As she skis across Antarctica, Felicity Aston is taking on dangers including crevasses, storms, injuries and frostbite. Her biggest challenge, though, has been adapting to solitude in the seemingly endless expanses of white.
For more than three weeks, she has been skiing toward the South Pole pulling two sledges packed with supplies. Aston is attempting to become the first woman to cross Antarctica alone, and has covered about one-third of the journey of more than 1,700 kilometers (1,000 miles).
The British adventurer expects to reach the South Pole this week, then pick up more supplies and head out again for the other side of the frozen continent. She says the emotional toll has been much greater than she expected.
All by herself
“When that plane disappeared and left me on the wrong side of Antarctica all by myself with two little sledges, it really hit me that I’m completely responsible for myself,” she told in an interview by satellite phone. “It’s just you. You have to sort out your problems, and that makes you feel very vulnerable.”
When alone in Antarctica, little problems can easily become big problems.
One ski binding is slightly out of alignment and has been making her ankle ache.
The three cigarette lighters she brought to start her camp stove suddenly stopped producing a flame in the cold, leaving her with only matches for a time, though she finally managed to get the lighters working again, intermittently.
She’s been fighting a cough. And her breath freezes and forms icicles on her mask as she skis in temperatures of minus 25 Fahrenheit (minus 30 Celsius) and below.
After each day on the ice, she pitches her tent, cooks a freeze-dried meal on her stove and posts messages on Twitter. “Ice coating my fur hood and icicles hanging off my mask and goggles made me look like a real polar explorer today,” she posted on Saturday.
Sometimes, she raves about the beauty of the landscape. Other times, she says she feels tired, bitterly cold or even a bit overwhelmed.
“Yesterday was the first day I didn’t burst into tears at any point. Must mean I’m getting used to this finally?” she said in a post on Twitter last week.
The 34-year-old used to work as a meteorologist in Antarctica and is a veteran adventurer who has led team expeditions in the Antarctic, the Arctic and Greenland. She said she decided to attempt her first solo expedition to test her personal limits and also because she was curious about being on her own.
Aston set out November 25 from the Ross Ice Shelf, climbing a glacier dotted with crevasses in the Transantarctic Mountains before emerging onto the continent’s vast central plateau.