Showing posts with label Pole of Inaccessibility. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pole of Inaccessibility. Show all posts

Antarctica 2016: Another Solo Skier Hits the Ice

The 2016 Antarctic season is barely a week old, and yet it is already shaping up to be an interesting one. The first skiers were dropped off on the ice at Hercules Inlet last week, and are now making their way towards the South Pole. And while conditions have been good so far, each is dealing with their own set of challenges on the frozen continent.

One of the more interesting trends that is developing for this season is the number of solo women out on the ice. Last week, Emma Kelty and Johanna Davidsson started their bids to ski both to, and from, the Pole, and they are now joined by another female explorer as well. Polish explorer Malgorzata Wojtaczka was dropped off at Hercules Inlet last Friday, and is now making her way towards 90ºS. She reported great weather for her start, but since then has skied into whiteout conditions, with large sastrugi already making the going tough.

Meanwhile, Emma Kelty has actually had to surrender her "solo" status according to ExWeb. Early into her ski expedition she began to have issues with her cook stove, which is vital for not only making meals but melting snow for water too. After struggling to get it working, she eventually realized the problem was with her fuel canisters, so she requested more be delivered rather than end her expedition for such a relatively small issue. This means she'll be able to continue on towards the Pole, and hopefully back to Hercules, but in the grand scheme of things she had to give up the "solo and unassisted" part of the journey.

Bad fuel canisters are not the only issue she's been struggling with however. She also has a sore neck that hopefully won't continue to give her problems throughout the length of the expedition. And, sastrugi have been an issue for her as well. Those tough snow ridges on the ice can make skiing extremely difficult, and slow things down greatly. To make up for it, Emma has been skiing into the night, which is a different experience for sure.

The third adventurous lady currently skiing to the Pole is Johanna Davidsson, who plans to kite ski back to the start at Hercules Inlet when she's done. So far, Johanna seems to be doing quite well, knocking off solid distances early on in the expedition. On her sixth day out on the ice she has already amped up her mileage to 20 km (12.4 miles) in a single day and has crossed the 100 km (62 mile) mark. The weather so far has been mostly good, although whiteout conditions have started to creep in for her too. Still, she seems focused, happy, and engaged thus far.

The six-man British military team are scooting right along on their way to the South Pole as well. They report cloudy skies, which has made navigating a bit challenging at times, but otherwise morale is high, their cranking out 12 nautical miles (22 km/13.8 miles) per day, and the sastrugi haven't been quite so bad so far. Having a full team around them, rather than going solo, makes a huge difference on progress, mood, and overall approach to the expedition.

Italian kite-skier Michele Pntrandolfo continues to look for favorable winds for his expedition from Novo Station to the South Pole. So far, much like last year, the winds have not been particularly helpful in achieving that goal. Things are expected to change this week however, and he hopes to begin making meaningful progress at long last. He plans to ski past the Pole of Inaccessibility on his way to 90ºS, which means he'll be covering about 4000 miles (6437 km) if he's successful. In order to do that, he needs to get moving however so hopefully the winds will shift in his favor soon.

Finally, it appears that Mike Horn has left Cape Town and is now sailing towards Antarctica. He'll be traversing the continent via the South Pole as he attempts to circumnavigate the globe north-south, rather than east-west. He and his crew left South Africa a few days back and now expect about a two-week journey to reach the frozen continent. From there, he'll begin the ski portion of the expedition. It should be interesting to follow his progress as well.

Now that the season is in full swing, expect more teams to hit the ice soon. It is going to be a busy year at the bottom of the world, and we'll continue to keep an eye on the progress there.

Irish Adventurer to Visit Six Poles of Inaccessibility

Irish adventurer Mike O'Shea is getting set to embark on what promises to be quite an interesting set of expeditions. Having climbed in the Himalaya, Karakoram, and other remote locations, as well as skied across the North Patagonia Ice Camps, the South Kilimanjaro Ice Camp, Greenland, and South Georgia, he now plans to become the first person to reach six Poles of Inaccessibility on the planet.

For those who are unaware of the concept, a "Pole of Inaccessibility" is the point on the map that is most challenging to reach being as far a way as possible from certain geographical features. For instance, the North Pole of Inaccessbility is found in the Arctic Ocean, at the point that is furthest from any land mass. The South Pole of Inaccessibility is located in the heart of the frozen continent that is the furthest point from any coasts. The locations are always extremely remote, challenging to reach, and typically unmarked on a map.

So, what are the six Poles of Inaccessibility that O'Shea plans on reaching? In addition to the South Pole, he'll also visit the POI of North America (located in South Dakota), South America (found in the Brazilian Mato Grosso region), Australia (located in the Northern Territory), Africa (located in the Congo), Eurasia (near the border with China and Kazakistan). Each of these spots will be reached by whatever means is necessary, including driving, hiking, skiing, on horseback, and so on. Several will involve full traverses of the continent as well.

The first POI that Mike will attempt to reach is in the U.S., which is the easiest of the group. He should arrive int he country soon and begin his journey from New York to Los Angeles, with a stop over in South Dakota to hit the Pole of Inaccessibility there. After that, he'll move on to South America next, which will be considerably more challenging. The POI there is located in a more remote area that will be more difficult to get to. The other POI's will follow as the expedition unfolds in the weeks ahead, with Antarctica being the most difficult overall.

You can find out more about this project at You'll also be able to follow' Mike's progress on that site.

Big thanks to the Expedition News for sharing this story.

Antarctica 2014: Are, Stéphanie, and Jérémie at the Pole and Near Disaster for Frédérick

Just a quick update from the Antarctic today to share the news that Are Johnson, and Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel have arrived safely at the Geographic South Pole as expected. The team skied the final 26 km (16.1 miles) today to arrive on schedule. It took them 39 days, 6 hours to complete the journey, which began back on the Antarctic coastline, and traveled along the Messner Route.

The trio have already begun celebrating Christmas Eve at 90ºS, where they've had a tour of the Antarctic research station and a good meal while chatting with the staff assigned to the base. They'll now spend the next couple of days resting and recuperating, before they start their 1100 km (683 mile) return trip to the coast. While they are happy to have reached the Pole, it is only the halfway point of their expedition, and they still have a very long way to go before they are done.

Meanwhile, kite-skier Frédérick Dion is on his way to the South Pole, and should arrive there today or tomorrow as well provided the winds stay in his favor. A few days back though he had a very close call that could have resulted in a true polar disaster. While he was kiting, strong winds lifted Fréd and his kite completely off the ground, and tore the guide lines that run between him and his sled. Ultimately he was tossed into the air and pulled 300 meters, finally coming to a halt on the snow and ice.

But since he was no longer attached to his sled, he wasn't sure where it was, and in the featureless landscape of Antarctica, it can be incredibly difficult to get your bearings, and spot a tiny object, which just so happens to be white as well. As you probably already know, in the Antarctica the sled is the explorer's lifeline. It carries his or her food and fuel, their tent, spare clothing, emergency equipment, and so on. Without it, Fréd would have been stranded quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, after 20 minutes of searching, he was able to locate the sled and continued on his way. It turned out to be quite a productive one at that, as he ended up covering 127 km (79 miles), pulling him ever close to the South Pole in the process.

Our other kite-skier, Faysal Hanneche, continues to struggle with the wind and is making much slower progress towards the Pole. As of now, he is across the 77th degree, which means he still has a very long way to go before he is done. A few days back he was able to cover 51 km (31.6 miles) in a single day, which is far faster than most skiers can go, but he isn't putting up the impressive distances that we've seen out of Frédérick. Both men started at the Russian Novo station, with Fréd first skiing to the Pole of Inaccessibility before turning to the the Geographic South Pole. It now looks like he'll arrive well ahead of Faysal, who has battled poor weather much of the way. Hopefully the winds will continue to fill his kite, and he'll be able to start making more steady progress moving forward.

Finally, after 29 days out on the ice, Newall Hunter has reached the top of the Polar Plateau, and is now heading due South to the Pole. He reports that the actual temperatures in the Antarctic at the moment are about -10 to -20ºC (14º to -4º F), which isn't too bad. Unfortunately, the wind adds to the chill in the air, making it incredibly uncomfortable. Newall says that while moving it is easy to say warm, but stopping for a break can be painful. Fighting off frostbite is a constant battle, and in his latest dispatch he reports that his chin actually froze to the inside of his mask today. That sounds painful and incredibly cold indeed.

That's all for today. My next update will come after Christmas. Hopefully there will be more good news to post at that point.

Antarctica 2014: Frédérick at the Pole of Inaccessibility!

The 2014 Antarctic season is far from over, but one polar explorer wrapped up his journey earlier today by reaching a goal that had eluded him for days. Kite-skier Frédérick Dion has reached the South Pole of Inaccessibility at long last, becoming the first person to travel to that point solo and unsupported. He also managed to achieve the POI in record time, despite having to wait for the winds to return over the past week or so.

Fréd set out from the Russian Novo station on November 10, and arrived at the POI on December 15. Over the course of those 35 days, he crossed 3000 km (1865 miles) of some of the most remote and difficult terrain on the planet. Along the way, he face temperatures that plummeted below -50ºC/-58ºF, intense blizzards, equipment failure, and a fire that nearly burned up his tent. He also has suffered frostbite and numerous other minor physical ailments, just so he could get the opportunity to stand at what just might be the most remote place on the planet.

The Pole of Inaccessibility is a place on the Antarctic continent that is defined as the point that it furthest from the coastline in all direction. In this case, that point sits at 82º06'S, 54º58'E, which is roughly 878 km (546 miles) from the Geographic South Pole. In the past, only two other expeditions have managed to reach this place on foot. They include the team of Paul Landry, Henry Cookson, Rupert Longsdon and Rory Sweet who made the trip in 48 days back in 2006, and Eric McNair-Landry and Sebastian Copeland did the same journey in 55 days in 2011.

Fréd managed to cover much of the distance at a fast pace, using his large kite to capture the wind, and pull him across the ice at a high speed. In fact, he traveled so quickly that by December 5, he was just 100 km (62 miles) from his destination. Unfortunately, the winds disappeared, and all of his momentum came to a halt. For several days he waited for the winds to return, but they were either nonexistent, or blew in the wrong direction. He tried skiing without the kite, but made little progress. This weekend, the winds turned in his favor again, and he was able to complete the final leg of the journey.

In the dispatch announcing his arrival at the POI, Fréd indicated that he has enough food and fuel to survive for another 30 days on the ice, so it appears that he won't be packing his bags for home just yet. Where exactly he'll go has yet to be determined, although it is possible he'll head over to the Geographic South Pole, or could be returning to Novo station. He seems in good spirits, and is eager to continue his adventure on the frozen continent.

Congratulations to Frédérick and his support team on accomplishing their goal.

Antarctica 2014: Frédérick on the Move, POI Still Out of Reach

Just another quick update from the Antarctic today, where Frédérick Dion continues to struggle on his final approach to the Pole of Inaccessibility. After 31 days on the ice, he is now just 65 km (40 miles) from his goal, but those final kilometers are proving to be the most difficult of all.

Because he is kite-skiing to the POI, Fréd generally made very good time in the early days of the expedition, sometimes covering more than 100 km (62 miles) in a single day. But as he neared the end point of the journey, the winds have either turned against him, or been completely non-existent. For the past week, he has been able to make hardly any headway at all, although on Wednesday he was able to kite for about a half day, making some progress at last.

In yesterday's Antarctic update I mentioned that it was a bit unusual for a polar explorer to simply sit and wait for the winds to return. Most would pack their kite away, and continue under their own power, covering as much distance as they could while pulling their pulk full of gear behind them as they go. Apparently, Frédérick isn't particularly fond of cross country skiing, as is mentioned in his most recent dispatch. He finds it tedious, difficult work, and even back home in Canada it is not one of his favorite activities. Never the less, yesterday he decided to give it a go, and managed to cover about 18 km (11 miles), inching him ever closer to the Pole of Inaccessibility.

Unfortunately for Fréd, the weather forecasts don't bode well for fast progress to the POI. It appears that the winds will remain calm over the next few days, which means if he wants to continue to make progress, he'll probably have to resort to skiing instead. At the moment, it doesn't appear that he'll wrap up the expedition this weekend, although if the winds to shift in his favor, that could change.

For those unfamiliar with the Pole of Inaccessibility, it is a the point that is located the furthest from the coastline on the Antarctic continent. In this case, that point falls at about 82º06'S, 54º58'E, which is approximately 878 km (546 miles) from the Geographic South Pole. The POI is considered one of the most remote places on the planet, and if he is successful, Frédérick will be the first person to kite-ski to that destination solo and unsupported.

But first he has to get there, and at this point it is tough to say when that will happen. Eventually the winds will turn in his favor, and he'll wrap up these remaining miles very quickly. I'll post an update when he does.

Antarctica 2014: Tractor Girl at the Pole, Frederick Still Stalking the POI

It has been another couple of busy days in Antarctica, where the teams are pressing ahead with their expeditions, despite conditions continuing to be challenging at times. Yesterday we had our first arrival to the South Pole, marking the end of one journey, while a kite-skier patiently waits for the wind to return.

We'll start today's update with news about Dutch adventurer Manon Ossevoort aka Tractor Girl. It has been a dream of Manon's for some time to drive a tractor to the South Pole, and on Tuesday she accomplished that feat at long last. The journey covered more than 2500 km (1553 miles) over 17 days, starting at the Russian Novo Station. Along the way, they encountered incredibly tough weather and surface conditions, which slowed progress to a crawl and extended the trip for a few extra days. Now, they'll take a little breather, before beginning the long journey back to the coast.

This expedition was not only conducted to give Manon a chance to realize her dream, but was also meant to commemorate the 1958 journey to the South Pole by Sir Edmund Hillary. The legendary explorer led the first motorized expedition to that point, after he and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to summit Everest five years earlier.

Congratulations to Manon and her entire team on reach the South Pole. Enjoy the drive back.

Elsewhere, Canadian kite-skier Frederick Dion continues to patiently wait for his opportunity to wrap up his expedition as well. The winds have not been in his favor in recent days, and while he is now just 90 km (56 miles) from the Pole of Inaccessibility, he can't quite reach the finish line. A few nights back, he was awakened by the stirrings of the wind, only to find that they were blowing in the wrong direction. So, for now, he sits and waits for his opportunity to forge on. In the meantime, he rests, reads, and eats.

It is a bit unusual for a kite-skier in the Antarctic to simply wait for the winds. Most explorers would at least continue to make progress by skiing under their own power, although that is much more of a physical challenge, and travel is at a very slow speed compared to when they are kiting. I'm a bit surprised that Fred hadn't prepared for this possibility, and isn't at least covering a few kilometers each day in an effort to get closer to the POI. Hopefully the winds will turn in his favor soon.

Faysal Hanneche is also kite-skiing in the Antarctica, although he is headed to the Geographic South Pole instead. He has had issues with weather and wind so far too, but continues to press ahead as best he can. In his recent dispatches from the ice, he has shared his early inspirations for visiting the polar regions of the planet, and discussed his training as well. For a solo-skier, it can be a long, lonely journey that starts well before they ever hit the ice. Faysal is also hoping for the return of the winds soon, so he can speed along on his progress too.

The team of Are Johnson, and Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel, continues to press forward on schedule. The team crossed the 87th degree yesterday, as they inch ever closer to the South Pole. They also covered 29 km (18 miles), which is their best day yet. They hope to reach their second resupply point today, and then take a rest day tomorrow, as they prepare for the final push towards their goal. So far, morale seems high, and spirits are good, despite extremely cold temperatures and howling katabatic winds. 

Newall Hunter is also making great progress, reaching Thiel Corner on his 16th day out on the ice. The Corner is the point where the Messner Route to the South Pole joins with the Hercules Inlet Route, so now he's squarely headed for 90ºS. After covering 25 km (15.5 miles) yesterday, he now had 570 km (354 miles) to go before he reaches his finish line. Still a long way off, but progress has been steady, and all milestones are important. 

It has been a few days since Ian Hunter last updated his expedition blog, and at the time the team was making its way up the Polar Plateau. That is long, slow work, that requires plenty of physical effort and stamina to complete. Once they reach the Plateau however, it is smooth sailing (relatively speaking) to the Pole. For the Canadian, the most challenging thing so far has been the complete lack of change in the environment. Ever night they camp at a new site, which looks nearly identical to the one from the night before, and the night before that. The Antarctic can try your patience and morale in many ways, and the unending white landscape can wear on the explorers after a time. With any luck, in his next update Ian and his team will have crawled closer to the Pole, and have their spirits lifted by their progress. 

That's all for today. More Antarctic updates as news breaks.

Antarctica 2014: Pole of Inaccessibility Kite-Ski Update

We have a quick update from the Antarctic today, where we've been anxiously awaiting the arrival of kite-skier Frédérick Dion at the Pole of Inaccessibility. As of Saturday, the Canadian was just 100 km (62 miles) from the POI, which led me to speculate that he may have arrived there on Sunday or even yesterday, but had not sent a dispatch to announce the completion of his expedition. Late yesterday he shared an update on his location however, and we now have a better idea of exactly where he is at at the moment. 

As of yesterday, Fred had made very little progress towards his final goal. Monday's dispatch indicated that he still has 97 km (60 miles) to cover before he is through. Apparently, the winds are at a minimum right now, and unlike some other polar kite-skiers, Dion doesn't do much skiing when he doesn't have any wind. Thus, over the past few days he has only covered 3 km (1.8 miles). Until the winds return, he isn't likely to go very far.

Fortunately, as he was wrapping up his satellite phone conversation with his home team, the winds reportedly started to gust. Whether or not he actually was able to catch them, and cover a decent amount of distance, remains to be seen. For now, we'll have to wait for another progress report, but once the winds pick up once again, it shouldn't take him too long to cross the final distance to the POI. 

For those who haven't been following along, the Pole of Inaccessibility is defined as a point on the Antarctic continent that is the furthest from any coastline. That makes it incredibly remote, and difficult to get to. Fred started his expedition at the Russian Novo station, which sits near the coast. Now, he is approaching another Russian research station which is actually at the POI. That point is found at 82º06'S, 54º58'E, which is roughly 878 km (546 miles) from the Geographic South Pole. 

It is tough to estimate when the Canadian explorer will arrive at his destination. Until the winds return, he'll continue to make slow, or no progress. Typically, kite-skiers will continue to trudge forward, even when they have no wind, by skiing along without the use of their kite. Progress is obviously much slower, but at least they continue to knock off some miles. Because Fred is not covering much in the way of distance without the wind, it could be several more days before he is done.

I'll post an update on Fred's progress as the news warrants. 

Antarctica 2014: Frédérick at the Pole of Inaccessibility?

It was another busy weekend on the frozen continent, with teams pressing forward on their attempts to ski to the South Pole, or other destinations in Antarctica. As you might expect, challenging conditions persisted over the past few days, but that didn't stop the explorers from making progress, with one skier potentially etching his name in the record books.

As we start the week, we're awaiting confirmation of the current location of Canadian kite-skier Frédérick Dion. As of Saturday, when he posted his most recent dispatch, Fred was just 98 km (60 miles) from his goal – the Pole of Inaccessibility. That means, that with a little luck and some strong winds, he may have reached that point yesterday, or could finish up the expedition today. Until we get confirmation from his home team however, we'll just have to wait for the news of his arrival at the POI.

For those who haven't been following Frédérick's progress, the Pole of Inaccessibility is defined as the point on the Antarctic continent that is the furthest from any coastline. In this case, the POI is found at 82º06'S, 54º58'E, which is about 878 km (546 miles) from the Geographic South Pole. The POI is considered to be one of the more difficult places to reach on the continent due to its remote location, and once Fred reaches that point, he'll be the first person to do so without resupply, with a start from the Russian Novo station. I expect we'll get confirmation of his finish by tomorrow or the next day, so stay tuned for updates.

Meanwhile, Faysal Hanneche continues his kite-skiing expedition as well. He also started at Novo, and will traverse the continent to Union Glacier, with a stop at the South Pole along the way. When last we checked in with Faysal, he was tent-bound and waiting out a storm. Over the weekend, he returned to the trail, making slow, but steady progress, towards the Pole. On some days, he is able to use his kite to catch the wind, and cover excellent distances. On others, the wind is nonexistent or too rough to kite, so he presses forward under his own power instead. Yesterday was one of those days, but as with all polar explorers, Faysal takes what he can get.

The team of Are Johnson, and Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel, are now 24 days into their journey to the South Pole. They are skiing at a solid pace, generally knocking off between 23-24 km (14-15 miles) per day, despite challenging conditions. They have been climbing steadily uphill to the Antarctic Plateau, and making good progress, but temperatures remain cold, with high winds creating whiteout conditions throughout the day. They should reach the top of the Plateau in another day or two, and then it will be straight on to the Pole, with the weather and surface conditions providing the biggest challenge moving forward.

South Pole solo-skier Newall Hunter is battling whiteout conditions as well, which has made for difficult going now that he has entered his first crevasse field. As you can imagine, navigating through this section of ice can be difficult under the best of conditions, but when visibility is cut down to nothing, it can be a terrifying, nerve-wracking affair. Just how bad was it? Newall says that he couldn't even see far enough to pick a place to pitch his tent for the night. He had to walk over an area multiple times to ensure that it was flat and safe before he could proceed with building the tent. It was so disorienting that he fell a few times, and was only able to maintain his orientation by staring at the tips of his skis. In other words, these whiteout conditions are incredibly difficult for the skiers, and exhausting to continue through. Fortunately, the weather is expected to improve over the next day or two.

Updates from Paula Reid have been sparse so far, but her team continues to press forward towards the South Pole as well. As of this morning, she was checking in from just past the 84th parallel, so she still has plenty of distance still to go. One of the team mates commented on the temperatures that are being reported by their tracking device, which indicate much warmer weather than expected. But the device sends an update from inside the tent, which is a warm and cozy refuge from the Antarctic conditions. On the trail, the temperatures are hovering around -20 to - 30ºF (-28 to -34ºC), with the windchill making it even worse.

Finally, Manon Ossevoort continues her quest to drive a tractor to the South Pole. She has now crossed approximately 2150 km (1335 miles) in 16 days, which puts her about 2550 km (1584 miles) from her goal. The team is considerably behind the schedule they had set for themselves, but are counting to press forward none the less. Originally they had planned to be at the South Pole yesterday, but with 300 km (186 miles) yet to go to get to that point, it will be another few days before they arrive. Then they'll begin the long arduous trek back to their starting point, across terrain that has been described as some of the worst that Manon's veteran support team have ever seen. Snow conditions are said to be soft, and the heavy tractor is sinking into the powder, making it incredibly slow going, and unstable at times. Still, they are pressing ahead, and hope to reach 90ºS later this week.

That's all for now. More updates as the news warrants.

Antarctica 2014: High Winds and Whiteout Conditions Test Skiers

It has been a couple of very trying days in the Antarctic. Weather conditions have been brutal for most of the South Pole skiers, with high winds and whiteout conditions reminding them just exactly where they are, This is all part of what it takes to travel on the frozen continent of course, but that doesn't make it any easier when they're caught out in a storm. Most of the explorers having been making the best of the situation, and covering as much ground as they can, while others are currently tent-bound, and waiting for things to improve.

The high winds don't bother Frédérick Dion all that much. The Canadian kite-skier uses those winds to propel him on, and he is now nearing his ultimate destination – the South Pole of Inaccessibility. As of Wednesday, when he released his last update, he was just 267km (165 miles) from his goal. Considering he had knocked off 101km (63 miles) that day alone, it is possible that he could reach the POI today or tomorrow. With a little luck – and wind – on his side, he should wrap up the expedition this weekend. It won't be easy however, as Fred reports lots of sastrugi in the area, which are keeping him on his toes, and ensuring that his final stage of the journey will be a difficult one. Still, I would expect an update by Monday that says that he has become the first person to ski unsupported to the South Pole of Inaccessibility via the Russian Novo Station. Stay tuned for more updates on Frédérick's progress.

Fayasal Hanneche – the other kite-skier out on the ice - isn't having quite as an enjoyable time on his journey through the Antarctic. After covering just 3km (1.8 miles) on Thursday, he has spent all of today stranded in his tent, waiting for a major storm to abate. While the high winds can be a boon for a kite-skier, the whiteout conditions conceal obstacles, which can be far more dangerous when traveling at high speeds. Fayasal says that in order to pass the time while stranded spending days in his tent, he watches movies such Lawrence of Arabia and Kingdom of Heaven. He also reads a lot, and spends the time resting, preparing for the chance to continue his journey.

Whiteout conditions have been the norm for Are Johnson, who is guiding Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel to the South Pole. Over the past couple of days, they have skied in near-zero visibility thanks to strong winds and fresh snow. Never the less, they have continued to make great progress knocking off more than 23km (14 miles) per day. They are climbing uphill now, on their way to the top of the Polar Plateau, which makes for hard work even in the best of conditions. They have also been experiencing meter-high sastrugis, which cause them to work harder to cover the same distances as well. Yet the team is reportedly in good spirits, and enjoying the journey thus far.

Solol-skier Newall Hunter has been struggling with the whiteout conditions as well. He compared his journey over the past two days to walking inside a ping pong ball, as visibility was almost nonexistent, and all he could see around him was white. This can be very disorienting and humbling for the explorers, but they trudge on as best they can, usually navigating with a compass or GPS rather than by site. To add to the frustration, fresh snow fell, making it more difficult to ski, and causing his sleds to stick or flip over. The end result was very slow going, but eventually the skies cleared, and conditions improved enough for him to make up for lost time.

Finally, Tractor Girl, aka Manon Ossevoort, is finding her journey to the South Pole in a Massey Ferguson tractor to be more challenging than she expected. Originally, the plan had been to reach 90ºS by December 7, but with that deadline looming, it appears that she, and her support team, will not make it on the date that they expected. Yesterday, the team reached their refueling point, where extra gas was dropped last year in preparation for this trip. They spent half of the day refueling, and doing some minor repairs to the equipment, before proceeding on. The fuel dump should give them everything they need to reach the South Pole now, it is just a matter of time before they reach that point, with weather and surface conditions creating the main obstacles.

That's all for this week. Stay tuned for more progress reports next week, including the possibility of Frédérick Dion reaching the Pole of Inaccessibility by Monday.

Antarctica 2014: Closing in on the Pole of Inaccessibility

It continues to be a busy week in the Antarctic, where the explorers are pushing ahead toward their respective goals. While most are squarely focused on skiing to the South Pole, others have other objectives in mind, and one explorer is closing in on what is quite possibly the most remote place on the planet.

Canadian kite-skier Frédérick Dion posted an update yesterday in which it was revealed that he is now just 400 km (248 miles) from the Pole of Inaccessibility. If he were skiing under his own power, that would seem like a daunting distance to cover, but with strong winds, he may be able to reach the POI by this weekend. Yesterday alone Frédérick was able to cover 92 km (57 miles), and that wasn't even close to his best day out on the ice so far. The explorer expects to face steady winds as he nears his goal, but even with that challenge, it is only a matter of days before he has finished the expedition.

For those who don't know, the Pole of Inaccessibility is defined as the location that is furthest from all of the Antarctic coastlines. That point is found at 82º06'S 54º58'E, which also happens to be the location of another Russian research station. That puts it roughly 878 km (546 miles) from the geographic South Pole, which gives you an idea of how far away Dion is from the other skiers at the moment.

Meanwhile, fellow kite-ski Faysal Hanneche is experiencing the worst weather conditions that Antarctica can throw at him. After skiing half the day today he encountered whiteout conditions that made it impossible to see more than a few feet in any direction. He tried navigating by GPS, but soon realized the dangers of not being able to identify obstacles such as sastrugi and cracks in the ice, so he abandoned his efforts to press on any further. With conditions that dangerous, he elected to instead set up camp, climb inside his tent, and wait out the storm. Hopefully that will mean he can hit the trail again tomorrow, but a storm like this one can last for days in the Antarctic, and he is prepared to wait if necessary. Faysal began his journey at the Novo station, and is now on the way to the South Pole, before continuing on to Union Glacier.

The trio of Are Johnson and Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel are back on trail again today as well. After receiving a resupply on Monday, they took a rest day yesterday to regain some strength and stamina. Reportedly they had good skiing conditions, with smooth terrain and decent weather, which allowed them to knock off another 25.8 km (16 miles) of their journey to 90ºS.

The South Pole is the eventual destination for Newall Hunter as well, and after 8 days on the ice he is reporting great skiing conditions. Clear skies, moderate winds, and warm temperatures have made him a happy skier thus far. Yesterday he covered a distance of 23 km (14.3 miles), which is a solid pace for the start of his expedition.

Dutch adventurer Manon Ossevoort is about halfway through her journey to the South Pole in a Massey Ferguson tractor. She began at Novo Station back in late November, and expected to finish the journey by December 7, but it now looks like it will take a bit longer than that. Surface conditions have made for slow going so far, and while she isn't skiing, she still has to deal with cracks in the ice, poor weather, and subzero temperatures.

Finally, there was sad news from the Antarctic this week as well. A contract worker at the Amundsen-Scott research station, located at the South Pole, passed away a few days back. His name was Thomas Lawrence Atkins, and he was in Antarctica in a support role for the research scientists there. Atkins was 40, and the cause of death has been ruled as "natural causes." My condolences go out to his friends and family.

That's all for now. More updates as the news warrants.

Antarctica 2014: Lonely Days on the Ice

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday here in the States, it has been a few days since I've posted an update on the unfolding Antarctic season. While we have been gathering with friends and family over the past few days, and enjoying some great food in the process, the explorers and adventurers on the frozen continent have continued their struggles to reach the South Pole, or similar destinations. It has not been an easy couple of days for most, with the true challenges of the Antarctic now starting to emerge.

We are about three weeks into the season, and the rigors of the journey have begun to take their toll. No where is that more evident than with Canadian kite-skier Frédérick Dion, who has had to face some of his biggest fears over the past couple of days. According to his home team, Fred called on the satellite phone a few days back in tears, as he entered a massive sastrugi field that he thought would tear his makeshift sled apart. You may recall, his sled suffered major damage awhile back, and it looked like he might have to cancel the expedition. Fred was able to fix the damage however, and has continued on. But the latest area of rough ground that he has been traveling through looked like it might cause his handiwork to come undone, and he was unsure what would happen if it did. Dion is on his way to the South Pole of Inaccessibility, and is now at a point where if he were to become injured or suffered a major equipment failure, an aircraft would not be able to come evacuate him from the ice. That fear and uncertainly, not to mention having been completely alone for three weeks, was unnerving for the Canadian. Fortunately, he was able to rally, and gain confidence as he traveled. On Saturday he knocked off more than 130 km (80 miles), and moved through the danger zone without much difficulty.

At times it is easy to think of these Antarctic explorers as tough, stoic men and and women, who are hardened against loneliness and fear. But Frédérick's latest dispatch gives us a peek into their psyche, and reminds us that they are human just like the rest of us, sharing in our own insecurities and uncertainties. Dion is doing quite well, and is set to reach the POI in good time, and by sharing his worries with those who are following along at home, he gives us new insights into what it is like out there on the ice.

Fellow kite-skier Faysal Hanneche is facing different problems on his journey to the South Pole. Over the past few days, he has had very little wind to help pull him along, which means he has resorted to walking and skiing across the Antarctic. That has made for slower travel of course, but Faysal has nearly made his way to the top of the Antarctic Plateau, so he is continuing to make the best of the situation. His journey will be a traverse of the Antarctic continent, having set out from the Russian Novo station, he'll first travel to the Pole before returning to the coast at Union Glacier.

Are Johnson and his clients –  Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel – continue to make good progress towards the South Pole as well. The trio are skiing towards their destination, and covering approximately 27-28 km (16-17 miles) per day in temperatures that are hovering around -40ºC/F with the windchill. Earlier today they skied to a supply drop, where they picked up more food and fuel for their journey. This was met with much anticipation and relief, and signals a nice break from the routine. Tomorrow they'll take a rest day to regain some strength as they sleep, eat, and enjoy some downtime before returning to the trail on Wednesday.

Newall Hunter has now been on the ice for six days and is sharing some of his experiences as well. He has been covering about 26 km (15 miles) per day, which is a good pace for so early in the expedition. Newall says that he generally skies for about two hours before taking a break, which allows him to catch up on food and water. Those breaks are important, but he says that when he stops, he gets incredibly cold, so he prefers to keep moving as much as he can. This is just one more challenge that the explorers face at the bottom of the world, as they continue to press forward toward their goals.

Paula Reid is finally off and running after a few delays to the start of her expedition. She isn't posting much in the way of dispatches about her experiences, but we can still track her progress none the less.  She is skiing to the Pole along the traditional route from Hercules Inlet.

Finally, Tractor Girl Manion Ossevoort has launched her journey to the South Pole in a Massey Ferguson tractor. She has been out on the ice for nine days now, having started from the Novo Station. While driving to the South Pole presents its own set of challenges, it is not really the same as skiing. Still, the team supporting the project is making great progress, and they are on an adventure all of their own. If all goes according to plan, they should arrive at 90ºS by this weekend.

That's all for now. I'll post more updates later in the week.

Antarctica 2014: Bitterly Cold Temps and More Arrivals on the Ice

The 2014 Antarctic season is in full swing now, with more teams setting off for the South Pole amidst  "brutally cold" temperatures and high winds. Even during the austral summer, conditions on the frozen continent can test a person's resolve. With miles of open expanse in all directions, surface conditions that are incredibly difficult, and visibility often reduced to zero, it can be difficult to continue to forge ahead. But on the other hand, Antarctica is a stunningly beautiful place that is about as remote as any on the planet. All of those things, and more, are running through the minds of the skiers, many of whom have barely begun the long journey to the South Pole.

We'll start today with an update from Are Johansen, the guide who is taking Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel to the Pole. He reports that temperatures have dropped below -40ºC/-40ºF, with winds that are making things very challenging. But, the team has also managed to cover an additional 21 km (13 miles) in a little over seven hours of skiing. That's a solid distance for these opening days, especially as they pull themselves up to the polar plateau, gaining altitude as they go.

For their part, Stéphanie and Jérémie seem to be holding up well to the rigors of the trail. They making great progress, and seem well prepared for the journey. In their most recent dispatch they talk about the heavy sleds they are pulling behind them as they travel across the ice. Those sleds are their lifelines, packed full of gear and supplies. But it seems they are already thinking of ways to lighten their load, and are considering dropping some extra items that they feel they may not need such as a computer and possibly solar chargers. It is interesting that they are already looking for ways to go faster, even though they've been out on the ice a fairly short time, and have plenty of season left to go. The sleds themselves will naturally get lighter as they make progress, burning food and fuel along the way. They must feel especially burdened however if they are discussing plans to drop gear so soon.

Meanwhile, Canadian kite-skier Frédéric Dion ran into more problems with his sled over the weekend, and had to make some serious repairs this time. In order to ensure he doesn't run into problems, the explorer actually used a saw to cut the sled in half, then pieced it back together using tools and fasteners that he had on hand. The result is a smaller, more secure sled, that will also see its load lighten over time. Fred is on his way to the Pole of Inaccessibility, and needs his gear to function at a high level. He hopes that this latest round of repairs will allow him to progress without further problems.

After fixing the sled, Fred ran into a different issue – low winds. He is in a bit of a calm area at the moment, and as a result, his distances covered have dropped dramatically. On Sunday he managed just 17 km (10.5 miles) as he conserved his energy for when the big winds return, and he can put his kite up once again. The forecasts indicate those winds will return soon, so he'll be back on his way to the POI before we know it.

A couple of new expeditions got underway yesterday as more explorers and adventurers arrived on the ice. Amongst them was Paula Reid, who is skiing the full distance to the South Pole from Hercules Inlet. She has only just barely gotten underway, and her dispatch yesterday says she is testing gear before she really sets out. I would imagine she'll start covering longer distances today as she launches her bid to reach 90ºS.

Another expedition that set off yesterday is that of Manon Ossevoort, a Dutch woman who is driving a tractor to the South Pole. She's starting at the Russian Novo station, and is targeting an arrival at the Pole on or around December 7. Manon claims that it has always been her dream to drive a tractor to the bottom of the world and now, after years of planning, she's set off to do just that.

Finally, ExWeb has posted an interview with polar explorer Keith Heger, who shares some insights and tips for traveling in the Antarctic. Keith says that prospective South Pole skiers should stay organized, trust in their preparation, and never forget to have some fun along the way. He also shares his five favorite gear items, which include his Iridium Go satellite communicator, his Ibex Tuck SoftShell pants, and a specially made banana chocolate chip bread that is baked by his wife. Keith further goes into the food that keeps him fueled up on the Antarctic as well, where calories are of the utmost importance.

That's all for today. More updates as the season continues to unfold.

Antarctica 2014: More Skiers Hit the Ice, Slow Progress Elsewhere

It has been a few difficult days in the Antarctica, where the season is ramping up nicely. More South Pole skiers arrived on the frozen continent on Saturday, after suffering a one day delay in getting out of Punta Arenas due to poor weather. Meanwhile, others continue to battle hight winds and the dreaded sastrugi – ice ridges that form on the surface, creating obstacles that slow progress. All of this is pretty much standard operating procedure in the Antarctic however, and is all part of traveling in the highest, coldest, driest place on the planet.

A big Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft had been scheduled to shuttle more explorers to the camp at Union Glacier last Friday, but that flight was scrubbed due to bad weather. Fortunately, it was only delayed by a day, and as a result, South Pole skier Newall Hunter is now on his way towards 90ºS. He spent part of yesterday skiing away from his drop-off point, and has been testing his gear to insure everything works properly. If all goes according to plan, he should hit the trail today and start the long journey from Patriot Hill to the Pole. Over the coming weeks, we'll be following his progress closely as he makes his way across the frozen expanse.

Presumably Ian Evans is also out on the ice, although he has not updated his blog just yet to indicate his current whereabouts. He has been scheduled to fly out on last Friday's flight as well, so it is logical to assume he was on the re-scheduled flight on Saturday instead. He could be at Union Glacier, and preparing to get underway, but until his website is updated, we'll just have to wait to find out where he is exactly.

Meanwhile, Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel, and their guide Are Johansen, continue to press ahead. The team is currently knocking off somewhere in the neighborhood of about 23 km (14.2 miles) per day, which is a solid effort at this point of their expedition. They are seeing their progress slowed by sastrugi however, which can take the energy out of the legs, and slow progress dramatically. Still, they are happy with how things are proceeding thus far, despite a difficult headwind and temperatures that are hovering around -30ºC/-22ºF.

Canadian kite-skier Frédéric Dion continues to make great progress on his way to the Pole of Inaccessibility. Last week he suffered a setback when his sled suffered severe damage, but he was able to repair it to a degree, and continue on with the expedition, at least so far. After stitching up the 30 cm crack in the side of the sled, he was able to catch the wind with his big kite, and cover an impressive 150 km (93 miles) in a single day. That was enough incentive for him to for go calling it a day, and climbing inside of his tent for rest. Instead, Fred chose to push on, collecting a few extra miles in the process. Right now, he and his home team are keeping a close watch on the repaired sled. If it fails, he would have to cancel the expedition altogether. A replacement sled belonging to polar explorer Dixie Dansercoer is stashed at the Novo station, and could be delivered to Frédéric in a pinch, but to do so would mean that he would have to abandon his "unsupported" designation. He is understandably reluctant to do that at this point, so for now he'll press ahead, and hope his repairs hold.

Finally, Faysal Hanneche is starting to see some solid progress on his attempt to kite ski from Novo to the South Pole, then on to Union Glacier. After being tent-bound for several days last week, he has been making solid progress with good winds as well. After covering 60 km (37 miles), Faysal reports that he found himself in a large sastrugi field, which is exactly where he didn't want to be. If sastrugi are a problem for skiers, they are even more challenging to kite-skiers, who are generally traveling at a much higher rate of speed. Hopefully he'll pass through the field in short order, and will have better skiing all the way to the Pole.

That's all for the start of the week. Stay tuned for more news out of the Antarctic soon.

Antarctica 2014: Trouble on the Way to the POI

The 2014 Antarctic expedition season is well underway now, with teams of skiers making their way towards the South Pole, and other destinations across the frozen continent. While travel in Antarctica has become somewhat common place in recent years, it is still a very difficult, and in hospitable place, which one explorer found out yesterday. Meanwhile, the next flight to Union Glacier is still on track for tomorrow, as yet more expeditions prepare to get underway.

Canadian kite-skier Frédéric Dion ran into a bit of trouble yesterday, and it could put his entire expedition in jeopardy. Dion set off from the Russian Novo station back on November 11 with the intention of kiting to the Pole of Inaccessibility, which is defined as a point that is located furthest from any coastline on the Antarctic continent. Using his large kites to catch the wind, Fréd has been zipping along quite nicely, covering more than 500 km (310 miles) in a relatively short period of time. With him he has a specially designed sled that can best be described as a kayak on skis, which carries all of his gear and supplies. It is essentially his lifeline while out on the ice, and it is the one piece of equipment that needs to function properly in order for him to successfully reach the POI.

Yesterday, when he contacted his home team, it was with the grim news that the kayak had suffered a 30 cm (11.8 inch) crack, this making it very difficult to continue. Dion immediately initiated an attempt to repair the crack, but it took 5 hours to do so, and he made no progress at all yesterday. He will attempt to continue today, although we'll all have to wait to see if the sled will be able to stand-up to the rigors of the Antarctic.

In addition to his issues with his kayak-on-skis, Fréd is also dealing with a bit of frostbite on his nose.  Otherwise, he says that he is in great physical condition, and eager to continue, although he admits that his morale has taken a hit with the damage to the sled. He is still fully stocked with supplies, has 50 days remaining on his schedule, and is determined to press on however, so there is a good chance he could still reach the Pole of Inaccessibility. He's going to need a little luck on his side though, with the hopes that no further damage will be done in the days ahead.

Meanwhile, fellow kite-skier Faysal Hanneche is finally back on the trail, and heading towards the South Pole. He spent three consecutive days inside his tent as high winds and whiteout conditions made it impossible for him to progress. He was finally able to get moving again yesterday, but made just 6 km (3.7 miles) of progress due to amount of time it took him to simply dig out his buried tent. He hopes to make better time today, as he has a lot of ground to cover. Faysal set off from Novo station as well, and will traverse the continent to Unction Glacier, via the South Pole.

Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel, along with guide Are Johansen, are continuing to make solid progress towards 90ºS as well. They have now been underway for six days, and yesterday the managed to knock off a solid 22.5 km (14 miles). Considering that they are still in the early stages of the journey, that is a good distance already. The route from Patriot Hills to the South Pole requires skiers to first climb to the Antarctic Plateau, which can take days, and keep progress to a minimum in the early going. Most South Pole skiers pick up speed at they overcome early obstacles, find their rhythm, and get more accustomed to the work. The fact that they are able to cover such solid distances in their first week of skiing bodes well for the team.

Finally, the next flight out of Punta Arenas to Union Glacier is still scheduled to take place tomorrow.  It will carry the next wave of South Pole skiers, including Newall Hunter and Ian Evans, both of which are heading to 90ºS independently of one another. They should be underway in just a day or two, depending on the weather conditions.

That's all for today. Things are starting to get interesting in the Antarctic, and I'll have more coverage soon.

Antarctica 2014: The Antarctic Expedition Season is Officially Underway

The Himalaya climbing season may have come to an end while I was gone, but the 2014 Antarctic expedition season is just getting underway. The first teams hit the ice last week, and after a few delays due to weather, have now started to make their way towards the South Pole, or other objectives on the  frozen continent. Over the next two months or so, we will have a steady stream of updates from the bottom of the world, as these explorers make their way across the highest, driest, and coldest desert on the planet. 

The first person to hit the ice this year was Canadian Frédéric Dion. He is attempting to reach the South Pole of Inaccessibility via kite-ski, and has already started to make good progress toward that goal. For those that don't know, the POI is the point that is furthest from the coast, making it an incredibly remote, and inhospitable place. Frédéric set off from the Russian Novo station on November 11, and has already covered more than 350 km (217 miles) in just a week. In contrast, those who are skiing to the South Pole will have struggled to cover 112 km (70 miles) over that same period of time. The expedition hasn't been without incident though, as just yesterday he set his tent, and himself, on fire while making his morning breakfast and hot chocolate. Fortunately, there was no major damage, and is off and running again today. 

Meanwhile, South Pole skiers Are Johansen and Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel have launched the first expedition out of Union Glacier. They spent the first few days tent bound as they waited for the weather to clear up, but finally hit the trail along the Messner Route on November 15. They have been making steady progress as well, covering upwards of 16.2 km (10 miles) per day since they left from the coast. Johansen is severing as the guide for the team, while the Gicquel couple focus on skiing to 90ºS. 

Faysal Hanneche also set out from Novo station in his attempt to traverse Antarctica from that point, to Unction Glacier, via the South Pole. He launched his expedition just two days ago, and is already experiencing some challenges with the weather. Yesterday, he spent most of the day in his tent, as high winds made for whiteout conditions. The region he is traveling through has numerous crevasses and other challenges, which makes it very dangerous to proceed when visibility is poor. He hopes that conditions will be better today, allowing him to make some progress. With a long journey ahead, Faysal is remaining patient at the moment. 

While these teams already struggle with the challenges of the Antarctic, others are waiting in the wings. It appears that the next flight out to Union Glacier will take place on Friday, and will take Newall Hunter, Ian Evans, and a few other skiers along with it. At that point, the season will most certainly be in full swing, with lots of updates to follow. 

The Antarctic expedition season is one of my favorite times of the year, as it provides different stories from the mountaineering-focused updates that I deliver at other times. It is also fascinating to read about the explorers making their way across what remains the most remote and untamed continent on our planet. There is still a lot to be discovered about the Antarctic, and while most of these teams are taking well traveled routes, the challenges of the frozen continent remain, even in the 21st century. It is a long, difficult road to the Pole, and anyone who attempts that journey has my utmost respect. It should be another interesting season at the bottom of the world.