Expeditions late for South Pole party

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was flown into the South Pole this week and now some of the leaders of new polar expeditions have resorted to air transport as well. They failed to get there on skis fast enough and didn’t want to miss celebrations of Norwegian hero Roald Amundsen’s historic arrival in 1911.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was flown into the South Pole, as have some of the leaders of expeditions that ran into difficulties and delays. PHOTO: Statsministerskontor

“This wasn’t the plan,” Jan-Gunnar Winther, leader of the expedition that’s had the most publicity, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Tuesday. “We saw it was possible to reach the pole in time, but we didn’t manage.”

Winther, who also heads the Norwegian Polar Institute, and one of his expedition colleagues, Stein P Aasheim, called for a plane to fly them in to the South Pole when they realized they’d fail to get there by December 14th, the 100th anniversary of Amundsen’s arrival. Their two other teammates, former Olympic champion Vegard Ulvang and Harald Dag Jølle, were continuing the trek on skis that has tried to follow Amundsen’s route, even though that meant they’d probably arrive after the anniversary.

Winther admitted that he didn’t want to miss the anniversary celebrations with Stoltenberg, and would much rather have arrived victoriously on skis. Stoltenberg had also planned to meet the expedition members out on the ice and ski with them for the final kilometers in to the pole.

Aasheim was also disappointed that the expedition’s delays, mostly blamed on bad weather, made them fetch a plane. “This wasn’t the way I wanted to arrive at the South Pole,” Aasheim told NRK. “It’s fine to be here, but I would rather have come on skis.”

Staff of an American research station gathered with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg outside at the geographic South Pole. PHOTO: Statsministerenskontor

Winther tried to make the best of it, saying the expedition had still managed to stir interest in and spread knowledge of Antarctica, climate issues and polar conditions and history. He stressed how they “blogged every day” and could send out regular reports and gather new information and experience along the way.

Their expedition started two weeks late after bad weather delayed flights from the tip of South America over to Antarctica. They also were delayed by strong headwinds and temperatures of minus-30C when crossing the Antarctic plateau, and by difficult skiing over sticky snow and ice. They only took two days off and Winther noted they otherwise were “out for six weeks, worked hard every day and it was tough.”

Other expeditions to the South Pole have also encountered delays and difficulty. NRK reported that on Saturday, a team making the trek with the same type of clothing and equipment used by Amundsen’s team also had to be flown in to the South Pole after suffering ailments tied to the high elevation. Leader Asle T Johansen also had great plans for skiing in to the pole but had to give up around 40 kilometers from the goal.

Stoltenberg still keen to celebrate
Stoltenberg, meanwhile, was ready to celebrate Amundsen’s feat regardless of the modern expeditions’ less-than stellar results. Stoltenberg is staying at a US-run research station, has met with its staff and claims it’s worth the time, effort and expense to be at the South Pole for the 100th anniversary. Not only is he keen on drumming up international recognition for Norway’s role as a “polar nation” but also for inspiring Norwegians back  home.

“We need Norwegian heroes,” Stoltenberg told newspaper Aftenposten. “At the least, we need role models who can inspire us. We can all set personal goals like the polar heroes did.” Norway’s prime minister is also keen on drumming up more international awareness of the Norwegian polar heroes, believing they haven’t even received all the attention they deserve at home in Norway.

“What Amundsen and his men did in 1911 was outstanding,” Stoltenberg told Aftenposten. “We can all learn from it.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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