Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Antarctica 2016: Weather Delays Start of the Season

Last week I posted an overly optimistic story about how the first flight out to the Union Glacier ice camp was scheduled to take place, and with it the start of a new season in Antarctica. Fortunately, I did hedge my bets to a degree by saying "weather permitting" of course. As it turns out, the weather has not been cooperative just yet, and as a result the first South Pole skiers are still waiting to get underway.

The delay was most beneficial for Emma Kelty, who will be skiing both to and from the South Pole this year, starting at Hercules Inlet. As you may recall, Emma's gear had been stranded in the airport in Santiago, Chile because of an ongoing strike there. When last we checked in, she was on her way back to Santiago to collect her things, and potentially drive back to Punta Arenas. That would have been a costly delay, but fortunately it didn't have to happen. She flew back to Punta at the end of last week with most of her gear in tow. She has now sorted through the equipment, gone through her weigh in, and is set to catch the first flight out, which could happen as early as today.

Other skiers who were set to hit the ice last week included a six-person British team making the trek to the South Pole to raise funds for charity and Norwegian explorer Johanna Davidsson, who is skiing to the Pole and kiting back to Hercules. Each the skiers has been taking advantage of the extra time to get ready for the trip ahead, but they are all understandably eager to get underway too.

According to weather reports, the conditions have improved at Union Glacier, clearing the way for the first flight to take place today. The crew at the camp is now hurriedly trying to clear the runway of snow to make room for the big Ilyushin aircraft to land however, which could take some time. Hopefully the weather window remain open long enough for these eager skiers to reach the ice base, and possibly even fly out to Hercules Inlet today or tomorrow to get things started.

Meanwhile, Italian kite-skier Michele Pontrandolfo is underway. He left Novo Station last week on schedule, and has already been making modest progress towards his goal of traversing the Antarctic Continent via the South Pole. Today he celebrates his 45th birthday alone on the ice, and much like last year he's waiting for the winds to turn in his favor. Strong winds from the south are preventing him from using his kite, so progress is incredibly slow or nonexistent at the moment.

Finally, it appears that Mike Horn is still in Cape Town and preparing to embark on his Pole to Pole expedition. The plan is to sail to Antarctica, ski across the continent, visiting the South Pole along the way, then get picked up on the far coast by his ship before sailing North to attempt a traverse of the North Pole as well. It should be an amazing journey to follow, and if successful Horn will become the first person to circumnavigate the planet north-south rather than east-west. Stay tuned for more updates on his progress.

So there you have it. Hopefully today, at long last, the Antarctic season will get underway. Of course, bad weather could still delay the start, but we'll just have to keep our fingers crossed. More updates soon.

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