Antarctica 2023-4: The Sastrugi Fields

This week, most of the Hercules Inlet starters are bunched together around some tricky patches of sastrugi. However, Pierre Hedan has forged ahead, relaying condition reports back to the pack.


Like last season, there are no full Antarctic crossings announced.

In our last update, Sam Cox had been slogging through soft snow. In the week since, he reports better conditions with “firm packed snow and just the odd soft patch.” His left boot/left ankle problem seems to have resolved itself too. He has covered 505km and averaging roughly 22km per day.

Cox is looking forward to raising his daily distance as he progresses: “I think it’ll be at least another 10 days until I start to see distance progression from my pulk getting lighter. It is still heavier than the starting weights of pretty much every other expedition.”

Camping in Antarctica.

Cox’s pulk is heavier than other expeditions because of the extra distance required for his PECS crossing. Photo: Sam Cox

Hercules Inlet to the South Pole

James Baxter’s knee is certainly not healed, but he seems to be coping with the slightly dodgy joint. “I could feel my knee, but it was very tolerable, and it gave me confidence to know what the problem was now [an inflamed IT band right at the bottom of the femur],” he wrote on Dec. 8.

On Dec. 9, Baxter began to encounter sastrugi. The first couple of days proved fairly easy, as he weaved between what he described as “[sastrugi] patches, each about the size of a tennis court with another tennis court of soft grainy snow adjacent to them.”

But by Dec. 11, flat light made progress much more difficult: “I thought something is going to break here. Either my knee or a ski or a binding.”  Baxter elected to take most of that day off and continued in crystal clear weather the next morning.

Georgina Gilbert and Rebecca Openshaw-Rowe didn’t enjoy the sastrugi field during whiteout conditions. “It was hell…we had some spectacular crashes,” they said in a recent audio update.

But generally, they are pleased with their progress. After exiting the worst of the sastrugi, their daily distance is ticking up. Yesterday, they managed their longest day so far: 26km. They aim to average around 25km per day and make it to Thiels Corner by Christmas.

A pulk in deep snow.

Photo: Pierre Hedan


Pierre Hedan is almost 100km ahead of Baxter, and around 50km ahead of Georgina Gilbert, and Rebecca Openshaw-Rowe. He has kicked on since our last update, with his distance total now 498km and only 637km remaining to the Pole.

Hedan fought through the sastrugi but suffered a broken ski binding in the process. “I do have a spare…but it’s not that simple to change and I risk breaking my ski. For now, I’m going to try skiing like this,” he wrote. He is also suffering from polar thigh.

Speed record hopeful Vincent Colliard should arrive at Union Glacier this weekend.

Berkner Island to the South Pole

Canadian Patrick Bernier has completed 534km, averaging roughly 25km per day. This is good progress and puts him on pace to finish his journey unsupported.

Fat-biking to the Pole

Omar Di Felice is still plugging away, and by day 25, he had covered 245km. His pace fluctuates considerably, depending on snow (and wind) conditions. However, it remains unlikely that he’ll be able to finish his proposed route to the Pole before the season ends. Di Felice may be preparing his considerable social media audience for this in a recent update:

“It’s not the end until the end. I imagine many of you there, worried in the days when the average drops drastically or exalted in those in which it rises. In reality, there is no space in my mind for these kinds of thoughts. You just have to be able to get out of the tent, every day, trying to do the maximum possible. If I had wanted ‘a safe result,’ I would have put a pair of skis on my feet, certainly more comfortable and faster. But I have already talked about this: I’m here to try to understand how far I can go with my bicycle.”


Guided trips

Kustaa Piha, Anders Brotherus, and guide Poppis Suomela are taking full advantage of the perks that come with a “supported” expedition. Yesterday, at ALE’s Thiels Corner base, they picked up some beer to have with dinner!

But it hasn’t all been easy. Suomela described the cloudy days with poor visibility rather nicely: “When you can’t see the details of the snow, the whole day goes on like a white sack on your head.”

The trio are covering good daily distances and have 758km to the Pole.

Martin Walsh

Martin Walsh is a writer and editor for ExplorersWeb.

Martin has been writing about adventure travel and exploration for over five years.

Martin spent most of the last 15 years backpacking the world on a shoestring budget. Whether it was hitchhiking through Syria, getting strangled in Kyrgyzstan, touring Cambodia’s medical facilities with an exceedingly painful giant venomous centipede bite, chewing khat in Ethiopia, or narrowly avoiding various toilet-related accidents in rural China, so far, Martin has just about survived his decision making.

Based in Da Lat, Vietnam, Martin can be found out in the jungle trying to avoid leeches while chasing monkeys.