Day 6: Both tractor and support trucks are taking an incredible pounding from the long hours battling across the brutal icescape in the Antarctica2 expedition to the South Pole.
Yesterday’s reports from the team brought news of ever-worsening ‘sastrugi’ ice ridges and the need for repairs to the MF 5610 tractor, a trailer and one of the support trucks. The ferocious conditions underfoot are also calling for tractor driving skills at the highest level. At the same time, the sheer physical effort of working in the constant cold and chilling winds is leaving the team exhausted at the end of the day.
If you need a mechanic to fix your tractor in the middle of an ice cap at minus 40 degrees C, then Nicolas Bachelet is your man! As the Lead Mechanic on the Antarctica2 mission, Nicolas worked to resecure the bolts and fixings on the tractor cab which had been shaken to the limits negotiating the far worse-than-expected sastrugi. But the indomitable Frenchman shrugged, said ‘no problem’ and had it all fixed in half an hour. Repairs also had to be made to a trailer axle and to one of the Arctic Trucks. Welding at minus 40 degrees C can be fun!
Not surprisingly, the sastrugi – some over a metre high - are continuing to hinder progress and make life extremely difficult for the drivers and the tractor. Reaching an elevation of 3276m, Day 6 saw the expedition travel just over 100 km, at speeds of 8-15 km/h. Manon Ossevoort, Lead Driver, set out with the tractor in the morning to break the trail, focusing hard on weaving her way through the ice ridges. “You have to veer to the left and to the right which makes for quite adventurous driving,” she said in her report. “The sastrugi are really bad but I was super-happy because the sun was out and I was more and more in awe of being part of this expedition. I’m really impressed and very grateful for the team of professionals I’m travelling with.”
The extreme Antarctic conditions are proving a massive test of endurance for the tractor and the team. The mission was always going to be a huge challenge but man and machine are safe and well, and showing their resilience to the rigours of the ice.