The Coldest Journey--my take

the Coldest Journey team's midwinter greeting My 29 July 2013 review and seems that since I originally wrote this on 28 May, the current position of the expedition hasn't changed much. Most significantly, on 18 June, they officially announced that the polar crossing had been halted--they would stay put for the rest of the winter and concentrate on their science and outreach efforts...and return to Crown Bay (or somewhere else on the coast) in the spring to reload their equipment and head north (the blog post of the announcement and the press release). (The expedition press release site is here).

Given all of the delays and difficulties, I somewhat expected this announcement, although I hoped otherwise. They cited the excessive fuel consumption and the fact that they hadn't made it out of the crevasse field during daylight (as I mentioned below). So...the short-term result is that the five expeditioners celebrated Midwinter's Day at their own dining table in the living caboose (as seen at left in their midwinter greeting) instead of anywhere near the festivities that friends of mine at Pole put on.

you can follow the rest of their expedition here.

I have been following the Coldest Journey expedition (crossing Antarctica in the winter) since it was first announced...after all I met (and had beers with) organizer Ran Fiennes in Los Angeles in 1981, not long after he'd completed his 1980-81 first crossing of the continent on snowmobiles...he is an amazing guy. After unloading at Crown Bay on the coast (70º 04' 17"S - 23º 01' 01" E, information from their web site) between Novolazarevskaya and Princess Elisabeth Station, they set out to establish a fuel depot on the Antarctic plateau. During this operation, Ran was medevaced for frostbite while adjusting a ski binding. during the preliminary phase, The remaining 5 members of the expedition made their final departure on 21 March, with hopes of reaching Pole on 13 June, about a week before Midwinters Day.

The original plan (from their web site): Distance from Crown Bay to Pole: 2,223 km/1,381 statute miles.

Departure: 21 March; Travel time: 84 days; Arrival: 13 June.
Travel mileage: 63 8-hour travel days @ 35 km/day or 21.74 miles/day (speeds: 4.4 km/h or 2.72 mph). Overall mileage over 84 days (including 21 rest/contingency days): 26.4 km/day or 19.0 mi/day...

But they never got anywhere near Pole. Instead, their position (as of 24 May, from which they haven't moved much at all) is 72º 54' 16.4"S/23º 35' 16.7"E. The problem...they were still mired in a major crevasse field, which they'd hoped to escape while there was still some daylight so they could see the hazards visually.

So what's happened? The major portion of their route to Pole was supposed to be along the Arctic Trucks' surveyed, (apparently) crevasse-free, and oft-traveled route from Novolazarevskaya (Novo) to Pole, along the 11ºE meridian...and the Coldest Journey team consulted with the Arctic Trucks folks about GPR use as well as about the route. Unfortunately...the intersecting route from Crown Bay (23ºE) to the proven track has proven much more problematic than expected.

I don't know all of the details, and I had trouble with their math, so all of this is approximate. But...attempting to plot their travel route...if they'd started heading from their current position toward the 11ºE meridian (aiming for, say, about 77º 45'S-11ºE) they would have had about 2231 km/1385 miles to go to reach Pole...essentially the same distance as their original plan...actually 2,223 km/1,381 miles is approximately the great circle distance from Crown Bay to Pole...hence my confusion.

So...was the journey in trouble? Well, yes. At least they never suffered any serious crevasse events, so now that they've called off the trip, they should be able to retrace their path to the coast to embark their vessel. I'd hoped that they'd be able to escape the crevasse field after getting their GPR working, and reach their planned route. Needless to say...knowing John Wright and other USAP traverse folks, they would have had no problems on the portion of the route from Pole to McMurdo.