Aussie explorer creates polar history with successful Antarctica mission
After seven years in the planning, Australian explorer Dr Geoff Wilson has kite-skied into history by completing the longest solo and unsupported journey in a polar region, covering 5,306km (3,297 miles) in Antarctica.
The expedition, which took 58 days, also completed the first and only unsupported summit of Dome Argus and placed the first Australian at the Pole of Inaccessibility by ski.
Calling in via satellite phone, he notified his Australian-based expedition team that he arrived at the air base near Novo Station in the early hours of January 4, 2020. He completed his journey quicker than anticipated with nearly five weeks’ food and fuel left in reserve.
“I was thrilled to be alive, overjoyed to be done and waves of relief washed over me as I stood almost stunned in a colourful isolated Russian outpost, the wind screaming through it,” said Wilson in a blog post.
The faith, the prayers, the thoughts have been answered and I’ll never forget everyone’s support, humbly, thank you all,” he added.
His journey began on November 9 at Thor’s Hammer, near the Russian base Novolazarevskaya (Novo) Station near the Antarctic coast. He travelled for 23 days to reach the Pole of Inaccessibility on the Antarctic Plateau (first Australian, unsupported) and then reached its summit Dome Argus (first person, unsupported) on day 37. Using his superior kite-skiing and navigational skills, it took Wilson just three weeks to cover the necessary 2,500km back to base. In one seven day stretch he covered a staggering 1,300km.
According to Eric Philips OAM, Polar explorer and IPGA Master Polar Guide, Wilson’s mission success is hugely significant.
“This is a very proud moment for Australian and world adventuring. Dome Argus is the pinnacle of the forbidding east Antarctic plateau, an exceedingly remote, high and difficult place to reach, and Geoff has made the first ever non-motorised journey, not only there but back again,” he said.
On his most productive day, Wilson kite-skied 208km, travelling up to 50km an hour. On one of his most brutal days it took him five hours to drag his 200kg double sled just 2km.
According to Geoff, the record was one of the most physically and logistically difficult to chase. Many said it was impossible.
The previous official record for the longest journey was 5,100km (3169 miles) achieved by South African-Swiss explorer Mike Horn in 2017.* Norwegian Rune Gjeldnes recorded 4,814km in 2006.
“I am deeply honoured to have achieved this record in the footsteps of the world’s greatest explorers, all heroes of mine. I was also determined to raise funds to support the critical work of the McGrath Foundation’s breast care nurses. Every step was in honour of the amazing men and women going through their own solo journey in treatment,” said Wilson.
Wilson was equipped with cutting-edge portable satellite technology provided by leading remote communication specialists Pivotel and the new Iridium Certus® service. The technology enabled him to stay connected to his operations team and loved ones throughout the journey, lifting his spirits. It also safeguarded him by allowing Geoff to quickly report anything that went wrong.
Every day he thought about the conundrum that is polar travel: fatigue, exhaustion, hypothermia, and death. He experienced oxygen deprivation, hallucinations and body concussion. He trimmed his own dead skin off frost-bitten fingers and regularly endured temperatures between -30C and -40C.
He negotiated megadunes (enormous frozen waves of ice), potentially fatal crevasses and even slippery ice he could only crawl across. Once he was dragged 30 metres “like a corpse” until he regained control of his runaway kite.
He was forced to change his route midway, deviating from the South Pole in favour of a direct line to Dome Argus, after losing precious fuel. He was able to make up additional mileage at the end by travelling from Thor’s Hammer to the Russian airbase.
Wilson is currently resting at Novo Station enjoying Russian hospitality, including a hot shower, a cold beer and a traditional Russian banya (sauna). He will catch the next transport aircraft (Russian Ilyushin) home, via Cape Town, later this week.
The expedition is made possible thanks to the generous support of sponsors and partners: The Hordern Family, Pivotel, Iridium, Wild Earth, VetLove, Rhythm Snow Sports, Marmot, Salomon, Scarpa, Brookfarm and Orbit World Travel.
To donate to the McGrath Foundation and to learn more, visit www.thelongestjourney.com.au and follow @drgeoffwilson.
About Dr Geoff Wilson
Dr. Geoff Wilson is a veterinary surgeon, founder of 5th Element Expeditions and World Record Holding Adventurer. He is most at home in desert environments, both hot and cold, as well as being well-versed in endurance and using kite-based technology. Geoff is passionate about delivering purpose-driven adventure and seldom sets out to complete anything without it being attached to a worthy cause – in this case, the McGrath Foundation. He is recognized in the Australian Museum’s “50 Trailblazers” of all time. He is married to Sarah, has three children and lives on the Gold Coast, Queensland in Australia.
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