Live blogging covering Scott Kress’ 2024 Antarctica Expedition. This is part 1 following his team’s progress on their journey to the South Pole. Read Scott’s summary here.
Success! | Jan 13
We have arrived at the South Pole. We left camp at 9:30am. It seemed like a long slog even though it was a short ski day. The last day is always a hard day regardless of how far you go. The temperature was about the same but we had no sun today. Flat light day.
We arrived at the ALE South Pole camp at 12:15pm. It was amazing to come into a warm tent and have some soup and crackers. After a quick bite to eat we went back out into the cold -30 and set up our tents. We then did the 1 kilometer ski to the official South Pole location. There is a ceremonial pole with many of the world flags and then the actual geographic location. We went to both locations and took tons of individual and group photos.
We are now back in the dining tent. I have changed out of my ski clothing and am relaxing by the heater. We will be here for 1-2 days depending on when they can fly in and get us. It was a great trip and I will do a summary once I get back to wifi at Union Glacier.
All team members did well and worked well together. For Ryan and I as guides it was pretty easy. The group was mostly self sufficient and the weather was fantastic for Antarctica. Everyone is quite excited to have achieved this pretty amazing goal.
Several other groups have also arrived. The blind skier from Denmark just got in about 6 hours behind us which is amazing. The solo skier is here and he beat the Hercules Inlet to South Pole record by over 2 days, doing it in 22 days, 8 hours and 6 minutes. It takes most groups around 57 days to do this. For Ryan, this is his 8th last degree trip and for me my 2nd. Ryan has also done 2 coastal trips and 1 Antarctic crossing and I have done one previous coastal.
That is all for now. We will eat well tonight, celebrate and sleep in our cold tents once again. If the clouds clear we will fly back to Union Glacier camp tomorrow.
South Pole in Sight! | Jan 12
We had a really good day today. The trail conditions were excellent, it was cold but no wind and full sun. We skied 9.2 nautical miles or 17.04kilometers. About 10 minutes after we left camp we could see some small black dots on the horizon…it was the South Pole station in the distance!
We went up and down some small valleys today and the station would disappear and reappear every couple of hours. We should arrive at the South Pole tomorrow around noon. Just after we set up camp today we saw Lou Rudd and 2 clients. They passed by our camp. It was nice to see them and have a little chat. They will likely get to the Pole about 30 minutes ahead of us. Lou said the ALE group and the Danish blind skiers are about a day behind us.
The 2 people in front of us are women from the UK that did a full ski from Hercules Inlet. I think the solo skier trying to break the speed record is ahead of us as well. We saw some single skier tracks today and based on the pole plants it looks like they were moving fast.
A Challenging Day | Jan 11
Today people learned what it is to be part of a polar expedition. It was a challenging day. It started off cold, about -30 degrees. This is only 5 degrees cooler than what we are used to but those 5 degrees are substantial.
There was a 10 knot wind blowing in our face making it feel more like -40. The first ski block went really well with a record 3.19 kilometers for an hour ski. In the second block the snow started to get sticky and by the third block it was like dragging your sled through mud. Then blocks 4-6 were all uphill with lots of Sastrugi (see Jan 9th entry). The only choice was to put your head down and keep going.
At the last break it was so cold everyone kept their parkas on for the last hour. I have never skied with my parka on before! I could have gone without it but it was much more comfortable with it on. We got into camp with some tired team members and worked together to put up the tents. Everyone is now fed, warm and feeling much better.
We’re Not the Only Ones! | Jan 10
Good day today. We covered 9.8 nautical miles again, another 18.15 kilometers. Cold today but there was no wind and little clouds. There were three other groups dropped off at the same time as we were, and we have seen them on and off. Today two of the groups got closer. Not sure who they are but one group we can see is down from 3 team members to 2.
So, someone from that team was evacuated out for some reason. Depending on if it was injury or just wanted to leave it can be very costly. For injury insurance will pay. If you just want to leave, it can cost between $20,000 to $80,000 depending on if the evacuation is done via snowmobile or plane.
All in our group are doing well. They are warm in their tents now and resting and recharging to do it all again tomorrow.
Almost to the South Pole | Jan 9
Good day today. -25 degrees Celsius with light wind and clouds on the horizon. We skied 6, 60 minute blocks for 9.8 nautical miles or 18.15 kilometers. Snow surface is good, some Sastrugi (see photo) but not bad. Clouds came in in the afternoon and the light got flat making navigation a challenge. Everyone is doing well. Some people are tired from the long days. We are on schedule to reach the pole late Saturday afternoon.
Ski Trek continues to South Pole Six Hours | Jan 8
Good day today. Blue sky. Light wind. We skied 6, 60 minute ski blocks covering 8.3 nautical miles or 15.37 kilometres. I lead the first three ski blocks and Ryan took the last three. We had some rolling hills in the morning and pretty float and almost featureless in the afternoon.
The group is getting good at setting up camp and it was not long before we were inside melting snow for water for everyone. Everyone is doing well. Bodies are starting to get used to the cold, the work and the motion and then next few days will start to feel even better for most.
Ski Trek to South Pole | Jan 7
We are in camp now resting. Today was a good day! We traveled 7.2 nautical miles (13.3 km) in 5, 60 minute ski blocks. We had a clear ski with 360 degrees of blue.
There was a light breeze and temperature around -25 degrees Celsius. The group is tired today as it was a big effort for only our second day on the ice. The sled pulling and cold take a lot out of you. The tents are quiet tonight with less chit chat. We left just before 10:00am and got to camp around 4:00pm.
It takes about 30 minutes to set up camp; then Ryan and I start melting snow to produce water for everyone’s dinner and drinks. I had freeze dried macaroni and cheese tonight but the noodles did not re-hydrate well and it was pretty crunchy.
Not great! But I have no alternative but to eat it. We will relax and recharge tonight and try to ski one hour longer tomorrow.
Wheels Up! | Jan 6
UPDATE: Landed at 89 Degrees. We took off on time and had a smooth flight to the ice runway at 89 degrees. When we landed it was -25 degrees Celsius. We got organized and then completed 3 30 minute ski blocks. We covered 3.68 kilometers…a great start. Had hot chocolate and macaroni and cheese for dinner. Despite the cold it is quite comfortable in the tent. Going to sleep now to prepare for a full day of skiing tomorrow.
Currently we are scheduled to fly as planned. Load the plane at 10 and wheels up around 11. The flight to 89 degrees will be about 3.5 hours. By the time we unload the plane we will maybe ski for about 45 minutes before we stop for camp.
The temperature looks to be about -30 on the Polar Plateau so a little cooler than what we have become accustomed to here at Union Glacier.
We will also be jumping up to almost 9,000’ elevation so we will need a couple days to acclimatize.
If I can send an update from the Sat Phone tonight I will.
Preparation Day | Jan 5
We had a sunny and warm night in Antarctica last night. It was almost too warm in the tent. I had to unzip my sleeping bag and take off a layer. The sun is very powerful down here and it is trapped by the tent and it warms up quite a bit. The full sunlight all night also made it difficult to sleep. I know I slept last night, but not really sure when or how much. It will take a few days to adjust to it.
We had breakfast at 8:00 and then started our work for the day. We had a meeting in the library tent, The Yelcho, named after the famed ship that Shakelton used in 1916 to rescue his men from Elephant Island after their ship was crushed in the ice.
We reviewed many of the skills we would need on our trip to the South Pole and talked about the geography of the last degree which is what we will be skiing.
We will be dropped off at 89-degrees South by Twin Otter Ski Plane and then ski for 1-degree of Latitude which is 60 nautical miles.
We then reviewed how to take down the tents and pack our sleds and we went for a short ski around camp and then set up the tents again so we are practiced before we get out onto the Polar Plateau where it will be cold and windy.
We are done for the day now and people are organizing gear, reading and sending last emails home before we depart tomorrow. We will have our final confirmation after dinner, but currently we are being told to load the plane at 10am and fly at 11am.
We will be flying out on the Basler which is a modified DC3 built in the mid 1940’s. Ken Borek Air has 2 Baslers and the story goes that both of them flew in WWII and dropped troops on Normandy.
Arrival in Antarctica | Jan 4
We departed Punta Arenas on time at 1pm for our 4 hour flight to Union Glacier (see it on Google Earth), Antarctica. The flight was super smooth in the 757 and there was even inflight entertainment.
The Icelandic Air crew are down for a 1 month engagement and then they fly back and a new crew comes in for the next series of flights. They do 5 flights during the month they are here.
As we got closer to camp we had a great view of Vinson Massif off the right side of the plane. It looks pretty huge and intimidating from the air (from base camp as well).
The landing on the Blue Ice runway was smooth and we taxied to the unloading spot. The temperature was about -10 with a light breeze, so pretty comfortable by Union Glacier standards. Most other times I have landed here it has been closer to -15.
We boarded one of the highly modified 4-wheel drive vans for the 10-minute ride to the main camp. Once here we had a tour of the camp with stops at the bathrooms, showers, library, operations, medical, communications and dining tent. We were also told where we can and cannot go. The glacier we are on moves about 10m a year and crevasses can open up in the area. The whole camp is examined with ground penetrating radar and a safe zone is flagged off. It is forbidden to go beyond the flags and there have been incidents in the past.
We have just finished dinner and will soon move into our tents. Tomorrow will be a planning, training and prep day and we hope to fly to 89-degrees Saturday morning, weather permitting.
Fly To Antarctica | Jan 4
Checked bags are gone and all we have left are our travel clothing and our Antarctica flight clothing. We will leave our travel clothing with ALE to retrieve when we return from Antarctica.
For the flight we need to be comfortable in the airport and on the plane, but also ready for the -25 temperatures that will greet us as we get off the plane in Antarctica. We will wear our expedition ski boots and some warm clothing, and will have in our carry-on bag our parka, hat, gloves, insulated pants and sunglasses.
We will be picked up from our hotel at 11am and go to the airport. We will need to go through security like any other flight and also Chile immigration as we are exiting the country.
We will fly to Antarctica today on an Icelandic Air 757 that has been chartered for the season by ALE. In the past we have flown in the Illyusion II-76 cargo jet, but ALE switched to the 757 a couple years ago. I’m sure it will be a much more comfortable flight, but not as unique as the Illyusion.
The flight will be about 4 hours and we will land on a blue-ice runway that consists of concrete hard ice that is about 2 km thick.
I will send details of the rest of the journey later tonight from Antarctica. This is the first year they have Starlink at Union Glacier so communication from there will be a little easier than in the past.
Antarctica Expedition 2024 | Jan 3
The last time I was in Antarctica in January of 2020, just before the Pandemic struck, I thought that might be my last visit to Antarctica. I am now fortunate enough to go to Antarctica once again. This will be my 5th expedition to Antarctica starting with my first climb of Mount Vinson in 2011 to complete the 7 Summits.
RELATED: Scott’s past expeditions
I will be guiding a ski trek to the last degree to the South Pole and a climb of Mount Vinson; Antarctica’s highest peak and one of the 7 Summits. This will be my 3rd time to the South Pole, with my first being a 44-day ski from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole, and it will be my 4th climb of Mount Vinson.
This all began with a goal to ski the last degree to the geographic North Pole in 2019. For various reasons, including international politics, COVID and war, all expeditions to the North Pole have been cancelled these last many years. Since it did not look like we would be going North any time soon, I suggested to my group that we go South instead and thus it began.
There are 4 team members in my group and I have partnered with my good friend Ryan Waters, owner of Mountain Professionals, who has 4 members in his group. Together we will be 8 team members and 2 guides for the South Pole trip. After our trip to the South Pole, Ryan, who will have led 2 South Pole trips and 2 climbs of Mount Vinson this season, will head home and I will carry on with 3 of Ryan’s guests to climb Mount Vinson.
I left home on December 30 to make my way to Punta Arenas, Chile. Arriving in Punta Arenas on December 31 we found the town almost entirely shut down for the New Year. Almost all hotels and restaurants were closed and we had to search for a place to stay and a place to eat.
After a very nice New Years dinner at La Yegua Loca, we set out in search of a bar to have a New Years drink. After wandering the town for a while and striking out at every turn we eventually headed back to the hotel and I was in bed by 11pm. No big New Years party for us.
The last few days have been filled with welcoming all the team to Punta Arenas, doing gear checks, and preparing for the journey to Antarctica.
Yesterday we had a briefing at Antarctic Expeditions & Logistics (ALE) who is our flight and logistics provider. ALE is the only provider of its kind in Antarctica and supports almost all recreation expeditions in Antarctica as well as many research and governmental groups.
At this meeting were about 30 people all heading to Antarctica for various pursuits. Among them was Arne Christensen from Denmark. Arne is setting out to the first blind Dane to trek to the South Pole.
Today we will check in our bags in preparation for our 4 hour flight to Antarctica tomorrow.
I will be sending back blog updates via satellite phone when I can, but it will not be every day most likely.
Until then, stay warm wherever you are.