Antarctica 2017: Crevasse Scares and Sastrugi Battles

Leo Houlding avoids disappearing in to a crevasse, while the Ice Maidens and Ben Saunders fight through some terrible sastrugi in our latest update from Antarctica.

It’s been a strong week for all 3 of the expeditions, with weather conditions finally improving for both the Spectre expedition and the Ice Maidens. Meanwhile Ben continues to grind through whiteouts and sastrugi, but he is making steady progress on his mission to become just the second person to have skied solo to both Poles. You can catch up with all the action from last week here.

The Spectre Expedition

We last left the Spectre team at the very edge of the Trans Antarctic Mountains, potentially just a day away from the Spectre. They were once again tent bound and hoping for a gap in the weather to make a final push towards their target.

On day 12 they got their wish, with clear enough weather to cover 53km in under 3 hours. The team joined the Scott Glacier before higher winds and a heavily crevassed area halted their progress. Day 13 proved far from easy, but productive, as they covered the final 35km to the base of the Organ Pipe Peaks and the Spectre. The day had started well, as they managed to navigate over some difficult terrain to the centre of the Scott Glacier. Here they were pleased to discover sheet white ice, “not a kind surface, but not a deadly one” as Leo put it. However, just a few hours later, on the final stretch of their day, the expedition received it’s first major scare. Leo felt himself suddenly yanked backwards as his hefty pulk vanished behind him. Fortunately he was able to release his kite and avoid being dragged in to the crevasse after it.

A tricky 3 hour retrieval operation followed, as the team helped him to regain his pulk. Soon after they were back on their way and finally able to arrive at their destination. On their blog Leo has described seeing the Spectre at last, “one face, inviting, sun-kissed and beautiful, the other, foreboding, hostile and chilling”.

The next day was spent scouting out potential base camps and making their third depot drop, leaving behind the kiting gear and anything else they can do without while they attempt to climb the Spectre.

The teams most recent update, on the 7th December, finds the expedition happily settled at their new base camp “beneath an almost virgin granite massif, comparable in perfection to the Fitzroy group in Patagonia”, and making final preparations to climb.

Ben Saunders’ Solo Crossing

Ben had been fighting through whiteouts most of last week, with 777 miles still to go. Since then, in Ben’s own words, “if it ain’t one thing, it’s the other” as he has found some better weather only to hit a terrible stretch of sastrugi.

He has soldiered on however, aiming for 10 hours of hauling per day in whatever conditions Antarctica throws at him. After a few days battling the sastrugi it was right back to whiteout conditions, and at times it has seemed like “agonisingly slow progress”.

By day 28 Ben had broken the 500kms covered mark and he was rewarded with some clear blue skies and better progress. By day 31 he had passed another milestone, breaching 1,700 vertical metres during the expedition as he climbs towards the Antarctic Plateau. His magic number now sits at 675 miles before he becomes just the second person to have skied solo to both Poles.

The Ice Maidens

Last week the Ice Maiden team crossed the Leverett Glacier, gaining some 1,000m in height over 2 days.

Since then the team have hit the ‘Stastrugi National Park’ and have been “hauling, wriggling and coaxing” their pulks forwards, thankfully with some kind weather on their side at last. Team member Sandy had been struggling physically last week, but recent reports back from the team suggest that she is now on the mend and feeling much improved.

As of the Ice Maidens’ latest update the team have passed the halfway point on their route to the South Pole, the first phase of their journey.

It seems it has been an eventful, and productive, week for all 3 of these expeditions.

Previous / Links:

Antarctica 2017 Weekly Roundup 12/01

Antarctica 2017 Weekly Roundup 11/25

Leo Houlding’s Spectre: “The Most Remote Mountain on Earth”

Solo Trans-Antarctic Kicks Off

All-Female Ice Maiden Team to Cross Antartcica