The Icelandic drivers and their vehicles from Arctic Trucks are well known for their driving skills and abilities in remote polar areas, in particular after the Top Gear program with Jeremy Clarkson and his team where the cars challenged Polar veteran Matty McNairs dog team to the Magnetic North Pole.
Earlier this week ExWebs Correne Coetzer asked the manager of Arctic Trucks Experience, Aron Reynisson, more about the vehicles that they use on Antarctica. This seasons fleet of cars from Arctic Trucks will support three expeditions to the South Pole. The cars will drive all the way from the Russian base Novolazarevskaya (70Â° 4637S, 11Â° 4926E) in Queen Maud Land to the South Pole and back; a distance of approx. 4600 km.
ExplorersWeb: What type of vehicle/car do you use on Antarctica?
Aron: We use the Toyota Hilux, double cabin pickup trucks. It is one of the few cars still produced that is strong, simple, and reliable and can be modified for this kind of job.
ExplorersWeb: How easy is it to drive to the South Pole? Are there areas that you know you have to avoid?
Aron: It is by no means easy to drive to the South Pole. But here at home in Iceland we have been driving on glaciers and in the mountains for the last 40 years. In that time we have gained a lot of experience with this kind of driving. There are areas on the way with crevasses but we are using ground radar on the leading vehicle to map them. We have learned where the dangerous areas are and we avoid them if possible.
ExplorersWeb: How do you detect crevasses?
Aron: We are constantly on the outlook for them and we detect them with ground radar when we are in an area where we expect crevasses. But it slows us down to look for them with the radar so we try to avoid the areas where they can be found. This is the fourth season in Antarctica and we have gained a lot of knowledge about the area.
ExplorersWeb: How big are the cars engines?
Aron: 3,0 L diesel with a five speed automatic transmission.
ExplorersWeb: How big/wide are the tires?
Aron: The tires are 44 inch high and 18,5 inch wide.
ExplorersWeb: What tire pressure do you use? Do you sometimes lower the tire pressure, like in more soft snow?
Aron: We play constantly with the tire pressure. It can be from 2psi to 10psi depending on the conditions. When we get soft snow, we lower the pressure. Temperature and altitude affects the tire pressure as well.
ExplorersWeb: Do you ever put chains on the tires for more grip?
Aron: No we never use chains, but the tires are studded for more grip on blue-ice so we donÂ´t slide into crevasses or each other.
ExplorersWeb: How easily can a car get stuck in the snow?
Aron: It is easy to get a car stuck, just open the throttle fully and you are stuck. When driving on snow you have to be super sensitive on the throttle and you have to have a feeling/experience with what tire pressure to use.
ExplorersWeb: What equipment do you have to get the cars out?
Aron: The most common equipment is an elastic tow strap and we simply tow it out with another vehicle. But in extreme cases we use the winch and snow anchors. And then there is the old fashion shovel and two hands to dig and push the car out.
ExplorersWeb: Has it ever happened that all of them got stuck at one time?
Aron: Yes that has happened and then we use the shovel and the winch.
ExplorersWeb: What is the minimum number of cars that drive together?
Aron: Two vehicles travelling together is not a problem. It is possible to travel alone as well but that is not as safe and we donÂ´t it if we can avoid it.
ExplorersWeb: What so you do to prevent the oil from freezing?
Aron: We dont do anything to prevent it. Frozen oil is not a problem; we just warm it up again.
ExplorersWeb: Do you keep the engines going all the time while traveling to the South Pole or do you switch them off sometimes when you have to stop for the expedition or at night/sleep time?
Aron: Usually we try to avoid turning off the engines if possible. The cold takes its toll on the engines and when we have to turn them off, we have webasto heaters to warm them up before we start them. We try to drive for as long period as possible by taking shifts and sleeping in the car. But we do also sleep in tents to get proper rest in between.
ExplorersWeb: What have been the coldest temperatures that the cars have been operating in?
Aron: The coldest temperature was minus 47Â°C I believe.
[Check in again for much more info about the cars, about the fuel tanks and refueling, the modifications to the cars, the new 6x6 vehicle and the Icelandic drivers/mechanics]
ExWeb interview with Aron Reynisson (final): We literarily tear the vehicles apart and rebuild them with components proven to tolerate the cold climate.
Aron Reynisson is a trained mountain guide and the manager for Arctic Trucks Experience http://www.arctictrucks-experience.com. He is 46 years old, father of three children and lives in Reykjavik, Iceland. His work is to take people into the highlands in Iceland and teach them to drive on top of the glaciers, through the strong currents of the glacial rivers and basically to do anything that can be done with a car off-road. Aron says his interests aside from travelling are hiking, mountain biking, windsurfing, kiting, backcountry skiing, paragliding, riding snowmobiles and dirt bikes.
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