Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Antarctica 2015: Weather Further Delays Start of the Season

It seems that weather – that old nemesis of explorers, mountaineers, and adventurers everywhere – is once again preventing the start of the 2015-2016 Antarctic season. Earlier in the week it seemed that things were improving on the southern continent, but a shift in conditions has now set things back once again, delaying the first flights of the year and potentially creating problems for some of the men and women preparing to embark across the icy expanse.

Reports indicate that work continues on the runway at the Union Glacier camp and that it is now about 2/3 complete. The team there hopes to wrap up its efforts in the next day or two, but high winds have been making things very difficult. With a little luck however, the crew should be ready to begin accepting the first visitors of the season by the end of the week.

Unfortunately, there may not be a weather window for the first flights to take place until this weekend. While work on the landing strip has slowed down, the current weather window is closing, which means that flights could be further delayed. At the moment, it appears that the weekend will be the first opportunity for the big Ilyushin aircraft to arrive, carrying supplies for the camp, and the first explorers to hit the ice.

One man who is watching the clock closely is Henry Worsley, who is about to embark on an 80-day traverse across the frozen continent via the South Pole. Henry arrived in Punta Arenas, Chile well ahead of schedule with the hope that he would be out on the ice right now. But multiple delays have caused him to have to sit and wait, which could threaten the planned start of his expedition.

Worsley has set a drop-dead date for the start of his journey for November 10, which seemed very doable when he left the the U.K. for South America. But now, that date is starting to loom large, as it appears that it will be this weekend at the earliest before he will arrive on the ice. That's cutting it very close to his departure, and doesn't leave him much time to complete his final prep work, nor catch a second flight to his starting point at Gould Bay. Any further delays could indeed be critical.

It is not uncommon for weather to impact the start of the season, but things tend to level out as we get further into November and the austral summer arrives. But there have been expeditions in recent years that have had to be called off, or saw their plans altered, due to delays such as this one. Hopefully that won't be the case here, as other than Worsley, the other teams will have no issues with waiting for the start of their excursions, most of which will be headed to the South Pole.

In other curious news, ExWeb has the story of Belgian polar explorer Alain Hubert, who has been planning an expedition to the Antarctic for more than a year, but now finds himself in a precarious position. A court in Belgium has banned him from visiting the Princess Elisabeth polar base, where he had intended to be stationed for the next three months.

Hubert's expedition is suppose to get underway next week – weather permitting – but now it is unclear as to where he will go. Some of the issue is that it is also unclear what his objectives were to be while in Antarctica. Even Belgian officials don't know what he is planning to do down there. ExWeb has spun the tale of being a clash between academics and explorers, but it seems to go deeper than that. The question is, will Hubert call off the expedition, or proceed with another plan in mind? All I know is that three months is a long time to spend in the Antarctic without a base of operations.

I'll post updates on the status of the start of the season as the news warrants. At this point, it seems like it'll be next week before there is much more to report.

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