During the years 1911 and 1912, both the Amundsen and Scott parties reached the South Pole, an unbelievably remarkable feat given the unknowns and hardships. In 2012 several adventurers are commemorating the centennial with expeditions that are a bit more modern and a lot more interactive, yet still remarkable. This month marks the success of at least three different parties: Justin Jones and James Castrission a.k.a. “Cas and Jonesy,” two Australians who skied, unassisted, to the South Pole and back; Felicity Aston from the UK is the first woman to ski the journey solo; and Alexsander Gamme of Norway who also skied to the South Pole and back, unassisted.
The first to complete the feat was Ms. Aston. In an AP article, Aston speaks about the perseverance she summoned constantly, and how this is applicable for anyone striving for change and growth.
Aston, 34, grew up in Kent, England, and studied physics and meteorology. A veteran of expeditions in subzero environments, she worked for the British weather service at a base in Antarctica and has led teams on ski trips in the Antarctic, the Arctic and Greenland.
But this was the first time she traveled so far, so alone, and she said the solitude posed her biggest challenge. In such an extreme environment, the smallest mistakes can prove treacherous. Alone with one’s thoughts, the mind can play tricks. Polar adventurers usually take care to watch their teammates for signs of hypothermia, which is easier to diagnose in others than yourself, she said.
She thought she was done for when her two butane lighters failed when she was high in the Transantarctic Mountains, where it got “really very cold.”
“Suddenly I realized that without a lighter working, I can’t light my stove, I can’t melt snow to make water, and I won’t have any water to drink, and that becomes a very serious problem,” she said. “It’s quite stressful. It was just a matter of every single day, looking at my kit, and thinking what could go wrong here and what can I do to prevent it?” She did have a small box of safety matches, and counted and re-counted every one until the lighters started working again at lower altitude, she said.
“If you can just find a way to keep going, either metaphorically or literally, whether you’re running a marathon or facing financial problems or have bad news to deliver or it’s tough at work or whatever, if you can just find a way to keep going, then you will discover that you have potential within yourself that you never, never realized,” she said.
“Keeping going is the important thing, persevering, no matter how messy that gets. I mean, for me, sometimes I’ll be sitting in my tent in the morning bawling my eyes out, having tantrums. It’s not been pretty. But I’ve kept going, and that is the important thing because at some point in the future you’ll look back and just be amazed at how far you’ve come.”
Since Alexsander Gamme’s expedition finale coincided with that of Cas and Jonesy, he awaited their arrival back at Hercules Inlet. Another AP article applauds the feats of all three expeditions.
Alexsander Gamme of Norway was waiting for the Australians at a spot 1 kilometer (less than 1 mile) from the edge of the ice shelf at Hercules Inlet, so they can share the record of becoming the first to ski to the pole and back both unassisted (without kites, motors or now-banned dogs) and unsupported (without caches of supplies along the route). Gamme’s team told the ExplorersWeb site on Tuesday that the three hoped to meet up in several days.
All three men have skied for more than 85 days, traveling much farther than Britain’s Felicity Aston, who arrived at Hercules Inlet on Monday. Her 59-day trip across 1,084 miles (1,744 kilometers) made her the first woman to traverse Antarctica alone and on her own power. Aston counted on two supply drops along the way, however, to lighten her two sleds.
“In my opinion they’re all notable. This is very difficult to do, all of this, and as a result I don’t like to split hairs too much… It’s sort of disrespectful to the effort that people bring to this. There are a lot of difficult logistics out there,” said Peter McDowell, who manages the Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions company’s operations from Punta Arenas, Chile.
Of course, unlike those of 1911-12, social media played a role in the success of the expeditions. Throughout their journeys, the skiers videoblogged, tweeted and posted to their facebook pages. Cas and Jonesy concluded, “Modern communications makes a big difference.” Fans, friends and family could check on progress, watch video of the day’s accomplishments and setbacks, and post their support through twitter and facebook messages. A humorous, yet insightful, twitter post by Felicity just after returning to “civilization” read, “(Have) to remind myself of the rules now I’m not alone; no peeing wherever I stand, no talking to the sun, no snot or dribble on my face…”
Congratulations to all three teams!