When I was a kid, I thought that Antarctica was Uncle Art’s wife. The two were a silly couple, wore the same color clothing, had somewhat the same name, hers ending in “a.” Much like Leo and Lena, Wilbur and Wilma, Moe and Mona.
But then Antarctica turned out to be a continent with no indigenous people, probably because it was never populated like other places. The only humans who live and work there are scientists who study ice, snow, geology, climate, animal life, and boredom.
Animals and fish are quite abundant in the sea, but apart from penguins and parties thrown by scientists, there’s very little wildlife on the three-mile thick sheet of ice that covers the land. No polar bears, for instance, which is good for Colin O’Brady, an American, who on December 26, 2018 became the first person to cross-country ski across Antarctica without any assistance.
Even without polar bears nipping at his heels, this 930-mile trek was dangerous. Given that he started on a summer day, Nov. 3, the sun never set on his 54-day journey. If The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow gave the lustre of midday to objects below, can you imagine how bright all that sun was on all that snow and ice? He needed goggles to prevent snow blindness.
Frostbite is also a problem, Jack Frost nipping at your nose. O’Brady is a tough guy, though. He says things like, “Oh, I didn’t need that toe anyway.” And hypothermia. It was -25F the day he began, but it can get a lot colder even in the summer. One needs 6000-7000 calories a day on such a journey just to maintain a healthy core temperature. O’Brady made his own protein-popsicles, complete with all needed nutrients, and maintained an 8,000 calorie/day diet, a thousand more than needed. A spokesperson for Jenny Craig said, “Imagine going on 54-day, 930-mile trek, lugging a 375-lb. sled filled with supplies uphill and still gaining weight! He should have used our meal plan.”
Other dangers include falling into crevasses and getting lost in whiteouts and forgetting where you left your satellite phone. And here’s one most people never think about, “polar thigh!” When you start chaffing in the cold, it doesn’t go away like in more moderate climbs. Plus, you’re doing a cross-country skiing motion every day.
Unfortunately, what happened with Mt. Everest is now going to happen with Antarctica. After many years of just a few people climbing Mt. Everest, everyone has now decided they’ll try it. There’s like a traffic jam at the base, even a book, Climbing Mount Everest For Dummies.
This is exactly what I see happening on Antarctica. Wyndham Hotels are going to go in with Sheraton Hotels and build a location next to the windsock at the Antarctica International Landing Strip. It’s going to be called Wynd-Shear South, (which is also a problem.) As hikers take the route “blazed” by O’Brady, businesses will start appearing, say Starbucks, offering what else but “cold brew.” A new chain called SubZero will offer seal blubber heroes, and the sign at White(out) Castle will say, “Sled in for a Slider!”
Still, a British fellow named Luis Rudd set out the same day as O’Brady from a different point. He also made the crossing, but finished three days later. He was walking in honor of a friend, Henry Worsley, who died in 2016 attempting to traverse Antarctica. It’s a dangerous trip. Even when Royal Southern Ocean Cruise Lines sends you the travel brochure, you may not want to pack your sled.