Antarctic Update: Sastrugi and Soft Snow

Antarctic expeditions setting out from Hercules Inlet have started to encounter sastrugi, those waves of hard snow formed by the wind. Meanwhile, Justin Packshaw and Jamie Facer-Childs are still struggling with too much wind on their way to the Pole of Inaccessibility.

Antarctic sastrugi. Photo: Eric Philips

Packshaw and Facer-Childs kite-ski expedition

Now three weeks into their kite-skiing journey, Packshaw and Facer-Childs have only covered 484km. That distance is fine for manhauling but not for kite-skiing — Eric McNair-Landry and partner once covered that much in a single day in Greenland.

Packshaw and Facer-Childs had hoped for more moderate wind, but “the wind has just kept rising.” They couldn’t move yesterday, but weather forecasts suggest an improvement today.

Packshaw and Facer-Childs before they set off. Photo: Justin Packshaw

Martin Hewitt and Lou Rudd

Hewitt’s run of bad luck has not abated. During the first week, he had a couple of falls and an illness. Now he is suffering from an Achilles problem. Hewitt can’t use his right arm due to injuries sustained while in the British Army. As a result, his sled needs to be heavily loaded to the left, the side that can use a ski pole. This has put increased strain on his left leg and, in particular, his left Achilles tendon. Hewitt is treating it each evening and hopes it won’t become a serious issue.

In his last post, Hewitt has been frank about how hard he has found it so far:

There have been so many times in this last 13 days when I’ve questioned whether or not I can do this, when I look at the sheer distance of over 700 miles in front of us. And my arm, and the paralysis, and loading the left-hand side. I genuinely thought about quitting once or twice. [I] thought it was too much to ask to do with one arm. But today, for the first time, I enjoyed myself. It was brilliant. The weather makes such a difference.

Rudd and Hewitt have also hit some large sastrugi. These should become more numerous as they work their way up toward the polar plateau.

Solo expeditions

Masatatsu Abe has covered 162.7km towards the South Pole from his starting point at 80°S, 156°W on the Ross Ice Shelf. He’s two weeks in and is yet to take a day off: “I’m busy during the expedition and I don’t have much time. It’s a strange story to be rushed by time in a pure white world.”

Preet Chandi started just over a week ago from Hercules Inlet. She has steadily built up her skiing time and is now averaging 11 hours per day. She reports that conditions have started to deteriorate slightly: There are more sastrugi, but also more soft snow, making it harder to drag her heavy sled.

ALE guided ski expedition

An ALE-guided ski group, traveling from the Axel Heiberg Glacier to the South Pole, made an interesting detour on day one of their journey. They left their sleds and paid a visit to Roald Amundsen’s cairn. Amundsen left the marker on his way back from the South Pole, in case he didn’t make it to the coast alive. The rock pile still houses an emergency fuel can.

Amundsen’s cairn. Photo: Akshay Nanavati


ALE is also preparing for the Antarctic marathon. The marathon will start in less than two weeks, weather permitting.

Mountaineers heading south

There are two well-known mountaineers heading for Mount Vinson. American ski-mountaineer Caroline Gleich is flying down with her husband, and Nirmal Purja said in a recent interview that he will be guiding on Mount Vinson.