15.11.2011 22:52

Day 6 - White Out on SANAE IV and difficult decisions

This morning we awoke to hauling winds and the slight shaking of furniture within the station. A storm with wind speeds in excess of 95 km/h and a lot of precipitation lead to a classic antarctic whiteout. No visibility within 3 feet in front of you!

Due to todays white out we have attached a picture from last night's sunset, which was the last sunset of the entire season.

Throughout the day we were paying attention to the other teams and we got word that for the moment, Dixie and Sam are forced to abort their  expedition. They are seeing no way out of the sastrugis, the cold as well as high winds which are really getting to them. Now the two will have to level out about 800m of Sastrugis, enough to create a makeshift runway for the Basler aircraft to land. Their pick-up is scheduled for tomorrow, November 16th.  We don't envy their task and wish them all the best! Their immediate goal is to regroup in Novo and assess their options there.

We found ourselves asking what our own intentions and choices would be. We have heard that other expeditions have chosen to be flown all the way to 81° South (This is about 1000km into the polar plateau) to avoid all Sastrugi areas. This is not an option that for us because it is neither financially viable nor is the South Pole that important to is that we have to stake everything on the toss of one coin to reach the pole.

Following the route of Sebastian and Eric would be our only other immediate alternative. However as today's update shows, progress is currently extremely slow and painful still. There isn't enough time to begin the route from Novo. To cover 80km in 11 days is only a drop in the bucket, considering that it would still be about 2,200km to the South Pole.  

In our estimation of the situation it will not prove successful to be flown up to the polar plateau, as the experience of Dixie has shown. There is a Spanish expedition team arriving in Novo on November 16th who will be flown up to the plateau near Novo, so about 100km ahead of Sebastian and Eric's current position. We suspect that the massive sastrugis will be present at the edge of the polar plateau, though we don't know how deep they might reach. We do know however that for the massive storm systems such as the 3 previous ones this year, a few degrees of latitude don't mean anything and the relentless winds are shaping these massive sastrugi fields. In this case we would be on the polar plateau facing the same problems as here, or as Copeland and Dixie.

What then is left for us?

Our experience shows that if something is already upstream in the beginning, continuing upstream will not bring any sense of flow. It seems to be that way for all expeditions here in Queen Maud Land.

For this reason we have decided not to undertake any frantic and desperate last ditch efforts which could endanger our lives or the lives of our potential rescuers. To prepare for this expedition was an immense and enormous effort. We had to face difficult hurdles and challenging questions throughout our preparation and we haven't shied away from any of them. And as part of our inner preparation we have also prepared for this possible scenario. We are clear that we would have liked to reach the South Pole but that for us it hasn't been the ultimate goal or destination to stake our happiness on.

The last few days, especially the unexpected and wonderful time here in SANAE IV left a deep impact and fulfillment. As we said before, to us, our short time on the ice felt as if we had been there for weeks, in a deep and meaningful way. The amount of insights and impressions we both received is staggering. So we are leaving with a sense of satisfaction and gratitude.

For Armin this specifically means that, as previously announced, he will put his life as polar explorer to rest and begin a new chapter. “I started to explore the polar regions at age 18 and have experienced and learned a lot in this time. Much of these experiences came with a lot of pain and despair as well as deeply moving and trans-formative experiences. There will not be another attempt for me. I know a different chapter in my life is about to begin and I am happy marking my last polar experience here in Antarctica.

For Dieter the privilege of having been here in Antarctica as well as the entire journey to prepare and get to this remote, vast and immensely beautiful continent is an immeasurable gift and experience of a lifetime! “The focus and the intensive preparations for this expedition have uncovered within me a sense of strength, creativity, confidence and clarity that is invaluable for wherever else my journey here on Earth may lead me after this. The South Pole as a symbol and guiding focus will continue to be an important part of my life. The South Pole as a location will stay as unique a place as any other here on this amazing planet.”

If the current whiteout conditions here in SANAE subside, we will be flying back to Novo on November 16th and quite possibly fly out of Antarctica back to Cape Town the same night. We are scheduled to arrive back in Cape Town in the morning of November 17th.

Even though we have only been away for about 2 weeks, it feels like an eternity to us since we have left Germany. However we are not the same people who are about to return.......

Armin and Dieter

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