Monday, January 04, 2016

Antarctica 2015: Worsley at the Pole!

While the rest of us have been enjoying the holidays over the past few weeks, the Antarctic explorers have continued to toil away on the frozen continent. There is now roughly three weeks left in the ski season, and it has been a difficult one to say the least. But each day brings them closer to their ultimate destination, which for most is the very bottom of the world.

Yesterday, Henry Worsley became the first skier of the season to reach the South Pole. It is the third time that he has skied across Antarctica to stand at 90ºS. It took him 51 days to get there, which means he is about a day behind his intended schedule. The British polar explorer enjoyed a bit of down time at the research station there, but due to his "solo and unassisted" status, he didn't interact with anyone or receive any kind of aid. Today, he is already back on the trail, as he looks to complete a traverse of the continent.

Now that the Pole is behind him, Henry will continue on towards his finish line at the Ross Ice Shelf. From here on out, the skiing should be a bit easier, although he is no doubt exhausted and his muscles are sore. He'll continue to race the clock however, as the last plane off the continent is scheduled for January 28, and he'll need to be on that flight one way or another.

Elsewhere, American solo-skier Doug Tumminello continues to make progress as well, although he still has a long way to go. Yesterday he crossed the 84th degree, leaving him six more to go until the Pole. He's spent a full month on the ice now, and his sled is getting lighter as a result, which typically translates to going faster too. But Dough has struggled with sore feet and blisters since early on in the expedition, and that continues to be a problem now. He's about three or four days from Thiels Corner – an important milestone on the journey – at which point he intends to reevaluate his position and pace. It is possible he could pull the plug altogether and head home, but we'll just have to wait to see.

Scotsman Luke Robertson is making better time on his solo journey. On day 30 he has now passed the 87th degree and is narrowing in on the South Pole. He expect to reach that point in about ten days, and is counting down the miles now.

Carl Alvy and Emma Kelty have not updated their progress since New Year's Eve, but it sounds like they are in good spirits and making headway towards the Pole as well. It has been a difficult journey for Emma in particular, but the duo are picking up the pace as the get closer to 90ºS. Both weather and surface conditions have been better over the past few days, which has improved their spirits too. There is no word yet on when they expect to wrap up their expedition however.

Finally, the team of Devon McDiarmid, Stew Edge, Mostafa Salameh, and Shahrom Abdullah have achieved the 87th degree as well. It took them 25 days to get to that milestone, leaving them just three degrees to cross before the Pole. They'll likely get there sometime in the next ten days as well, as they are moving quickly and efficiently now despite whiteout conditions along their route. They just reached their final resupply point, and should now be set for the push to the finish line. Despite their late start, this group looks like it'll have no problems reaching the South Pole on schedule.

Over on Mt. Vinson, it has been a busy couple of weeks as well. A number of teams summited during the holiday time frame, which is a popular period on the mountain. While not everyone has finished their expeditions to the tallest peak in Antarctica, climbing operations are starting to wind down there for another season.

More to come soon.

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