Antarctica, American Women's Trans-Antarctica Expedition, 1992-3

Publication Year: 1994.

American Women’s Trans-Antarctica Expedition, 1992-3. Our original idea was a 1700-mile traverse of Antarctica. We planned a team of four, each pulling her own sled of supplies. After several shifts of route, we finally settled on the one done by Messner and Fuchs a year after we started our planning in 1989. We would have two resupplies by air—one half way to the South Pole and one at the Pole itself. We hoped to do the second leg from the Pole to McMurdo in six weeks, relying on great mileage while using Upskis to pull us and our sleds when the winds were right. These are parachute-like canopies designed for pulling skiers, and we planned on several 60-mile days using them. We made two training trips, the first in the spring of 1991 when we skied for three weeks around Great Slave Lake in Canada. Our second trip in April, 1992, was an east-west traverse of Greenland, which was not without its problems. At last, in the fall of 1992, Ann Bancroft, who had previously skied to the North Pole, Anne Dal Vera, Sunniva Sorby and I left for Antarctica. We departed Punta Arenas on November 9, 1992, already behind schedule. Broken plane equipment, followed by bad weather on the continent, held us up for ten days. We flew first to Patriot Hills and then on to our start at Hercules Inlet at 80°S, 80°W. From there, it was 670 miles to the Pole, in a straight line, and another 970 on to McMurdo.The first three weeks on the ice were a nightmare. Summer had not yet arrived in Antarctica, and it was cold (-30°F) and windy all the time. We skied into a constant headwind, hoods up, heads down. Around the third week, something happened. I finally got into shape. One day was physically much like another up at six A.M., out of the tent at eight, pull for two hours, take a break, pull for two hours, take a break, camp at about eight P.M., in bed by ten. But there was a growing problem. We had lost ten days at the start and had been falling even more behind as we traveled. Sunniva had not been able to keep pace due to a litany of small but nagging problems—ankle tendonitis and bronchitis being the worst. We worried that we would not have time for the whole traverse. The cruise ship was due at McMurdo about February 17. We had to be at the Pole by January 7 to have any hope of reaching the ship on time. On January 4, 1993, we were still 100 miles from the Pole and had a team meeting. We could either call in a plane to pick up Sunniva and the rest of us ski like mad, or we could go at Sunniva’s pace and give up hope for the traverse. We finally decided that it was “Four for the Pole.” On January 14, we finally arrived at the Pole. We could see the buildings from 12 miles out, but they never seemed to get closer. At seven P.M., we reached the runway. After 67 days alone, it was strange to see 70 people coming to meet us, cheering and offering congratulations. As we skied to the ceremonial barber pole, we were overwhelmed by the noise, the buildings, and the smell of diesel oil. The next day we decided on the fate of the traverse. There was no way we could make it to the ship on time and would have to pay Adventure Network $300,000 for a pickup from McMurdo . We had the strength and the will to continue, but we couldn’t pay for it. And so we stopped at the Pole.

Sue Giller