Plane reaches polar explorers
ROSS ICE SHELF, Antarctica (CNN) -- A plane landed on a runway made of ice Friday to pick up the first women to cross the Antarctic land mass on skis and take them back to civilization.
The ski-equipped Twin Otter plane landed on a runway constructed Thursday morning by explorers Ann Bancroft, 45, and Liv Arnesen, 47.
Their tent served as a landmark for the pilot, and then served as a room where the pilot and two women ate lunch.
They were expected to remain on the ground until 45-knot winds died down, said Charlie Hartwell, president of yourexpedition.com, the 13-person Minneapolis company that has spent more than two years planning the trip.
Once airborne, they will be flown more than 400 miles to a site near McMurdo. Updated weather reports will determine the best place to leave them, he said.
They hope to make it to a site near the Australian ship Sir Hubert Wilkins, he said. If that's not possible, the women may spend another night in their tent before being picked up by a helicopter from the ship. "That's all dependent on the wind and weather," Hartwell said. "Life in Antarctica is controlled by those two things."
Once aboard the ship, the cruise back to Hobart, Australia will take 10 to 14 days. From there, the women will fly to New York City to share their story with news outlets. A book, too, is in the works.
On Thursday, the women gave up their efforts to cross the Ross Ice Shelf and ski into McMurdo Station and instead requested that the plane be sent. Four days earlier, they had accomplished their primary goal of crossing the Antarctic land mass on skis.
Bancroft, from Scandia, Minnesota, and Arnesen, of Oslo, Norway, gave up after spending 93 days pulling and sailing sleds loaded with 250 pounds of gear and food. Uncharacteristically calm winds on the windiest continent on Earth slowed their progress and made it unlikely they would meet their goal of skiing and sailing across 2,400 miles before February 21, when cold weather makes flights too dangerous.
Despite extensive planning, the trip contained surprises. One pleasant one was that the Apple Power Books they used to chronicle their adventure worked at 34 degrees below zero.
But the lack of wind during most of the trip was the biggest surprise, and it took a toll. During a nine-day stretch when there was no wind and the women were 280 miles from the South Pole, "I think there were some real down times," said Hartwell.
During the windless days, the women pulled their 250-pound sleds at 1 mile an hour when they had expected to be sailing at 7 miles an hour, he said.
The reduced pace led them to begin rationing food. "They were living on oatmeal and chocolate, basically, for 10 days," Hartwell said.
Some of life's creature comforts were missed, too, he said. "They would say, 'I wish I had a newspaper to read, I wish I had a chair to sit on, I wish I had an apple.' "
But both relished the solitude, he said.
The women battled severe bouts of tendinitis, and Bancroft strained her pectoral muscles and a knee.
And then there were the general bruises. On the few days when the winds were gusting, Bancroft more than once was lifted 10 feet into the air by the sail, and then thrown back onto the ice when the winds died.
"I'm sure she's got some black and blue marks," Hartwell said.
They have been communicating via a satellite phone with yourexpedition.com and a worldwide audience. Their message: "You've got to figure out in this one life that we live what it is that you want to do," Hartwell said. "Then you can't be afraid to make a sacrifice to accomplish that dream."
Sponsors of the $1.5 million trip include Volvo, Motorola, Pfizer, the Girl Scouts and Apple Computers.
The women will plan other adventures together, he said, but those will not include a return to Antarctica.
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