It seems strange writing about crossing the coldest continent on Earth in the middle of a summer heatwave in Melbourne – its meant to be +44C tomorrow!

The last three months have been a hard graft – gradually developing the Breaking the Cycle – South Pole projects while finishing off my book and waiting for my film to be completely done (after a few more technical hitches). Editing Njinga, the book has been a long and complex process, but we are getting there. The first chapters are now with the designer while I work on the final edit of last section. Once the design phase is near-complete I will be able to give an indication of the publishing date. Njinga, the film is on track for completion by the end of January. Then Martin from Lateral Vision Productions will be working furiously to enter it into as many major film festivals as possible. I can’t wait to see the final version.

The momentum of my physical preparation for Antarctica was slowed up when I underwent a minor nose/sinus operation, the recovery of which has been drawn out after a subsequent infection. I also competed in two Australian Opens for real tennis which requires a very different type of preparation. In October I managed to win both the singles and doubles and miraculously my world ranking returned to No.2. Then, earlier this week, I competed in the 2014 Aus Open (they changed the date this year) and lost in the final convincingly to Claire Vigrass, women’s world No.1 (and who has reached the best standard for a woman player ever). Now I’ll allow myself to recover for a week before I am back into my Antarctic preparations.

Since early December, I have been watching with keen interest the progress of three cyclists bound for the South Pole. Juan Menendez Granados (Spain), who is making an unassisted cycle/ski attempt, Daniel Burton (US), who is cycling unsupported but using three supply drops (about every 300km) and Maria Leijerstam (UK), who announced her fully supported attempt just before she set off in mid-December. Juan and Daniel began from Hercules Inlet on their 1200km route at the same time. They both now have less than 100km to go – Juan, who has carried all his food and fuel from the start is now seriously low on food. Maria, however, had a very different approach, which turned out to be a very astute and successful plan. She chose the shortest legitimate route from the coast to the South Pole, starting at Leveret Glacier and following the McMurdo Highway to the South Pole (its not a proper highway but an icy route connecting the US bases – McMurdo on the coast to Amundsen-Scott at the South Pole). Maria used a specially designed recumbent trike and absolutely smashed it, covering the 600km distance (approximately) in just over ten days which included climbing to an altitude of 3200m on to the plateau. Maria has done an incredible job to become the first person to cycle to the South Pole! Hopefully Juan and Daniel will also reach their goals in the next couple of days.

The success of these expeditions doesn’t alter my desire to cycle to the South Pole and in some ways I feel released to attempt to do what I really wanted to do – and had been planning all along as my ultimate goal – to cycle across the continent. This will be in line with all of my previous major expeditions – across Russia, Australia and Africa – its what I do. The purposes will be the same and the approach will be the same, although I have watched the others and will always be learning and innovating. The minimum distance is around 1850km, which I will do fully supported. We are in the process of redrafting the marketing brochure, so there will be more information soon, but I am really excited about the challenge. The most urgent requirement right now are funds for the training and preparations during this year.

Before Christmas I had a couple of very exciting meetings. Firstly, I flew up to Canberra and met with David Edwards of Mont Australia and am pleased to announce that they will be our major clothing and equipment sponsor. David has started to design my all-important outer shell along with the down clothing. I also met with David Bishop, a professor at Victoria University, and it looks as though they will help with a more scientific approach to my physical preparations. The ISEAL Department have a climate chamber which can operate down to -20C…that sounds like a good place to be right now, writing here in the sweltering heat!

Breaking The Cycle South Pole © PhilCoates.TV (106) (1) - Copy


  1. says

    Hi Kate, just been to Everest basecamp and Island Peak, 6,150 metres high . . . Was up to minus 35 degrees with the wind chill . . . Nearly lost my nose to frostbite, fingers and toes doing well. Talk to you about protective gear needed when back in Australia . . . Now in Pokhara, closer to sea level and warmer . . .

  2. says

    It is curious that since the 1992/93 manhaul traverse by Ran Fiennes and Mike Stroud (Berkner Island-SP-bottom of Beardmore/Ross Ice Shelf) which claimed to have crossed the continent …by saying that the continent is defined by sea water existing under the Ross Ice Shelf….it now seems routine for others such as Maria Leijerstam’s recumbent traverse to also claim to have started from ‘the coast’ when she flew into the base of the Leveret. Even in Ran Fiennes’ latest book ‘Cold’ he ends the chapter on his traverse by saying they skied “well out out onto the sea ice” at the bottom of the Beardmore to complete an unsupported crossing of the continent (they were in extremis and needed urgent aircraft pick-up) …when of course the Ross Ice Shelf is continental fresh water glacier-fed ice many hundreds of metres thick. The base of the Transantarctic mountains may technically have sea water way way below but to call this the coast is to denigrate other remarkable crossings such as Fuchs/Messner, Steger/Etienne, Mordre brothers, Ousland, Hubert/Dansercoer etc I totally applaud anyone brave enough to make any sort of traverse in Antarctica but web sites, books etc should be 100% accurate and open as to where the start/stop their journey, what constitutes ‘support’ / transport in and out/ resupply etc so as not to mislead anyone let alone polar history.

    • Kate says

      Great points Colin. I agree that it is essential to fully disclose details of the challenge undertaken. Maria’s journey was a 600km ride up the McMurdo Highway, a different proposition to cycling across untouched snow and ice, but still it counts as a legitimate cycle ride from the ‘coast’ to the South Pole. Anyone who skis or cycles the route from Hercules Inlet, 1200km to the SP can also quite often pick up on tracks. We should always remember the achievements of earlier explorers and the conditions they faced using the best equipment available for the day and with a lesser knowledge of what they would face, but any modern expedition may as well make the most of available technology, knowledge and conditions. I need to do more testing of equipment and training runs throughout, as well as find enough funding before I make a final decision on which route I will take for my supported crossing of the continent.

      • Colin Monteath says

        Cheers Kate…re ‘making most of available technology’ it is interesting that Sherpas who routinely keep the Nepalese icefall route open on Everest and carry loads through are now touting to use a helicopter to skip over the icefall….while I understand their point re prolonged exposure to danger year after year while the western climber sits in bascamp….somewhere along this line of what is fair/acceptable/still able to say I climbed Everest you may as well install a cablecar to the top which is what has happened in Europe.

        I think Maria did pretty well on her recumbent tricycle up…as you say up the Mcmurdo ‘road’/flagged route…and although I didnt look that closely at her FB postings or web site i did struggle to work out if she had skidoo support that hauled most of her food/fuel. It didnt look like she was carrying much on the bike. To most casual observers or readers in UK of news reports it sounded as if she was totally unsupported while peddling.

  3. says

    Just read that you are now planning across Antarctica. Wow! We should talk. I just completed the trip from Hercules to the South Pole and could give you some insight on biking in Antarctica.

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