Now that the fall Himalaya climbing season has wrapped, it's time to turn our attention southward. As I write this, teams of adventurers, explorers and researchers are en route to Punta Arenas, Chile and Cape Town, South Africa where they will prepare for the start of the 2012 Antarctic season. I'm still waiting for Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE) to post their definitive list of Antarctic expeditions for this year, but the company that pretty much handles all of the logistics for travelers heading to the South Pole is already preparing for its first flight to the frozen continent. Provided the weather stays cooperative, and that has been a big IF in recent years, the first flight out to Union Glacier could take place as soon as Saturday. While we wait for the show to begin, here are a few expeditions we'll be keeping our eye on in the weeks to come.
• American Aaron Linsdau is hoping to become the first American, and just the fourth person overall, to make a there-and-back-again journey to the South Pole from Hercules Inlet. He plans on making the trip solo and unsupported, covering a distance of 2,300 km (1,430 miles) in the process. Linsdau is already in Punta Arenas and has been spending his time getting his gear organized while he waits for a flight out to Union Glacier. Most of his time has been spent packing all the food he'll need for the 90-day journey, during which he'll be consuming an average of 6,000 calories per day.
• Also headed to the South Pole is British adventurer Kasim Rafiq who, at the age of 22, hopes to become the youngest Brit to ski solo and unsupported to 90ºS. Rafiq is estimating it'll take him roughly 60 days to complete the 1,127-km (730-mile) journey that begins at Hercules Inlet. There are no updates to his Facebook or Twitter feed yet, so I'm not sure when he intends to get underway, although his website simply lists "November" as the start of his journey. I'd imagine he is in the final stages of preparation and will be setting out for Chile soon.
• Richard Parks will be attempting a solo and unassisted South Pole expedition as well and is set to get underway late in the season. His Twitter feed indicates that as of this writing, he intends to set out in six weeks, which puts him well into December. That's a late start but considering Richard has already been to the South Pole as part of his 737 Challenge, we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
• Also traveling to the Antarctic in December will be a group of research scientists who intend to drill through 3 km (1 mile) of solid ice to reach a subglacial lake that has been buried for centuries. The body of water, know as Lake Ellsworth, could contain lifeforms that have evolved to survive in the extreme cold of Antarctica and may yield clues about the environment on that continent from thousands of years in the past. According to their Facebook page, the team has completed their prep work and are now ready to depart the U.K. for South America. That should happen soon.
• The Baffin Babes are headed back into arctic conditions, although this time they're taking on an island in the southern hemisphere instead. A few years back, the girls traversed Baffin Island, and this year they have another frozen, remote piece of land in their sights. The Babes intend to ski across South Georgia Island, where they'll contend with inhospitable conditions, high winds and plenty of cold temperatures. They're also likely to encounter lots of wildlife along the way, including penguins, seals and migratory birds. They estimate it will take them a month to complete the crossing. They sailed for South Georgia last week, made landfall over the weekend and are already underway. Follow their progress with updates to their Facebook page.
• Finally, Mike O'Shea and Clare O'Leary, the two Irish explorers who attempted to ski to the North Pole earlier this year, have decided to put their arctic training to good use in a different environment. The duo are headed to Patagonia to attempt a crossing of the Northern Icecap with three other skiers, with the team setting out for Chile last weekend. Once they collect all their gear and get everything organized, they'll then hop a bus and spend two days trekking to get to their starting point. That means we should see them get underway in the next few days. They expect it will take about a month to complete the crossing.
I'll post more updates and additional expeditions soon, including, come spring, the ambitious Ranuph Fiennes expedition we mentioned last month. The first teams could get underway as early as Saturday or Sunday, depending on the weather. Expect regular postings on their progress in the weeks ahead.
This story first ran on The Adventure Blog.