After the first 48 hours on the ice, ‘Tractor Girl’, Manon Ossevoort and the Antarctica2 team have had to battle their way across frozen snow waves and deal with the effects of a massive solar storm which severely hampered communications.
The coming few days will see them embark on the most hazardous part of the journey as they enter the crevasse field, where the altitude will also rise dramatically.
The exciting adventure to drive a Massey Ferguson MF 5610 to the South Pole set off on Saturday evening (22 November) and immediately encountered the notorious Sastrugi – waves of solid ice - so hard-packed that the expedition didn’t even leave a footprint. This slowed progress but, having negotiated the way through, the tractor was then able to cruise along on hard snow, travelling through breath-taking scenery at an altitude of 1688m.
In a message from the ice, the Antarctica2 team reported: “The weather has been absolutely beautiful, with no wind. All day mountains grew closer, clouds moved in and out, pulling our spirits up and down. ”
On Sunday 23 November, they covered more than 90km in ten hours in sunny conditions and at temperatures of minus 16 degrees C.
The tractor is coping well with the environment but the harsh terrain makes for demanding driving. Although well protected in the comfortable cab, which is equipped with heater and suspension, it’s still tough going for the operators – Manon Ossevoort and Nicolas Bachelet - who took turns at driving in four-hour shifts.
Monday was a planned layover day and the team busied themselves around the camp. However, (and with typical Antarctic unpredictability) there was a massive solar electrical storm at atmospheric level which badly affected communications. These atmospheric conditions are similar to those which create the incredible Aurora in northern latitudes. Satellite phones and the Iridium satellite communications system, which delivers images and data from ice, both went down.
This didn’t stop the photographic team – Simon Foster and Sarah McNair-Landry – setting up a shoot and making the most of the beautiful scenery. This included sending a camera drone into the air for a birds-eye view of the camp.
The day’s chores complete, some of the team opted for a four-hour hike up through the glacier, taking in the amazing views of the sharp-pointed Nunatak peaks thrusting through the ice sheet. “We all feel so privileged to be here,” was the message back to Antarctica2 HQ in the UK when the communications blackout from the solar storm finally lifted.
Look out for a further news update tomorrow (solar storms permitting) when the team will have set off on one of the most perilous parts of the journey through the tricky crevasse field.