Expedition Leader Paul Hart shares the final Situation Report of the expedition, from Buenos Aires, Argentina
Situation Update 20 January 2022
Location: Buenos Aires and Travelling to home destinations
“Situation: After our last Situation Update, which was done the day we stepped off the ice of Antarctica, I thought now was the time to provide an explanation of what happened in the last week of the expedition and our emergency extraction from the Antarctic Peninsula.
“The issues leading to our emergency extraction started some weeks ago on the 3rd January 2022. We had been delivered to the Peninsula by our friends at Polar Latitudes, who had gone to great efforts to enable us to reach the Antarctic and to whom we will be eternally grateful.
“Our pick up from the ice was planned for the 27 January 2022 and all our planning assumptions were based on that date. The fact that we had managed to reach Antarctica at all, in the face of the outbreak of the new Omicron Covid variant, was testimony to the safety protocols that Polar Latitudes had put in place for our travel and to the fortitude of the team. However, the wider situation relating to Covid and the polar travel providers operating from Ushuaia in Argentina, was far more problematic.
“On 31 December 2021, the Argentinian authorities put in place new restrictions meaning that it was impossible for many of the Polar operators to undertake their programmes and this included Polar Latitudes. We were advised on the 3 January 2022, that there was a potential for our planned pick up not to be possible if these restrictions were not eased. At this point we were trying to negotiate one of the crux areas of our route. Each day forward would add two days to the return leg. The concern was that a return pickup might come earlier than planned and pushing forward would jeopardise our extraction. As such we had to make the decision to only scout the route, but not move camp, until we could be more confident of not being left stranded on the ice. Alongside this we had all the other problems of the extremely bad weather.
“As the time continued to slowly ebb away, we learned that other operators, such as Hurtigruten, were cancelling their season of activity in the Antarctic. This was a clear indication of a potential domino effect and all operators cancelling their seasons due to the level of Covid being presented in Ushuaia. This began to consolidate into a concrete picture that the number of operators who might be able to assist us, if Polar Latitudes had to cancel their pick up, was rapidly diminishing.
“By the 8 January 2022, we were left with a stark decision; push forward and risk no pick up, or continue to scout the route until we knew what Polar Latitudes would do. It was at this point that news arrived from Polar Latitudes indicating that they would not be able to run their planned journey to recover us. We immediately began to make the fastest possible return to Portal Point whilst Polar Latitudes made a request to all other available operators to assist us. This journey was hampered by two further days of bad weather, where we could not move, but by 14th January we had recovered the full team and all equipment back to Portal Pont where we awaited news
“We could not have asked for more from our friends at Polar Latitudes and their efforts to try to resolve the situation. We spent a tense few days during which there was limited response from other operators in the region. We watched ships pass without the possibility for interaction. Then Swan Hellenic and Viking responded with offers of assistance. On 16th January 2022 Swan Hellenic and their ship Minerva, sailed into Charlotte Bay to retrieve us from Portal Point.
“Had we not started our return journey when we did, putting us at Portal Point in time for the Minerva’s passing, we now know that there was a very strong likelihood we would have been stuck on the Peninsula.
“We have to say the warmth and hospitality of everyone on SH Minerva was simply outstanding and we were treated with such kindness, it is hard to find words to express our gratitude for all that was done for us.
“We arrived back in Ushuaia just yesterday morning and flew out last night. We are now trying to revise flights to allow us to return to our home destinations from Buenos Aires.
Onboard the Minerva I was asked, as Expedition Leader, if the expedition had been a failure or a success. My reply was along these lines;
“It isn’t for me to say whether the expedition was a success or a failure, others will decide that based on their perspective of the balance between risk and reward, and the achievement of the goals. My goals were always as follows;
Number 1 Priority; All the group return to Portal Point safely and without injury or incident, as anything otherwise would show poor decision making and a lack of due diligence.
2nd Priority; The group have a real sense of pushing themselves to the maximum to achieve the objectives, but balanced by the fact they are friends and are physically, and mentally well at the end.
3rd Priority; the science objectives have been completed to the maximum opportunity afforded by the environmental conditions, without the team being exposed to undue risk by foolhardy, or ill considered decision making.
4th Priority; the Educational Outreach has been completed effectively and demonstrates the groups resilience, group cohesion, and willingness to follow the Spirit of the Heroic Age of Polar exploration.
5th Prirority; The team have represented themselves, the expedition, our science and our international collaboration well, and in a manner befitting of our Polar forebears.
With these objectives in mind, which I wrote down before the outset of the expedition, I now leave it to you to decide if we were a successful venture. We faced horrendous weather and extremely unusual conditions; instead of having one day in four of bad weather, we had three days in four of bad weather. After four years of planning and preparation, our expedition was cut short by two weeks as a result of Covid and Covid also introduced significant doubt into our decision making process which further slowed our progress.
Despite this and despite all the hurdles that Covid introduced into the likelihood of our being able to undertake such an expedition, we did make it onto the ice of Antarctica and undertook five weeks of science and educational outreach. I hope our data samples (video above) will provide much needed information to our science collaborators, on the levels of the micro-plastics and metals in the snow, on the amount of UV reaching the Peninsula and the ozone hole (video below), and finally our meteorological observations will help improve the modelling of the ice-mass accumulation/loss on the Peninsula.
If nothing else, it has been an extraordinary time for us and the level of deep bonding of the team could not be more visible than in the huge sadness we have felt in now separating to our own journeys home. I stated in my last SITREP that Antarctica takes a hold on your soul once you have visited, but nothing takes such a hold on your soul as the deep friendship and trust you develop for your team mates when you mutually face the challenges of the inhospitable Antarctic Wilderness.
Thank you for following our story. This now completes my final Situation Report for Antarctic Quest 21 – The Shackleton Commemoration Expedition.”
HART & MIND
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Many thanks to all of our friends, sponsors and supporters who are backing the Antarctic Quest 21 expedition, including:
NAAFI Team Army/Team Ethos Costain Group PLC BetterYou Ltd Applied Satellite Technology LtdGreencastle Consulting Klättermusen AB Fjellpulken AS Polar Latitudes Clean Planet Energy PlanetLabs.Earth LikeToBe.org LGfL Devon and Plymouth Chamber of Commerce Royal Geographical Society Prof Dr Ger Graus OBE Phil Carrotte Tim Ellis Twin Science & Robotics Verofax Limited Alpenverein Osterreich Beyond Exploration Shackleton Whisky Paul Read Martin Holland, FRGS USNAR Polar Science and Technology Program The Ulysses Trust Expedition Base Camp Anjuli Selvakumaran Elliot Brown Watches University of Plymouth Utrecht University The University of Manchester Durham University University of Tasmania Challenging Habitat AndrewSmedley PippaWhitehouse Colonel Paul John Edwards MBE The Honourable Alexandra Shackleton Lieutenant General Richard Nugee CB CVO CBE AngelaMilne Simon Ussher Nigel Marley MichielvanDenBroeke ImogenNapper Emily Whitehead Kate Retallick Claire Grogan FRGS Charlotte Braungardt