Veteran Belgium polar adventurer, Dixie Dansercoer, has teamed up with new generation Belgium polar adventurer, Sam Deltour, for a 6000 km kite skiing expedition on Antarctica at the end of the year.
ExWebs Correne Coetzer has caught up with the guys between meetings, public speaking and preparations. They talked about how this route was created, the unknown territory, what they see as challenges, and why they have decided to team up as there is a 23 year age difference between them.
Explorersweb: How did you come to plan this circular route?
Dixie: Looking at all kinds of maps and studying them in dept is one of my favorite pastimes whereby I let myself be transported to the different places on these maps. I try to imagine how life is at these imaginary places and how the travelling would have to be organized.
Clearly, maps of the Polar Regions get my special attention and I got mesmerized by Antarctic maps depicting wind patterns, strength and direction. The circular motion of the katabatic winds in East Antarctica is due to the plateau offering descending winds all along and a bit of symbolism with our company Polar Circles made the choice for this route just a little easier.
It has been a long time since I crossed the continent together with Alain Hubert in 1997-98 from the former Belgian Base to McMurdo, and I have followed the kite business from close up. With the ameliorated performances, I know that we can do much better than our 3932 km in 99 days.
Being in contact with several meteorologists and scientists specializing in katabatic winds, I did some in-depth research and after analysis of all of the data, I was able to discern a circular route offering favorable winds for kite skiing.
Explorersweb: Dixie, what do you see as most challenging of this route?
Dixie: The first leg of the expedition, from our departure point in Queen Maud Land to the South Pole is pretty much known terrain. Once past the Pole, our azimuth will not be the Axel Heiberg glacier as last time, but from there onward, we only have virtual waypoints that correspond with the most favorable itinerary.
We will approximately stay at an altitude of 2500 and follow these contour lines in a clockwise motion and aim for the coast in phase two of the expedition. From the point where the winds start rushing for the coast, we will be at the mercy of wind direction and strength.
But the true challenge in all of our expeditions resides in our quest to discover unknown territory, without the reports of those who did it before us. Eastern Antarctica, due to its remoteness and difficult logistics, is clearly that. All other difficulties, I think, are the knowns as this is what we do wholeheartedly and will the greatest dedication.
Explorersweb: Sam, what do you see as your biggest challenge?
Sam: I think my biggest challenge will be not to make any mistakes. Physically Ill be perfectly fit for the trip. Being out there has been a childhood dream and Im looking forward to dissolve in all the colors of white.
However, as beautiful as the landscape might appear down there, its unforgiving as well. The human species wasnt designed to live on the Antarctic plateau. I will have to take care of myself, my fingers, my toes, my body, our equipment
Explorersweb: How much knowledge is available of your route and how much will be unknown territory?
Dixie: As I already did the stretch to the South Pole, this part of the expedition does not concern me too much but there are a couple of critical points where the wind direction changes dramatically or when we have to take a big detour at the Lambert Glacier where the presence of huge crevasses may not be ignored. As soon as we start the second half circle, we will be in true Terra Incognita.
Explorersweb: This is wind supported, and the wind plays a big role in the way you planned the route what if the wind doesnt blow, are you willing to sledge-haul to the SP; or are you willing to change your route?
Dixie: As the winds in Antarctica follow very stable patterns, I would be very much surprised to learn that the winds would not present themselves in that way. The entire expedition is based on the wind and it would be unwise to think that sled hauling would help us reach the goal.
With a quick calculation, we need to average 60 km/day, which is clearly impossible on foot. The days of hailing sled-hauling over the wind-supported expeditions or calling them inferior are long gone it seem to me. They are two separate ways of carrying out polar expeditions and should be considered as such.
As we know that we must look for wind, even when there is none, we have pushed the research in exactly that direction and will be pulling up kites while running, creating apparent wind and thus making the gigantic kites go up to search for wind higher up.
Explorersweb: What kites will you take?
Dixie: We have the good fortune to have the support of Ozone kites and will be taking along the trainer XT 6m, the 9m and 11m Frenzy, and a 14 Yakuza. For the no-wind days, we have our own custom made 50 square meter kites. Still in doubt if we should take the 30 square meter ones as well.
Explorersweb: Why did you two chose each other of this expedition? What do you see as the other ones strong points?
Dixie: Sam and I met during the Sierre-Zinal mountain running race in Switzerland, when Sam was a young passionate guy, just graduated from High School. I had a cooperation with Swiss Tourism during 3 years to promote the Swiss mountains nature and Sam had won a competition to partake in this running race, which we ran together.
My wife and I saw in Sam a special someone and followed his path of passionate travel, his dedication to his studies and his unbridled drive to go dogmushing in Alaska. We would also tease each other as soon as the wind was up to go kiteboarding at the Belgian coast, thus becoming one with the new kites.
Sam is full of energy, always willing to help and is full of good humor and it has been his childhood dream to cross the continent. A good polar traveler is someone who can detach himself fully from any attachments and have enough willpower and determination to keep going; Sam has all of those qualities.
Sam: I guess Im just terribly lucky Dixie approached me asking if I wanted to join him on this trip. As you could read above fate allowed our paths to cross eight years ago. The Polar Regions and the world of expeditions from the present and the past colored my childhood. I had already heard about Dixie on the television and read books dealing with his previous expeditions.
I used to spend hours watching maps trying to find routes for expeditions I would be able to do in the future. I always wanted to find new challenges. It was very special for me to meet Dixie, someone who understood and lived by this passion for adventures. In a very trustful, gentle and respectful way he and his wife supported me to follow the path of my dreams.
Ive had the honor and pleasure to travel with Dixie to the Arctic and Antarctic regions now. Its amazing to witness the communication between Dixie and the landscapes he travels through. Hes never fighting the winds but embraces them. He never curses the cold but gently protects himself for the grittiness of extreme temperatures. He never gets frustrated by what Nature throws at him, instead he accepts and looks for a solution, even if all he can do is smile.
Being out there Dixie has to ability to get in a state of mind where intuition, emotions, feelings and rationality are in a state of effortless balance allowing him to make the right decisions. He feels at home. Like an eagle surveying the sky with gentle wing-beats.
Yet, even though he is almost 25 years older than I am, we can still make fun of ourselves and of the world, just like little children.
Explorersweb: What preparations/training did you did you do (still doing) for this expedition?
Dixie: Since September last year, we have done training and testing on the ice in Iceland, Antarctica and in Norway. Besides that there is the never-ending search for better, lighter and more practical equipment whereby you may not give in and just take whatever you took on the last expedition; higher ambitions require a more professional attitude.
On the physical level, we follow a training program that was drawn up by advisers to the Belgian Olympic committee and the kites keep us busy to develop the most effective and safest techniques.
Mentally, we each have our ways to prepare the mind for the long absence and the monotony such an Antarctic expedition imposes.
Explorersweb: How much food do you plan to take with?
Dixie: Being limited with the logistical support to get on and off the continent, we foresee a maximum of 100 days of food, which has now become a classic for the longer expeditions that we carry out such as the Antarctic crossing 97, the first attempt to cross the Arctic with Alain from the New Siberian Islands and our successful crossing of the Arctic with landing in Greenland in 2007, again with Alain. As we will be very far away from the logistical support by TAC (ALCI), it is our goal to execute the expedition in complete autonomy.
For full biographies of the team as on their website, click here.
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