Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Can you ski coast to coast across Antarctica solo?

A friend sent me a link to this expedition:

After a quick glance my first reaction was, this is basically an attempt at completing the expedition that killed Henry Worsley. This morning I took a more in depth look at the website, and yup, that is what it is.

So, some thoughts on the expedition:

My bike in the endless sea of Antarctica Ice
I've never skied in Antarctica, so I really don't know how hard it is compared to biking. When Juan passed me while I was pushing my bike and he was skiing,  skiing with a bike in a sled was a lot easier than pushing it. But there were other times where it seemed that my riding the bike was making a better progress then his skiing. My guess is that overall skiing is easier than biking in Antartica, but still extremely physically demanding.

Charlie is planning on leaving in early November and taking 80 to 100 days to complete the expedition. Henry Worsley took about 71 days before he had to be picked up and was some 120 miles from finishing. That would mean he probably would have taken another 10 days to finish. So, the 80 to 100 days to complete seems reasonable. Given that you have to finish by the end of January when the last flight leaves, you would have to leave in early November to be able to finish.

The problem is the earlier you leave the softer the snow is, and the colder and worse the weather conditions are. This means the first month and a half or so will be in soft difficult snow conditions, and then when he gets to the polar plateau, near the South Pole, the snow becomes a bit like sand and again difficult to ski on. In other words this is an extremely physically challenging task.

On his website he says he plans on consuming 9,000 calories per day, while skiing 12  hours a day. Looking at Henry's expedition and from my own experience I would say 12 hours a day is probably a minimum amount of time needed. Eating 9,000 calories a day and having your body absorb those calories while doing a 12 hour a day physical workout is very difficult.

He is expecting to expend 12,000 calories a day. So that is about 1,000 calories per hour of skiing. My guess is this is about right. Now the problem; he is expecting to lose 40-50 pounds on his expedition. The general rule of thumb is that 3,500 calories is about 1 pound of fat. If he is expending 12,000 calories and consuming 9,000 calories that is a 3,000 calorie deficit per day. If it takes 85 days that is about 73 pounds of fat. To only lose 40-50 pounds he would either need to consume more calories or expend less. The thing is, I don't know if either of those options is possible. So it looks like he would lose about 73 pounds on the expedition. Looking at his pictures I doubt there is 75 pounds of fat on his body.

If he can't get the needed calories from fat then it has to come from something else -- muscle and organs. Once the body starts cannibalizing itself you are in trouble. I figure on my expedition I depleted my fat store and was burning muscle and who knows what else to complete my expedition. Fortunately for me my expedition ended after 51 days. I'm not sure I could have lasted the 71 days that Henry Worsley went, and I am sure I would not last 80+ days.

So, knowing what I think I know, this is not an expedition I would want to attempt. I don't know if I could find the right balance between not giving up and not killing myself. I am afraid this expedition would kill me.

Is it possible to do? In spite of my calculations above I think it probably is possible. I will be sure to follow Charlie's progress and hope and pray that he successfully completes what is sure to be an amazing expedition.

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