South Pole, January 2019
When Sir Ernest Shackleton was recruiting for his ill-fated expedition to traverse Antarctica in 1914, he is famously said to have placed the following advertisement: “Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honour and recognition in case of success”. According to the legend, 5,000 men applied to join the expedition, and for the lucky few to be selected, it certainly lived up to its billing.
Modern equipment, clothing and communications have made South Pole expeditions in the 21st century far safer affairs, but even those starting at 89 degrees south are still hard, cold work. Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions describe their Ski the Last Degree adventure as “Extremely Strenuous”. They define extremely strenuous trips as those including “skiing and climbing expeditions in the most remote corners of Antarctica, where physiological altitude may exceed 11,000 feet (3,350m) for many days in a row, and temperatures may drop below (–40°F / –40°C), with severe wind chill and storms. You will be active for 8-12 hours a day carrying or hauling heavy loads for many days in a row. You must have the physical ability to cover a minimum daily distance and the mental stamina to continue in extreme conditions when you are physically tired. Technical skill, a high level of strength and aerobic fitness, and commitment to a dedicated pre-trip training program are required”.
The challenge, in a nutshell, is skiing 111 km (69 miles) in about a week, in temperatures constantly below -25°C at an effective altitude of approximately 3,300m above sea level, while dragging a 30kg / 65lb sled containing your tent, food and survival gear.