Crossing Antarctica: Making the Journey
Inspired Cycle Engineering
Even in its warmest months, Antarctica is an extreme environment, one of the driest, the windiest and the coldest on the planet. It's this very reason that Antarctica is both the least-explored continent on Earth, but also has a history of attracting some of the most extreme adventurers.
Take 35-year-old British adventurer Maria Leijerstam, who aims to be the first person in history to bike to the South Pole. Leijerstam will make a 400-mile journey over 20 days in a custom-built, three-wheeled tricycle.
While biking across Antarctica is certainly an unprecedented challenge, getting around in the most hostile environment on Earth is difficult no matter how you choose to do it.
Antarctica can only be reached by boat around the austral summer months, from late November to March. During the rest of the year, sea ice makes such trips dangerous, though the extreme winds and cold are certainly deterrents as well.
The first Antarctic arrivals made the trip by boat, exploring the continent previously undiscovered but long theorized before the 19th century. Today, tourists who arrive on Antarctica do so by ship. First started in the 1960s, adventure tourists now make the voyage by the tens of thousands every year.
When Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his team first arrived at the South Pole in 1911, the first humans to do so, they did so with the assistance of 52 dogs when they set out, though only 11 would survive the 99-day trip over more than 1,800 miles.
Brought to the Southern Hemisphere due to the success of their use in the Arctic, sled dogs were used for decades, until 1994 when they were banned by Antarctic treaties. Research showed that diseases carried by the dogs, such as canine distemper, could be transmitted to seals.
While Amundsen trekked to the South Pole using dog sleds, a similar Antarctic exploration campaign was embarked upon by British explorer Robert Falcon Scott and his team on skis. Amundsen made it to the South Pole five weeks before Scott's party. Amundsen's team also made it back.
As as 34-year-old meteorologist Felicity Aston proved last year, however, traveling by skis across Antarctica is still dangerous, though entirely possible with the right preparation. Last year, Aston became the first person to travel across Antarctica on skis, without the aid of a kite or machines. Aston also did the trip solo, becoming the first woman in history to do so.
As much as marching through the ice and snow of the world's coldest continent might seems nuts to most people, there are some who make the trip to Antarctica to do just that -- recreationally, no less. The Antarctic Ice Marathon is an annual event, first started in 2006, with a course that runs 21.1 kilometers (13.1 miles) about 650 miles from the South Pole. Two races are held, one over 42.2 kilometers (26.2 miles) and the other over 100 kilometers (62 miles).
National Library of Australia
Ernest Shackleton and the Nimrod expedition were the first to bring a car to Antarctica. Their uniquely designed vehicle, pictured here, was specially adapted for the cold weather extremes of the southern continent. The car, however, only proved to be of no value on flat ice.
Fifty years ago, the first production car landed its wheels in Antarctica. Of all the possible vehicles that could have held that distinction, the Volkswagen Beetle seems like an unlikely choice. But a mostly-stock red Beetle dubbed the "Red Terror" proved a surprisingly valuable asset during a year-long expedition in 1964 for the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition.
In 2009, the United States completed the construction of the South Pole Traverse, an unpaved, 900-mile-long road marked by flags that also happens to be the world's southernmost highway.
If Leijerstam completes her journey, she'll be the first person to cycle across Antarctica, but she won't be the first person to do it on two wheels. In 1992, Japanese adventurer Shinji Kazama (pictured here) rode a modified Yamaha liquid-cooled DR200 to the South Pole. Accompanied by a snowmobile, Kazama traveled for 24 days before reaching the planet's southernmost point.
On Nov. 11, 1929, U.S. pilot Richard Evelyn Byrd and his crew became the first to fly over the South Pole, dropping a U.S. flag over the location to mark their journey.
Perhaps the most comfortable way to travel to and across Antarctica, the continent is home to dozens of airports and helicopter pads, though no commercial flights are regularly scheduled to or within Antarctica.
It's not exactly traveling by air, but kite skiing or sledding uses the wind to move across the continent. Given that Antarctica's average annual wind speed is around 50 miles per hour, kite skiers certainly won't lack a source of power.
Although this might sound like one of the more entertaining means of traveling to the South Pole, kite skiing in Antarctica is not without danger. As Antarctic adventurer Sebastian Copeland told TreeHugger, kite skiing is physically exhausting and icy bumps struck at the wrong angle could cause injury.