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Ice wounds: Antarctica battle scars in tales and pictures

Posted: Jan 31, 2012 03:08 pm EST

(Angela Benavides/edit TS) It has been a grand celebration: An unprecedented number of visitors at the South Pole and skiers on the ice (check in for the first batch of stats later this week) celebrated the 100 anniversary of Amundsen and Scott's discovery, in action-packed episodes and several new world distance records in the polar world.

Season folding, pictures from the battle field show evidence of a hard fight. Some fighters will recover soon, some will have to live with their "souvenirs" for the rest of their lives. Lucky though, modern logistics spared all the high price once demanded of the British pioneers.


Blisters are common especially in the beginning of a polar skiing expedition. There are preventive measures involving baby powder and duct tape but sometimes the injuries are a fact and ensuing infection can abort the entire endeavor almost before it started.

Early in his solo from HI to the pole British Mark Wood noticed it. "After 7 miles I sat on my sledge and took my boot off," he reported. "I managed to strap the foot and carry on for another 8 miles. It only felt sore when I stopped for a break so I tried to keep moving for most of the day."

"All this was my own fault but recovery was quick," Wood said. "Though my feet were bad early on in the expedition the antarctic environment is very dry so they repaired quickly. I treated them each evening as a priority which worked well."

Blisters are of concern also because they can facilitate frostbite.

Frostbite: Sebastian's risky choice

Sebastian Copeland - who recently kited a new route with Eric McNair-Landry from Novo over the Pole of Inaccessibility (where a bust of Lenin is buried) to the Geographical Pole and Hercules Inlet - has been nursing frostbite for weeks.

As most mountaineers know, fast treatment of frostbite is crucial for full recovery. In addition, frostbite in remote wilderness such as at Antarctica can quickly become life threatening if complication such as sepsis (blood poisoning) follows which can be a deadly infection.

Copeland got the injury before the pole and decided to continue after weighing different medical advice. Arriving Union Glacier base, Sebastian hurried to the medic’s tent. "The Doctors had monitored the condition of my toes over the phone and were anxious to see for themselves," Copeland reported.

"In all, they were impressed by how clean and infection free I had managed. While it looks like I will keep my toes, the jury is still out on the procedure. Of utmost importance will be to keep the wounds clean. One toe is well on the way to recover, especially now in the low elevations, where oxygen is plentiful, and blood is gorged with it and can proceed with its healing job. The other toe may reveal bone when the eschar (the black bit) falls off, which would require extra care to prevent infection and probably a skin graft."

"Merely moments after finishing the expedition, they (the feet) are now throbbing more than I had realized, and I find it hard to imagine how I could get them squeezed inside a ski boot everyday for weeks of abuse from the sastrugi. Amazing how resilient we can get when necessary," he reflected.

Because of continued tissue death, the full extent of a frostbite injury (and recovery) becomes known around three months after it was inflicted.

Other wounds

With a broken rib and frostbite/frostnip to his feet, in his latest audio dispatch Swedish pole-to-pole trekker Johan Ernst Nilson was at Union Glacier base sounding pretty eager for medical care.

Skiing record distance without airdrops or kites, connected to his heavy sledge by a harness, Aleksander Gamme (solo) reports deep bruises on hips and thighs, caused by the straps digging into the flesh. Cas & Jonesy report badly damaged feet and frostnip on their faces.

Trusted gear is crucial in cruel conditions. Bad boots punished Byrony Balen from UK with blisters and swollen feet until an airdrop of a new pair saved the day.

A number of Antarctica skiers this season used the HEAT foot warming system with great results. Carried by HumanEdgeTech (sponsor of ExplorersWeb with products created or customized by explorers) the heaters are also currently used by Himalaya winter climbers such as Denis Urubko and Simone Moro.

Weight loss

All skiers report losing lots of weight, anywhere around 10-20 kg (20-40 lbs).

Dramatic weight loss in the polar areas is a result of the hard and long trek with no snack shops along the way. Part is also due to skiers stuffing themselves prior to the expedition as an "insulation" and because it's fun to for once get to eat all you want.

Much of the pounds come back fast. After losing 30 kg, Jonesy reportedly regained 8kg already at the Union base, thanks to the abundant meals served there.

100 years ago

While Amundsen and his team escaped Antarctica in a pretty good state, Scott's men deteriorated horribly by each day. End January, all five men were weak and desperate. Oates and Evans were severely frostbitten.

To ease their load, they began to drop items such as gloves and boots. Marching on with his men, Scott worried about Wilson most.

"We are getting more hungry, there is no doubt," Scott wrote on Jan 28. "We are pretty thin, especially Evans, but none of us are feeling worked out."

"Wilson has strained a tendon in his leg; it has given pain all day and is swollen to-night," read the Captain's report on Jan 30. "Of course, he is full of pluck over it, but I don't like the idea of such an accident here."

"To add to the trouble Evans has dislodged two finger-nails to-night; his hands are really bad, and to my surprise he shows signs of losing heart over it. We can get along with bad fingers, but it (will be) a mighty serious thing if Wilson's leg doesn't improve."

In the next days, Wilson walked "quietly beside the sledge". Surprisingly, his leg slowly improved. Evan's hands on the contrary got worse, with fingernails coming off and blisters bursting.

(Ed. note: Soon Evans would get a seriously frostbitten nose; his spirit broke and, finally, he was the first to die, on Feb 17th).

Amundsen disappointing the crowd

As for Roald Amundsen who safely reached the Fram on Jan 26th, the "damage" was more to his morale.

Upon arrival, the pioneers heard of some disappointment running among exploration fans in Europe, who had expected to hail the great Scott instead of a bunch of fairly unknown Norwegians.

"Some people appear to be indignant at our being here, a breach of 'etiquette' - Are these people mad?," Amundsen fumed. "Is the quest for the Pole exclusively given to Scott to solve? I couldn’t care less, these idiots. Nansen, as usual, with his cool clear understanding, has had to calm them down. Yes, people are certainly mad."

This story was edited in parts by ExWeb co-founder Tina Sjogren, who skied to the South- and North Poles back to back, without air supplies.

#Polar #Medical #topstory #feature

"It only felt sore when I stopped for a break so I tried to keep moving for most of the day," recalled Brit Mark Wood.
Image by Mark Wood courtesy Mark Wood, SOURCE
Australian James Cassistrion "Cas", featuring cracked lips and frostnip.
courtesy Cas & Jonesy Antarctic expedition, SOURCE
Cas' mate Justin Jones "Jonesy", 30kg lighter at Union.
courtesy Cas & Jonesy Antarctic expedition, SOURCE
South Pole feet.
Image by Mark Wood courtesy Mark Wood, SOURCE
Sebastian Copeland's frostbite.
Image by Sebastian Copeland courtesy Sebastian Copeland, SOURCE
Byrony Balen's (21) feet, bloated by bad boots. The black toe tips are nail polish though, not frostbite.
courtesy Byrony Balen - Polar Explorers, SOURCE
A member in the British Army Scott/Amundsen SP race expedition, featuring fingers white and blistered by cold injury.
courtesy Scott-Amundsen Race expedition, SOURCE
A number of Antarctica skiers this season used the HEAT foot warming system with great results. Carried by HumanEdgeTech the heaters are currently also used by Himalaya winter climbers such as Denis Urubko and Simone Moro.