Friday, November 20, 2015

Antarctica 2015: Shifting Weather Taunts Henry Worsley, Others Prepare to Begin

As expected, the 2015-2016 Antarctic season is now starting to ramp up. Weather conditions at Union Glacier remain spotty at times, but regular flights to and from the frozen continent are expected to resume shortly. That means more expeditions will be setting out very soon, and over the next few days a number of explorers will be putting the final touches on their prep work before starting towards their goals at long last. But first, an update on Henry Worsley, who has now been skiing for a full week, and has yet to reach the Antarctic coastline.

As you may recall, Worsley has set the unenviable task of making the first solo and unsupported traverse of the Antarctic continent. His journey is expected to take upwards of 80 days to complete as he sets out from Berkner Island with the intention of skiing to the Ross Ice Shelf, via the Geographic South Pole. Along the way, he'll cover 1100 miles (1770 km) while hauling a very heave sledge behind him all the way.

The past few days have not been easy ones for Henry, as the weather has been extremely challenging. For nearly two days he skied in almost complete whiteout conditions, with low hanging clouds creating a shroud around him in all directions. That makes navigation difficult, and can be hard on the spirits too, but he has managed to perceiver and continue pressing forward. But today, the sun came out, lifting his spirits even as temperatures plummeted. The British explorer reports that it was his coldest day yet, with the mercury dipping down to -30ºC/-22ºF, although Henry is generating enough heat from his physical labors that he hardly noticed until it was time to make camp.

To give you a sense of scale for the Antarctic, Worsley set out from Berkner island last Saturday, and has been making good progress most days so far. After a week, he is now on the Ronne Ice Shelf, and can see the Pensacola Mountains in the distance. But it will still be four more days before he even hits the actual coastline and gets off the frozen sea ice. From there, he'll be steadily heading south on his way to the Pole. There are still many hundreds of miles to go before he reaches that point however, and even then he'll only be half-way to the finish line.


Italian polar explorer Michele Pontrandolfo hasn't shared his exact whereabout yet, but it would seem that he is currently approaching the Antarctic and should begin his expedition soon too. He'll be setting off from the Novolazarevskaya station with plans to kite ski to both the Pole of Inaccessibility and the Geographic South Pole, before finishing at Hercules Inlet, covering some 3620 km (2250 miles) en route.

Meanwhile, South Pole skier Emma Kelty is in Punta Arenas, and has begun sorting her food and gear for the upcoming trip across Antarctica. Weather permitting, she'll fly out to Union Glacier on Saturday, along with her teammates and several other teams as well. She'll be part of three-person squad that will be skiing together to the Pole, with the expedition set to begin soon after they arrive in the Antarctic.

The Shackleton 2015 Trans-Antarctic team will also be on the flight. This four person team consists of Brit Stew Edge, Canadian Devon McDirmid, Jordanian Mostafa Salameh, and Malaysian explorer Shahrom. The four will ski together to the South Pole along the Hercules Inlet route, where Mostafa and Shahrom will fly back to Union Glacier, while Stew and Devon will switch to kites and ski back to their starting point.

Finally, the Ice Project team has set out on their expedition to South Georgia Island, where they will be attempting to follow in the footsteps of Ernest Shackleton who made a harrowing traverse of that island in a last ditch effort to find help for his stranded men back in 1916. The squad, which consists of polar veterans Mike O'Shea and Clare O'Leary, along with Tom Ruane, Sean Murphy, Keith McDonnell, and Aiden Forde, got underway yesterday as they'll first sail to South Georgia from the Falklands Islands. They'll aim to reach King Hakkonn Bay, where they'll begin their trek, which will include bagging a few peaks along the way. Once they've finished the traverse, they'll then sail back to the Falklands, making this an 1800 mile (2896 km) round-trip voyage.

That's all for today. It won't be too long before we'll be having regular updates from the Antarctic on the progress of all of these teams, and more yet to come. It looks like it'll be an exciting year, with plenty of news to come.


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