First Winter Crossing of Antarctica
It’s with good reason that there are no permanent human settlements on the planet’s most southern continent. Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, and driest place on Earth, not to mention almost completely covered in ice. Nothing lives there, save penguins and seals, and a couple cold-adapted plants. Mankind didn’t even lay eyes on Antarctica until 1820, when Navy sea captains and sealers began venturing far enough south to glimpse the 5.5-million square-mile land mass.The discovery set off an era of emboldened exploration like none other, making heroes out of men like Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton in the early 1900s for braving expeditions into the new continent’s unforgiving interior. Others, like Robert Falcon Scott and his team, would lose their lives.
While the “Heroic Era” of Antarctic exploration has long passed, and scientists have been traveling there regularly for decades, the continent continues to inspire daring polar expeditions. It’s a place with notable “firsts,” most significantly, a transcontinental crossing in the winter, which involves skiing 2,000 miles in near permanent darkness in temperatures as low as -130 F through one of Earth’s most hostile environments. The decorated English explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes planned an attempt in 2013 that failed. He was evacuated from Antarctica for frostbite before the expedition even started. The rest of the team decided to proceed, but called it quits after three months due to the danger. Instead, they finished out their time in Antarctica focused on scientific research. So far, no other team has mustered the courage to try again.
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