ADVENTURE

Odyssey over ice

A ski trek to the bottom of the world

ANNE STEACY February 6 1989
ADVENTURE

Odyssey over ice

A ski trek to the bottom of the world

ANNE STEACY February 6 1989

Odyssey over ice

A ski trek to the bottom of the world

ADVENTURE

Last Nov. 29, nine skiers waved goodbye to a radio operator at Patriot Hills base camp, in Antarctica’s glacial Ellsworth Mountains, and pushed off into the viciously cold wind howling from their distant goal: the South Pole, a 1,250-km, uphill skiing odyssey away. Swathed in four layers of clothing, and each skier carrying up to 40 lb. of survival gear, the expedition members were something new in the annals of Antarctic adventure—affluent vacationers who had spent $82,750 each for the privilege of enduring bitter hardships during a 50-day trek to the southernmost point on the planet. The expedition, led by Martyn Williams, a wilderness expert from Whitehorse, reached the South Pole in mid-January. Ferried back to the base camp by air, the vacationers—five Americans and an Indian army colonel—went home last week full of praise for the experience. Said Shirley Metz, a 39-year-old retailer and broadcaster from Capistrano Beach, Calif.: “It was worth every cent.”

As well as being the first commercial ski trek

to the South Pole, the journey—organized by the Vancouver-based travel firm Adventure Network International Inc.—was the first expedition with female participants. Only 13 other members of three previous expeditions, including British explorer Robert Scott’s, whose members reached the South Pole in 1912 and perished during the return journey, have ever reached the pole without mechanical means. Five of the vacationers were experienced Nordic skiers, but Col. Jatinder Kumar Bajaj, 45, of New Delhi, had skied only a few times before.

The vacationers had three guides—including Williams, a part-owner of Adventure Network—while two snowmobiles, one driven by Canadian Stuart Hamilton, and a pair of Twin-Otter aircraft replenished the skiers’ supplies. Despite the elaborate support system, the expedition mem-

bers experienced the full rigors of Antarctic travel. Along the way, they suffered frostbitten noses and cheeks, nerve damage to their hands from the severely cold weather and such agonizing blisters that some of the group members borrowed extra boots from those with bigger feet and padded them with discs cut from their foam sleeping mats. At one point, Victoria Murden, a 24-year-old Harvard University divinity student, fell and dislocated her wrist. The other paying expedition members were Jerry Corr, a 56-year-old realtor from Lansing, Mich.; Ronald Milnarik, 45, a dentist from Belleville, 111.; and Joseph Murphy, 55, a Minneapolis investment counsellor.

The vacationers, who had undergone 10 days of special training at similarly rugged locations in the Yukon and Washington state, maintained a gruelling daily pace, despite temperatures that dipped to -37°C, winds of up to 120

m.p.h. and periods of zero visibility during storms. At 9:30 a.m. each day, the expedition members strapped on their equipment and skied steadily for nine hours, with a brief halt for lunch and five-minute pauses every hour to rebandage their blisters. At 6:30 p.m., they stopped and pitched camp, which consisted of six two-person sleeping tents and a larger group tent. At 10 p.m., they ate dinner, which included shrimp Momay and beef stroganoff. On Christmas Day, they hacked their frozen turkey into strips and fried it. During the long days on skis, said Williams, minor annoyances could build into deeper frustrations. Still, he added, there were no serious arguments. “It was amazing how supportive and gentle and ungrumpy everyone was,” Williams said.

Twice—on Dec. 27 and Jan. 9—a TwinOtter reached the expedition carrying supplies and mail and departed with bags containing the

group’s garbage. Finally, on Jan. 17—the same date that Scott’s expedition reached the Pole 77 years earlier—the skiers arrived at their destination. Williams, who took a copy of Scott’s diaries, each night compared Scott’s experiences with his own group’s. “We were really lucky—and it is a credit to the individuals,” said Williams. He added that his firm has no immediate plans to arrange more ski trips to the South Pole. But, marked by a

red-and-white-striped post topped with a silver ball, it will clearly remain a beacon to adventurers for many years to come.

ANNE STEACY