About a year ago, I received the assignment of guiding Prince Albert of Monaco to the South Pole. In addition I have worked closely with Mike Horn on his Pangaea Project. I have brought to fine young participants with me so they can join him for part of it; we met up with him a couple of days ago. Mike is here primarily on an extended solo expedition.
My primary task is to serve as guide for Prince Albert, providing the planning, equipment and logistics for him and his three companions. As mentioned, Clèmence and Nicholas are here to participate in Project Pangaea. They are two of twelve participants selected from several hundred applicants. The project lasts several years.
Those selected have undertaken intense training outside Geneva and at a number of other sites in Switzerland, including high up in the Alps. Some will sail, others hike vast distances on foot or ski, which is what these two are doing. Clèmence is 20 years old and French, while Nicholas is 18 and comes from Chile.
I find it very satisfying to have them along, and they have clearly risen to the challenge. An expedition like this is a very new experience for them, yet they come prepared.
The three of us came by air to Punta Arenas, Chile. Here we met Prince Albert and his three companions, really enjoying our time together in what is called the southernmost city in the world. On 8 January we all flew to Patriot Hills, a camp that is a much-used point of entry for Antarctica.
Testing our equipment – and ourselves
This flight took all night. We spent the day of our arrival, 9 January, skiing, testing equipment, making final adjustments, practicing pitching tents and the like. It is vital to make sure that you have full control before confronting the Antarctic Plateau – where winds can be fierce and the cold merciless.
On 10 January, the young Frenchman, Chilean and I flew south to meet Mike Horn. He had been on his own for 40 days, skiing from Hercules Inlet with his sight set on the Pole. It was a great reunion! My old tent buddy and I had a great talk that evening.
The following day, 11 January, the four of us skied, putting 16 km behind us. That is excellent on the first day! Bear in mind that we suddenly find ourselves at almost 3000 metres altitude; the two first-timers did well. Such an abrupt transition is taxing, and we were exhausted at day’s end – exhausted but satisfied.
“The Boss” arrives
As we were pitching came, Prince Albert arrived as planned, flying in from Patriot Hills. His group had brought a larger tent, and inside we prepared a delicious Swiss fondue! This is a dish that Mike and I were served at Ice Station Barneo, after completing our winter expedition to the North Pole – so it triggered many fond memories. I suppose that explains our choice of menu; this was kind of a reunion party.
Yesterday, which was 12 January, the enlarged group spent the entire day out on the ice, pressing south. Prince Albert and everyone else had a wonderful time, and the weather was excellent; granted that the thermometer showed –28˚C, but there was little wind to bother us. We had an opportunity to experience Antarctica at its very best. Prince Albert enjoyed the beautiful, exotic surrounding – it was great to see how he savoured the moment, clearly realizing what this was all about.
Since we started at 88˚50’S, we could not possibly reach the South Pole in a day. And since Prince Albert has a comprehensive programme and is on a tight schedule, we flew closer to our goal. Last night we slept in our tents, and we have just finished our breakfast of oatmeal porridge. Today’s objective is to reach the South Pole itself. There Prince Albert will leave us, journeying on to visit each of the research stations on the Antarctic continent. Mike and I, on the other hand, will return by air with Clèmence and Nicolas to a position near 88 degrees latitude, accompanying mike on this leg of his Antarctic journey – and undertaking our own “Last Degree” expedition.
Prince Albert is here because he is very concerned with what is happening in the world, and in particular how the climate changes are impacting on the Arctic and Antarctic. He has previously journeyed to the North Pole. Monaco just signed the Antarctic Treaty; Prince Albert is the kind of person who insists on seeing things himself, experiencing this continent first hand. However, he was not satisfied to just shuffle from base to base by aeroplane; he wanted to get a taste of what the explorers of yesteryear experienced. This was, of course, a mini-expedition, but it followed the route of so many others that have gone before.
We are about to start our day. In just two hours I expect we shall be trudging on, striving for the South Pole. It will be a fine adventure for all of us to accompany Prince Albert on this expedition.