Antarctica: Expeditions in Trouble

In this week’s Antarctic roundup, one expedition aborts and another one struggles.

Packshaw and Facer-Childs kite-ski expedition

Packshaw and Facer-Childs are still inching their way to the South Pole. Thirty-four days in, they have covered only 1,083km, an average of about 32km a day. That’s a good average for manhauling but not kite-skiing. Their main issue has been the wind. First, it was too much, then it was too little, and now it’s from the wrong direction. They’ve tried everything to keep moving, all of their various kite sizes, manhauling, and praying. But progress remains incremental, with multiple “rest” days because of the poor conditions.

Although they abandoned their plans for the Pole of Inaccessibility because of their slow pace (and dwindling food), they report that they still have enough supplies to comfortably make the South Pole “with full bellies”.

Packshaw and Facer-Childs in better conditions. Photo: Justin Packshaw

Martin Hewitt and Lou Rudd

It’s bad news for Martin Hewitt and Lou Rudd, too. Hewitt, who has a paralyzed right arm, has to overload the left side of his sled, the side that can use a ski pole. This has put too much strain on his Achilles tendon. The pain has been going on for about two weeks now.

With Rudd’s help, Hewitt had been trying to manage the injury, but it has deteriorated further. After nine nautical miles, on day 28 of their expedition, Hewitt’s Achilles effectively gave up. It started to spasm, and he was unable to put any weight on his heel. He was in intense pain despite painkillers and anti-inflammatories. After a discussion with the ALE (Antarctica Logistics & Expeditions) doctor, they decided to abort.

Fortunately, they had just passed the halfway point of their journey, Thiels Corner. There’s an airstrip there, so they will carefully make their way back for pickup.

They have rescheduled their climb of Mount Vinson, in the hope that Hewitt’s Achilles might improve with rest.

Solo expeditions

Preet Chandi has been making excellent progress on her solo journey from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole. A fierce headwind slowed progress yesterday, but she is still well ahead of schedule and putting in more hours on her skis than she had planned. Her website map puts her near 86˚S.

Masatatsu Abe is a bit behind his schedule. He reports strong winds and relatively balmy weather, as well as some aches and pains. He is still treating frostnip on his cheek, which hasn’t got any worse. Abe has covered 350km and is almost halfway to the Pole.

At least Abe’s frost-nip hasn’t got any worse. Photo: Masatatsu Abe


Norwegian Erik Bertrand-Larssen is trekking solo to the Pole. Bertrand-Larssen set off from Berkner Island, a longer journey than from Hercules Inlet. He’s already 30 days into his 1,360km journey and is aiming to finish in 55 to 60 days.

ALE guided group

On December 14, the ALE guided group made it off the glacier onto the polar plateau. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to enjoy the change. In their latest update, the strong winds have kept them tent bound.

The ALE team was tent bound yesterday. Photo: Akshay Nanavati


Ski descent of Vinson

Caroline Gleich succeeded in skiing down Mount Vinson. “We made our way up a steep bowl to a couloir, then to a peppery ridge, then a 20’ nearly vertical section to top out on the 16,050’ summit of Mt Vinson,” the American skier wrote in a colorful Instagram post. “The 10-20mph gusts made for some of the coldest temperatures I’ve ever experienced.”

She then downclimbed a short vertical section, transitioned from crampons to skis, and made her “technical and exposed” descent down the ridge to high camp.