Breakthrough for overland road to Pole

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Breakthrough for overland road to Pole

WooHoo a new road, wait for shot up road signs, litter, and hitchhikers.
A United States team testing an overland route to the South Pole has had a big breakthrough, just months after Sir Edmund Hillary slated it as "a terrible idea".

The 12-strong team reached the polar plateau, 480km from the Pole, last month and could have continued all the way to the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) base there, a year ahead of schedule.

The unexpectedly good progress, described by project manager John Wright as far exceeding their most optimistic expectations, will mean overland supply convoys will begin to the South Pole as early as next summer.

Until now, all supplies have been by ski-equipped Hercules aircraft.

Hillary was the last person to drive to the pole from the Ross Sea area when he took a group of modified farm tractors in the 1950s.

But on his return to Scott Base last November, he railed against the South Pole route and urged the Americans to continue using aircraft.

"Its about destroying the journey to the Pole in using huge vehicles to plunge through the snow and ice and crevasses to get there," he said.

The American team had struggled for the first two years of assessing the route's viability. In the first year, a heavily crevassed zone took weeks to make safe as a bulldozer filled in the crevasses.

The following year, the team wallowed in soft snow as it crossed the Ross Ice Shelf and, by the turnaround point, had completed only 680km of the 1600km route.

But since earning Hillarys censure, the team has found far easier conditions. Aided by redesigned sleds, ground-penetrating radar, and satellite assistance to find crevasse-free routes, the team climbed the Leverett Glacier and reached the polar plateau – signalling the last difficult terrain; on January 4.

Once on the plateau, the team had the option to reach the base at the South Pole.

However, bad weather was putting pressure on South Pole flights so they called a halt.

When the team returns to the route next summer, it will take cargo. Ultimately the USAP hopes the overland route will free up between 30 and 60 cargo flights, so the planes can be used for science.
By netchicken: posted on 10-2-2005

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