Friday, November 20, 2009

Hill lady in Antarctica, aim South Pole

Darjeeling, Nov. 19: Strong whispering wind in Antarctica might have blown away the tents but it has failed to shred the spirit of Reena Kaushal Dharmshaktu, who as a member of the Kaspersky Lab Commonwealth Antarctic Expedition is vying to be the first Indian woman to ski to the South Pole.

While speaking exclusively to The Telegraph “from somewhere in Antarctica”, Reena sounded high on adrenaline. “The conditions are beautiful but difficult. The winds are very strong and two of our tents were blown away and we had to work hard to set them up again,” she said over the sat-phone.

After spending a week at Punta Arenas, Chile, as part of the pre-expedition preparation, the team reached the base camp in Antarctica on a specially equipped aircraft. The four-and-a-half hour flight is undertaken only a few times each year during the short austral summer.

The team is presently camping somewhere near the Patriot Hills — which is the only commercial base camp in Antarctica. The Hills lie on the lee of a range of mountains, including Antarctica's tallest peak, Mt Vinsion, and are situated near a vast area of naturally occurring blue ice that is used as a runaway, said a spokesperson of the team in an email to The Telegraph.

“We will be leaving this place in the next two days for another point from where we will start to ski,” said Reena, a Darjeeling girl who settled in Delhi after marrying Everester Loveraj Dharmshaktu.

Once the team starts skiing, there will be no trained guides or dropping of food. The team will have to fend for themselves, do every chore right from pitching the tent to cooking their meals on their own.

“We are getting up as early as 7am and skiing as much as possible,” said Reena.

For a week, the team has acclimatised at Patriot Hills where the average temperature has hovered between –20 degrees Celsius and –40 degrees Celsius. They have also adjusted to 24-hour daylight and dazzling scenery that is so bright that it could cause blindness and the constant threat of serious sunburn because of lack of sufficient ozone above Antarctica.

The Kaspersky Expedition will see women from eight Commonwealth countries – Brunei, Cyprus, Ghana, India, Jamaica, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom – brave blizzards, crevasses and temperatures below –40 degrees Celsius as they ski 900km over approximately 40 days to the Geographic South Pole. On reaching their target, the team members from Brunei, Cyprus, Ghana and Jamaica will be the first people from their respective nations, male or female, to ski to the South Pole.

Those from India, New Zealand and Singapore will be the first women from their nations to make this symbolic and prestigious journey. The expedition, which is being led by Felicity Aston, is being organised to mark the 60th anniversary of the Commonwealth and is expected to reach South Pole during the first week of January.

Reena has not been able to contact any of her family members. “Please tell them I am absolutely fine and please tell all my well-wishers to pray for me,” she said.

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