Friday, October 30, 2015

Antarctica 2015: Weather Conditions Improve as First Flights Near

With the 2015-2016 Antarctic season about to begin, there is a lot of work being done to prepare for the arrival of the first South Pole skiers of the season. Not the least of which is the completion of the temporary runway that is built each year on the ice to accommodate the big Russian Ilyushin aircraft that ferry gear, supplies, and personnel too and from the ice. Earlier in the week, that work was being stymied by bad weather, but now conditions have improved and progress is being made, potentially opening the way for the first flight of the year to the Union Glacier camp.

Most of the logistics for the adventurers and explorers heading to Antarctica are handled by Adventure Network International, which operates the flights to and from the frozen continent, as well as maintaining Union Glacier, which is where most skiers and climbers start their expeditions. An advance team is already in place there, but due to high winds and whiteout conditions they have had a hard time finishing up the landing strip. But over the past few days, that weather has improved, allowing them to make solid progress. That means that the first flight out, which was delayed on Wednesday, could happen as early as tomorrow, although early next week is looking more likely.

One explorer who is eagerly awaiting word of his departure is Henry Worsley, who has been in Punta Arenas preparing for the journey ahead for more than a week. Henry has sorted and organized his gear, and has had it weighed, so he is now all set to go. Unfortunately, he has to play the waiting game until Union Glacier is ready to begin accepting visitors. He had originally been scheduled to fly out on Wednesday, but is now on stand-by to find out when he can begin.

Worsley is preparing to undertake one of the most difficult polar journeys imaginable as he sets out on an 1100 mile (1770 km) solo traverse of the Antarctic continent starting at Gould Bay and finishing on the Ross Ice Shelf, while first stopping by the South Pole. He'll make this crossing – which is expected to take 80 days to finish – completely alone and completely unassisted.

Other explorers have now begun to arrive in Punta Arenas as well. Most will spend some time their getting prepared before they leave for frozen continent. There is a lot of work to be done before they ever board that flight to Union Glacier, including sorting their gear and organizing their food and fuel. The majority of them will be making ski crossings to the South Pole along the Hercules Inlet route. That journey is about 700 miles (1126 km) in length, and is the most frequently used path to 90ºS. By all accounts, it will be a busy year at the bottom of the world, with numerous expeditions heading out on the ice.

Expect to hear a lot more about these teams and expeditions in the days ahead. Things are just getting started.

2 comments:

Maya Zakaria said...

I recently watched a documentary called 'Antartica: A Year On Ice (2013)'.. What a fascinating insight into life in the South Pole. However, I can't imagine the Ilyushin landing there though, what kind of runway will be required? Looking forward to your updates on the teams and upcoming expeditions!

Kraig Becker said...

ANI has a long stretch of smoothed out ice that allows them to land at Union Glacier. It is relatively flat there, but the ice still needs to be worked a bit to allow a plain to land. They're experts at getting it ready however, so it'll be done in no time. Flights should start arriving early next week.

And that movie is a good one. I've seen it too.