As the spring equinox, on 21st September, approaches and the end of winter is in sight, the five ice team members are continuing their scientific studies and liaison with schools while waiting for the opportunity to return north to the Antarctic coast and the completion of the expedition
Although temperatures have been creeping up into the mid -30Cs, relentless winds with gusts of over 50 knots have seen the team confined to the vicinity of their living caboose with no real chance of starting preparations to move.
The expedition has been encamped at its current location of S72 51′ 13.5″, E023 33′ 50.2″, and 2,752m above sea level, since May. Much of this time has been spent in complete darkness, with the team finally catching their first glimpse of the returning sun on August 6th. However, after a few days’ break in the turbulent weather and some spectacular displays of the aurora, blizzard conditions have returned and the team remain beset for the time being.
As soon as the weather breaks, the team will work determinedly to get the Caterpillar tractors warmed up and ready to move, a process which could take two or more days. They will then work on reassembling the Ice Train with its many components, before they are ready to venture north.
Once on the move, the team will have to re-negotiate the treacherous blue ice and crevasse fields that caused them so many problems on their way south. Although the location of these areas is now well known by the team, crossing them safely still presents a great challenge and a cause of considerable anxiety.
Ice Team leader, Brian Newham, said he and his colleagues had fared extremely well during the long polar winter but they were now looking forward to moving away from their precarious location high up on the edge of the polar plateau.
“The journey north will start with a very difficult 40km section where we will need to travel with great caution,” he said. “Progress is likely to be slow before we reach easier terrain and begin our descent into the Sør Rondane Mountains.”
Much revised planning has been occurring over the past few months, reflecting the current circumstances of the expedition now that the traverse has halted. The objective to safely remove the team and all of our equipment from Antarctica will be met a with a fully resourced programme and financial considerations satisfied. Having reached safer ground, it is intended that the expedition will continue heading north and get to a position where the team can be flown out of the continent later in the year. All evidence of the expedition’s presence in Antarctica including excess equipment and refuse will be removed by ship in the early months of next year.
Whilst the team remains in Antarctica, back in London Ranulph Fiennes and expedition supporters have been active in planning and preparing for the final stages of this major undertaking including raising funds for the on-going costs. Most recently, the expedition organisers held a sparkling fundraising dinner at the Royal Society attended by some of Britain’s most renowned explorers who gave guests unique insights into their extraordinary lives, while a silent auction saw guests bidding for all manner of lots including the skis Sir Ranulph was wearing when he developed frostbite earlier this year and the Ice Team’s treasured game of Cluedo.
But, for now, all eyes are looking for a change in the weather and the opportunity to get the vehicles back on the move.
We will keep you posted.