(By Correne Coetzer) On January 22 when Vesa Loumala reached 90 degrees South from Hercules Inlet, he became the first person from Finland to ski solo from the coast of Antarctica to the Geographic South Pole. Covering a distance of 1130 km, he had no resupplies on the way and no car or kite support.
ExplorersWeb caught up with the Fin at home where he talked about his experience, and in particular the impression that the South Pole made on him.
Was the expedition what you thought it would be? Did Finland and Greenland prepare you for Antarctica?
Vesa: Quite much, I did not have any big surprises. I assumed that snow would be much harder during the expedition, but there was a lot of surprisingly soft snow almost from the start.
Also, sastrugi-fields were much larger than 87 degrees, that I expected. They started from 86.20 and lasted until 88.30. So information we got beforehand: “sastrugi-field is most 87” did not quite hold :-). I assume this changes yearly as well.
How did you handle being solo for such a long time
Vesa: It was surprising that I never felt lonely: during the day I had to concentrate either on weather or weight of my sledge. And evenings were filled with work from water melting, reporting and blogging. I had some 0,5 to 1 hours of free time daily, which I mostly used for relaxing and listening of music.
What was the most challenging, and how did you motivate yourself to keep going?
Vesa: I had two top-hated weather conditions: strong wind + drifting snow, and whiteout + sastrugi. Everyone else had to cope with them, so I told myself I’m not an exception. But few times I did only half a day for sake of security.
Also, I lost too much weight (20 kilos), but that I only learned afterwards, I was not hungry during the expedition. Anyway, I need to analyze what went wrong with that. Others did longer days than me and did not lose that much weight, I think.
What lessons have you learned during this expedition that you will take with you or give to other?
Vesa: One should have good equipment, especially for hand, foot and face. Even though I had a facemask, I got some really painful frostbites to my lips at the last degree.
Another lesson is that prepare for mentally bad times as well. Now that I have read blogs of other expeditions and these pro-expeditioners like Ben and Tarka, I realized that everybody struggles mentally every now and then. But even then they are able to get themselves out of the tent every day and follow their plan.
Did your clothes work well? What were you favorite items?
Vesa: Everything worked pretty well, my favorite items were those hand covers attached to ski poles, they were so essential! [Ed: pogies]
If I ever go out there again, there is something I have to do about my facemask. It was good but I still got some frostbites.
When you arrived at the South Pole the ANI camp was already taken down. How was it to arrive at the Pole?
Vesa: Luckily, I did not know there had been any camp. Only thing I knew was that Daniel would be there as he had arrived day before. When I found him at ANI camping site, I was confused to see few marks where really big tents had been. Later I learned what they had been there, but I was already at Union Glacier that time.
The best moment about Pole was when I first saw it from 89.47.00. It was clear blue skies and it looked really beautiful from the distance, like I had been in some Star Wars movie. I also had a warm and relieved feeling at that point.
The next day, when I arrived to actual Pole, I felt nothing. I just read Ben’s description about the place and it was surprisingly close how I saw it. “What an awful place, so different from my imagination”. It is like you had skied in the middle of an industrial area, where someone had put ice-hockey stick in one corner marking something significant.
Now that I afterwards think about it, I find it interesting that something I had dreamed so long turned out to be a place like that. So it did not ruin anything, just the opposite, as I find it pretty funny!
What did you enjoy during the expedition?
Vesa: The feeling of rising self-confidence. That I’m out here on my own and I can do this. Even during the days with horrible weather, when everything you do is count minutes for day to end.
Vesa: This was a trip of a lifetime in every way and whole 2,5 months from home to home. There were a bunch of good and skilled people to support me both when in I was in Chile and when I was in Antarctica. I really appreciate what they did for me and my expedition to be successful.
#polar #southpole2013 #southpole2013-14 #antarctica #vesaluomala
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