Historic Antarctic Expedition Stopped Cold

Treacherous crevasse fields jeopardize the Coldest Journey mission

It’s the ultimate winter overland trip, full of hazards and at nature’s mercy. Only this time, they tweet about it.

The Coldest Journey, the first-ever winter expedition across Antarctica, has hit a major snag—deep crevasses in the ice that make crossing the forbidding terrain even more difficult. According to a base report earlier this week, the expedition team has temporarily halted its progress as it adapts to this previously unknown obstacle. The team fears that these crevasses (one is pictured below; photo by Ian Prickett) may extend more than 60 miles beyond its current position.

They can plot a safe route through the crevasse fields, thanks to ground-penetrating radar (GPR), but worry that the efforts could detract from the expedition's scientific mission of collecting samples to better understand how climate change is affecting the Antarctic climate and how the Antarctic winter affects the human body.

The five-person team started the journey on March 21, the start of fall in the Southern Hemisphere. (Famed explorer and one-time team leader Ranulph Fiennes—who would've been the sixth man—contracted frostbite during ski exercises ahead of the journey and was forced to abandon before it was even launched.)

The team is currently facing the world’s harshest winter as it treks 2,000 miles across the continent for scientific research, charity and national pride. Antarctica is a cold, snowy desert where temperatures rarely top freezing during the summer and, come winter, average -30ºF (with lows dipping to -100ºF).

If The Coldest Journey crew continues on, and successfully completes the polar crossing, it’ll be the first-ever to do so (all previous attempts have ended in death and/or mission abandonment). For now, though, the team needs to consider its next moves. They are stranded in the dark of winter—and alone in their efforts—for the duration of the season. We wish them the best of luck going forward.