Belgian polar record attempt hits snag in Antarctica

BRUSSELS Wed Nov 16, 2011 9:54am EST

A seal swims by icebergs off the British Antarctic Survey's Rothera base January 23, 2009.   REUTERS/Alister Doyle

A seal swims by icebergs off the British Antarctic Survey's Rothera base January 23, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Alister Doyle

BRUSSELS (Reuters Life!) - Two Belgian Antarctic explorers trying to set a world record for the longest polar expedition without outside support or motorized aid will try to plot a new route after heavy storms made their initial course impassable.

Adventurers Dixie Dansercoer and Sam Deltour had aimed to take advantage of the continent's wind patterns to cover a record 6,000 km (3,728 miles) in 100 days, using kites to help sail their sleds across the ice and snow.

After 10 days on Queen Maud Land the pair encountered impassable sastrugi -- ice and snow formations made by strong wind -- and overpowering headwinds, which made it impossible for them to continue along their chosen route.

"We spent 10 days in a labyrinth of sastrugi, which are the result of three unprecedented winter storms. We've only managed to proceed 4 km a day (2-1/2 miles a day)," Dansercoer told Reuters by satellite phone from Antarctica.

"Queen Maud Land has become an unsurmountable area for polar travelers such as ourselves."

In order to break the five-year-old record set by Norwegian Rune Gjeldnes, the pair would have to travel an average of 60 km a day (37 miles a day).

A Russian airplane will aim to pick up the pair from the ice on Wednesday to take them back to the NOVO research station, from where they will plan a new route.

"We are waiting to hear from the pilots, but the weather is pretty bad so we're waiting impatiently," Dansercoer said.

"Over the last 10 days temperatures have been between -30 and -40 degrees Celsius (-22 to -40 Fahrenheit), and we faced constant headwinds. That's asking for trouble and we've seen first symptoms of freezing around our noses and cheeks and we have to be very careful."

Project manager Stefan Maes said there were plans for a new drop-off point further to the south, from where the two hoped to restart their mission.

"The aim is to drop them off somewhere where they can use their kites, which wasn't the case over the past days," Maes said.

(Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; editing by Rex Merrifield and Paul Casciato)