Nearly a hundred years ago in 1911, two legendary South Pole explorers, English man, Robert Scott and his Norwegian rival, Roald Amundsen raced against each other and against all odds to be the first to conquer the South Pole that had eluded mankind for quite some time. We now know the history how Amundsen emerged victorious, and what Scott said on finally reaching the pole only after a few days, and then his ultimate tragic fate.
Since then, modern day adventurers are attempting to reach South Pole in different style and creating all sorts of records, skiing all the way, or using ski and kites etc. However, there is a big difference now in the efforts and logistics one has to put in to complete the race. First of all, it is much easier to reach Antarctic shores now – the ships are better and there are regular flights to Antarctica from Cape Town and Chile. So the race actually begins when one has already been dropped at the dome of the continent from where the South Pole is only 800 km. Equipment is far superior and lighter in weight. Navigation and communication facilities are available throughout the journey, so that rescue can be summoned if need arises. The entire route is well surveyed by means of satellite. Weather forecast is available before hand. However, this is not to make light of what the present day expeditioners have to endure even now when they are attempting to reach the South Pole. Besides all their motivation, determination, and physical fitness and training, they have to undergo almost year long training in skiing in rough terrain, crevasse crossing, rescue etc. And of course, they have to find sponsors who believe in their ‘madness or misadventure’ and provide funds.
This season, for the first time in almost a hundred years, the historic duel of first to reach South Pole has been recreated in the Amundsen Omega 3 South Pole Race 2008 which witnessed both Norwegians and British competitors following in the footsteps of Scott and Amundsen. Leaving in December 2008 and set to travel 483 nautical miles across some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth, six teams survived in temperatures as low as - 50C degrees, navigated, skied and pulled 70kg pulks (sleds) and faced tough climbs of up to 9300 ft in the race to get to the South Pole first and surviving for 30-45 days. The teams of both men and women came from all over the world to undertake this major challenge that pushed these people to their limits of physical and mental endurance to have a crack at something that did not involve sitting down. AND, for the first time in the history of Antarctic exploration, one blind man would compete and attempt to reach the Geographic South Pole!
The support team would, for the first time in the history of Antarctica, would travel in Toyota Hiluxs modified by Arctic Trucks completing a trip of over 5000km from Novo, a Russian Scientific Station in Antarctica to the Geographic South Pole and back again, making them the first 4x4s to reach the South Pole.
The Amundsen Omega 3 South Pole Race is sponsored by Amundsen Omega 3 AS, a Norwegian based company that develops, produces and sells high quality omega-3 products from Norwegian fish oil. Additional sponsors are extreme clothing wear company, Missing Link, extreme equipment suppliers, Nanok, and equally appropriately, Tesco’s Captain Scott’s Strong Blend Tea. This mammoth undertaking was filmed by TwoFour productions and would be broadcast on BBC TWO in Spring/Summer 2009.
The race finally started on the 4th January with temperature of -25C and blizzard continuing. In fact the blizzard had already delayed the start of race by a few days. The participants had woken up to a glorious sunshine and the race began at 10 am to cover a distance of 750 km to reach Geographic South Pole. The air was full of excitement as competitors crossed the start line. You know there are four different South Poles!
All the teams progressed with excellent spirits and competitiveness ably supported with support team in two modified Toyota vehicles. The competitors said the race was hard, “but they are glad it is hard, they came to Antarctica for the Challenge” - that's fighting talk!
The support team had an unusual experience on 3rd day - running into the Norwegian Antarctic Research Expedition conducting a science survey in Antarctica. The odds of the two expeditions running into each other are very remote - in a desolate place bigger than India and China put together, and the two meet! The Norwegians were extremely surprised to see ski tracks, and then a support team as last year the only thing they saw was one lone ski pole! The research team had incredible vehicles and excellent research equipment.
The competitors were frequently confronted with blizzard, very low wind chill temperatures and poor visibility. And of course, there were sastrugi and crevasses to negotiate. Having blisters on top of aching and sore feet was a common occurrence. But all this was part of the game and challenge. No body complaining.
Special mention has to be made for Mark Pollock from team South Pole Flag. All were astounded by his drive, motivation and determination skiing to the South Pole, with all of the difficulties of this extreme endurance race. Mark was skiing the race blind. He skied every meter to the check point, over all of the difficult terrain and sastrugi, with no sight, where several other competitors have given up and walked. Inge Solheim, his team mate was guiding the team, he commented "During 13 hour every day it’s not easy to motivate yourself to do it. Mark is my purpose to wake in the morning and ski for 13 hours. What he is doing is so important for everyone as an example."
On 21/01/2009, the 18th day of the race, Team Missing Link won the Amundsen Omega 3 South Pole Race. The Norwegians crossed the line and arrived at the Geographic South Pole at 7pm completing the race 770km in 17 days and 11 hours. Watching the team cross was a historic and momentous occasion, they linked arms held high in the air as they walked to the Pole and planted a Norwegian flag. They stopped at the Pole and talked about their tremendous journey, the difficulties they have faced and their joy and pride at arriving at the Pole. The Norwegians have once won the race to the South Pole, the first since Scott and Amundsen.
Missing Link wanted to commend other teams for making it a fantastic race. After all their hard work Missing Link got to spend some time at the Pole, resting, relaxing, eating and enjoying being at the Top of the Bottom of the World. The British team, QinetinQ, arrived a few hours later to complete the race in second position.
By 26/01/2009, on Day 23, all the six teams had reached the Geographic South Pole. After relaxing for a few days in their heated tents and three warm cooked food, and human company, they would fly back to their home countries. The final race positions are:
1st: Team Missing Link
2nd: Team QinetinQ
3rd: Team Danske Bank
4th: Team due South
5th: Team South Pole Flag
6th: Team Southern Lights
With team South Pole Flag having made it to the Pole, Mark is now the first blind man to ski to the South Pole - an incredible achievement! Simon has faithfully helped him the whole way and never given up; Inge has been their guide on this amazing journey. Mark took it in his stride as he skied up to the Pole. I am sure all will like to congratulate all of the competitors on their amazing achievement in completing this race. It has taken enormous courage, strength and determination to ski almost 800km to the Geographic South Pole in Antarctica, the driest, highest, coldest and windiest desert in the world - one of the most extreme environments on the planet. By the way, I myself met Inge in November 2007 in Antarctica (see November 26, 2007 post)when he was setting camp near Maitri as one of the organizers of Desert Safari tourist agency.
Tess and Pete of Team Southern Lights carried out peace ceremony reading 3 hours of messages from all over the world, and with a short ceremony at the Pole.
I sincerely believe and fervently hope that the nations and peoples of the planet Earth will leave Antarctica out of their race towards greed and acquisitions, and strive to keep this amazing continent safe and peaceful for posterity. We owe it to our future generations.
(Photos courtesy: Amundsen Omega 3 Race South Pole 2008)