The unassisted problem of the South Pole route

A lot of people are again starting their expeditions to South Pole this season and are at the moment counting days to get on skiis and start the arduous journey through the icy wastelands. Some of them might be team expeditions and some solo.

As the Explorersweb defines assistance: ”Assist refers to the outside help received by an expedition.” (www.adventurestats.com). I think the definition mostly means that you should not be in direct contact to other expeditions or other persons or to pick up any extra gear, food, fuel or other things after you’ve started your expedition… Yet everyone who started their expedition to South Pole from Hercules Inlet knows that 95% (a fair guess) of the expeditions take the same route up through the Nunataks before heading to south.
During the 2008-2009 season 5-7 expeditions, of which some were solo expeditions, were flown to Hecrules Inlet during 24 hour time period and mostly everyone started their expedition going up though the Nunataks. Those who left first left clear tracks to where ever there was soft snow and those who came behind followed them. As the visibility was good on that particular day you could see the expedition ahead of you and behind you quite clearly. Now the first question is how close to other expeditions do you have to be to lose the unassisted status after passing 80th parallel? Can you be within speaking distance or do you have to maintain a hundred yards between you and the other expeditions? Or perhaps even a mile…

As some expeditions go by different day and night cycles you might pass someones tent a few times during the long days before the difference in travel speed finally breaks the cycle of you going past someones tent while they sleep and then they going past yours as you sleep. When you wake up and start going again you might find a glove or a hat, lost by an expedition that went by you while you slept, and pick it up to return it to it’s rightful owner. By picking up a lost hat do you lose the unassisted or unsupported status? Or do you lose your unassisted status by returning it to it’s owner next time you go pass his tent? Everyone knows that these acts are acts of kindness as losing a glove or a hat might prove to be enoung to stop your expedition and to have severe frostbites at later parts of your expedition. Would you not do this to help the next person…? What if you yourself had lost a glove or a hat and found a replacement that again someone else had lost ahead of you. Would you then lose you status as an unassisted or unsupported expedition? If you told anyone that is…

In practice, again a fair guess, 95% of the expeditions starting from Hercules Inlet take the same path and even see other expedition and their tents on their way. Sometimes closer and sometimes farther. Sometimes you’re in speaking distance and sometimes you even stop at someones tent to say a word or two. Does it mean that you’re giving or recieving assistance? Strictly saying the answer is yes but by saying that do you make the possibility to have an unassisted expedition impossible?

Well, I don’t know… I’m just wondering…

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