Aaron at the Ceremonial South Pole in front of the US South Pole Station. Image by Jeffrey Donenfeld courtesy Jeffrey Donenfeld, SOURCE
ExWeb interview with Aaron Linsdau "just making the South Pole became a monumental challenge for me"
Posted: Feb 06, 2013 01:49 pm EST (Correne Coetzer) "This trip is dominated by the mind junk stewing in your head. If you can manage all the crazy noise your mind heaps upon you and you can drive your body regardless of that, you will likely succeed," says American Aaron Linsdau who skied from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole this past Antarctic season.
His expedition didn't turn out as he planned (see details below). Aaron shares with ExplorersWeb how he kept going and handled all the emotional, physical and mind challenges on the ice, and reveal his future plans.
ExplorersWeb: What were the major challenges on your expedition?
Aaron: There were multiple major challenges on my expedition! The primary was not actually knowing how to efficiently travel in polar environments with the best timing of travel and breaks. I was stunned when I applied techniques relayed to me from Hannah McKeand via ANI – they improved my travel distance by 30% per day.
Her suggestions on doing 75 minute travel sessions with a 10-15 minute break were key. I knew I wasn’t travelling efficiently with shorter sessions and more breaks but I was blown away at the difference travelling like that made. We went though all my other gear and such and that all sounded right. Hannah’s advice really saved my trip, as the mileage I was making before her phone call never would have gotten me to the South Pole.
Then, after the skis on my sled broke, I learned there was a far better way to travel through sastrugi – to plow right over them. That improved my distance by 15% per day.
The sastrugi was arguably the worst anyone has ever seen it, so though I have no benchmark for comparison, it was incredibly problematic to travel though the infamous 87 degree area.
Having 1/3 of the calories in my rations spoil, cause a dramatic weight loss in the last 2 weeks, about 25 pounds.
ExplorersWeb: Your goal was to return, but quite early in the expedition you had to let go of that. What went through your mind when you realized you have to give up on that dream?
Aaron: At first, having things fall apart so early on was emotionally devastating.
Based on what I thought was good training ended up being wholly inadequate, forcing me to realize there were so many things I didn’t have right that just making the South Pole became a monumental challenge for me. I thought of my decade of saving, my sponsors and all the people back home rooting for me out in the field.
ExplorersWeb: You had a pretty tough time out there. It is normal for skiers to break the endless horizons and the goal down into shorter and faster achievable goals, like taking one day at a time, one hour at a time. You said you were sometimes counting one to 60, breaking it down to seconds to keep going. What kept you going? Were there times that you were thinking of giving up?
Aaron: Family, friends and my girlfriend kept me going daily. Their messages through the Solara beacon were critical to maintaining a good state of mind and giving me the energy I had.
The counting was a great technique to keep me on track when things went to a total white-out and my goggles iced up uncontrollably. Navigation was terribly difficult in the last degree, so mastering mini-corrections allowed me to keep my mileage up even in the worst of conditions.
ExplorersWeb: Your two plastic sleds with the added skis gave you quite a lot of problems. Will you recommend them or if you can choose again what would you take?
Aaron: No, I would never put skis on any sled for a Hercules or Messner start. The skis slid around laterally and caused the sleds to crash into and hang up in sastrugi constantly. I developed the very bad habit of going far around any possible obstacle to avoid having my sleds veer out of control. In the end, it ended up being very good to have the skis have broken.
However, having the 2 independent sleds made it easier when things did go wrong. It was far easier to lift a 100 pound (45kg) sled when my rig did fall into a sastrugi hole. Having a sled with wider runners may have been better but without testing, I really can’t venture a guess.
However, if I were doing a last-degree trip, I would have the sleds on the skis. The reduction in drag is incredible and at that 9,000ft altitude, anything was a help. There is so little sastrugi that skis would only be useful there.
ExplorersWeb: Controlling one's body temperature on an expedition like this is a full time business. How did your clothes work? What clothes could you have taken different?
Aaron: My clothing worked well when the wind was strong and consistent. Once I got things dialed in, I was good all day. But when the air was light and it was sunny, I had terrible trouble. More than once, I was down to an Icebreaker shirt and my parka draped over my shoulders for sun protection when it was -15°C. I never would have believed that possible.
Having both a heavy parka from Wintergreen and a light eVent parka from REI was annoying for the weight, but having the versatility to deal with a wide range of temperatures and conditions negated that weight in the end.
ExplorersWeb: In one voice dispatch you said you thought you were ready for this, but psychologically and emotionally you were not. Why not?
Aaron: I have been on many cold-weather 10-day trips with 100 mile (160km) distance and had very little go wrong on those. Having things break down put a large stress on me. I knew I could mechanically deal with almost anything breaking, but having an incessant string of things not go as planned was a first.
Plus, I did not have the financial and time investment into those shorter treks. This was my first major expedition and the investment I and others put into this far exceeded anything I’ve done before. Really, I had not had any internal pressure to keep going compared to anything else. I’m not sure there would be any other way for me to prepare for this length of time in the field.
ExplorersWeb: What did you enjoy out there? Apart from arriving at the Pole :-)
Aaron: For the most part, I enjoyed the blasting weather, crazy conditions, incredible challenge, wild sastrugi – really everything. Having many things break or go wrong was actually enjoyable because it added an extra dimension of challenge. I live for those things!
Even though many times I was grumbling through it, I knew that it was such a unique experience that I had to soak it all in. It almost seems schizophrenic but the good times mixed in with the bad were altogether enjoyable.
ExplorersWeb: If you can do it over again, what will you do different?
Aaron: I would spend several more months building up my leg muscles. I’m no Norwegian power skier, as my ski times attested to. I’d bring a much better shovel that would not have broken! A few clothing items were never used. I would test out different sleds for drag and tracking on similar surface. That would have been a great boon to me as well.
ExplorersWeb: If someone comes to you and say he/she wants to ski to the South Pole, what would you say to him/her?
Aaron: Go for it! Raise the money and go all in.
But, make sure go to some place like Yellowstone National Park and ski across the park in the dead of winter (Dec/Jan) to experience the cold, travel and troubles that might arise. A 3-day test trip is not adequate. If you can spend some time training at Baffin island or elsewhere in similar conditions with people who have done this before, you will be far better prepared and confident.
If this is your dream, be prepared to be challenged to complete it, have detractors and have many, many things go wrong.
Maybe you won’t make your primary goal like I did, but do not give up until you are forced to by lack of time or injury. This trip is dominated by the mind junk stewing in your head. If you can manage all the crazy noise your mind heaps upon you and you can drive your body regardless of that, you will likely succeed.
ExplorersWeb: Will your view on life be the same as before? How has this change you and what do you appreciate now?
Aaron: No, my life will not be the same. I just enjoyed my first television interview on KUSI.com last night and look forward to more. I will not be going back to software engineering in the same capacity as I had been doing before. I’m done for daily killing myself for others who don’t care and who will out of hand lay me off. Working for myself is my new goal.
I appreciate my family, friends and girlfriend far more than prior to leaving on my trip. Their support and encouragement was key to my success. I know I didn’t make my goal of doing the round trip, but as no other long-distance expedition made their goal this year and I was the total rookie out there, I feel really good about this.
I am looking forward to the next expedition, creating a film and several possible books out of this experience. After reading about the Expedition Grand Slam, I have a lot of ideas swimming around in my head now!
ExplorersWeb: Anything else?
Aaron: Thank you to Kelly Bradstreet, my expedition manager and girlfriend, my parents Tim and Vicki, my major sponsors HumanEdgeTech, Gonedigging.net, Micro-USA, TVLvideo.com and all the other sponsors and people who made this expedition possible. Without them, I never would have even had the chance to ski across Antarctica and make my dream a reality.
Video below: Day 15ish- Aaron in Antarctica, 40 miles from Hercules Inlet
Day 78, 27 nm from the South Pole:
Aaron set off to the SP from Hercules Inlet (80°S) on November 1st, 2012 with the goal to return to HI without outside assistance, but things didn't work out as he planned. His progress in the first two degrees was too slow with his sleds packed with food, fuel and gear for 90 days. He dropped the bulk of his sleds' content to be picked up by ALE to drop him two resupplies along the way. After traveling 1130km Aaron arrived at the Geographic South Pole (90°S) on January 21st, 2013.
A "solo" ski requires "unassisted" status (no resupplies carried by pilots or car drivers, or anything supplies received from any person) and no following of vehicle tracks (vehicle drivers navigating the way).
The Hercules Inlet route starts at 80°S and covers a distance of 1130 km in a straight line to the Geographic South Pole at 90°S.
1 nautical mile (nm) = 1.852 km 1 nm = 1.151 miles 1 knot = 1.852 km/h 1 degree of Latitude is 110 km / 60 nm / 70 miles Sastrugi are hard snow bumps and can be as high as 10 feet A nunatak is a top of a mountain visible above the snow surface.