4 women get to S. Pole on their own power

January 15, 1993|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The American Women's Trans-Antarctic Expedition has made history by becoming the first team of women explorers to reach the South Pole on their own power.

A science station at the South Pole radioed to expedition officials in St. Paul that the expedition arrived there yesterday.

The team members are the first women to reach the bottom of the world without dogsled or motorized vehicles. They also are attempting to become the first expedition of women explorers to cross the continent.

One team member, Ann Bancroft, achieved a personal milestone: the first woman to reach both the North and South poles.

The expedition reached the South Pole two weeks behind schedule and needs to go another 900 miles to reach McMurdo Naval Base by Feb. 17, where a ship will take them to Australia.

The team has spent 67 days on the continent, traveling 660 miles by ski.

Team members Bancroft; Sue Giller of Boulder, Colo.; Anne Dal Vera of Fort Collins, Colo.; and Sunniva Sorby of San Diego, Calif., are expected back in the Twin Cities the first week in March.

Students from schools across Minnesota have been tracking the expedition's route since it left Hercules Inlet at the Ronne Ice Shelf in Antarctica Nov. 9.

Beyond providing a lesson in geography, the team of female explorers are also serving as role models.

"I think it's really exciting and important. Women don't get to do a lot of things yet," said Caitlin Ward, 9, a student at the EXPO Magnet School in St. Paul.

Paula Lyn Brust, a teacher coordinating study of the expedition at EXPO, said students have been studying the continent of Antarctica and keeping tabs on the women's progress. Ms. Burst said the study of Ms. Bancroft, Ms. Giller, Ms. Dal Vera, and Ms. Sorby has another benefit.

"[They] see that women are involved in science and women are '' explorers," Ms. Burst said. "It shows both boys and girls that if you have a dream, you can follow it and achieve it and push your limits. It's an excellent message to kids."

The team has been averaging just under 15 miles a day lately, compared with six to eight miles a day at the beginning of the journey, said Carol North, the expedition's director.

The team was plagued with minor obstacles throughout the trip, including frostbite on their legs, Ms. North said. Ms. Sorby, the only one who didn't get frostbitten, had a chest cold and a sprained ankle. Ms. Dal Vera had some pain from tendinitis in her ankle.

"They are an incredibly upbeat group," Ms. North said. "They have a lot of sense of humor."

A typical day has the group up by 6 a.m. melting ice for coffee and breakfast. Hardened toothpaste tubes are held against their bodies to melt. After a few hours of skiing, usually into head winds, the women stop for a snack of nuts, cheese or chocolate. More skiing is followed by lunch and by more skiing and finally about 6 p.m., the group stops for the day. Dinner has to be high in carbohydrates -- pasta, rice, beans -- to provide the women with enough energy for the next day's trek.

Some of the difficulties the women have faced have been the monotony of looking at a bland landscape, trekking over frozen ice waves and pulling sleds with as much as 200 pounds of equipment and supplies -- and the climb uphill toward the pole.

The team radios a contact in Punta Arenas, Chile, every three days and has even had a couple of unexpected visitors drop in along the way: a pilot dropped a bag of cookies and another delivered a batch of letters and packages.

Ms. North said the expedition members will spend at least a night at the South Pole. She wasn't sure if they would be able to sleep inside.

VJ "The hardest part of their leg [of the trip] is over," Ms. North said.

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