Vilane and Harris are no strangers to extreme feats. In 2003 Vilane became the first black African ever to summit Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain. And in 2005 Harris completed the “seven summits” – successfully climbing the highest peak on each of the seven continents – becoming the second South African to do so.
Before setting out, Harris said he and Vilane will complete the Antarctic trip by themselves, with no assistance: there will be nobody carrying supplies or rigging tents for them.
The two mountaineering partners have been preparing themselves physically and mentally to drag sleds weighing 130 kilograms behind them for 1 200 kilometres.
“We won’t use wind power, dogs or anything else to get us there, it’s the purest form of getting to the South Pole,” Harris said. “Our target is to cover at least 20km a day, and any mileage lost in a day would have to be made up or one would run the risk of running out of supplies.”
He pointed out that Antarctica generated much of the bad weather in the southern hemisphere, and storms there could be fierce.
“We will only have five days worth of emergency fuel and food; our success on this challenge will be in the balance if a storm lasts longer than that,” Harris said.
Lows of -40° Celsius
The two men have spent almost a year training for the trek, where they will have to brave extreme conditions – they will start their journey with temperatures of around -8° Celsius at the edge of the Antarctic continent, dropping to -20° for most of the trip and even reaching lows of -40° as they near the pole.
In December 2006 the pair made a trip to Antarctica, where Vilane was introduced to the area for the first time, giving him a chance to acclimatise.
Training has been ongoing since then, with the team dragging tyres requiring a pulling force of 30-40kg every second day, covering a distance of about 17 kilometres per training session.
As with any extreme venture, both men anticipate some tension, but having spent 70 days together in a tent on Mount Everest they are confident that they have the maturity and heart to handle it.
“This is not going to be any easy task to fulfil, but we are confident enough that we will conquer the journey,” Vilane said.