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JOURNEY OF A LIFETIME

Jérémie Gicquel, an associate in our Paris office, and his wife Stéphanie have set out on the journey of a lifetime: to cross Antarctica via the South Pole on skis. Beginning on November 9, their journey of more than 1,100 miles is expected to take approximately 70 days to complete. During the course of their expedition, they will face extreme cold – with temperatures as low as -58° F this time of year – along with the challenges of traveling at high altitudes in dangerous, ice-covered terrain.

Paul Hastings is proud to support Jérémie and Stéphanie as they pursue this unique personal goal while raising money for Association Petits Princes, a charity that helps fulfill the dreams of seriously ill children with cancer, leukemia, and genetic diseases. Please visit this page often for updates and photos from Jérémie and Stéphanie as they share their experience journeying across Antarctica.
 
 
Below are updates from Jérémie and Stéphanie about their progress. We will be updating this
site as they continue their journey.
 


January 27, 2015

We made it!

After a hard day and very long journey, we managed our challenge - we crossed Antarctica in 73 days, skiing for 15 hours and 35 minutes. We reached the barrier Ronne Tuesday, January 27 at 3:35 AM.

It is over 50 kilometers in total we had to travel in 15 hours today and had to bypass many crevasses, despite a persistent fog that significantly reduced the visibility in the early evening. In direct line, there were 45 kilometers between our last night and the arrival camp.

So much effort for this final stretch, and beautiful landscapes. A more complete next post in a few days when we are in Punta Arenas. For now, we go to sleep!

In the meantime, please visit our Facebook Runners to the Pole (public page).

To be continued ...

January 19, 2015

It has now been nine weeks since we started the expedition. This is the report of week 9.

We have made very good progress towards our goal with almost 250 kms done over the past six days, after the rest day we took last Monday. That is over 40 kms a day on average – and 46.3 kms today as the weather was favorable with strong wind in the back (app. 15m/s). We have been pushing and skiing longer hours in order to achieve this. And we are now app. 325 kms far from our finish line !

If the weather is good enough, as it has been over the past week (mostly sunny with some wind coming from the South and not too strong) we should be in a position to achieve the expedition ACROSS ANTARCTICA 2014 by Jan. 26.

We are also already happy that we managed to collect data and provide answers to questions raised by school students who are following the expedition (several schools being involved with the expedition back in France). And that we were able to take videos and photos of the expedition as part of our project to share this expedition as much as possible.

For video, photo and communication purposes, we are using 1 tripod, 1 canon XA 20, 1 canon 5D, 1 canon G1X, 4 Go Pro, 2 Zoom Q4, 2 Sennheiser mics and 1 mic cravate, and several sound recorders, Sandisk memory cards, 1 Mac Book Air which they notably use for making back up copies on 2 external OCZ solid state drivers, 1 smartphone, 2 sat phones and 2 Access Point – plus 3 or 4 batteries for each equipment and cables for charging, 2 solar panels (62 W and 30 W) and 2 batteries of 50 W each… That makes app. 25 kgs overall to pull all over the way to be able to share the expedition as we would like to when we will be back in France.

We are also happy that the donation page we have created in order to support the Charity Association Petits Princes is working well (link below) and we hope to collect even more funds for this Charity to fulfill even more dreams of diseased children.

We are now focused on achieving the expedition as planned – we still have some hard work to get it done !

More to come…

January 12, 2015

It has now been eight weeks since we started the expedition. This is the report of week 8.

We made good progress over the past week and set up camp on Sunday evening at altitude of app. 1.350 meters. We are still in sastrugis fields most of the time but it glides a bit better. As mentionned last week we started to ski longer hours – up to 11.5 hours some days – and we skied up to 43 kms a day. Our goal was to reach our last ressuply waypoint this Sunday – which we just did – in order to take a rest day this Monday. This will be the last rest day of the expedition as we will start again on Tuesday – with probably 11 to 12 hour ski days. Motivation is high to try to reach our ultimate goal and end of the expedition within 14 or 15 days. There are still 580 kms to go to reach Union Glacier.

The rest day will be mostly about sleeping – and it shall not be difficult at all to fall asleep anytime of the day ! And it is of course very important to recover as much as possible during such a day in order to ski long distance and manage the cold and wind during the last stretch of the expedition.

The weather has been quite good so far so let’s hope it will stay good enough until the end of the expedition. Our deadline is Jan. 28 and, as mentionned above, we are planning on 14 to 15 days from Jan. 13 to reach our goal, in order to have 1 or 2 days of flexibility in case of very bad weather (storm).

More to come…
 

January 4, 2015

It has now been seven weeks since we started the expedition. This is the report of week 7.

We have been skiing almost all week over the Antarctic plateau – after leaving South Pole on December 25 late afternoon. It took us 6 days to get out of the plateau as we decided to keep a reasonable pace and keep as much strength as possible for the way down. The surface / snow over the plateau is quite deep and sticky so it was kind of hard work. We were lucky with the weather though as this was a sunny week without much wind. Temperature was down to -35C almost all week.

We have now started the way down – since yesterday and have set up camp today at altitude of app. 2.500 meters. We are back in sastrugis fields ! And we started to ski longer hours – 10 hours every day – as we have a long way to go (2.045 kms in total).

We spent New Year’s eve in our tent in the middle of Antarctica – with not much more than our regular dehydrated food. It was good time though and we are glad to be in January now – focused on our goal to achieve the crossing of Antarctica by ski.

Happy New Year to all and best wishes!

« And remember that the only place where your dream becomes impossible is in your own thinking ».

More to come…

December 28, 2014

It has now been six weeks since we started the expedition. This is the report of week 6.

We kept progressing on the Antarctic Plateau and we finally reached South Pole on December 23 late afternoon as planned. We then took a rest day – almost two actually as we left South Pole on December 25 in the afternoon. We are now on our way to the coast – with more than 1100 kms to ski.

We were welcomed at the South Pole by the three persons who are running the ALE South Pole base camp – which is located 500 meters from the geographical South Pole and just nearby the Amundsen Scott base – operated by the US.

We went to visit the Amundsen Scott base a couple hours after we arrived at South Pole. The base is working on New Zealand Time – while we are using Chile Time – so they were 16 hours ahead and it was already Christmas Eve for them. The base is very impressive – fully equiped for 150 persons / scientifics to work in summer time (right now) while app. 50 persons are staying over winter.

We then enjoyed Christmas Eve at the South Pole. We read letters from family and friends and had a great traditional Norvegian Christmas dinner – which we also shared with Canadian explorer Frédéric Dion who had been kiting from the Novo based and arrived at South Pole on December 24 in the afternoon. It was great meeting with him there. This is for sure a Christmas Eve we will remember !

On Dec. 25 we prepared our sledges and equipment for the second part of the expedition and enjoyed lunch and coffee at the base camp before leaving the South Pole. There is still a long way to go but we are very motivated.

We are now looking forward to being out of the Plateau (hopefully by Jan. 1st) and starting the way down to Union Glacier. We will then indeed be skiing down 2800 meters over app.’ 1000kms – but still it should be less difficult than going uphill !

More to come..

December 14, 2014

It has now been four weeks since we started the expedition. This is the report of week 4.

With app. 268 kms to ski to the South Pole, we are still working just fine on our intermediate goal to reach the South Pole by Christmas Eve.

We had three colder days over the past week – with strong front wind (15 to 18m/s) – making windchill dropped to -50C. This was just before our second rest day (Dec. 12) so we fully appreciated this rest day which means no ski and staying in the tent all day ! This rest day was used to recharge all batteries. We also had a conference call with students from high school in France, answered to some interviews, dried all equipment and slept more. Then today, as we started again to ski towards the South Pole, the wind had decreased significantly and that was great as it makes our progression lot less difficult.

We are so far still in good shape – although we may have lost some body weight down the way – and so is the equipment.

We have reached today the altitude of 2450 meters – highest point of the expedition being app. 2800 meters. We are actually almost on the Antarctic Plateau where the terrain should be flater – although we expect the snow to be more sticky.


Weather forecast is good for the next couple of days – good meaning almost no wind and good visibility.

More to come…

December 7, 2014

It has now been three weeks since we started the expedition. This is the report of week 3.

We covered over 25kms average per day during the past week and we are now closer to South Pole than we are to our expedition starting point. With app. 425kms to ski to the South Pole, our goal is to reach it by Christmas Eve.
The weather has been good over the past week – or at least good enough to get out of the tent safely and ski every day. We had three days of total white out which made navigation more complex and then sun was back again and fully appreciated – even with the windy background !

We are so far in good shape and so is the equipment.

We have reached today the altitude of 1750 meters – highest point of the expedition being app. 2800 meters.

Weather forecast is good for the next couple of days.


More to come…

November 31, 2014

It has now been two weeks since we started the expedition. This is the report of week 2.

While the main goal of the first week was to progressively increase the daily skiing hours, this second week was more regular and we did ski and pull our sledge for 8 to 9 hours a day over the past week. Our regular expedition day starts at 6am with melting water, breakfast and putting down the tent, then ski and pull sledge all day with a 10 minute break every hour and a one hour lunch (we put up the tent). Then the evening is also about melting water, eating and sleeping – plus communication and usually some reading or writing.

We will reach tomorrow our first ressuply (food and fuel) after 17 days of expedition and will take our first rest day. We look forward to it ! Resting and recovering are important as our goal is to cross Antarctica over more than 2.000kms.

As for the weather, all days were quite different actually (more or less wind, up to 15 meters per second, sunny to cloudy and even white out, and temperature ranging from -12C to -37C).

We have also just passed a crevasse area so the route is now safer and this is good news! On Day 14 our progression was slowed down by a giant crevasse (8kms long and more than 10 meters large – this is Antarctica) which we decided not to cross but rather ski alongside until we found a safe passage.

Weather forecast is good for the next couple of days.

More to come…

November 21, 2014

We have now been on the ice for one week.

We left Union Glacier on November 14 with a Twin Otter flight to Messner start. There, when the Twin Otter left us, we were alone in the middle of Antarctica and expedition really started.

The first week is no so much about the distance you cover, but rather working on the organization of the day, the tent, the breaks, etc. We progressively increased the hours of ski every day, starting with 4 hours on day 1 and now up to almost 8 hours as from day 6. We will try as much as possible to keep this schedule and will possibly do 9 or 10 hours those days when the weather will be good (that is no too cold and no wind).

We were lucky so far that the weather was rather nice. Down to -34°C on Day 1 with no wind, and then temperature increased to -15°C with a windchill of -25°C due to 10 to 15 m/s wind. The week has been mostly sunny, except for Day 6 which was mostly white out with a very reduced visibility (5 to 10 meters) so that it was not so easy to navigate.

At this stage, the agenda is as follows : wake up at 6.30am to melt water for the days and have breakfast. Put down the tent and start skiing at 9am (4 hours of ski in the morning, then lunch break, then 4 hours of ski in the afternoon, with a 10 minute break after each hour of ski). Back in the tent the evening around 7pm for 2 hours of melting water, diner, blog and then sleep ! And again, and again…

We are very enthusiastic so far about the progress of the expedition and how it is moving forward. As long as the weather conditions are good enough and health as well, then everything is possible.

Lunch break of Day 7 was somehow different as we made an interview for France Bleue with Nicolas Vanier – it was great to discuss with him, especially as he knows very well what we are going through with this expedition.

More kilometers to come over the next week…

November 17, 2014

Every day we learn more about Antarctica. Today we found out a little more about the sastrugis! These are large grooves cut into the ice by the wind. We understand better now why some adventurers fall and fracture a limb, and so end their journeys. Indeed, sastrugis are everywhere here and can vary a great deal in height. The ones we have seen today are 50-60 cm. tall. This reflects how strong the wind is here. Our ski tips are constantly balancing on the ice.

This makes it difficult to track our journey. We monitor our progress with GPS, which we consult during our lunch break and in the evening. The rest of the time while we ski, we rely on our compass. That said, to avoid looking at the compass constantly, we mostly move forward based on the sun, our shadows, the wind and the clouds. To avoid the very tallest sastrugis, we have to travel several kilometers around them, as if we were in a giant maze. This is frustrating because it makes the actual distance we are traveling to get to the South Pole much longer, compared to the distance to the Pole “as the crow flies.” We have 2065 more miles to go to make this crossing.


To be continued...

November 14, 2014

Our expedition across Antarctica has just begun. We covered 13 kilometers today in our journey toward the South Pole before setting up our first camp. We are very pleased with our first day.

We finally left this morning, after a false start last night when we loaded the Twin Otter only to have to deplane two hours later, at the pilot’s request, because weather conditions were ultimately not good enough to fly. Then today at the 8: 45 a.m. daily meeting, the head of the Union Glacier base announced – at last – that it was “D-Day,” our departure day. We just had time to drink one last coffee in the heated tent, write a note to our three friends who will be in Union Glacier in a few days to run the marathon in Antarctica, and get some last words of advice from the doctor, before loading up the Twin-Otter and climbing aboard.

Leaving the camp was very moving for us. The base members came to see us off, and we watched their raised arms disappear from sight as our plane lifted higher and the camp became a tiny dot in the vastness of Antarctica. We'll see some of them again when we return to Union Glacier, while others will have left already and been replaced by other seasonal visitors.

It was an unforgettable and magical flight over the vast white desert. It feels like you are no longer on Earth, because the Antarctic landscape has nothing in common with what we usually see. It looks like another planet. It's hard to describe everything we felt during our two-hour flight. When we landed on the coast, we were surrounded by an immensely white expanse – no mountains, no relief. Upon landing, it felt like the Twin Otter was sinking into the ice.

We have read stories about other adventurers, such as Dixie Dansercoer, Borge Ousland, and Laurence de la Ferriere, so we knew roughly what to expect. We knew it would be an intense moment. However, this was much more intense than what we imagined. The pilots spent a few minutes with us, then wished us good luck, before preparing to fly back. The Twin Otter flew over us twice before disappearing out of sight.

Now we are alone in the largest and coldest desert in the world. This is the first day of what will surely be one of the longest stretches in our lives.

To be continued...

November 9, 2014

The sleds are ready! We spent time today preparing our sleds to minimize the weight (about 60-65 lbs.) and loading our supplies to have optimal weight distribution and give us easy access to the thermos, food rations for breaks, jackets for cold weather breaks, etc.

We're ready to go. However, we are not sure yet if we will be able to set off tomorrow. The wind began to blow very hard today, which may not allow the Twin Otter plane to take us to our point of departure. In addition, the first flight for “passengers” traveling from Punta Arenas to Antarctica today, which we were scheduled to take, did not take off as planned. Fortunately we were able to take the cargo flight yesterday!

We may have to wait until tomorrow to go to Union Glacier, along with the staff of Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions, who are busy preparing for the summer season. (Climbers should arrive in a few days to ascend Mount Vinson, while others will travel to the South Pole by plane). Right now we are the only people at Union Glacier who are not members of Antarctic Logistics, which has allowed us to prepare for our expedition quietly.
 

Interview with Jeremie Gicquel

Where did the idea of this expedition come from?

We first discussed the idea of doing such an expedition in Antarctica some years ago, when we had the chance to spend a few days around the Antarctic Peninsula. This place is so special and unique that both of us wanted to discover more and go down south, down to the South Pole one day.

We like challenges and we love Polar Regions – so rude and so beautiful, so strong though we know how fragile and sensitive these places can be.

We started to think about doing a traverse through the South Pole. It seemed almost impossible at that time, as even being on the starting line down there is a logistics and financial challenge, not to mention the physical challenge ahead, but we like challenges, especially when we are told that it is not possible to succeed.

That is just the way we are and how this idea becomes a common goal to achieve.

What route will you take?

The initial plan was to ski from Axel Heiberg Glacier to the South Pole and then to Hercules Inlet. To cut down a little the budget, we changed this route to start at Messner, ski to the South Pole and then back to Hercules Inlet. To our knowledge, this route has never been achieved by ski only, all the way, and this is what we would like to achieve.

What challenges do you prepare for on this route?

Challenges are multiple. Like anywhere in Antarctica we will have to face extreme cold, especially on the plateau, and sun radiation. Storms and white out are also very likely as we start early in the season and are planning to reach our goal late in the season.

On the way down to the South Pole from Messner start, we should have front left wind and then back wind between the South Pole and Hercules Inlet.

Sastrugis there will be… hopefully not too much!

Two or three areas with crevasses have been identified along this route based on previous expeditions’ reports over the past years.

Then it is a very long route to ski all the way – a little bit more than 2.000 kms – so part of the challenge is also for the body to be able to take in as many calories as needed for the long run.

Do you have a South Pole mentor? If yes, who and what valuable advice did you get?

We are inspired by many South Pole – and more generally Polar Regions – explorers, and we had the chance to get advice from almost all them, whether through Skype calls, face to face meeting or on the ice.

Advices we notably got from Borge Ousland, Dixie Dansercoer, Eric McNair-Landry, Ran Fiennes, Lars Ebbesen, Tarka l’Herpinière, Jean-Louis Etienne, Ghislain Bardout & Emmanuelle Périé, Olivier Pitras and many others experienced polar explorers. There are differences in the way each one gets prepared to face challenges offered by Polar Regions, and especially by Antarctica. Each advice is so valuable as it is all about details in Antarctica!

What training/preparation are you doing for this expedition?

Training for this expedition is not easy – as it is difficult to find time for training. Most of the time we had to prepare this expedition was used indeed for making this possible to happen, from financing to logistics. The first challenge is to be on the starting line! Even though then only starts the real thing…

We are long distance runners – from marathons to ultra-trails up to 180kms. This background is interesting for this expedition. We added specific training, like crossfit and stretching, and of course pulling tires.

Will you have resupplies?

Yes – at South Pole and Thiel’s Corners, with possibly a third one in between.

How much food and fuel will you take? (Days?) More or less, what do you have on your menu?

We are working on the basis of 80 daily rations each – as there is no chance we can spend more days down there – of app. 1kg each and 0.4 l of fuel per day.

The menu is built out so as to start with app. 4.000cal/day over the first ten days to then go up to app. 5.500cal/day. Big breakfast mostly with porridge – and nice hot coffee! Then various things to eat every hour at each short break (chocolate, nuts, cereals, etc.) and we shall get more variation for dinner. Menu is globally structured with 15% protein, 35-40% fat and 45-50% carb.

Why do you two make a good team?

Maybe because we have been a team for a long time now – we met at school and got married six years ago.

Because we have been through various challenges together, each of us knows his strengths and weaknesses and, most importantly, knows about the other’s strengths and weaknesses. There is therefore a lot of understanding between us without talking.

We are also pretty much complementary.

Tell us about your charity and connection with schools?

Beyond the physical and mental challenge of this expedition across Antarctica, the goal is to share this experience in three different main ways:

Throughout the preparation and progression of the expedition, we are raising fund for the Charity Association Petits Princes, which goal is to make dreams of diseased children come true. And it is actually possible to join – virtually – the expedition for one or several kilometers by making a donation to this charity through our donation page: http://www.alvarum.com/acrossantarctica2014.

With the help of Kyriakos Kaziras, professional photographer, we view this expedition as an opportunity to prepare a photo and video reportage. We would like to share the expedition and show, through a visual and sound immersion into the expedition, the importance of protecting Antarctica and more generally Polar Regions.

We are in contact, before, during and after the expedition with high school students. Our goal is to make them sensitive, through an experimental approach, to the specificities of Polar Regions and to the values we would like to emphasize with this project: surpassing oneself, showing solidarity and sharing experiences.