One hundred years ago Wednesday, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his team were the first to reach the South Pole on skis. Veteran traveler Felicity Aston is nearing another first: becoming the first woman to ski across Antarctica alone.
Reached by NPR by satellite phone early Wednesday morning, Aston was about a degree and a half — 100 miles — from the South Pole. For Aston, a degree is about four days skiing. She's been skiing for 20 days. Overall, Aston will travel about 1,000 miles.
"If I unzipped my tent door and have a look outside, it really is the sort of classic Antarctic scenery — very white, right to the horizon, 360 degrees," she tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "It's a pretty awesome place to be."
So why make the trek?
"Being out here is really to find out what it's like to be out here on my own and also a journey I guess to find my personal limits," Aston says.
And she has been tested on her journey, as evidenced by her frequent Twitter updates. Recently, she tweeted that Saturday "was the first day I didn't burst into tears at any point."
"The mental pressure of being out here alone has really taken me by quite by surprise," she says. "I expected it to be tough, and I did a lot of mental preparation, but when that plane dropped me off on the far side of Antarctica, it makes you feel extremely vulnerable."
For example, she says, there are many little things that can go wrong.
"My lighter stopped working the other day. And suddenly you realize that without lighters, I can't light my stove, I can't make food, I can't make water," she says. "All the time, you're sort of on the brink of disaster. But it's getting better. I'm getting used to it."
You can follow Aston's journey here.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
One hundred years ago today, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. His team became the first to make it traveling on skis. Today, Felicity Aston is nearing another first. The veteran traveler is close to becoming the first woman to ski across Antarctica alone, going all the way to the South Pole and continuing on to the far shore.
She'd just woken up in the 24-hour daylight when we reached her by satellite phone.
FELICITY ASTON: It's pretty cold day today, so I just literally put my arm out of the sleeping bag to get the satellite phone, and I'm calling you from my sleeping bag in my tent.
INSKEEP: OK. So, can you describe more or less where you are?
ASTON: OK, I'm about a degree and a half from the South Pole. And so, I'm right on the Antarctic Plateau, which is the highest part of Antarctica - right in the middle. So, if I unzip my tent door and have a look outside, it really is the sort of classic Antarctic scenery. Very white, right the way up to the horizon, 360 degrees; it's a pretty awesome place to be.
INSKEEP: You said you're a degree and a half from the South Pole. How many miles is that?
ASTON: That's about 100 miles from the South Pole.
INSKEEP: So you've just got a little jaunt to get to the South Pole.
ASTON: Yeah, it sounds bizarre but it feels very close. A degree is about four days skiing. I've been skiing already for 20 days. So, to me, it feels like I am in the last leg of my journey.
INSKEEP: Now, before you set off, there must have been a lot of people you encountered who asked you why in the world you wanted to do this.
ASTON: Yeah. I mean why is a very quick question to ask, and quite a long question to answer. Being out here is really to find out what it's like to be out here on my own. And also, a journey I guess to find my personal limits. But it's also about Antarctica. I mean it's just the most amazing place. And being able to ski from one side to the other, there's a completeness to it that is really fascinating.
INSKEEP: Can I just mention we've been following you on Twitter. Thousands of people are now, since you're sending out Twitter messages as you go along. And the other day, this was a message that you sent out: Yesterday was the first day I didn't burst into tears at any point, must mean I'm getting used to this finally, question mark.
What's been making you burst into tears?
ASTON: The mental pressure of being out here alone has really taken me quite by surprise. I expected it to be tough and I did a lot of mental preparation. But when that plane dropped me off on the far side of Antarctica, it makes you feel extremely vulnerable. And there are so many little things that can go wrong, for example, my lighter stopped working the other day. And suddenly you realize, well, without lighters I can't light my stove, I can't make food, I can't make water. All the time you're sort of on the brink of disaster, I guess.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
ASTON: But it's getting better.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
ASTON: I'm getting used to it.
INSKEEP: Have you had any human beings come and visit you? Have you run across any the people?
ASTON: Yeah, I did. Just a couple of days ago, there was a convoy of vehicles coming out of the South Pole. And they knew I was out here through Twitter, I think, and came to say hello.
INSKEEP: You have a flash mob right there on Antarctic ice shelf.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
ASTON: Yeah, it is a little bit surreal. It was a sudden sort of a flash of noise and life and color and human contact. And I was a little bit worried whether it would put me right back at square one, mentally. But, you know, it seems to be fine. It's just sort of like I feel I'm literally on the doorstep of the pole stations. It feels like I'm about to see people any moment, anyway. I think that helps.
INSKEEP: Well, Felicity Aston, it's been a pleasure speaking with you. Good luck on your journey.
ASTON: Thank you very much.
INSKEEP: And you can follow her journey on Twitter at felicity_aston. You can also follow this program on Twitter, by the way. We are at morningedition and at nprinskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.