(07 December 2014, Antarctica) Day 16: The most difficult terrain yet encountered on the Antarctica2 expedition has made the final stages of the mission to reach the South Pole using a Massey Ferguson MF 5610 tractor some of the most challenging yet.
With 300km left to the Pole, seasoned members of Tractor Girl Manon Ossevoort’s support team say they have never experienced such bad travelling conditions. Although the weather has been good, with hazy yet sunny blue skies, the snow underfoot has been extremely soft, resulting in speeds as little as 4km/hr (2.5mph).
In one recent eight-hour shift the tractor faced soft, sinking conditions every few hundred metres, but the MF 5610 and its drivers proved their ability to cope with the tough going.
“By downshifting into the lowest gear, A1, and engaging the diff lock, the tractor would climb out slowly and we could make progress again,” explains Expedition Lead Guide, Matty McNair.
The fact the MF 5610’s transmission can stand up to such extreme duress is testament to its design and construction, believes Campbell Scott, Massey Ferguson Director Sales Engineering and Brand Development.
“These are conditions few farmers are ever likely to face, but the resilience of the tractor transmission shows just how well it is made, just as the resilience of the team shows what they are made of too.”
(3 December 2014, Antarctica) Day 12: It’s tough going for the team at the centre of the Antarctica2 expedition as they get closer to their goal of reaching the South Pole. The harsh terrain is taking its toll on the Massey Ferguson MF 5610 tractor and its drivers, but with the halfway point now behind them, both are bearing up well.
While the weather has continued to be favourable (temperature is now just minus 24 degrees C!), the hard-packed ice underneath the snow has little ‘give’ in it, meaning that traversing the terrain can be tiring for the drivers. There have been some fuel issues with the support trucks, caused by the bitterly cold conditions, but so far this hasn’t proved a problem for the MF 5610.
The team has now reached the Russian 83 refuel camp, where the hosts welcomed their visitors with hot soups and shots of vodka. The stop provided a chance to refuel and begin fuel pump repairs on one of the support trucks before continuing south.
As lead driver Manon Ossevoort carries with her to the South Pole the dreams of all the people she has met on her journey, those whose job it is to chart the team’s progress are busy trying to capture every key moment. This ranges from the highs of good progress to the lows of trying to make technology work in a harsh climate. Videos and photos are being taken throughout each day, before being edited and put on the relevant expedition websites . With no high-speed wifi in Antarctica, material must be transferred using the Iridium Satellite system, and a single short video clip, for example, can sometimes take half a day to upload.
(2 December 2014, Antarctica. Latitude: 80 degrees South) Day 11: The Antarctica2 expedition to take an MF 5610 tractor 5000 km from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back has reached the first major milestone and is now halfway to the Pole.
It has been an exceptionally tough trip. In the 11 days it took to reach this 1250 km milestone, the Massey Ferguson tractor and team have had to tackle dangerous crevasse fields, steep climbs, sastrugi (solid ice-waves as much as metre high), soft snow and temperatures as low as minus 56 degrees C with wind chill. The tractor and crew have taken a real pounding in the hostile conditions. However, both are proving highly resilient and rising to the extreme challenges of life on the ice.
On reaching the 1250 km mark, Lead Driver, ‘Tractor Girl’, Manon Ossevoort, said: “The journey to the halfway point has been hard, much harder than I expected so I am very relieved to reach this stage. Driving conditions have been really difficult but the MF 5610 tractor and the whole team have coped magnificently. The tractor has been strong, steady and sure, and it’s incredible to know that every hour we drive, we are closer to the Geographical South Pole.”
To mark the halfway milestone, team members rewarded themselves with a chicken curry dinner and a celebratory drink! They are now heading towards the Pole at full speed.
Antarctica2 seeks to emulate the achievement of Sir Edmund Hillary who led the first mechanised expedition to the South Pole in 1958 using Ferguson TE20 tractors.
Campbell Scott, Massey Ferguson Director Sales Engineering and Brand Development commented: “As tractor supplier to the expedition, we have been enthralled by the daily updates from the ice. We always knew it was going to be a big challenge for both the MF 5610 tractor and the team. Hearing the reports coming back, we now fully understand why this is ‘the toughest journey on Earth’. We applaud their strength and determination. At the same time, we can imagine the brave souls of Sir Edmund Hillary and his party battling the elements in their trusty Ferguson TE20 tractors all those years ago. The hearts of the whole Massey Ferguson team back at base are with the intrepid 2014 Antarctica2 travellers as they make their way steadily towards their goal.”
(29-30 November 2014, Antarctica) Days 8 & 9: Over the weekend, deep soft snow continued to challenge the Antarctica2 MF 5610 tractor expedition to the South Pole.
After clocking up another 152 km, Day 8 saw the team make camp at 3249m (10,659ft) as the descent to the ice plateau begins. With ice crystals dancing in the air, temperatures were still hovering around a bitter minus 40 C.degrees but thankfully the wind chill had reduced. On Day 9, the expedition drove a further 219 km, dropping down another 300 m (984ft) in altitude from the day before.
The daily report from the ice described how the crew were “ruling the clock and doing 30-hour days.” 24-hour daylight means the body has very little way of sensing what time it is which can be disorientating.
In a bid to combat the MF 5610 becoming stuck in the very soft snow, the team decided to reballast the fuel trailer attached to the tractor’s rear hitch in order to achieve better weight distribution. Because the trailer is running on smaller wheels, in these extreme conditions it is acting like a drag. As the trailer sinks, the tractor has to dig in deeper into the snow to pull it out. To further improve the lightness of touch, pressure in the Trelleborg tyres has been reduced 5 psi.
The team is now getting into a routine – not that driving a MF tractor on an amazing journey to the South Pole comes anywhere near what normal mortals would call routine! The ‘night’ driver heads out while the rest of the group gets 6-8 hours sleep, then has breakfast, takes down the tents and packs up. After 5-6 hours, the supporting trucks catch up to the MF 5610, change tractor drivers and push on to the next camp.
What does the lone tractor-driver think about during those long hours out there on the ice? What music gets played on the MF 5610’s sound system? Is it the same as a day’s ploughing? We hope to bring you more news of life on-board the ultimate polar tractor in our future reports.
(28 November 2014, Antarctica) Day 7: In their quest for the South Pole, the Antarctica2 tractor and crew were at last able to get fully into their stride, clocking up 23 hours non-stop travel.
Driving in long and tiring shifts, the team completed just over 167 km yesterday before hitting an area of soft snow which made the last 10-20 km extremely slow-going. Ending the day at an elevation of 3364m (11,036 feet) and, having climbed fairly quickly from sea level, crew members are suffering bad headaches from the altitude. Due to the lack of atmospheric pressure here, the effects of altitude are amplified and, for the team, physically it feels more like 4000m. This simply adds a further layer of difficulty to the very exhausting days.
Much softer ground conditions with areas of deep snow are a stark contrast to the hard-packed sastrugi ice-waves of previous days. In these conditions, focused driving skills are essential. At one point towards the end of a gruelling 15-hour shift for Lead Mechanic, Nicolas Bachelet, the tractor sank up to its belly and had to be dug out. Lead Driver, Manon Ossevoort spent the last section of her shift also negotiating the deep snow. Every 100 metres or so the tractor hit a soft patch and had to be repeatedly switched from forward to reverse to extricate itself.
Such were the demands of the day, the whole team fell into bed leaving only Expedition Lead Guide Matty McNair to file the day’s report back to base. Antarctica2 is testing man and machine to the limits.