Andrews and Stephenson Antarctica 2023
Dr Gareth Andrews and Dr Richard Stephenson reached the Geographic South Pole at 6.30pm on the 18th January 2023 proud to have completed the 1404** kilometer expedition from the true coast of the Antarctic Continent (PECS* Terminology).
Dr Andrews and Dr Stephenson were attempting to complete the longest unsupported ski crossing of Antarctica. Their intended route would take them from the true coast of Berkner Island on the shores of the Weddell Sea to the base of the Reedy Glacier on the Ross Ice Shelf, a distance of 2023 kilometers.
Dr Andrews and Dr Stephenson had a total of 73 days in which to complete their intended 2023km expedition. This was the maximum amount of time that the Antarctic expedition season would allow them before they had to leave Antarctica.
Weather delays from Punta Arenas, Chile to Union Glacier, Antarctica meant that the team could not start their intended expedition until 7 days later than planned. This left only 66 days to complete the 2023 kilometer expedition, which would have required an average daily distance of 30.65 kilometers.
To complete such an audacious challenge weather and snow conditions would have to be very favourable for the duration of the expedition. This did not eventuate and it has been an extremely challenging Antarctic season for all expeditions on the continent.
The team started the expedition on the 14th November with 165kg sleds each on the very edge of the true coast Antarctic continent, amongst the Emperor Penguins and Icebergs of the Weddell Sea. Excellent progress was made across Berkner Island and the Ronne-Filchner Ice Shelf before 200 kilometers of soft powder snow through the Pensacola Mountains and more than 380 kilometers of solid, unbroken sastrugi (S84040 to S880) significantly slowed the team’s progress.
8 days from the South Pole Dr Andrews and Dr Stephenson made the difficult decision to end the expedition at the South Pole. It became clear that the Antarctic summer expedition season would prove too short the team to complete the crossing attempt ending at the base of the Reedy Glacier on the Ross Ice Shelf.
Dr Andrews and Dr Stephenson reached the Geographic South Pole at 6.30pm on the 18th January extremely proud to complete the 1404 kilometer expedition from the North coast of Berkner Island to the Geographic South Pole.
Expedition achievements –
- 1404km Full Unsupported Ski Expedition (PECS* Classification), North Coast of Berkner Island to the Geographic South Pole
- No rest days, no late starts, no early finishes
- 66 days of Climate and Meteorological data collected
- As Ambassadors for Scouts Australia the Andrews-Stephenson Antarctica 2023 expedition was followed by and involved over 60,000 Scouts from Australia, New Zealand and World Scouting.
Important Dates –
- Arrival Union Glacier, Antarctica: 12th November, 2022
- Expedition Start: 14th November, 2022
- Expedition End and Arrival Geographic South Pole: 18th January, 2023
- Departure South Pole: 19th January, 2023
- Departure Union Glacier, Antarctica to Punta Arenas, Chile: 20th January, 2023
Expedition Stats –
- Duration: 66 days
- Distance: 1404km
- Starting sled weight: 165kg per person
- Calories eaten per person per day: 6800kcal
- Weight loss: Gareth: 7.5kg, Rich: 9kg
- Frostbite: None
- Broken spoons: 1
* PECS: Polar Expedition Classification System https://pec-s.com/
** Note on distances: Our total final expedition distance was 1404km. It is worth noting that this is slightly longer than the 1353km recorded on the tracking map embedded in our website. The tracking map is based on tracking waypoints automatically uploaded from a Garmin 66i inReach device every 2 hours assuming a straight line is followed between each point. This therefore represents a relatively low resolution picture of our movements. We also used Suunto 9 Peak Pro GPS-enabled smart watches to continuously track a much higher resolution picture of our exact movements taking into account weaving in and out of sastrugi fields etc. so this therefore provides the final more accurate expedition distance of 1404km.
In a triumph of mental and physical resilience and the spirit of adventure we reached the Geographic South Pole at 6.30pm on the 18th January extremely proud to have completed the grueling 1400 kilometer journey from the very edge of the Antarctic continent. We have achieved the realization of a childhood dream and our arrival at the South Pole celebrates three years of meticulous planning and preparation by all the Antarctica 2023 team.
Growing up in the wilds of the UK, before making our homes in Australia and New Zealand, we were inspired by the tales of the explorers from the heroic age of polar exploration. Scott, Shackleton and Mawson formed an influential part of our adventurous upbringing and from an early age we knew that one day we would follow our heroes South to the frozen continent.
After 3 years of planning and preparation the Basler aircraft dropped us on the North coast of Berkner Island on the shores of the Weddell Sea. At that moment we were probably among the most isolated people on the planet. Our first task was to turn our backs on the South Pole and ski 10 kilometers north to ensure that we started our expedition on the true coast of Antarctica amongst the Emperor Penguins and Icebergs of the Weddell Sea. The enduring memory of the start of our journey will be staring out across the sea ice and icebergs in the glorious Antarctic sunshine remembering the history of past expeditions that have also attempted a journey across Antarctica from the true coastline of the continent, most notably Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition.
The intention of the Antarctica 2023 expedition was to attempt the longest unsupported ski crossing of Antarctica (PECS* Terminology), starting from the North coast of Berkner Island and finishing at the base of the Reedy Glacier on the Ross Ice Shelf.
Our motivations for attempting such an audacious journey come from our love of adventure and the polar regions and our deep desire to immerse ourselves in the wild and uncompromising Antarctic environment. The time we have spent together in the high Arctic, Greenland, Iceland and Svalbard has instilled in us a passion for the polar regions and willingness to conserve these last true wilderness areas for future generations.
In attempting this expedition we had two further objectives, to collect 66 days of critical climate and meteorological data and to inspire a generation of young people to conserve Antarctica into the future through our work with Scouts Australia, Scouts New Zealand and World Scouting.
Our expedition started on the 14th November 2022 with sleds weighing 165kgs. We had enough supplies for a 66 day, 2023 kilometer journey across Antarctica. Our arrival into Antarctica was delayed by 7 days as the blue ice runway at Union Glacier was heavily snowbound after the severe Antarctic Winter. It was an ominous sign of things to come. The delay meant that our planned 73 day expedition was now cut down to 66 days and we faced a daunting daily average of 30.65 kilometers to achieve our objective – a formidable but not impossible challenge.
We began the expedition by dragging our sleds from sea level to the high point on Berkner Island at about 800m above sea level. On day 2 we had our first taste of how severe the Antarctic weather could be. Howling, gusting winds, freezing temperatures and minimal visibility saw our progress fall to 10 kilometers a day as drifting snow made dragging our heavy sleds uphill almost impossible. After this initial storm we made excellent progress across Berkner Island averaging 22-24 kilometers a day – exactly what we needed to be achieving at this stage of the expedition. We completed the crossing of Berkner Island as planned in 18 days and embarked on our crossing of the Ronne-Filchner Ice Shelf. This section of the expedition brought us to the base of the Wujek Ridge and the start of the mainland of Antarctica itself, our gateway through the Pensacola Mountains and through to the polar plateau.
The ascent of the Wujek Ridge went exactly as planned and we completed it in a day. A huge, steep wall of snow and ice the Wujek Ridge took two journeys to ascend. We cached one sled each at the base, donned our crampons and hauled the other sleds up before returning and repeating the journey a second time to collect the sleds left behind. Exposed crevasses with fragile snow bridges greeted us at the top but we negotiated a route through without incident.
The Sallee and Median Snowfields lay before us now and we knew that to be in with a chance of making the crossing we would need to start increasing our daily distances. We faced 200 kilometers of soft, knee-deep powder snow that slowed our progress but we maintained our daily distances at an average of 22-23 kilometers per day. We traversed the snowfields with the mountains of the Forrestal Range to our East and the craggy spires and hanging glaciers of the Neptune Range to our West.
Just before S84040 we hit our first significant sastrugi, iron-hard ridges of snow and ice forged by the fierce winds of the Antarctic winter. We knew from past expeditions that this was a sastrugi-prone route but previous reports had sastrugi starting at around S85030, almost a full degree of latitude (111km) later. From this point we experienced solid, unbroken sastrugi for more than 380 kilometers. Huge waves of ice, some 2.5 meters high and as big as small houses, stunningly beautiful structures but devastatingly difficult to traverse. The physical and mental toll of travelling hundreds of kilometers in this terrain saw our progress fall to 18-20 kilometers per day. We gave everything we had to move forward as far as possible everyday and we would stumble with exhaustion into camp each evening. Most nights we would struggle to find a flat place to pitch our tent amongst the broken uneven ground.
At S880 the sastrugi finally relented but temperatures dropped and the drag on our sleds had increased dramatically. A strange phenomenon occurs when it is very cold; the crystal surface structure of the snow becomes rougher and there is much more friction when dragging sleds. Through the last two degrees of latitude, temperatures remained at around -300C as we made our way towards the South Pole. It was at this stage that we made the difficult but necessary decision to end our expedition at the South Pole. It was clear that we did not have enough time or supplies to go more than a couple of days past the pole. The correct decision was to finish the expedition at the South Pole.
We arrived at the Geographic South Pole, friends and team-mates, at 6.30pm on the 18th January 2023 elated to have completed such an arduous expedition from the very edge of Antarctica. Whilst the Antarctic summer expedition season proved too short for us to make the crossing onto the Ross Ice Shelf, we are immensely proud to have reached the Geographic South Pole from the true coast of the Antarctic continent. To have given everything and reached the bottom of the planet in a season when great swathes of our route had been carved up by fierce winter storms leaving dense sastrugi and deep drifting snow is undoubtably one of the greatest achievements of our lives.
We have fulfilled a childhood dream and experienced Antarctica for 66 days in all her brutal, spectacular glory. We are extremely proud to have achieved our objectives and collected a transect of crucial climate and meteorological data and brought more than 60,000 Scouts on this journey with us.
We would like to say a huge thank you to our sponsors and supporters for your unwavering support and for helping make this wonderful project a reality.
Gareth and Rich
We reached the Geographic South Pole at 6.30pm on the 18th January, tired but elated to have completed the 1400 kilometre journey from the coast of the Antarctic continent.
Our final day started cold (-32degC) and overcast with a freezing wind blowing from the North. After almost a week of clear skies and light winds the Antarctic plateau had an ominous feel to it. We were up and eating breakfast by 4am, an early start after crawling into our sleeping bags at midnight. The day before had been tough and very long. We were camped 27kms from the South Pole and ready for one last big effort. There was a feeling of excitement and trepidation between us as we stepped into our skis and clipped into our sled harnesses for the final time. The plan was simple, one foot in front of the other and don’t get frostbite. We knew if we stuck to the plan we would get there in 12 hours time.
With 10kms to go we saw a glint on the horizon, the sun reflecting off something metallic. Our first glimpse of civilisation in 66 days. A few minutes later it was gone as the sun was again immersed in cloud. We skied on into the gloom and soon dark objects began to emerge on the horizon and the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station came into view. It was an emotional moment for both of us, three years of hard graft and a childhood dream finally realised. I welled up thinking of the end of our journey and of home. The tears made my goggles mist up and then freeze annoyingly! I pulled myself together and prepared to ski the final 8km to the South Pole. After being dropped off on edge of Berkner Island 66 days before we had finally reached the end of our journey. We had pushed as hard as our bodies could go. No rest days, late starts or early finishes – we gave it everything everyday. There were many times when we thought we might not make it to the South Pole as we moved agonisingly slowly through some of the hardest conditions we have ever faced. The fate of the expedition depended on us not breaking ourselves or our gear. Our priority was to stay physically fit and healthy – no broken bones in the sastrugi or cold injuries in the -30degC temperatures.
We nursed ourselves and our gear through. Two broken skis, three broken bindings and numerous other bits of kit that we had to fix to keep moving forward. Failure of any of these critical items would have meant a call for rescue.
At 6.30pm on the evening of the 18th January we finally stood at the Geographic South Pole, friends and team-mates, having completed the toughest journey of our lives.
A huge thank you from Rich and I to all of you who have supported and sent us messages along the way. This will be our last daily blog post as we begin our journey home to our families. We fly from the South Pole to Union Glacier this evening and then on to Punta Arenas tomorrow, weather permitting.
Our generous sponsors have contributed to making this journey possible but a large part of this expedition is self funded so any donations help www.Antarctica2023.com.au
I have just received a call from Gareth, that he and Richard have made it safely to the South Pole! A tough day, with 27km covered, but the joy of seeing the Pole in the distance and skiing in to see people waiting was exhilarating. They are exhausted and looking forward to a rest after this huge accomplishment.
They hope to fly back to Union Glacier Camp tomorrow and then to Punta Arenas on Friday if weather permits.
I will send updates as soon as I have them. Here at Expedition HQ we can celebrate their epic journey and rest a little easier that they have made it safely.
We can’t wait to have them both home.
Andrea Andrews – Expedition Manager and Gareth’s incredibly proud wife.
Well folks, this is it! After 65 days and 1375km we’re camped just 27km from the pole ready for the final push tomorrow!
It’s been an incredible journey, both a huge privilege to immerse ourselves so completely in this stunning wilderness, but also unquestionably the hardest mental and physical challenge of our lives.
It remains tough to the end, today was yet another endless sea of sticky lumpy soft snow and I’m sure tomorrow will be just the same but we’ve just got to get our heads down and dig deep one last time. Thank you to everyone following us at home, it’s your support that has kept us going, wish us luck one last time and hopefully this time tomorrow we’ll be at the South Pole!
Skiing Time 12hrs 20mins
Average HR 119
Max HR 176
Calories burned 8580
Average HR 120
Max HR 174
Calories burned 8532
We are 53kms away from the South Pole! Two more days to go.
-32degC and clear skies today. We skied uphill almost all day in soft snow chasing an unreachable horizon. We’re camped on the side of a steep hill this evening surrounded by sastrugi which popped up to hamper the last 5kms of the day. We’re not expecting conditions to get much better now, we’re just excited to get on with it and reach the pole in 2 days time.
Skiing Time 12hrs 15mins
Average HR 120
Max HR 171
Calories burned 8520
Average HR 118
Max HR 168
Calories burned 8480
Well, the mythical good conditions in the last degree are still eluding us. No sign of the flat hard terrain and easy skiing that other expeditions approaching from different directions describe unfortunately. Most of today was uphill in soft sticky snow with scattered small sastrugi; backbreaking work.
There is a strange phenomenon that occurs when it’s very cold, the crystal surface structure of the snow becomes rougher and there is much more friction when dragging sleds. It’s -32degC here today and we’re certainly feeling the increased drag of the sleds. Despite them being very light now as we near the end of the expedition they don’t slide over the surface at all and are still a dead weight.
Just have to keep going for 3 more days!
Skiing Time 12hrs 10mins
Average HR 118
Max HR 176
Calories burned 8327
Average HR 120
Max HR 171
Calories burned 8298
We’ve made it to the last degree! Earlier today we passed 89S and now have only 106kms to go. It’s a huge milestone for us and we’re excited to have passed our final degree of latitude. It has been a mixed day of long slow climbs and intermittent sastrugi. We’re happy with our progress though and travelled 26.73kms today.
Skiing Time 11hrs 55min
Average HR 120
Max HR 172
Calories burned 8280
Average HR 121
Max HR 169
Calories burned 8351
We really appreciate everyone that is following our journey so far, that has shared our story and encouraging us along with all your positive messages of support.
Our generous sponsors have contributed to making this journey possible but a large part of this expedition is self funded so any donations help
Unfortunately I do not have a blog post from the explorers today as there was no phone reception at the remote beach we visited but they are well and we look forward to an update tomorrow.
Here is the transcript of the voice recording from our website www.Antarctica2023.com.au @zerosixzero map with an update from Richard on todays events.
Hi everybody, it’s Richard here. Sorry it’s been a while since we’ve done a voice message. We’ve been doing a lot of skiing recently. We’re just in the last phase of the expedition. We have got five days to go to get to the pole, so average about 26 kilometers a day. So we’re working pretty hard. We’re out of the tents and skiing at about quarter to eight every morning. So we get up at six, by the time we’ve melted all our water for the day, had some breakfast, packed the tent away, we’re usually skiing at about quarter to eight, and then we’re skiing for about 12 hours. Time to get the tent up about eight o’clock in the evening and then back in the tent at about eight thirty, quarter to nine. So we’re putting in some really long days, but we’re making the distance and getting closer to the Pole. So yeah, we’re getting there. We’re both getting a bit tired now. We’re just gonna keep going for a few more days and we’ll get there. So lots of love to everybody at home, thank you everybody for all your kind support that I know we’re getting. And special shout out to my two wonderful kids, Will and Rose, and we’ll see you guys all again very, very soon.
Gareth had a lovely birthday celebration, he received a Birthday card and a lovely friendship bracelet from Lucia in his Birthday parcel. We hope they enjoyed the Whisky.
Sorry no Suunto stats for today
Wow we have been on the ice for 60 days, what an absolute privilege but also a long time to be away from home. Who knows how our favourite historic polar explorers managed.
After a day of flat and reasonable terrain we had been lulled into a false sense of security. We fitted our half skins to our skis to give us more glide and efficiency of movement. It turned out to be a big mistake. After an hour we found ourselves again slogging up a steep slope in dense sastrugi. We spent most of the day in these conditions until the sastrugi started to ease towards the last few kilometres. It seems like we will have sastrugi all the way to the South Pole and have stopped hoping otherwise. It’s -28 at the moment so starting to get properly cold.
We are looking forward to a little celebration this evening as it is Gareth’s birthday and we have found a little Birthday parcel in our food bag with a wee dram of whiskey and some chocolates to share!
Skiing Time 11hrs 45mins
Average HR 118
Max HR 171
Calories burned 8103
Average HR 115
Max HR 169
Calories burned 8023