Antarctica 2019-2020: Off They Go

Photo: Geoff Wilson

The Antarctic season has begun for the earliest arrivals. More expeditions are congregating in Punta Arenas, ready to fly out when the weather allows.

Longest Polar Expedition – Geoff Wilson

Wilson has kicked off his 5,800km odyssey. He flew to Antarctica on November 6 and was driven to his starting point near Thor’s Hammer, a peak southwest of the Russian Novolazarevskaya Station, on November 11.

Wilson is off and running, despite an early scare. Photo: Geoff Wilson

The early going has been tough for him. Wilson is using a snow-kite, and the upwind tack opens him to more wind and cold, increasing the risk of frostbite. Despite three layers on his hands, he describes coming uncomfortably close to freezing his digits after just two hours on the first day. “A frightening white colour and hardening of my fingertips warned me I had run too close to an irreversible frost injury,” he wrote on his blog. He has since re-engineered his glove system, which seems to have solved the problem.

Climbing towards the Pole of Inaccessibility, Wilson has covered 403km in his first week. The slow pace (for a kiter) frustrates him, but says that he is adjusting well to the cold and solitude.

Cross Continent – Xu Wen

Like Wilson, Wen is aiming for a new distance record on the continent. Unlike Wilson, he won’t be using a snow kite on his 2,000km coast-to-coast journey.

There’s no news on his current location, but his planned 80-day expedition requires an early start.

Women’s Speed Record Attempts – Wendy Searle and Jenny Davis

The two speed record hopefuls, Wendy Searle and Jenny Davis, are yet to get started. Searle was to fly out of Punta Arenas early this week, but she has been on weather hold. The earliest she can now fly will be November 20.

Searle is packed and ready to go in Punta Arenas. Photo: Wendy Searle

Davis flew to Chile from the UK last week. She is likely also grounded in Punta Arenas.

Solos to the South Pole – Mollie Hughes, Anja Blacha, Neil Hunter, Tanel Tuuleveski, Jacek Libucha and Richard Parks

Clearly, Mollie Hughes was keen to get going; she was on the first ALE flight of the season on November 10. On November 14, she set off and almost immediately encountered “brutal” conditions: 48 hours of zero-visibility and temperatures of -40ºC with the windchill.

Starting from further back, Anja Blacha also started early. She has already logged a week on the ice. Her initial great weather soon deteriorated. Crosswinds and fresh snow slowed her progress. Weather reports suggest that the wind could increase before dropping off by the weekend.

Anja Blacha making new friends before her expedition. Photo: Anja Blacha

Estonian Tanel Tuuleveski will also set off from the coast, aiming to complete a 940km solo, unassisted, unsupported run to the Pole in around 45 days. His journey lines up with the bicentenary of Estonia-born Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen’s 1819-1821 expedition that discovered the continent of Antarctica.

The list of South Pole soloists seems to grow by the day. Polish adventurer, Jacek Libucha, is unsupported and unassisted and is already hauling. Since November 13, he too has struggled through the early white-out conditions. Toward the end of his first week, he began to notice a decrease in the gradient, and he hopes that his daily distance will soon increase.

Neil Hunter was to fly to the Antarctic yesterday, but he too has probably joined the list of impatient trekkers on weather hold in Punta Arenas.

Richard Parks has been suspiciously quiet about his proposed South Pole run, with no social media activity or announced start date.

Guided Efforts of Note – Robert Swan, Jing Feng, Jaco Ottink, Paula Strengell and Lucy Reynolds

Among a large number of guided trips this year, we’ve selected a handful that caught our eye.

Polar veteran Robert Swan is aiming to complete a 500km journey from the Thiel Mountains to the South Pole. He’s christened his journey “The Last 300,” as he looks to complete the remaining 300 miles of a 2017-2018 South Pole venture that he was forced to abort.

Robert Swan, pictured last year. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

He is traveling with two guides, Johanna Davidsson (the women’s Hercules Inlet to South Pole speed record holder) and Kathinka Gyllenhammar. Filmmaker Kyle O’Donoghue rounds out the team.

Ryan Waters of Mountain Professionals will guide Jaco Ottink and Paula Strengell to the Pole from Hercules Inlet as soon as the weather clears. Ottink has already completed the Seven Summits and is now looking to add the South Pole to his adventure resumé.

“Not first, not fastest, just giving it a go,” is a refreshing admission from Britain’s Lucy Reynolds. She will head out on the Hercules Inlet route on a guided, assisted run to the South Pole once the weather in Punta allows.

No updates yet from Jing Feng and guides Sarah McNair-Landry and Erik Boomer.

About the Author

Martin Walsh

Martin Walsh

Saigon based freelance writer. Travelling the world one basketball court at a time.

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