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ExWeb interview with South Pole traverse kiter Frédéric Dion: One step at the time

Posted: Jan 22, 2015 12:26 pm EST


(By Correne Coetzer) "Unit thinking works! One step at the time, doing the things at your best here and now.” Wisdom shared with Explorersweb by French Canadian, Frédéric Dion, who had returned home from a crossing of Antarctica.


He became only the third person to traverse by kite-ski from Novolazarevskaya to Hercules Inlet via the South Pole of Inaccessibility and the Geographic South Pole. Frédéric did the traverse in 55 days, 25 days faster than he duo before him in 2011-12. The distance in a straight line between the four waypoints is 3620 km, although Fred calculated his distance kiting as 4382 km. 


The kite skier was fortunate with wind and gained good miles from the start, until 98 km from the Pole of Inaccessibility and 3700 meter above sea level, when the wind died down. Man-hauling a 100 kg sled there was not something Fred preferred. He also had a narrow escape when his tent nearly burned down and his expedition was in jeopardy when his home-modified kayak-sled broke.


"Please mention that my expedition was saved by Dixie Dansercoer, who lent me his sled, and Anne Froehlich from TAC, who made the arrangement,” Fred emphasized to Explorersweb. 


Frédéric told Explorersweb how his "Unit Thinking”, one step at a time, helped him to cover this long distance. He also shared what he missed most, what his favorite items in his sled were, and more.



Explorersweb: How did your knees and body keep up to do such a distance right at the end? How different was it to cover such a distance at the end of 3600+ km, compared to the 600 km you covered in your day-only attempt?

Frédéric Dion: Since I lost the wind for 3 days after I left the Geographic South Pole, it was impossible to set a record for the whole stretch. So I took 2 days to recover and waited for good winds. After that my knees were ready for the last push. 


When the wind arrived, I set off with hope. But after 8 hrs of sastrugi fields and many sled flips, I began to think it was a bad idea to keep going. I only covered 191 km. So I decided to complete the first 300 km and stop. Coming close to halfway, the field begun to get better. I decided to do it one hour at the time and it worked very well for the whole night. 


Nearing the end, I had to follow some waypoints to avoid crevasses. After 24 hrs I was in the middle of a crevasse field. It wasn't the time for a final push. I looked the GPS and I had covered 611.1 km but 594 in a straight line. I finished 53 minutes later for a 626.6 km total and 603 in a straight line.


This 24 hours confirmed what I was thinking. It´s easier to do with a good wind from behind, even with a sled, compare to a side wind going backward and forward. 


To tell you the truth, 10 hrs after this push, at Union Glacier, I went midnight-kiting with Scott Woolums (he is a guide there) and I broke a ski in a big air jump.



Explorersweb: It must have been very disappointing when your modified sled broke? Amazing how you were able to hold it together until you got the other one. Was there a time that you thought the broken sled would bring your expedition to an end? Fortunately you had a separate tent, or you would surely have made a plan with that as well? ;-)


Fred: I was disappointed but like my other expeditions, when things go wrong, it is the beginning of the real adventure. It took me many hours of repairs on the go. It´s a great story to tell. 


The extra tent was partly responsible for that kind of problem. By the way, plastic is fragile under -35 degrees Celsius. Thanks to Dixie Dansercoer, who lent me his sled, and Anne Froehlich from TAC, who made the arrangement. They saved my expedition! 



Explorersweb: So glad for you that you got favourable winds [thinking here about fellow kite skier Faysal Hanneche who struggled with no wind and bad weather, testing his patience.] Apart from the broken sled, were there times that you thought your expedition was in jeopardy? 


Fred: I got 20% of the time finished, Day 26, thinking I was gonna make it to the POI the next day with 98 km to go. But I lost the wind. I rested the first and the second day. Rested, and on the third day I began to move, sledge-hauling. It was very hard! If you give me the choice between running a marathon and puling a 100 kg sled at 3700 m, no doubt I choose the running. (I ran more than 50 marathons in my life.) I lost the wind for 9 days. 



Explorersweb: Your spirit sounded pretty good throughout the expedition. Which part was the most difficult? What motivated you to keep going? Did your 'Unit Thinking' logo reminded you about what is stands for?


Fred: Unit thinking works! One step at the time, doing the things at your best here and now. That´s how I tracked my way. 


Kiting in a blizzard is trilling, building my tent in 100 km/h wind is fun, fighting the cold for weeks is not problem for me, but being far away from my daughters was very hard. For half of the attempt it was my biggest challenge. Then I was able manage it. By the way, it seemed a lot easier for them than for me.



Explorersweb: Your 5 favourite items in your sled?



1. My Conceptair Smart Evo 12.5m (kite). I did 90% of the distance with it. It is the no-knots, lightest, easiest, safest kite you can find. The Evo version is perfect! 


2. Nilas bib from Mountain Hardwear. Even in temperatures as cold as -57 I felt comfortable.


3. My Gerber multitool was perfect for all the repairs.


4. My Inreach Delorme personal locator device. It was very useful to send and receive messages.


5. 70 m lines for the big smart kite make a huge difference. Sometimes the wind is hiding over your head. You have to get to it!



Explorersweb:  Not many people have the privilege to have seen the Bust of Lenin in person. Tell us about finding Lenin at the Pole of Inaccessibility please.


Fred: I was searching for the bust, kiting with the GPS in one hand. It appeared over my left shoulder at a close distance. I scream because of the surprise! You know, I had been travelling for such a long time seeing nothing on the horizon, I did not expect to find it so close. For me it was only the objective. 


The happiness, the success was in every step I did along the way. It was important for me not to be the person who was suffering toward a unique goal. Thinking my way, walking to the bust were only the last steps. It felt like I could keep going and I did it…



Explorersweb: How much weight have you lost?


Fred: I lost 7kilos.



Frédéric Dion completed his 54 days 6 hours (stopwatch time) traverse of Antarctica on January 3, 2015 with a mammoth kite-ski push of 603 km in a straight line in 24 hours and 53 minutes (626.6 km active kiting).  



Start Kite-ski at Novolazarevskaya (November 10)  

Arrive South Pole of Inaccessibility (December 14) 

Arrive Geographic South Pole (December 24) 

Finish at Hercules Inlet (January 3, 2015)


Novolazarevskaya / Novo at

S 70º 46.594' E 011º 52.481'  altitude 108 m


On Dec. 14, 2014 Frédéric Dion reported the position the POI (at Lenin’s bust) as S82º 06.702' E055º 2.087' at an altitude of 3741 m.


Geographic South Pole (GSP): 90 degrees South

S 89º 59.527' W 005 º1.261'  altitude 2838 m


Hercules Inlet: 80 degrees South

S 79º 58.381' W 079º 45.337'  altitude  300 m


Frédéric Dion set off alone from Novolazarevskaya but received the emergency resupply due to the broken sled and also received fresh food at the ANI base at the South Pole, and therefore he lost his solo status, according to the Polar Rules at AdventureStats.


According to the Rules of Adventure, to claim a “solo" achievement, requires an unassisted status - therefore no supplies carried by pilots or car drivers, or anything (food, fuel, etc) received from any person along the way. A solo person may be wind supported (kites/sails). Note that the Polar Rules were compiled by early Norwegian and British Polar explorers and are maintained today by the current community of veteran polar skiers.





ExWeb interview with Frédéric Dion, invention and modification for the South Pole of Inaccessibility


Earth-inspired innovation for Space: Cameron Smith about Dion's sled and other polar modifications


Frédéric Dion’s Website




Previous South Pole 2014-15 update:  

Einar Finnsson and team at the South Pole, and Shackleton beset in the pack ice













Frederic Dion: "When things go wrong, it is the beginning of real adventure."
courtesy Frederick Dion, SOURCE
"The day when I got a fire in my tent. I threw everything outside. Then I found this message from Caro and the girls."
courtesy Frederick Dion, SOURCE
"How to inspect the bottom of your sled without stopping." (click to expand)
courtesy Frederick Dion, SOURCE
Frederic Dion found Lenin on the same day as Amundsen and his team discovered the Geographic South Pole 103 years ago.
courtesy Frederick Dion, SOURCE
Fred at the Ceremonial South Pole in front of the US South Pole Station.
courtesy Frederick Dion, SOURCE
"Nearing the end, I had to follow some waypoints to avoid crevasses. After 24 hrs [of continues kiting] I was in the middle of a crevasse field."
courtesy Frederick Dion, SOURCE
Fred, middle, in Union Glacier's dining tent celebrating his crossing of Antarctic with ANI staff.
courtesy Frederick Dion, SOURCE
Fred flew from South Africa to Antarctica (Novolazarevskaya Base) with ACLI/TAC's Ilyushin-76 and out of Antarctica from Union Glacier to Chile with ALE/ANI's IL-76 in the image.
courtesy Frederick Dion, SOURCE
Antarctica ski and kite routes.
courtesy Map compiled by Explorersweb, SOURCE