(By Correne Coetzer) Being able to experience Antarctica is Vesa Luomala’s first priority, he says to ExplorersWeb. “Everything else comes as a bonus on top of it. To have a possibility to do a solo expedition as a first Finn is just an interesting historical fact, as there are a lot of people in Finland who could have done it long time before my attempt. So I don’t think it is very important. There is so much “First this and first that” nowadays, that I cannot keep count of it anymore.”
Vesa is scheduled on the ALE Ilyushin-76 to ANI’s Union Glacier camp on November 23rd, “so I assume the first possible expedition start date would be 24th.” His route will take him 1130 km from the coast at Hercules Inlet (80ºS) to the Geographic South Pole (90ºS).
Vesa’s gear has already arrived in Punta Arenas. He expects his expedition to take 45-55 days and will take food and white gas for 55 days. “To my fine-tuned Excel sheet the wight of my sled is close to 115 kilos at the start. Daily food portions are close to 1,1 kg, so there is around 60 kilos of food in total.”
ExplorersWeb: You are from Finland, and snow and ice were your playground. Do you think that will be an advantage for skiing to the South Pole or is Antarctica a place not to underestimate? What will be the challenge for you?
Vesa: That is definitely an advantage! I live 100 meters from Baltic Sea, which is frozen 2-3 months a year due to lesser salinity. Winter conditions in Helsinki vary daily and usual temperatures are between 0 and minus 15 degrees Celsius. And it is often windy, so almost as perfect as it can be in urban context for Antarctica simulation. Lapland is also nearby, which provides very good training grounds as well.
I think there is no room for underestimating a place like Antarctica. I have faced a Piteraq and few other strong storms in Greenland and know what it might be at worst. So I have put a lot of thought how to set up my tent if high winds hit me. Still, I think the biggest challenge for me will be the solitude. On the other hand, that is what I want to explore here.
ExplorersWeb: How did your training program for this expedition look like?
Vesa: That I wouldn’t normally do: a lot’s of swimming, running and bicycling. Last winter I skied a lot, and there have been few treks both summer and winter.
ExplorersWeb: What is still on your to-do list for these last few days?
Vesa: Almost all my gear is already in Punta Arenas, I currently familiarize myself with all my electronics and how they play together. I’ll spend over one week in Punta preparing my meals, as Chile customs are quite strict about importing food to their country.
ExplorersWeb: What have you learned from other Finns who have done Polar expeditions?
Vesa: A lot, if not all I know. We have an active community called “Arctic Club of Finland” (http://www.arktinenklubi.fi/enindex.html). There is a yearly meeting where expeditions or scientific programs from (ant)arctic regions of past year give presentations and share information. Meeting is always held at Nanoq-museum in Pietarsaari, which is a “must see” for all polar explorers if visiting Finland.
I have been in Svalbard once and Greenland twice with different teams and with experienced people. For all my trips there has been something new: new gear or how to do things. And just few weeks ago I was able to save few kilos from my already fine-tuned gear list just by discussing with one of my friends. So communication and asking around is one the key things.
ExplorersWeb: Not everyone can do a solo expedition. Why do you think you can cope all this time on your own? What do you think will be the challenges of not having a team mate?
Vesa: Don’t know, but that’s one of the most interesting things here, since none of Finns has done it before. I expect it can be quite rough mentally at times.
In addition to loneliness, I think biggest challenges are related to safety issues: you have to be able to do everything yourself even if it is bad weather or if you’re sick or injured. So I’ll try to do everything carefully, whether it is handling boiling water or skiing in crevasse areas. I’ll rather do it slow than taking risks.
ExplorersWeb: What do you take with to entertain yourself?
Vesa: Waltari’s book “The Egyptian”, which is one of Finnish classics I should have read long time ago, and MP3-player filled with music.
ExplorersWeb: Tell us about your menu please? Did you pack special treats?
Vesa: Have the usual pasta, rice etc. with me, and a lot’s of chocolate. There is never enough chocolate with you and in past expeditions it has become valuable means of payment. One can easily buy a house with bar of chocolate during these trips. Now that it is of course only internal trades. But I won’t take anything special with me.
Vesa Luomala lives in Helsinki, Finland. When not on expedition he works as an IT-architect in Helsinki. In his free time he does various sports and try to visit Lapland as often as possible.
Biography by Vesa
- Born 1975
- First trek 1990 (2 weeks in Lapland)
- Compulsory military service 1994-1995 in parachute ranger school of Finland. It taught me a lot about how to cope in outdoors, both summer and winter conditions
- 2000 I graduated from university, my major was major IT systems. I started to work for my current employer Accenture
- First winter expedition in Finnish Lapland 2004, it was below minus 30 degrees almost whole week, which gave very good experiences about Arctic traveling
- First Arctic expedition in Svalbard 2005, reached 80ºN. My teammates were Petri Mäkelä, Sami Nytorp, Seppo Virtanen and O-P Lahti
- Crossed Greenland with Eero Oura, 2006 from Isortoq to Kangerlussuaq. At the very first day on the ice we faced a Piteraq storm, which almost broke our tent. Highest measured winds were 34 m/s and it lasted 1 and half days. Luckily we were warned about the forthcoming storm by an inuit called Salo, who was descending the glacier, just half an hour before it started so we had some time to prepare ourselves.
- 2010 we kite-skied with Toni Vaartimo from Narsaq to Qaanaaq. Our idea was to visit Kap Morris Jesup and Kaffeklubben island and had food for 100 days, but the weather was not on our side. One week from the start it started to rain and it lasted 11 days in row, so quite quickly we were forced to shorten our route. Maybe we’ll try it again one day!
Gateway port Punta Arenas, Chile, South America:
To ALE/ANI base camp, Union Glacier
79° 45'S, 083° 14'W
Hercules Inlet is located at 80°S near Union Glacier, 1130 km from the Geographic South Pole.
A "solo" ski requires an unassisted status (therefore no supplies carried by pilots or car drivers, or anything received from any person).
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