400 km to go! Can we be home in time for Christmas?

Still time to take more pictures for cameraman Simon Foster as the Antarctica2 tractor expedition gets closer to home.

(Antarctica – 18th December 2014): The drive back from the South Pole is proving every bit as exciting and emotional for the Antarctica2 tractor expedition team as, hour by hour, they tick off the distance home.

The latest news is that they have less than 400 km to go to Novo Runway on the Antarctic coast. The MF 5610 put in yet another fantastic record-breaking run of 384 km and is as strong as ever despite the incredibly punishing schedule.

Now high up in the mountains at an elevation of 3314 metres (10,872 ft), the team members found themselves once again “gasping for breath” in the thin air. Thankfully, the weather has been clear with light blue skies but the temperature has dipped to minus 30 degrees C – dropping to around minus 37 with wind chill. As Expedition Lead Guide , Matty McNair said in her daily report: “It’s nippy out there.” Emotions are running high with the team as they all eager to get back home to their loved-ones in time for Christmas.

Everyone on the crew is pitching in with tractor driving shifts to ensure the MF 5610 is kept constantly on-the-move. There is no rest for the tractor. The drivers report that the cab is extremely warm and the seat very comfortable. The five-point seat belt helps them strap themselves down when driving over rough terrain. For in-cab entertainment, team members are passing the time in various different ways listening to music, podcasts and audio books. Manon Ossevoort, Lead Driver is listening to French lessons. Favourite sounds in the cab range from U2, Louise Attaque, Faithless, Trio, Muse, Endochine, Black Keys and Icelandic music.

special tractor tent

Matty has designed and made a special tent to, during maintenance, protect the tractor and the team from the extreme cold and wind. A different tent than I used on my journey through Africa, but is one is as genius and does exactly wat is needed :-)

Halfway home! Record distance covered despite broken fan belt

Antarctica2 Lead Mechanic, Nicolas Bachelet had the task of changing the tractor’s broken fan belt.

(Antarctica – 16th December 2014): We are back on our return journey from the South Pole to Novo Runway, after having a new fan belt fitted.

Despite the hold-up, we are also celebrating our best day’s travel to date, covering 308.9km (192 miles) in 28 hours, thanks in part to following the tracks it created on our outward journey. At 80 degrees South, we are now halfway back to the Antarctic coast.

While it may usually be a simple half-hour task when carried out on-farm, the fan belt replacement was made much more difficult in the harsh Antarctic environment by the extremely low temperatures of minus 20C and lower, exacerbated by the wind chill factor. In itself, fitting the fan belt is still a simple job, but the main difficulty faced by lead mechanic Nicolas Bachelet was maintaining the engine’s warmth once the tractor had been stopped to enable the job to be carried out.

We erected over the tractor a special tent – designed specifically for the purpose – to create a warmer environment and help keep out the bitterly cold wind. There was also room inside for one of the team support vehicles, providing heat to warm the space in addition to supplying power to a special heating and insulating jacket to warm the engine block. Without all these measures, the engine would be simply too cold to work on without serious risk of frostbite to the mechanic’s ungloved hands.

With sufficient insulation from the cold, Nicolas was able to fit a new belt, check over the tractor and send the team on its way. Having checked all the related components and finding no other problems, the cause of the breakage was deemed to be simple wear and tear, perhaps unsurprising given the hours it has worked. The engine has rarely being stopped during the expedition. Like virtually every other component used on the South Pole MF 5610 tractor, it is a standard item, but has been working for many more hours and in much harsher conditions than would be encountered by the average farm tractor over such a period.

bad weather, no sight

“The weather was sunny and then the ice fog rolled over us. It’s hard to see the tracks and bumps. If you can imagine being in a dark room and you can see nothing. That’s what it’s like except it’s in white!” Matty McNair, Expedition Lead Guide.

Matty mcNair

Extreme cold means even simple tasks take longer

(Antarctica – 14th December 2014): Adverse weather and the need for time to catch up on maintenance has slowed the Antarctica2 expedition’s advance to Novo Runway.

At an altitude of 2572m and temperatures of -28°C even carrying out the simplest tasks take longer and is much more tiring than in ‘normal’ conditions. And this work is on top of the challenge of travelling for hours in the most extreme of environments.

While the team is, of course, eager to get home with their families and loved ones, it’s always safety first in Antarctica. So it’s essential to stop and carry out preventive maintenance to the machines on which they rely, as well as provide time for the team members to recharge their own batteries.

The team has also had to take a 10km detour, and back, to collect some equipment left from another expedition. Rules stipulate nothing can be left in Antarctica – everything has to be taken out.

The short break in the constant travelling has, however, given the media team time to upload some more amazing videos, as well as film what’s going on and some interviews with the team members. These are coming through from the ice and, along with previous footage, can be viewed at: