On 20th December Polar explorer Felicity Aston finally reached the South Pole after 30 days skiing across the frozen wilderness of Antarctica - completely on her own.
Felicity arrived at the South Pole station at 4.00pm local time, arriving in such bad weather that she couldn’t even see the building which is home to around 250 people over the Antarctic summer months.
Reaching the pole is, for most polar expeditions, the ultimate goal. But for Felicity, who is attempting to become the first woman in history to ski solo right the way across Antarctica, the South Pole is not even the half-way point of her journey!
Traversing across the coldest, driest and windiest continent on Earth - an environment so hostile and remote that it has no permanent residents - is a huge feat of physical and mental endurance. Felicity is attempting her global first during the Antarctic summer, which means it is light 24hours a day. With very minimal contact with the outside world, it can be extremely disorientating, and keeping herself motivated every day is a real challenge.
"The mental pressure of being out here alone has really taken me by quite by surprise," she says. "I expected it to be tough, and I did a lot of mental preparation, but when that plane dropped me off on the far side of Antarctica, it makes you feel extremely vulnerable."
"My lighter stopped working the other day. And suddenly you realize that without lighters, I can't light my stove, I can't make food, I can't make water," she says. "All the time, you're sort of on the brink of disaster. But it's getting better. I'm getting used to it."
Reaching the South Pole is a great milestone on Felicity’s solo journey. It’s also a chance for Felicity to resupply with food and other essentials, and enjoy a brief break in her solitude at the Antarctic base.
After a well earned day off, Felicity will be setting off on her own again, continuing across the Polar Plateau towards the coast of Antarctica at the edge of the Ronne Ice Shelf. She is hoping to arrive at Hercules Inlet at the end of Janurary - almost 100 years to the day that Captain Scott became the first Briton to reach the South Pole. With at least another 35-30 days of skiing still to go, it is a daunting prospect for her, but with well over 7000 people following her expedition on twitter, we hope she knows that everyone is behind her all the way.
How far will Felicity ski?
1700km across Antartica which will take her around 70 days to complete.
How heavy is her kit?
Her pulk, containing all her food, tent and kit, was 85 kilos to start with, dropping to 55kilos by the time she reached the South Pole.
What is she wearing?
Ironically it is crucial to avoid the danger of over-heating in Antarctica, as sweat will quickly turns to moisture when Felicity stops skiing and could cool her down far too quickly, making her more susceptible to hypothermia. She is therefore wearing lots of layers so she can regulate her temperature; a mixture of merino wool thermals, windproof breathable jacket with bespoke fur trim and powerstretch trousers underneath pile and pertex salopettes, with lots of zips for venting heat on hot days!
How is Felicity keeping in touch with the outside world?
With 3G phonecalls now possible from the summit of Mount Everest, Antarctica is one of the few remaining locations on the planet without mobile network coverage. With hardly any TV or radio signals to speak of either, Felicity’s only choice for communication with the outside world is a satellite phone. Even then there is no permanent satellite coverage, so Felicity has to make use of the couple of hours a day when there is patchy coverage to make her daily call to Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE).
If ALE do not hear from Felicity in a 24-hour period, they will send a plane to the last position she reported from. If they locate her, whatever the reason for the lapse in communication she will have to leave Antarctica, so keeping her two satellite phones in top condition is absolutely essential.