Showing posts with label Mount Vinson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mount Vinson. Show all posts

Antarctica 2016: Celebrating 50 Years of Mountaineering on the Frozen Continent

There isn't a lot to discuss today in terms of progress for the South Pole skiers since I posted an update yesterday. Presumably, explorer Mike Horn has started his traverse of the Antarctic continent, although he hasn't posted a dispatch as of yet. Meanwhile the other teams have put another day of hard work out on the ice behind them as they inch ever closer to their goals. But that doesn't mean there aren't interesting stories to share today as well, including an article that looks back at the history of mountaineering at the bottom of the world and a somber visit to the Antarctic by the family of a fallen hero.

First up, I wanted to share a rather interesting story that comes our way from the Adventure Travel Trade Association. The ATTA publishes a website called Adventure Travel News that mainly focuses on information that is of interest to its members. But, yesterday the site also posted an article entitled "Celebrating 50 Years of Antarctic Mountaineering," which takes a look back at the milestones for climbing on the frozen continent. That story begins with a 1966 American expedition that included alpinists Pete Schoening, Bill Long, John Evans, and Barry Corbet. That team went to the Antarctic to knock off the four highest peaks there, including Mount Vinson, the tallest mountain on the continent at 4892 meters (16,050 ft).

That might not seem like an incredibly high altitude when we routinely discuss expeditions to the Himalaya and Karakoram on this blog, but back in 1966 just getting to the start of the climb was a logistical challenge. On top of that, when you add in the extreme latitude of Vinson, it actually ends up climbing like a much taller mountain. And of course, the high winds and brutal temperatures experienced there create a challenge unlike any other.

As the article points out, climbing in Antarctica remained a strictly private affair for a couple more decades. It wasn't until 1983, when Dick Bass and Frank Wells climbed the mountain as part of the original Seven Summits bid, that anyone thought about making a commercial climb up the mountain. In 1986, those operations began as more people sought Seven Summit goals.

Over the years, Adventure Network International – now Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions – handled the organization of most of those teams, and continues to do so today. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first mountaineering expedition to the continent, ALE has organized five different climbs on Vinson this year. The first one completed last week, and the second is already underway and scheduled to wrap up on December 18. The three reaming expeditions will begin on December 18, December 29, and January 9 respectively.

Explorers Web has one other story of interest today. As you may recall, last year British polar explorer Henry Worsley lost his life in an attempt to ski solo and unassisted to the South Pole and back to his starting point on the coast. At the time, he was the hoping to become the first person to accomplish that feat, setting out with a sled filled with 150 kg (330 pounds) of gear and supplies. But, unfortunately he was never able to complete that mission, as he took ill while out on the ice. An emergency evacuation team picked him up and flew him to Chile, where he later passed away in a hospital there. It remains a truly sad story from a place that has has always been incredibly brutal on the explorers that travel there.

Now, ExWeb reports that Worsley's family has made the pilgrimage to Antarctica to experience the place that he loved so much. Over the course of his travels there, Henry made three full-distance expeditions to the Pole, and felt at home in the Antarctic. While this is obviously a somber experience for this family members who are now visiting that place as well, hopefully it also brings them some peace and solace too.

More updates as the news warrants.

Antarctica 2016: Sir Ranulph Fiennes Summits Mt. Vinson

We have a few updates from the Antarctic today as we round out our adventure news heading into the weekend. For the most part, the South Pole skiers continue to press on, but we have updates on two legendary explorers who have Antarctic ambitions this year.

First, we have news that Sir Ranulph Fiennes has summited Mt. Vinson, the tallest peak on the Antarctic continent at 16,050 feet (4892 meters). At 72 years of age, Fiennes is making a return trip to the polar region that he has visited several times in the past. On his summit push he faced -40ºC/F temperatures and high winds, as he topped out in demanding conditions. The climb is part of the explorer's Global Reach Challenge, in which he is hoping to summit the remaining Seven Summits by May of next year. He has already knocked off Everest, Elbrus, and Kilimanjaro in that pursuit. He'll now face Aconcagua, Denali, and Carstensz Pyramid in the next few months. His goal is to raise  funds for the Marie Curie Foundation.

Sir Ran wasn't the only one to summit Vinson in the past few days. The RMI team, led by Dave Hahn, also topped out, putting every one of the group's five clients on the summit. They reported calm conditions on their summit day, going up and down safely from High Camp. They have since descended back down the mountain and caught a flight back to Union Glacier, so it looks like the squad will be headed back to Chile soon with their mission accomplished.

Meanwhile, Swiss explorer Mike Horn has now reached the Antarctic continent. He and his crew have been sailing across the Southern Ocean for the past couple of weeks in preparation for Horn's attempt to traverse the continent via the South Pole as part of his Pole 2 Pole expedition. Mike hasn't made landfall on the ice yet, but should be preparing to set off in the next few days. He'll then ski to 90ºS before proceeding back to the coast, where his ship – the Pangea – will be waiting to pick him up. From there, he'll continue the journey, eventually heading north to attempt a similar crossing of the Arctic.

ExWeb is reporting that solo skier Risto Hallikainen, who intends to travel to the South Pole and back, suffered snow blindness earlier in the week. This painful ailment is caused by sunburnt corneas on the eyes and causes temporary loss of vision. This slowed his progress for a few days, but he seems to be back on track. Risto has also lightened his load some by leaving a supply depot with food and fuel behind. He'll pick that cache back up again on his return trip.

Finally, the six-man British Military team skiing to the South Pole have now reached the halfway point of their journey. They've crossed the 85th degree and are now making good time towards their end point. Spirits seem high, and conditions have been warmer than expected so far, so all is good.

We'll have more updates from the Antarctic next week. Stay tuned.

Antarctica 2016: Slow and Steady Progress on the Frozen Continent

Another week has passed for the South Pole skiers heading across the Antarctic this season. As usual, they face a variety of challenges on their way to the bottom of the world, not the least of which is the weather. But everyone who is currently on the ice is pushing ahead nicely and making steady progress towards their various goals.

We'll start with an update from the six-man British military team that has been skiing for nearly two weeks now. Yesterday they reported "horrendous" conditions as high winds made forward progress, and visibility, very difficult. The winds roared at 40-50 knots (46-57 mph), which caused temperatures to plunge and sap their strength. Add in some very difficult sastrugi to the surface, and it tallied up to an incredibly rough day. Fortunately, things improved today and they were able to knock off a solid 13.6 nautical miles (25 km/15.5 miles) as conditions improved. They also managed to cross the 82nd degree as well, which means they still have 8 more degrees to go before they're done, but they are slowly but surely moving ahead.

In contrast, Emma Kelty reports great weather over the past few days, allowing her to start to get a rhythm on her ski expedition to the South Pole. She says that the sastrugi are making it tough on the legs at the moment, but they are just part of the challenge that anyone traveling in the Antarctic faces. She did have a brief scare in which she thought her back-up stove had stopped working, but thankfully she was able to make repairs and get it operational again. As you may recall, she had a problem with the fuel for her stove early on, which requires a supply drop. That cost her the "solo and unsupported" status she was hoping for, but she continues to forge ahead nonetheless.

Johanna Davidsson has certainly gotten up to speed quickly. She's now been out on the ice for 12 days, and managed to cover 27.7 km (17.2 miles) yesterday. That's a solid pace for this early in the expedition, as most skiers pick up steam as they get closer to their goal. This is in part due to their bodies getting more acclimated to the daily grind, and because their sleds start to get lighter too. But Johanna seems to be cranking out the distances now and is looking very good out on the ice. 

Explorer Mike Horn is continuing to make progress sailing toward Antarctica. He departed South Africa last week aboard his ship the Pangea, and reports ice in the waters but nothing dangerous enough to slow him down. It appears that he's still a few days away from making landfall, at which point he'll attempt to traverse the frozen continent by way of the South Pole. The ship will then pick him on the other side, and he'll start sailing north where he intends to continue his quest to become the first person to circumnavigate the globe in a north-south direction. 

It appears that the climbing season on Mount Vinson is about to begin. Guide Dave Hahn and his team of climbers arrived in Base Camp on that mountain yesterday after a long day of travel from Punta Arenas to Union Glacier and onto the mountain. They'll spend a day or two getting camp set up and rested before they start to head up the mountain, but it appears that operations are now underway to summit the tallest peak on the continent. 

Finally, Italian Michele Pontrandolfo is finally getting some winds to work in his favor. Progress is still slow, but his expedition to kite-ski to the South Pole has begun covering some distances at long last. He still has a long way to go, and faces the real possibility of not reaching his goal as he did last year, but for the moment he seems content and happy to be in the Antarctic. Hopefully he'll get some good winds in the days ahead so he can really start knocking off the mileage. 

That's it for today. More updates as the season progresses.  

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.

Antarctica 2015: Climbers Pinned Down on Vinson, Worsley Enters the Sastrugi Field

We have more news from Antarctica today, where the season is progressing rapidly already, even though the teams still have a very long way to go before they reach the Pole. The weather continues to be the top story, although at this time of the year the explorers just need to make the most of it, and take what they can get. Still, there are some interesting things to report as these intrepid adventurers press on with their expeditions.

We'll start today with news from Mt. Vinson, the tallest peak on the continent at 4892 meters (16,049 ft). December and early January are popular climbing seasons the mountain, with a number of teams arriving as climbers go in search of the Seven Summits. Earlier in the week we had our first successful summits of the season, with at least 18 people topping out. But one squad has been stranded at High Camp on Vinson over the past few days due to extremely high winds.

The Madison Mountaineering team reached the summit on Monday, and after a brief celebration at the top, the five members of the squad descended back their campsite. But the winds picked up as they moved down, so they decided to stay put rather than risk a tricky descent in poor weather. The winds haven't abated for the past four days however, so they have been stuck in place, waiting for conditions to improve. Reportedly the wind speeds were in excess of 50 knots (57 mph/92 km/h), which is simply too dangerous to try to move in. There is good news on the horizon though, as the winds are expected to die down later today, giving the team a chance to descend at long last.

Other than these stranded climbers, Vinson is apparently empty at the moment. The latest dispatch from the Madison Mountaineering team indicates that they have been the only ones on the hill over the past few days. It's likely that the high winds are also keeping other climbers from arriving at Base Camp, although that will soon change too I'm sure.

Elsewhere, Henry Worsley is closing in on the 85th degree and is expected to cross that point later today. It won't be easy going however, as he reports that he has now entered a large sastrugi field, which making progress very difficult. Sastrugi are hard ridges of snow and ice that form on the surface in Antarctica. Some are small enough to ski over, but they require a bit of extra effort and can be tough on the body. Others grow so large that they have to be skied around. They are a common obstacle for anyone skiing to the South Pole, but they are annoying and frustrating as well, slowing progress and taking a mental and physical toll on the body.

Italian kite-skier Michele Pontrandolfo is still waiting for the winds he so desperately needs to appear. He has gone days without seeing much of a breeze at all, which has forced him to lug his two sleds behind him, instead of pulling them along with his kite. His original intention was to ski to both the Geographic South Pole and the Pole of Inaccessibility, while making a traverse of the Antarctic continent. He still has time to complete that journey, but he will need to make up some serious distance if and when the wind does finally appear.

The team of Carl Alvy, Khai Nguyen, and Emma Kelty has seen the whiteout conditions pass and the sun return. They have had strong winds in their face for much of the journey though, which is making progress slow at this point. They report better surface conditions however, and after just five days on the ice, they're still finding their rhythm. Still, everyone seems in good spirits and morale is high as they head south to the Pole.

American solo-skier Doug Tumminello continues to struggle in whiteout conditions, but is forging ahead nicely. He's hoping for conditions to improve today as well. Scottish skier Luke Robertson is in a similar boat, although he did report the sun putting in a brief appearance yesterday.

That's all for now. More news as it is warranted.

Antarctica 2015: Whiteouts Make for Tough Going, First Summits on Vinson

While I was off romping around the Caribbean last week, more explorers and adventurers hit the ice in the Antarctic and have now begun their journeys towards the South Pole. But as usual, the frozen continent is not making it easy on anyone as surface and weather conditions test their patience and resolve.

Henry Worsley has started to pick up the pace some, in part because the snow beneath his skis has become more firm, allowing him to glide along a bit more efficiently. The British polar explorer also seems to be finding his rhythm after more than three weeks on the ice, which is helping as well. A few days back he crossed the 84th parallel, which means he is now nearing the halfway point to the Pole. But considering the fact that he aims to traverse the continent, he is actually only about a quarter of the way done. As of now, he has skied about 240 nautical miles (444 km/276 miles), with the last couple of days being completed in whiteout conditions. That type of weather can truly test the spirit, but Henry continues to press ahead as best he can.

Worsley isn't the only one dealing with whiteouts at the moment. The three-person team consisting of guide Carl Alvy and his clients Khai Nguyen and Emma Kelty also have been skiing through the soup the past couple of days. After being delayed at Union Glacier due to weather, the trio finally hit the ice this past Saturday, and have been making solid progress at the start. But the weather conditions do test their mood as they press on towards the South Pole.

Italian kite-skier Michele Pontrandolfo continues to struggle due to a lack of wind. Progress has been incredibly slow mostly because he can't break out the kite to help haul him and his heavy sleds across the Antarctic expanse. He is hoping to traverse the continent as well, but unless he finds some wind soon, he may run out of time before he can accomplish that goal. That said, if he does get some strong winds, he can also make up a tremendous amount of time, so don't count him out just yet.

American adventurer Doug Tumminello is now two days out from Hercules Inlet on his solo and unsupported journey to the Pole, and is already reporting tough conditions. He says that high winds and sastrugi – hard ridges on the ice – are making it tough to get going. Throw in the long, uphill slog that starts at Hercules, and his first few days have been challenging to say the least. But, as with most Antarctic skiers, he'll find his ski-legs within a few days, and will be steaming along before we know it.

Similarly, Scottish solo-skier Luke Robertson got underway this past weekend as well, and has already spent the better part of three days on his route to the South Pole as well. He reports whiteout conditions as well, making it tough to see the horizon and navigate. He's climbed up to 800 meters (2624 ft), but still has a ways to go before he reaches the polar plateau, but so far everything seems to be going well, and he remains in great spirits.

Meanwhile, over on Mt. Vinson we've seen our first summits of the season as well. Reportedly 12 climbers – including three guides – topped out over the weekend, setting the stage for others to follow in the days ahead. They were followed yesterday by the Madison Mountaineering squad, who also placed five climbers on the 4892 meter (16,049 ft) summit. High winds are keeping those climbers at High Camp however, where they are reportedly resting comfortably. They'll descend as soon as conditions improve, and start the process of heading home.

The climbing season on Vinson should continue for a few more weeks, typically culminating right around the start of the new year. We can expect a number of other teams to summit in the days ahead, as numerous people look to bag another one of the Seven Summits.

That's all for now. More updates to come soon.

Antarctica 2015: Bad Weather Has Everyone in a Holding Pattern

The 2015-2016 Antarctic season is slowly starting to get rolling, but bad weather is once again causing problems for a number of teams. In the case of some of the South Pole skiers, it is preventing them from even reaching the ice, while others are struggling to make progress towards their goals. It is a long season though, and these delays are not completely unexpected, although they are never the less frustrating.

Henry Worsley is experiencing this to the fullest at the moment. Not only did he have to patiently wait out a long delay in Punta Arenas before he could even begin his solo traverse of the Antarctic, he is now caught in a massive snowstorm on the continent itself. For the second day in a row he is tentbound while he waits for the weather to calm down. Considering the fact that he is already on a fairly tight schedule, and only has enough food and fuel to barely get him through the 80 days he expects are needed to complete his expedition, any days spent in one place are costing him time and resources. Hopefully the storm will fade out later today, and he can return to skiing towards the South Pole, and finishing the first stage of his expedition. He still has a very long way to go.

Meanwhile, several other teams are still stuck in Punta and waiting for a flight out. The four-man squad of the Shackleton 2015 Live team loaded their gear on a plane on Saturday, but continue to wait for the call letting them know that it is time to fly out the Union Glacier camp. Similarly, the three-person team that includes both Emma Kelty and Khai Nguyen are in a holding pattern too. In an updated posted to his blog yesterday, Khai reports that conditions at the camp are good enough for planes to take off, but not for landing. So, they wait for an opportunity to fly to the frozen continent and begin their expeditions to the South Pole.

Yesterday, the Ice Project team arrived on South Georgia Island after sailing 1200 km (745 miles) from the Falklands. They'll now do a bit of prep work before they set out for their traverse of the island, following in the footsteps of Shackleton, who did the same thing back in 1916 as he made a last ditch effort to save all of his men who had been stranded in the Antarctic after their ship – the Endurance – became stuck in the ice and was later crushed by the pressure, before sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The Ice Project crew will recreate that historic march across South Georgia, while bagging a few peaks along the way. They should get underway very soon, and will eventually sail back to the Falklands as well.

As December approaches it is now time for the climbing teams to start arriving in Punta Arenas too. Most will be traveling to Mt. Vinson, the tallest peak on the continent at 4892 meters (16,050 ft). They'll face the same weather delays and challenges, although flights out to Union Glacier tend to become a bit more regular as the austral summer rolls along. To that end, the Madison Mountaineering squad is already en route to South America, and will be gathering in Punta Arenas over the next few days, and will spend some time there before departing for the frozen continent. We'll keep an eye on their progress in the days ahead too.

That's the news from the Antarctic for today. Weather delays continue to be the major story, but hopefully things will improve soon. It is time for more teams to hit the ice, but Mother Nature keeps getting in the way. Perhaps we'll have more to report later in the week.

Antarctica 2015: First Flight to Union Glacier Scheduled for Tuesday

It was a busy weekend at the Union Glacier ice camp in Antarctica. While winds there remained high, the weather improved in general, allowing the team to continue working on prepping for the arrival of the first visitors of the 2015-2016 season. In fact, the high winds actually assisted the team in clearing the runway which will serve as a landing strip for the big Ilyushin aircraft that will ferry food, fuel, supplies, and people back and forth from Punta Arenas, Chile to the frozen continent. Following the progress that was made this weekend – and if the weather holds – it is now believed the first flight out will take place on Tuesday of this week.

British explorer Henry Worsley is scheduled to on that first flight, and expects to load his gear onto the plane today. He has been patiently biding his time in Punta Areans for the past week and a half in anticipation of flying out to Union Glacier so that he can start his attempt to become the first person ski solo and unassisted across Antarctica. The journey is expected to take upwards of 80 days to complete, and each day he waits pushes his schedule to a degree. Fortunately, he originally planned for a November 10 deadline for starting the journey, so as long as he has set off by then, he'll be fine.

Other South Pole skiers have begun to arrive in Punta Arenas as well, but it is unclear who else might be on the flight with Worsley when it sets out tomorrow. Skiing to the Hercules Inlet route – the one most commonly taken by explorers – traditionally takes about 40-50 days, so there is still plenty of time for those teams to begin their expeditions. Henry happens to be on somewhat of a tighter schedule due to the length and difficulty of his journey, which is why he arrived in Chile early and has been eager to catch the first flight.

In addition to skiing to the South Pole, later in the season teams of climbers will also head to Antarctica to take on some of the icy mountains that are found there. Most prominent amongst them is Mt. Vinson, a 4892 meter (16,050 ft) peak that is the tallest on the continent. While relatively short in stature, Vinson does feel like a climb at much higher in altitudes due to the extreme latitude at which it sits. It also presents some problems thanks to the weather, most notably the extremely cold temperatures. But since it is one of the Seven Summits, it becomes surprisingly busy for a few weeks each year.

At the moment, it looks like all things are a go for the first flight to Union Glacier to take place tomorrow, but weather could still have an impact on whether or not that happens. If it does, we'll be one step closer to the start of the season, which promises to be a very interesting – and busy – one.

Antarctica 2014: Final Team Safely Back at Union Glacier

Yesterday I noted that the final Antarctic ski team had reached the finish line at Hercules Inlet after skiing for 74 days straight. Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel, along with guide Are Johnson, had set out from the Ronne-Filchner Ice Shelf back in November and had managed to traverse the Antarctic continent via the South Pole. By the time they wrapped up their journey yesterday they had covered 2045 km (1270 miles), pushing through the last 45 km (28 miles) in a grueling 18 hour dash to the end. The trio had been racing against the clock to catch the last plane out, and fortunately they had made it just in time.

When they reached Hercules yesterday the trio of skiers were exhausted, weak, and hungry. Low on supplies, all they could do was crawl into their tent, rest, and wait for a plane to come pick them up. That happened earlier today when they were plucked from the ice and flown safely back to the camp and Union Glacier. According to their final dispatch they arrived just in time to enjoy a fine pancake breakfast. Something I'm sure was greatly appreciated.

Stéphanie, Jérémie, and Are now await a flight back to Punta Arenas, Chile, which will bring an end to their Antarctic adventure. That flight could come as early as today depending on weather conditions. Their departure from the frozen continent will bring an end to the current season there, as the weather will now take a turn for the worse, making travel impossible. But as I write this, other explorers and adventurers are already planning for the next Antarctic expedition season, which will get underway in November of this year.

The 2014 season was a relatively quiet one compared to recent years. But still, there were some terrific milestones achieved. In addition to the impressive traverse from this trio, we also saw Frédérick Dion kite-ski to the Pole of Inaccessibility before continuing on to the South Pole as well. Frédérick would eventually traverse the continent too, using the wind to pull him along. Equally impressive was Newall Hunter's efforts in the Antarctic. He managed to complete a solo-ski to the South Pole before heading over to Mt. Vinson to summit that peak while he was in the neighborhood. Not a bad effort on his part either.

Now, the curtain falls on the 2014 season and we'll turn our attention elsewhere. It is a bit of a quiet time in the world of outdoor adventure, but the spring Himalaya climbing season looms, and it should be a good one.

Antarctica 2014: End in Sight for Final South Pole Team

The end of the 2014 Antarctic season is now just a week away, and the last plane is scheduled to depart the frozen continent – weather permitting – on January 28. That means the last of the explorers must be back at Union Glacier by then, which shouldn't be a problem for most of the remaining climbers and skiers. But for one team, the clock is ticking, and there is still a considerable amount of ground to cover before they are done.

The trio of Are Johnson and Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel continue their race against time as they speed back to Hercules Inlet from the South Pole. They are now on day 68 of their round-trip journey, which will cover 2300+ km (1430 miles) before they are through. As of today, they still have 253 km (157 miles) to go until they reach the finish line, which means they must average roughly 36 km (22 miles) per day to catch the final plane. That's a tall order, but since they've been covering 46.5 km (29 miles) in recent days, they should arrive back at the coast sometime next Tuesday.

These final legs of the journey won't be easy though. Poor weather has set in once again, it has made for tough going in recent days. Are, Stéphanie, and Jérémie are exhausted from their efforts too, which makes each day a struggle. But now that they are finally finished, they seem like they have girded themselves up for the final push.

Elsewhere, after skiing solo to the South Pole, Newall Hunter traveled to Mt. Vinson to climb the highest peak in Antarctica as well. He reached the summit on that 4892 meter (16,050 ft) peak last Friday, and is now back in Union Glacier waiting for a flight out to Punta Arenas. Bad weather has stranded him there for the past couple of days, as winds of 112 km/h (70 mph) have been howling through the camp. But Newall says he is taking advantage of this extra time on the continent to learn how to kite-ski, which he says will come in handy next year. This season isn't even over yet, and some of the explorers are already planning their next expeditions.

Thats all from Antarctica for today. I'll be watching the final ski expedition closely as they near the finish. They should wrap things up early next week and be back at Union Glacier in time for the flight out. By then, they'll be more than ready for a much deserved rest.

2014 Antarctic Season Set To Begin

As the fall climbing season begins to wind down in the Himalaya, the attention of the exploration and adventure community will soon turn away from the mountains in a decidedly more southern direction. The 2014 Antarctic season is about to get underway, and at the moment it looks like it is going to be a relatively quiet one.

Starting each November, the austral summer opens a window for travel in the Antarctic, with hardcore adventurers making the long, arduous journey to the South Pole on foot, or attempting to climb Mt. Vinson, the highest peak on the continent. Those expeditions are incredibly demanding endeavors, and they often make for high drama for those of us who follow the proceedings closely. In recent years, there have even been a few ground breaking expeditions that have managed to not only ski to the Pole, but also make the return journey back to their starting point on the coast. For many, Antarctica remains one of the last truly unexplored places on the planet, and while logistically it is easier to get to the frozen continent these days, it still remains a harsh and unforgiving place.

As I write this, teams of explorers, scientists, researchers and adventurers are preparing to head to the Antarctic. Some will be staying at permanent research stations, which will be ramping up their staff as the new season gets underway. Others are preparing to visit more remote locations, as they go in search of new challenges in a place that continues to have an undeniable appeal to explorers, even a century after the first teams reached the South Pole.

There are two locations that offer access to Antarctica – Cape Town, South Africa and Punta Arenas, Chile. Both are used by adventurers heading to the bottom of the world, although Punta Arenas sees more traffic, in part because of Adventure Network International's (ANI) ability to provide the logistics necessary to get people on and off the continent, and support them in their expeditions. ANI maintains a camp located at Union Glacier, which serves as base of operations in the Antarctic for many private expeditions. That camp is reportedly just about ready to go, as the team has been stocking it withs supplies, and preparing the blue-ice runway that will begin welcoming flights as early as next week.

The first Antarctic adventurers are scheduled to head out on November 4, weather permitting. The past few years, the weather has delayed the start of the season, and it could happen again this year as well. The first few weeks of November can be a bit tumultuous, but South Pole skiers like to hit the ice as early as possible, as every day counts when you're skiing for hundreds of miles across a frozen desert.

In the days ahead, we will be following the action in Antarctica closely. As in years past, I'll do my best to share progress reports and updates from the field. There may not be as many expeditions heading south this year, but there will still be plenty of adventures to share. Stay tuned for more soon.

Video: Climbing Mt. Vinson - the Tallest Peak in Antarctica

At 4892 meters (16,050 ft) in height, Mt. Vinson isn't the tallest of the Seven Summits by a long shot. But it's remote location in the wild-open expanse of Antarctica makes it a challenge to reach, while the harsh, cold conditions can be dangerous as well. Still, dozens of climbers visit the mountain each year in an effort to reach the top. The video below is a 17-minute short film that follows one such expedition that was led up the mountain by Adventure Network International. It is a great look at a Vinson climb, and provides some spectacular views of the Antarctic continent.

Thanks to ExWeb for sharing!

Vinson Ascent from Adventure Network International on Vimeo.