Antarctica Week Two: Wind and Whiteouts

Too much wind for some, too little wind for others, and some ominously soft snow greet our Antarctic hopefuls in week two of our coverage.


Longest Polar Expedition

Geoff Wilson has already covered 1,000km on his way to the Pole of Inaccessibility (POI).

His milestone comes despite bad weather. For five days last week, the wind barely crept above five knots, not nearly enough to make good distance with a snow kite. On November 21, he squeezed out 42km in seven hours, and on November 22 another 56km in over 14 mind-numbing hours. “Slow-kiting is intensely boring, my environment is just white, no color, no smell, no sound,” he explained.

The wind picked up on November 25, and fields of sastrugi broke the monotony. Sastrugi are wind-packed waves of snow that make for a bumpy, potentially dangerous ride at speed. The combination of sastrugi hurdles and fickle wind forced Wilson to make repeated changes to his kite size. He has been pushing hard and reports a couple of falls but no major injuries.

Sastrugi, like frozen whitecaps, look innocuous but are no joke with a hefty pulk. Photo: Geoff Wilson

He is now just 620km from the POI and he believes that the worst is behind him. “I am certainly acclimatizing and getting settled,” he wrote after breaking the 1,000km barrier on November 26.


Women’s Speed Record Attempts

Wendy Searle and Jenny Davis finally made it to Antarctica after a five-day delay in Punta Arenas.

Freshly signed to The North Face, and looking to become a full-time outdoor athlete, Davis is under pressure to succeed this time. Photo: Jenny Davis

Searle has spent the last three days at ALE’s Union Glacier camp, testing her communications equipment and packing her pulk. She took the pulk (minus tent and sleeping bag) for a test run to start the week and she feels comfortable with the weight.

Searle has also found time to enjoy the goings-on around camp. The most unusual? A guest arriving to complete a solo marathon. Staff and other guests turned out in fancy dress to cheer him on, and Searle fashioned a makeshift certificate and medal for the runner. We don’t think that it was Nick Butter padding out his record.

Jenny Davis has likewise busied herself with final preparations. Both women are hoping to fly to their start points within the next two days.


Solos to the South Pole

Soloists Neil Hunter and Tanel Tuuleveski were also grounded in Punta Arenas but have now arrived in Union Glacier. They will aim for the same start dates as Searle and Davis. Though all of them will fly on Hercules Inlet, they will do so on separate flights.

Mollie Hughes, Anja Blacha and Jacek Libucha are already duking it out with the Antarctic weather. Hughes pushed through eight days inside the ping-pong ball before emerging into sunshine for the first time on November 22. On November 24, she reported her first “properly good day”, with light winds, sun and solid progress.

Blacha has been fighting the fresh snow and crosswinds from on the coast as she inches inland. As she predicted last week, the wind increased and became so severe that on November 24, skiing was impossible. She took a forced rest day after carefully securing her pulk and tent. The wind has since died down, and she is enjoying the sun.

At last, the weather has cleared up for Anja Blacha. Photo: Anja Blacha

Libucha’s main foil has been the fresh snow. His complaints sound like echoes of last year, when warm conditions and soft snow prematurely ended the speed attempts. “So much powder here is an anomaly and bad news for all the expeditions that started already,” he wrote on November 19, after five days of snowfall and a painful nine-hour slog that only rewarded him with eight kilometres of progress.


Guided Efforts of Note

Guided teams have also reached Union Glacier from Punta Arenas.

Robert Swan with guides Johanna Davidsson, Kathinka Gyllenhammar and filmmaker Kyle O’Donoghue. Photo: Robert Swan

Robert Swan has settled in by taking walks around the camp’s 10km loop.

Lucy Reynolds has been surprised by the relatively balmy weather; it’s just -9ºC. She might be cursing the same balmy temperatures in a couple of days.

Both teams are ready to join the crowd flying out to their various starting points whenever the weather clears.