My friend David Pierce Jones with whom I shared a tent for 41 days while trekking to the Pole exactly two years ago compiled a great list of dos and don’ts for the North Pole traveller. There are many great tips many of which may seem obvious but so many people ignore them. The list makes me smile! Here are a few of my favourites:
Learn to ski before you go
Don’t expect exhilaration at the end, it just looks the same as the day before, and the day before that…
Get warm at least once a day
Do not face the wind, except when crapping
Don’t just fly in at the last minute. Spend time in Yellowknife and Resolute Bay acclimatizing to the cold and testing gear
The first three days are the hardest, it is the coldest, darkest, heaviest; the sleds don’t slide when it’s really cold, and there’s a lot of ice rubble piled up against Canada.
If you make it to day four, then you can make it.
Don’t let your pee bottle freeze.
Have treats in your resupply
Go on Weber Arctic’s Polar Training Program. I believe It is a serious false economy in time and money not to. Expeditions that follow his advice have a significantly higher chance of success than those that don’t. I am not biased, just realistic.
The full list can be found on the Explorers Web
During a long expedition such as a trek to the South Pole and back, there are always a number of items of equipment that really stand out, some good, some not so good. Here are my personal comments on some of our gear.
The Great Gear
I have been a fan of Fischer skis for many years. Once again the skis were as great as always. We used Fischer Country skis to ski to the Pole and I used tour X-calibur to kite back. As always, they are super reliable.
Recon GPS Goggles
The Recon GPS goggles were a last minute addition to our gear. These are normal goggles with a small magnified camera-type lens (screen) just below your eye and a GPS receiver. The user carries a separate blue tooth controller, I wore it on my wrist. The different screen pages give the user latitude, longitude, speed, distance and time traveled, max speed. With a small glance downward, the user can see the information displayed on the screen. I was able to charge the battery on our solar panel. This goggles were extremely useful for navigation, particularly in bad light. I found it fun to know our speed and how far we had traveled as we skied along. They were critical for navigation while kiting in bad light. In normal light, it was simply easier to navigate with the goggles than trying to look at the compass while kiting at 30 kph!
7Systems Endurance Supplements
Our expedition food contains lots of calories, up to 7000 a day but very little nutrition. It is the second expedition that I have relied on 7Systems Endurance Supplements to keep us healthy. I can honestly say that I have felt better on these last two expeditions than on previous expeditions.
Aluminum Sled & Gatineau Nordic Ski and Sled Runner Preparation
Michael and I designed a new sled. The goal was to have less resistance, better glide. I think we succeeded. This 7 kg sled was the easiest sled that I have ever had to pull. The runners (and our ski bases) were prepared by Wayne Johannson of Gatineau Nordic (with great advice from the folks at Fischer). Wayne prepped both the runners and skis like cross country racing skis for cold weather. In that last few days to the Pole we made better mileage, with a less experienced (and older) team than we did in 2008. For kiting we attached two sleds side by side for increased stability at high speeds. That also worked well.
This tent, the Keron 4GT is perfect for Antarctica. It was fast to put up / take down, solid in high winds, warm in the sun. It was roomy. We had four people in the four-person tent, though it was a snug fit. Perhaps Hilleberg could make a winter version with no mosquito netting and snow flaps? We managed to break a pole but in three minutes we made a repair using the kit that comes with the tent! It is a well thought-out and well made piece of equipment.
Brunton Solar Panel and Re-chargeable battery
The fourteen watt Brunton solar panel and rechargeable battery work extremely well. We could charge the battery then charge our iPods, sat phone, goggles at our leisure or we could charge directly from the panel. This may sound obvious, a solar panel should charge but we had another model from another company and it didn’t work so well … it just never really seemed to charge as fast and as completely as the Brunton. It also folds into a nice neat package for transportation.
Ozone 5 meter Kite
This amazing kite was the back bone of the kiting portion of our expedition. We did 95% of the kiting with it. We had it on 60 and 40 meter lines in order to reach higher where there is more wind. This kite is easy for novices, like us to use but we could still reach speeds of 40 kph.
Then there is gear that disappoints …
Ozone Yakuza 8.3 meter kite
This kite was extremely difficult to fly. While that is our fault (not be proficient enough) one of the kites would not really fly at all. Eventually, after many hours, we determined that the kite had some technical issues which made it unstable. Of course we should have tested the kite completely but still it was disappointing to receive a kite that is not functionally.
Power Monkey Solar Charger
We had three of these little panels. While the panels worked really well, all the connector wires broke. With no connector wires, the panels become useless. Two of these panels were the “Extreme” model supposed to be for expeditions. Lots of thought and design went into the panel and battery but the connector wires are cheap wire that freezes and breaks.
Solio Bolt Solar Charger
In 2008 we used a Solio Classic to charge our iPods and it worked well. This time I tried the new Solio Bolt. Useless. It would not charge in cold weather. If I hung it inside the tent then it would charge extremely slowly. I eventually gave up trying.
Michael Archer and I succeeded with the goals of our trek, that is to ski from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole, then to kite-ski back to the coast. The departures of Kathy Braegger and Chris De Lapuente were extremely disappointing, even though it had nothing to do with bad preparation or lack of training. Just bad luck. Not the result I had wanted for my last big sled hauling expedition. They both had planned and prepared for this expedition for several year. (Ruth Strong had planned to go as far as the South Pole, not kite skiing)
Michael was the best of travelling companions; level headed, physically strong, and a fantastic “MacGyver” (the member of the expedition who task is it to fix all things with the small available amount of limited bits and pieces in the repair kit) It is the first time I have ever given up my “MacGyver” position!
Travelling across Antarctica is in many ways boring; endless white, no wildlife, the Messner Route has almost no mountain scenery. Yet, Antarctica is so vast, huge, pristine (except for the US base at the South Pole), and snow surfaces are always changing. From the start to the South Pole the climb is almost 10,000 feet but it is mind boggling to think that all that climb is on top of ice. The South Pole is located on 10,000 feet of ice. It is an amazing journey. It is a long way, yet we touched just a small section of the continent.
The kite-skiiing was often frustrating because of a lack of wind and the fact we did not have all the correct equipment. At the same time, when the wind was good, flying across the surface of Antarctica was an amazing exhilarating experience. We are a couple of men aged 50 plus, with limited kite-skiing experience yet we covered over 1100 km in nine days of kiting. This year other kiting expeditions completed amazing treks, thousand of kilometres in short periods to time. No questions kite-skiing will become more and more popular in Antarctic and other parts of the world were conditions are right.
I feel that I am incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to traverse this unique landscape at the bottom of the world. I would to thank all my travelling companions, Kathy, Chris, Ruth, and Michael. I would like to thank Sandra Sullivan for helping prepare the food, especially making more than one thousand chocolate truffles that we ate. Thank you to Tessum Weber for helping with the blog. Thank you to everyone who took interest in following our trek. Most of all, I want to thank my wife, Josée who gathered equipment, prepared the food, and kept track of our progress and supported us in every possible way.
I am now back in Punta Arenas waiting to go home on Sunday. Michael Archer left this morning for New Zealand. We arrived here late Wednesday.
The last part of the expedition was a serious push as we knew there was a jet back to Punta on the Wed. On Jan 15-16, during a 20 hour period we covered 240km. At times we went fast, averaging over 30 kph. At times, slowly if the terrain was rough and the visibility bad. Thanks to our RECON googles with GPS display, I could navigate accurately in any weather. The goggles were amazing and so much fun to use!
On the last day we covered 150 km over some of the hardest, iciest terrain. The constant jarring was exhausting. Earlier that day we sailed across an amazing area of soft flat snow, like a huge white endless field. We flew; at times over 40 kph!
As we past the Patriot Hills, the wind kept getting stronger and strong. We had to take down the kites and use sails (square kites on short lines that are easier to control in high winds). But even with the sails we were being lifted off the ground, so we tied a cord around each end to make the sail smaller. Still too much. We tied a second set of cords that reduced the sail to less than half its size but it worked.
At the brink of the last steep hill down to Hercules Inlet, Michael’s kite got away from him and dragged him across ice for 200 meters. Fortunately he was not hurt. The last downhill is 20 km long … we were so thankful to be done.
Within a few hours the Kenn Borek twin otter (the pilot, Monica sometimes flies to Arctic Watch in the summer!) collected us and took us back the ALE camp at Union Glacier. The Russian jet took us back to Punta the next day.
To see a short video “click” on the blue link below the second photo![caption id="attachment_244" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Michael Archer sailing part Patriot Hills"][/caption]
We have just received a telephone call from Richard – they are finished! 2000 kilometers across the Antarctic continent and they have successfully skied to the South Pole and kited back!
They sounded absolutely exhausted on the phone – their last day, they kited 150km, and 200 km the day before!
Richard will be uploading a few pictures over the ext few days, stay tuned!
Our team has nearly finished their South Pole Expedition!
S 82 30
W 80 10
Distance to go: 277.8 km
Richard and Michael have been working hard over the last few days, doing “long” days. The wind is proving to be not very constant. They have adapted their sleep cycles to the wind conditions – when the wind is good, they kite ski, and when it is poor, they sleep!
They are still travelling in the same whiteout from several days ago.
Weather permitting, only two more days left!
S 84 18
Distance to go: 477.8 km
The kite skiing has been challenging over the last few days. Persistent snow storms and white out conditions have been forcing Richard and Michael to do “partial” days, due to the poor visibility. Yesterday, the two teammates travelled until the weather became too poor to continue. Richard said that hopping 3 foot sastrugies with a kite in whiteout conditions gets to be scary! This morning, the team awoke to a worse snow storm, and shifted wind conditions (this will slow them down..).
Due to safety concerns, Richard and Michael are remaining in the tent until the weather gets better.
Richard would like to thank Recon Goggles for their excellent product. The heads-up GPS navigation system built into the ski googles is proving to be invaluable! During stormy conditions, the goggles allow the user to properly navigate (when a compass will not, due to the lack in reference points…).
That’s all for now!
The wind on Antarctica requires a snow kiter to carry several different kites to adapt to the changing wind conditions. Richard and Michael, new to kiting in Antarctica, are finally “getting the hang of it” as Richard puts it – they are now better at working with their kites in changing wind conditions!
Today’s mileage: an impressive 140km! As they get close to the edge of the Antarctic Continent, Richard is reporting better kiting conditions and easier living conditions (due to the drop in altitude).
S 85 59
W 82 06
Today was a very special day in Antarctica. Michael had his birthday!
To mark the special occasion, Richard cooked up a chicken noodle soup. Richard had all the tasty ingredients flown in on the resupply at the South Pole!
S 87 14
W 83 48
The team has come down 400 meters in elevation. As a result, Richard and Michael are finding it easier to eat and digest their 7500 calories per day.
The terrain is proving to be very rough, making travelling with kites fun! Richard informed us that his sled was “airborne” regularly today! The sleds are holding up to a pretty serious beating – Richard and Michael are packing all the heavy and “non-breakable” equipement onto the sleds while the fragile equipement is staying in their backpacks.
Roughly 6 days to go!
Richard called this morning:
Althought the wind has been a challenge to find, Richard and Michael are covering decent distances each day. Richard and Michael covered 130km yesterday, averaging an impressive 20 – 30 km/h.
Richard said that kiting is way more fun to travel than skiing! They even managed to become airborne a few times over the course of the day!
They still aren’t accustomed to the changes in muscles groups – after 8 hours of kiting, the team stopped for the day.
The race is on: Richard and Michael are aiming to make the last plane out of Antarctica on January 26th.