Antarctic Ice expedition – “Beyond The Challenge”

Posted on October 14th, 2013 by Ozone Snowkites

How long can we stay deaf and dumb in the climate dialogue?

AXA and Polar Circles release the unique documentary “Beyond the Challenge”, based on their own experiences, they want to increase the climate awareness towards a big audience.

The film “Beyond the Challenge” tells the extraordinary story of polar explorers Dixie Dansercoer and Sam Deltour, who succeeded in pushing past boundaries during Antarctic ICE, one of the greatest challenges ever since the discovery of the South Pole. Sarah and Gert Bettens (Bettens, formerly of K’s Choice) were inspired by this unique adventure and composed the original soundtrack for the film, which was directed by Stijn Coninx. In sponsoring this film AXA insurers hopes to raise awareness about climate change among the general public.

It is not every day that the general public gets to see images of the South Pole. Polar Circles, the organisation which supports polar explorer Dixie Dansercoer and AXA insurers joined forces, however, sharing the ambition to film Dansercoer’s ground-breaking work and tell the story of the longest unassisted and non-motorised expedition ever in Antarctica. A world record!

During their expedition Sam and Dixie had a camera with them, which they used to record their activities and to film their surroundings in a personal and unique way. This footage has now been incorporated in a moving documentary which was directed and edited by Philippe Ravoet (Loft, Dossier K, Hasta la Vista,…). Stijn Coninx gladly assisted him with some advice.

Sarah and Gert Bettens (Bettens, formerly of K’s Choice) were inspired by Sam and Dixie’s story and closely followed the expedition’s progress. They even started to write the soundtrack for the film during the expedition. The original soundtrack is now being released as a full CD (release on 18 September 2013). Bettens will promote the CD in Belgium and abroad as of 24 September.

During the expedition the explorers also collected empirical data for scientific research on climate models on katabatic winds (gust of winds) and the impact of climate change. “As a global player we make a significant contribution to climate change through the AXA Research Fund. The effects of climate change have grave consequences which is why we want to be able to predict this as much as possible. Everybody can fall victim to these effects which is why it is our social role as an insurer to focus on prevention. The film will undoubtedly help do this”, says Laurent Winnock, Director of Communication & Corporate Responsibility.

The film will premiere on 18 September and is available on DVD. Solid Entertainment will distribute the documentary.

Antarctic ICE:
•One of the most extreme expeditions every in the Antarctic
•5,013 km in total autonomy in 74 days: a new world record on the South Pole! •Unique meteorological observations about the impact of katabatic winds •New expedition route in uncharted East Antarctica
•The wind as a third teammate: 100% green expedition
•Teamwork between two generations on the ice
•Spectacular documentary with an original soundtrack by Bettens

Antarctic ICE in figures:
Start of the expedition
22 November 2011 – Position: S 74.8946 – E 12.3076
Reaching the South Pole
21 December 2011 – Position: S 90° – E 180°
End of the expedition
3 February 2012 – Position: S 69.554 – E 93.6033
Key figures
•74 expedition days on the ice
•Average daily distance: 68 km
•Number of days on which the explorers travelled over 100 km: 24
•Forced rest days due to weather conditions or extreme terrain: 11
•Average altitude of the route: 3,147 metres
•Average temperature during the route: -30.4°C
•Coldest temperature recorded: – 46° C (with wind child up to -80°C if you take into account the wind speed of 35 km/h)
•Average “working time” per working day: 6.4 hours (7.4 hours if you disregard the forced rest days)
•Dixie and Sam’s average speed on days when they covered a long distance: 10.77 km/h
Account of the Antarctic ICE Expedition

On 4 November 2011 Dixie and Sam embarked on the greatest challenge ever in Antarctica since the discovery of the South Pole: Antarctic ICE or the longest autonomous expedition in the last hitherto uncharted area of our planet, East-Antarctica. From the start it was clear that this would be an extraordinary journey. Forced to walk through unusually difficult terrain with metres-high sastrugi (snow dunes) and extreme weather conditions the two polar explorers decided to temporarily interrupt the expedition ten days after the official start and to start over from another location, which proved to be a wise decision. The second start on 22 November proceeded without significant problems in much more accessible terrain, providing the two polar explorers with the proverbial wind in the sails they needed as they walked towards the unknown.

Pushing past boundaries
With Antarctic ICE Dixie Dansercoer and Sam Deltour have pushed past boundaries in every sense of the word. Exactly 100 years after Roald Amundsen became the first man to reach the South Pole the two Belgians decided to take on a phenomenal challenge. After a century of exploring and several adventures on the Antarctic continent the east of the continent remained uncharted terrain. To date nobody had dared to explore the last piece of uncharted territory high on the barren Antarctic Plateau (on average 3,000 metres above sea level, lowest temperature ever measured: -89,2°C). Dixie Dansercoer: “By pushing past boundaries we not only maintain our Belgian polar tradition as pioneers but we also proudly convey the Belgian sense of entrepreneurship to the world.”

During a large part of the journey the two polar explorers explored a completely new expedition route through the hitherto uncharted Antarctic Plateau. This route took them into territory which had never been explored before, where they had to push themselves to the limit to survive: extreme cold temperatures (up to -80° C wind-chill), snow dunes (sastrugi) that were up to 3 metres high and unpredictable wind patterns. Sam Deltour: “We plunged into the unknown, entered territory which no living being had ever beheld. In spite of a thorough and extensive preparation you always have to take into account the unexpected on this type of expedition. Statistically impossibly long periods without wind, endless sastrugi areas, the human body which is not designed for such an undertaking and the accompanying pain: it is all part and parcel of the DNA of an expedition which wishes to push past boundaries. I had to face myself. As a child I used to dream out loud about such expeditions but the reality was much harsher than I ever dared to surmise, even in my wildest dreams.”

Damn sastrugi
In preparing the expedition Dixie and Sam had taken about every possible scenario into account, except for the ubiquitous “sastrugi”, snow dunes and accumulated ice, which are sharp as razors, and which are formed by the wind. Sooner or later every Antarctica expedition encounters these sastrugi fields but Dixie and Sam had not counted on coming across these snow and ice sculptures so frequently. The presence of the sastrugi determines the difficulty of the terrain, making kiting a complex and perilous undertaking. As a result the knees of both the polar explorers were dealt a lot of hard, as did their sleds and skis. “Trust, peace of mind and surrender were the strongest weapons we had to overcome the many obstacles on our path”, says Sam Deltour.

World record: a dream comes true
After 70 intense days on the ice and a distance of 4,829.4 km (position: 70° 14 ‘ 11 S – 97° 58 ‘ 28 E) Dixie Dansercoer and Sam Deltour broke the world record for the longest unassisted and non-motorised expedition ever in Antarctica. An amazing achievement! Until now nobody had ever completed this distance during an expedition without a re-supply. The previous record of 4,804 km was held by the Norwegian explorer Rune Gjeldnes and dated from February 2006. Like Dixie and Sam Gjeldnes also made maximum use of kites and sleds to be able to cover this distance without resupply.

Dixie Dansercoer: “To be able to complete the longest possible polar expedition in complete autonomy is the natural result of a combination of outstanding preparation, previous experience to fall on, seamless teamwork between Sam and myself and the dependability of a strong back office. Perseverance went hand-in-hand with our determined desire to make our dream a reality and to allow ourselves to overcome the most difficult terrain and each problem situation that initially appeared insurmountable.”

Teamwork between two generations
Unique to this expedition was the cooperation between the experienced 49-year old polar explorer Dixie Dansercoer and the 26-year old ambitious medical student Sam Deltour. For Sam this was his first grand polar expedition although he had been on extreme adventures before. In 2010 he was the first Belgian and youngest participant to reach the finish lines of both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod in Alaska, the two most famous mythical sled dog races in the world, both 1,600 km long. Dixie Dansercoer has already participated in many ambitious expeditions in the Polar Regions, including the memorable Antarctic traverse with his partner Alain Hubert in 1997-1998. They covered 3,924 km in 99 days, which was the longest autonomous kite expedition in Antarctica ever at the time.

Only through intense cooperation for more than 70 days in often inhuman circumstances were Sam and Dixie able to accomplish this ambitious challenge. Sam Deltour about this powerful teamwork: “We were together well, we were a strong team. Respect, understanding, motivation, hope and power blended effortlessly together. There was room for humour in the tent but all our actions were completed with the utmost efficiency, which led to a world record. Hardly a gift, it was tough work. Dixie started to prepare this expedition four years ago.”

Innovative approach
This expedition was not only ground-breaking and adventurous on a personal level. There was also the development of new sleds, which withstood the test brilliantly and maintained themselves quite well in spite of the difficult and unpredictable terrain. The body of these sleds, which were designed and built by Acapulka (Norway) was composed of Kevlar and carbon fibres. During the journey the two explorers had to repair the beaten sleds several times, especially the runners which took harsh blows on the extreme terrain of the sastrugi fields. Each sled was loaded with part of the expedition equipment: a tent, camping equipment, food, kites, clothes and other material. Each sled weighed over 200 kilos at the start of the expedition. At the finish this had been reduced to about 100 kg.

Another innovative aspect was the approach to the food rations in close collaboration with Frank Fol. The renowned chef, who specialises in vegetables, put together a variety of nutritious meals, together with a team of nutritionists and health specialists. Their approach was also ground-breaking with a menu which changed daily consisting of a breakfast, two meals for during the day and an evening meal. The delicious, nutritious and balanced meals also contributed to the success of this expedition.

Wind as a worthy expedition partner
Dixie and Sam carried 13 different kites on their sleds, with large sails to catch the wind at high and low altitudes. The biggest kite had a surface area of 50 sq.m. and hung on a line with a maximum length of 200 metres. All the kites were specifically designed for this expedition. The progression kites (6m, 9m, 11m en 14m) by Ozone were specifically designed for kiting on snow with skis or a snowboard. After the expedition Sam and Dixie were quite satisfied about the kites’ performance: “Without the strong and reliable Ozone kites we could have never achieved this. You need wind to cover such a distance with kites but too much wind can make kiting a dangerous operation. So we had to continuously be careful. ”

During their journey Sam and Dixie made 100% use of the wind to make progress. Every day they covered 68 km on average at an altitude of more than 3,000 metres. This was more than the planned 60 km a day. The daily weather predictions by weather4expeditions were invaluable, guiding them on their daily route, taking into account such factors as wind direction and strength, precipitation and possible white-out conditions.
”Based on wind circulation and in cooperation with scientists from the University of Leuven we determined a completely new route so that the majority of the progress could be accomplished with kites. It was the only way to cover this hallucinatory long distance in complete autonomy”, says Dansercoer. But often the reality was quite different from the wind models. Sometimes there was no wind at all, at other times the wind would surprise the polar explorers by blowing from a completely different direction and being much stronger than predicted. “But that is precisely what made it such an adventure. By testing the theoretical models in the field you expose yourself to the most unknown and extreme conditions but it also gives you a unique insight into the weather patterns and into all the factors that can influence these patterns”, concludes Dansercoer.

Unique set of meteorological observations
Dixie Dansercoer and Sam Deltour travelled to Antarctica to set a record but they also hoped to make a contribution to science with new climate insights. The two explorers regularly measured wind, precipitation, humidity and cloud formations. “This unique series of observations in an area where no human being has ever travelled is quite valuable and will provide us with a better insight into the atmospheric and climatological processes in East Antarctica”, explains meteorologist Marc De Keyser.

The scientific research is carried out in cooperation with universities from all over the world including researchers from the University of Leuven.

“With our expedition we can expose the global effects of the Antarctic ice mass as a climate regulatory and even go a bit further”, says Deltour. “These measurements help researchers to better understand the role of the katabatic winds which circulate over the ice. These measurements were done with special measuring stations which we hung from secured kite lines at a high altitude for one hour per session. We regularly sent the readings to our expedition headquarters via satellite connection.”

Comments are closed.