Antarctica 2018-2019: Week Three

Unassisted Solo Traverse

O’Brady sets up camp. In high winds, he uses his pulk to anchor the tent before inserting the poles. Photo: Colin O’Brady

Rudd and O’Brady are fast narrowing the distance to the South Pole. Rudd is now 383km away, O’Brady just 342km. So far, Rudd is averaging 18km per day, putting him about 40km — two full days — behind.

The week started with heavy snowfall and relatively mild temperatures, with highs of -10ºC. Deep, soft snow meant that moving the heavy pulks became very difficult. On November 23, the conditions were so bad that Rudd attempted to ferry half-loads of gear forward. Rudd used his GPS to mark a food deposit before skiing onward a couple of miles to drop his tent and other kit. The whiteout conditions made him completely reliant on his GPS: He could not even see his ski-tracks due to the continued snow and drift. He quickly realized that this method was extremely high-risk; if the GPS failed, he’d be in a life-threatening situation. After retrieving his food, he opted to stop for the day.

O’Brady pulls his pulk over sastrugi. Photo: Colin O’Brady

Both Rudd and O’Brady are heading uphill towards the Thiel mountains and are approaching the 87th degree of latitude, an area notorious for large sastrugi. Sure enough, as the week wore on, O’Brady started to encounter these hard ridges of snow.

After the pseudo-balmy weather, temperatures have dropped again and the wind has picked up. Both men have struggled to put up their tents in the tricky conditions. Despite the wind, O’Brady is picking up the pace, as his hefty pulk slowly decreases in weight: His latest update saw him put in a 27km day.

Expeditions to the South Pole

Matthieu Tordeur snaps a sun dog over his pulk. Common in the polar regions, sun dogs are created by ice particles in the atmosphere refracting the sun’s rays. Photo: Matthieu Tordeur

The crowd of South Pole man-haulers are away at last. The weather cleared enough to allow a Twin Otter to ferry Masatatsu Abe, Matthieu Tordeur, Joe Doherty and Eric Larsen from Union Glacier to their starting points on November 23.

To minimize the risk of repetitive stress injuries, Abe has been cautiously ramping up his travel time. On his first day, he put in only two hours before camping. The 360-degree view of nothing but snow and drift gave him a slight feeling of anxiety, but he quickly regained his composure, and on November 27 he covered 15km in seven hours.

Abe is making slow, steady progress (red dots). Photo: Masatatsu Abe

Like all the manhaulers, Tordeur has struggled with poor visibility. Mindful of the long journey ahead, he has tried to strike a balance between waiting out bad weather and covering at least a few kilometres each day.

Eric Larsen is aiming to break the South Pole speed record and so cannot afford a slow start. Despite his wealth of experience, Larsen reports that he can’t remember ever using his compass tray so continuously. Larsen has not given exact distance covered or daily pace, but in a recent audio log, he reveals that he had hoped to make better mileage at this early stage. To get better glide, he has now further trimmed down his climbing skins in the hope of going faster.

Whiteouts have forced everyone to spend their days staring at compass trays. Photo: Matthieu Tordeur

Joe Doherty also set out from the Messner start on November 23, and it seems that he is not solo. Mysteriously, his partner has not been introduced in blog posts or on his website. Together with his mystery partner, Doherty is currently putting in six 45-minute legs of skiing per day and is averaging approximately 17km. Like Abe, they plan to slowly increase their travel time. However, unlike Abe, Tordeur, Larsen and Davis (who is yet to start her expedition), the pair are using supply drops on route. Their first food depot is at the Thiel mountains.

Mt. Vinson

Laval St Germain enjoys a refreshing aerobic workout in the soft snow near Hercules Inlet. Photo: Laval St Germain

It has been a slog in the early going for Laval St Germain. The Canadian is horsing his 113kg pulk through the heavy snow for eight hours per day. He plans to up his manhauling time to nine hours in the next couple of days and will increase this further as he progresses. St Germain is on his way to the South Pole, after which he plans to climb Mt. Vinson.

You can catch our previous update and the season introductions below:

Antarctica 2018-2019: Wind and White-Outs

Antarctica Expeditions to Watch 2018-2019 Part 1

Antarctica Expeditions to Watch 2018-2019 Part 2