Give me more details about your expedition!
Adventures of this magnitude aren’t a regular part of our daily lives and we have received many questions about our expedition. Many of the things we take for granted in our daily lives, such as eating, sleeping, personal hygiene, etc. are of course of interest to most, with respect to how they are being accomplished on an 80 day excursion in Antarctica. We have taken a collection of questions and done our best to answer them here:
Here you can send us your own questions.
Q: How far is 3,500km (2,000 mi)?
A: We realised that numbers of this magnitude don’t mean a whole lot, so we have included some flight distances below to illustrate the enormous distance a little better:
- Toronto (CA) – Vancouver (CA)
- New York (US) – Los Angeles (US)
- Madrid (ES) – Moscow (RU)
- Berlin (DE) – Kuwait City (KW)
- Vienna (AT) – Fuerteventura (ES)
- Hamburg (DE) – Cairo (EG)
Our actual distance will vary because we rarely will be able to travel in a straight line.
Q: What are you eating during the expedition?
A: Our menu is simple and somewhat repetitive. For breakfast we eat amaranth granola with powdered milk. If we need more calories we add a special type of rapeseed oil to it. It has a buttery flavour and 100ml have 950 calories! We also consume a high caloric protein shake called “peronin”. It also contains a lot of added essential nutrients. It is a vanilla flavoured powder and we just add water to it.
Throughout the day we eat protein bars, chocolate and for lunch we eat rice noodle soup and crisp bread. We already prepared the soup in the morning by adding hot water, which we got by melting ice. We use a thermos to keep the soup hot. In addition we eat a package of trekking cookies we lovingly call “tank plating” because of its consistency.
In the evening we prepare a freeze dried meal made by Katadyn of Germany. We just add hot water. We have 6 different meal types to choose fromour choices range from Couscous to Beef Stroganoff. For added protein, we each eat a package of beef jerky and for dessert we indulge either in Mousse au chocolate or blueberry creme. As with breakfast, we add oil to our meal for added calories as needed.
Aside from the main meals we also take one multivitamin pill a day, drink vitamin C powder and eat dried fruit since even the best supplements can’t substitute for the vital trace elements contained in fruit.
Q: How much food do you have to consume?
A: If we are man hauling, we will burn anywhere between 5,000 – 6,000 calories a day. When we are kiting, much will depend on the wind, surface conditions and temperatures. But from experience we know that we will still burn about 3,000 to 4,000 calories a day. To put this into perspective, the daily recommended calorie intake for an adult is 2,000 calories.
The weight of a complete daily ration is about 1.2kg (dry weight). In the first week of the expedition the body is under a lot of different stresses and isn’t able to take in such high caloric meals, so our rations are smaller. The longer we are on the ice, the more food/calories we need.
Q: Do you cook your meals or are the already prepared?
A: Trekking meals are already premade and then freeze dried. All we have to do is melt the ice and then boil the water. We just add the necessary amount of water to the meal and let it sit for a few minutes. Melting the ice takes a lot of time and fuel and for this reason we cannot take food which would require additional cooking time and fuel.
Q: What happens if you run out of food?
A: The unsettling answer is, we don’t eat….If we happen to foresee such a situation we will ration our food ahead of time, thus stretching how far our rations go, buying us more time.
The simple rule is: What isn’t in the sled can’t be acquired anywhere else. There are no supermarkets in Antarctica!
Q: Do you have to be concerned taking in enough fluids?
A: Ironically, yes. Even though we are walking on top of 30 million cubic kilometers of ice, which is about 70% of the planets available freshwater, none of it is readily available. To get water, we always have to melt the snow or ice first. Throughout the day we consume 3 thermos containers filled with warm water. If that’s not enough we will have to wait until the evening. The process of melting ice is incredibly laborious and proper routine and planning is paramount to always have enough. During our first expedition in 2008 we were often thirsty!
Q: What about garbage?
A: We collect all of our garbage and take everything with us when we leave Antarctica.
Q: How many hours do you sleep each night?
A: Sleep is both important and in short supply. We do our best to get 8 hours of sleep. On days with good kiting winds we will be kiting for as long as possible and on short rest get back to kiting as soon as possible.
In Antarctica the sun does not drop below the horizon during the ‘summer’ months. In the beginning our bodies will be a little confused as the circadian rhythm will be seriously challenged. This rhythm refers to our internal, approximately 24-hour cycle of biochemical, physiological, and behavioral processes. Every living thing, from fungus to bacteria to plant to animal, has a circadian rhythm. External factors synchronize or alter our rhythms; they include temperature, nutrition, meal timing, social interactions pharmacological interventions (medicines, drugs), and, most prominently, the light/dark cycle of the earth. Our bodies will have to deal with many of these factors being significantly altered all at once.
Q: Where do you sleep?
A: Since currently there are no hotels on our route through Antarctica, we will have to sleep in our tent…? Actually there isn’t a single hotel anywhere in Antarctica and so our home for the next 80 days will be our tent. We have to set it up each evening and take it down every morning. We only have one tent but in an emergency situation it would be possible to sleep in our sleds.
Inside the tent it is surprisingly ‘warm’ as long as the sun is shining. Our sleeping bags are rated for -30 C. In 2008 we had sleeping bags rated for – 40 C but they were actually too warm. Most of the time the intense rays of the sun are warming the inside of the tent. We rotate sides because the person sleeping on the side where the sun is shining is relatively comfortable and the other person often cold in the mornings.
Q: How do you go to the bathroom?
A: We use our shovels to dig a hole. If it is windy or stormy, we put on a thick down parka and drape it around the hole in such a way that no exposed and tender skin gets frost bite.
Rule of thumb: The faster the better… ?
In 2008 we discovered that we could use our shovel for ‘seating’ support. All we can say that it takes practice and that the cold is a great teacher to become efficient in dealing with this necessity. We calculated that we can manage with 7 sheets of toilet paper per day. We also have moist disposable toilet paper which we have to thaw out before we can use it.
So we don’t have to get out to pee at night, we each have a Nalgene bottle which we use. Being in cramped quarters, having to get dressed for – 35 C and below takes a lot of effort and actually costs vital energy, so this is a good option for us. We just have to make sure we empty it before it freezes completely.
Q: What about personal hygiene?
A: Proper personal hygiene is very important to us. Many expeditions take pride NOT washing themselves for the duration of their expedition. We do not! They call it layer of protection; we call it a layer of dirt. Every few days we melt some extra snow, heat the water and wash our entire body with soap and a washcloth. We also shave every 5-6 days.
Probably the first Antarctic expedition ever, we are planning to hand wash our clothing this year. We will let the cloths freeze dry on top of the sleds. We are curious to see how this experiment will turn out.
Q: How do you protect your skin and eyes from the sun?
A: The high intensity of the sun, compounded by the reflection on the snow and the thin air on the polar plateau forces us to wear sunglasses all the time. The face and lips need to be covered by sunscreen (SPF 50)
Q: What kind of clothing do you wear?
A: Someone who hasn’t been to Antarctica and hears about temperatures of -30 C and lower naturally might think to wear thick layers of clothing. Nothing could be further from the truth. When we are pulling our sleds, all we wear is long merino wool underwear, Gore Tex Shell pants and Gore Tex Shell jackets. That’s generally enough while pulling; otherwise we would be sweating too much, which can have serious consequences. When we stop and take a break, we immediately pull over a soft warm layer. When kiting or man hauling in stronger winds we need some additional insulation, however we rarely will have to use our fat down jackets. They do make for very soft pillows though!
Q: What about medical care and support while you are on the expedition?
A: Basically we are on our own and have to rely on prevention, our own skills and each other. Using our satellite phone we can call a doctor or specialist should the need arise. We have a fairly substantial first aid kit and variety of medicines and drugs packed in our sleds. Armin is a trained paramedic and Wilderness First Aid instructor. He has lots of experience and wrote his own book about Wilderness First Aid. Dieter is a Wilderness First responder. Between the two of us the golden rule is to act providently and thus minimize the risk of emergencies occurring in the first place.
Q: How do you avoid crevasses and how do you know where it is safe to travel?
A: Since nobody has travelled on the route we are travelling to the South Pole, we cannot prepare by studying glacial movements ahead of time. We need to be alert, observing the landscape keenly.
Special attention is required in areas where we suspect crevasses may form, such as where a glacier makes an outside turn and where slope angles increase. We keep an eye on sagging trenches in the snow that mark where gravity has pulled down on snow over a crevasse. A sagging trench on the surface of the snow is a prime characteristic of a hidden crevasse. The best way is to be fully present and observant at all times.
Once we made it onto the polar ice cap the danger of crevasses is minimised.
Q: How do you communicate during the expedition?
A: We will be communicating via Iridium Satellite phone since this is the only satellite system covering the Polar Regions. Using an ultra-mobile PC connected to our satellite phones we will send a daily blog update to our website. Every evening at 8pm Novo airbase will get our daily update with our exact GPS location, weather conditions and our physical and mental state.
We also have a two way radio function on our GPS devices which allows us to communicate with one another.
Q: What happens if you lose contact to one another?
A: We have to be very aware since visibility can be treacherous in Antarctica. Once it is cloudy, all contrast vanishes and the entire landscape turns into a shapeless, blurry off white. In winds over 10 knots snow and ice crystals are blowing across the ice. These are the makings of a full on white out: No visibility, no orientation.
Generally, while kiting our kites are a helpful means of orientation and finding the partner amidst snow. We also have a locator function on our GPS devices which allows us to locate each other, should we become separated in a whiteout or a storm.
Of course we each have a satellite phone in our sleds, so we could call each other and communicate, even if we may not be able to locate each other immediately. This is for emergencies only – it is paramount never to get into a situation like that in the first place!
Q: How do you charge you battery operated equipment? (Satellite phone, Camera, GPS, etc.)
A: We use two 20 watt solar panels to charge a battery pack which then in turn will be used to charge all of our equipment. If it is sunny, since the sun doesn’t set and is very intense, we can put up our solar panels at the end of the day. If we need to, we could also drape the solar panels over our sleds while man hauling as well.
Usually we are charging our equipment in the evening. We have to change the angle of the solar panels every hour or so to get the maximum performance out of our panels because the sun is moving very fast across the horizon in the evening.
Because setting up the charging equipment takes a lot of effort and consumes time, we are as energy efficient as we possibly can.
Q: Are greenhouse gases having a direct impact while you are traveling in Antarctica?
A: Yes. Antarctica is the highest and coldest continent on Earth and we will be traveling at about 3000 meters above sea level most of the time. Air becomes colder at higher levels. The reason for this is that at higher elevations the atmosphere, which is the layer of gases that surrounds the earth, becomes thinner (less dense). This means that there are fewer greenhouse gases at higher elevations and consequently the air is colder. So one of the reasons we will have to contend with very cold temperatures even during the Antarctic summer months is because Antarctica is so high and there are fewer greenhouse gases at high elevations.
Q: How do you get your weather forecasts?
A: Via SMS text messages over the Iridium Satellite phone every morning. The message is given in a short form code. Our two weather forecasters will do their best to get it right. A good forecast is based on several important elements. Model data is a collection of surface and altitude maps, soundings and cross sections. There are several global models available of which the two most important ones are GFS (or commonly known as the American model) and ECMWF (the European model). But on top of this model output, Marc and Fritz, our two meteorologists, need to draw on their experience and understanding of local weather patterns - and this should improves the forecast accuracy considerably. At least we hope so. ?
Q: What will the weather be like for you between November and February?
A: November is statistically the coldest month of this period, while January can be surprisingly 'warm'!
Temperatures also depend on the altitude we are on. The further South we go the higher (literally) we get, and the colder it gets.
On the South Pole temperatures early November vary around -35°C to -45°C but in January it can get quite warm up there: -20 to -25°C.
Certain areas are known for their katabatic winds. These strong winds can blow for days constantly from the same direction. The combination of those strong winds and the low temperatures can make it 'quite uncomfortable'.
In 2008 the temperatures at our starting point, near the German research station, were around -15 C. On the plateau temperatures sank to about -35 C. During our 4 weeks on the ice we had mostly calm (no wind) and sunny weather with two larger storm systems moving through.
Q: Will you encounter any animals?
A: Animals generally only frequent the coastal regions of Antarctica. There one can find penguins, seals, walruses and many different kinds of sea birds. There are no polar bears in Antarctica.
Because our route leads us inland we may see the odd snow petrel but for the vast majority of the time the only mammals we will have to contend with will be the two of us.
Q: How many expeditions such as yours are there every year?
A: The first successful expedition to the South Pole took place in 1911, exactly 100 years ago. The Norwegian polar explorer, Roald Amundsen and his expedition were the first to reach the South Pole. Since then, according to Adventurestats.com/Explorersweb.com, there have been only about 6 expeditions which successfully covered a distance greater than 3,000km in total. Two of those used motorized vehicles and one of them used dogs as mode of transport.
Note: In 1994 dogs were banned from Antarctica to protect the seal populations. The fear was that the dogs might transmit diseases such as distemper to the seals. The other three expeditions used kites.
So, considering the scope of our expedition, the short answer is, not very many at all. Of course there are many expeditions each year to the South Pole. Most of them are called ‘last degree’ and ‘last 2 degrees’ skiing only expeditions. They are about 110km or 220km respectively. Every year there are also one or two expeditions that are more serious and challenging, either because of the route or mode of travel. Another popular expedition route is about 1,100 km in length. The route starts at Union Glacier (formerly Patriot Hills)
Most of the visitors to Antarctica arrive on cruise ships and only hop on the continent for short excursions, but never inland. Of course a lot of scientists from all over the world are coming to Antarctica to study in varying fields during the summer months.
This year there are two other interesting and long expeditions in Antarctica. Two Belgian explorers, Dixie Dansercoeur and his partner Sam Deltour are trying to circumnavigate Antarctica. They are trying to cover a distance of 6,500km with a special 50 sq. meter kite made by Ozone. We are interested to learn about their experiences.
The other expedition is called British Antarctic Expedition 2011 (www.bae2011.com). A team of 4 explorers want to cross Antarctica on a 1,800km route starting at the Ronne Ice Shelf.