extremely cold temperatures and howling katabatic winds. 

Newall Hunter is also making great progress, reaching Thiel Corner on his 16th day out on the ice. The Corner is the point where the Messner Route to the South Pole joins with the Hercules Inlet Route, so now he's squarely headed for 90ºS. After covering 25 km (15.5 miles) yesterday, he now had 570 km (354 miles) to go before he reaches his finish line. Still a long way off, but progress has been steady, and all milestones are important. 

It has been a few days since Ian Hunter last updated his expedition blog, and at the time the team was making its way up the Polar Plateau. That is long, slow work, that requires plenty of physical effort and stamina to complete. Once they reach the Plateau however, it is smooth sailing (relatively speaking) to the Pole. For the Canadian, the most challenging thing so far has been the complete lack of change in the environment. Ever night they camp at a new site, which looks nearly identical to the one from the night before, and the night before that. The Antarctic can try your patience and morale in many ways, and the unending white landscape can wear on the explorers after a time. With any luck, in his next update Ian and his team will have crawled closer to the Pole, and have their spirits lifted by their progress. 

That's all for today. More Antarctic updates as news breaks.

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