QUEEN MAUD LAND, Antarctica — An American polar adventurer and her Norwegian partner arrived in Antarctica on Monday, hoping to become the first women to ski unaided across the frozen continent.
When their Russian-built Ilyushin 76 airplane skidded to a halt on an ice runway, American Ann Bancroft and Norwegian Liv Arnesen immediately called their support base in Minnesota by a satellite phone.
"All is well. We have landed. Over and out," Bancroft said.
Arriving was an accomplishment in itself. The expedition had been scheduled to start Nov. 1, but high winds and low clouds grounded the plane and forced them to wait 12 days in Cape Town, South Africa.
"It's fabulous to be here," Bancroft, of Scania, Minn., said after landing in Queen Maud Land, a breathtaking expanse of snow and blue ice 125 miles south of the Antarctic coastline.
Bancroft and Arnesen want to be the first women to ski across Antarctica with no outside assistance. Towing a heavy sled, they plan to ski 2,400 miles across a barren expanse, where winds blast up to 100 mph and summertime temperatures average 30 degrees below zero.
The weather Monday was nearly perfect, windless and relatively warm at 14 degrees.
"I think it's the warmest we have ever seen it," Arnesen said.
Bancroft and Arnesen had planned to set off immediately, but decided to get a good night's sleep first and start skiing Tuesday morning.
The delay in reaching the continent means a race against time. The two had planned make the trek in 100 days but will have to pick up the pace to complete it before mid-February, when plunging temperatures begin to freeze the ocean, preventing a boat from collecting them on the other side of the continent.
If it goes as planned, the journey will take Bancroft, 45, and Arnesen, 47, from Queen Maud Land across the South Pole to the McMurdo station on the Ross ice shelf.
Throughout the trip, they plan to relay their experiences over the Internet to schoolchildren around the globe with help from the U.S. National Center for Health Education.
They do not expect to see another human being until they pass through an American research station at the South Pole at around New Year. They will not see a sunset.
The women plan to ski and windsail 10 or 12 hours a day, traveling about 1 mile an hour on their own power and 25 times faster when they hook on their sails.
They are likely to encounter blizzards and whiteouts, a common Antarctic phenomenon in which a uniformly gray or white sky over the snow-covered surface can disorient travelers.
In 1994, Arnesen, of Oslo, became the first woman to ski alone and unaided to the South Pole — a 50-day journey. Bancroft was the first woman to ski to both the North Pole and the South Pole.
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