An Antarctic skier on an expedition to the South Pole became seriously ill last weekend, prompting an emergency evacuation from the ice. The story underscores some of the potential dangers with adventure travel and the issues that can arise when visiting a remote destination.
Kathy Braegger traveled to Antarctica to join a group of four other adventurers who are making their way from the Ronne Ice Shelf to the South Pole on foot. The journey was expected to cover more than 550 miles of ice and snow and take upwards of six weeks to complete, but just a few days in, Braegger took ill, requiring an emergency airlift off the continent.
Normally if we get sick on a trip, it is fairly easy to find basic medical assistance or, if it is a particularly serious issue, a hospital. That obviously isn’t an option when you’re in the Antarctic, which is one of the most remote places on the planet. Fortunately, a company called Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions handles much of the traffic coming and going from the frozen continent and have dealt with similar situations in the past. The ALE team sprang into action, sending a plane to land on the ice, pick up Baregger, and successfully airlift her back to Punta Arenas, Chile. The last report said she was receiving plenty of care and already on the road to recovery.
From the team’s report on the the incident is unclear exactly what caused Braegger to get sick, but considering where she was traveling at the time, it could have been any number of things. For instance, most people don’t realize that Antarctica has the highest average elevation of any continent on Earth, which means altitude sickness can be a real problem. Factor in the lower atmospheric pressure and thinner air that is present at the Poles, and any physical activity can be become very demanding there. Of course, the incredibly cold temperatures, howling winds, and frequent blizzards don’t help to facilitate easy travel there either or staying healthy either.
Undaunted by the fact that one of their teammates needed an emergency exit from the ice, the rest of Kathy’s team, which is being led by Polar explorer Richard Weber, have continued on with their journey to the South Pole.