Monday, January 2, 2012

Antarctica 2011: More Teams At The Pole!

It has been a busy New Year at the South Pole, where more teams have begun to arrive, bringing an end to an epic journey for some, while others will continue on. The season is starting to run short however, and the clock is ticking for those explorers who hope to make a return trip to Hercules Inlet.

One of the teams that we have been following closely are the two Aussie boys Cas and Jonesy. They've had a rough go of it almost since the start, but they reached a major milestone yesterday by finally getting to 90ºS. It took them 62 days to make the journey from Hercules to the Pole, but at long last they reached that point, which was cause for some celebration. The won't take long to revel in their achievement however, as they have to turn around and start heading North today. They hope to become the first team to make the unsupported round trip journey from Hercules and back, but the final plane off the continent is scheduled for January 27th, which leaves them a little more than three weeks to get back. They do have a few things working in their favor that can help them move a bit faster. Their sleds will be lighter on this leg and they'll be moving down hill most of the way. Still, it'll be a real challenge for them to reach the finish line in time.

Also reaching the Pole since our last update is Richard Weber's team, which hit 90ºS on December 29th. The skiers managed to cover the last two degrees, the equivalent of 120 nautical miles, in just six days, which is quite impressive under any conditions. They had hoped to kite ski back to Hercules along with South African Howard Fairbank, who completed his own solo and unsupported trek to the Pole last week. Howard decided that that journey took a bit too much out of him, so he has now decided to fly back to Hercules instead. Weber and one of the remaining team members still intend to kite ski back, and have already started the 1000km (620 mile) return journey to the coast.

Australian solo-skier Mark George is closing in on the South Pole as well, although he still has a few days to go before he's done. As of this morning, Georgie is at 88.13ºS and battling sastrugi has he makes the long slow journey south. Mark expressed frustrations at his current pace in his latest dispatch, as conditions haven't been conducive to making good time the past few days, but that is all part and parcel with travel in the Antarctic, and the explorers know that before they ever start out. Today is Mark's 38th day on the ice, and it seems likely he'll finish off his journey in about 40 days total. Not a bad pace at all.

Mark Wood estimates that he is roughly 8 days from the Pole, as he has now crossed 87.5ºS. He continues to battle white out conditions and sastrugi as well, and his broken ski bindings continue to give him problems nearly every day. For the first time in nearly a month and half, he did have contact with other humans today however. Mark ran into a group of Norwegian kite-skiers who left the Pole a few days ago and are now kiting back to the coast. They spent a few minutes chatting with one another before me moved on, but after 42 days on the ice, it must have been good to see another person.

There are still plenty of other teams to post updates on as well, but I'll reserve them for tomorrow. The Antarctic season is now starting to wind down, but there will be a lot of action before that last plane flies out at the end of the month.