Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Antarctica 2015: One Skier Calls It Quits, Vinson Team Heading Home

It has been another busy couple of days in the Antarctic since we last checked in on the progress of the explorers and adventurers who are making their way across the frozen continent. Most of the teams continue to battle difficult conditions as they make their way towards the Pole, with some making steady progress towards their goals. But realty has set in for one skier, while a group of stranded climbers is now on its way back home.

We'll start today's update with the Madison Mountaineering team. The group of five climbers, which includes team leader Garrett Madison, reach the summit of Mt. Vinson back on December 7. But when they attempted to descend the mountain they found themselves pinned down by high winds, and were forced to stay at High Camp for three days while they waited for conditions to improve. They were finally able to descend on December 10, and flew back to Union Glacier the same day. They remained at the ice camp there for an additional four days before catching a flight out to Punta Arenas yesterday. They are all now safe back in Chile, catching their breath, and preparing to head home. The expedition was a very successful one, even if the weather extended the schedule by a few extra days.

Meanwhile, South Pole skier Khai Nguyen has revealed that he will be abandoning his attempt to reach 90ºS. Over the weekend he posted a dispatch that indicated that while he had prepared for the difficult journey, it was proving to be more challenging than he had suspected. In fact, he found that he couldn't keep up the pace and still have a hope of reaching the finish line before the final flight out of the season, which takes place on January 27. So, rather than slow down his teammates – guide Carl Alvy and fellow skier Emma Kelty – Khai has decided to go home. It appears he was picked up on Sunday, and very well may have caught the same flight out to Punta Arenas that the Vinson climbers did. For her part, Emma reports that the team is now approaching their first degree, and that they are picking up the pace and finding a good rhythm.

British polar explorer Henry Worsley continues to press ahead, despite whiteout conditions and increased sastrugi. He has now been out on the ice for more than a month, and is methodically knocking off the distances he needs to complete his solo traverse of the Antarctic continent. He has now passed the 86th parallel and seems to be picking up speed. As of yesterday, he has skied 333 nautical miles (616 km/383 miles), which is a very respectable distance. But considering how much further he has to go yet, it seems inconsequential to the man who actually has to cover those distances.

The international team of Devon McDiarmid, Stew Edge, Mostafa Salameh, and Shahdom Abdullah were the last team to hit the ice, and have only been skiing for about five days now. They're taking the Messener Route to the South Pole, and so far have found it rough going. Whiteout conditions the first few days have taught them how to navigate by compass in the Antarctic, while sastrugi have slowed their progress to a degree. Still, they are all in good spirits and enjoying the challenge so far, although they know that they are already on a tight schedule due to their late start. Salameh and Abdullah will ski to the Pole and fly back to Union Glacier, while the other two members of the team hope to kite ski back to their starting point.

Speaking of kite skiers, Italian explorer Michele Pontrandolfo has finally found some wind. He has struggled with his attempt to traverse the continent by kite ski almost from the start mostly due to a lack of wind to help pull him along. Progress has been very slow over the past few weeks, but it appears that things could be improving. Michele indicated that the weather is good, and that he is enjoying winds that now approach 40-50 knots (74 km/h /46 mph). Those are some strong winds, but if his kite can handle them, he should be able to make up some serious distances while they last.

American solo-skier Doug Tumminello has had a lot of pain in his feet almost since his expedition started. That has limited his distances each day as he wrestled with hot to improve the situation. Even applying bandages only brought a small amount of relief. But yesterday he removed the insoles from his boots, and discovered that it helped immensely. With that problem solved he was able to ski 11 nautical miles (12 miles/20.3 km), and now hopes to pick up the speed even further.

Finally, Scottish solo-skier Luke Robertson is also making good progress. His dispatches don't include a lot of information, but a few days ago he managed to ski more than 18 miles in a single go. That is excellent speed for the Antarctic, and should have him covering the distance to the South Pole in no time. He has now been out on the ice for 10 days, and seems to be enjoying the experience immensely.

That's all for now. More news soon!

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