Our first introduction into the wacky world of the Polar adventurer was through Roger Mear, an experienced Mountaineer, guide and Polar traveller. He was planning an unsupported crossing of Antarctica. His initial thoughts had been to use conventional sails as had both Scott and Shackleton. However there are problems arising from the tipping action produced by the sails coupled with their all up weight. By using parafoils Roger hoped to gain wind assistance without tipping, to pull an enormously heavy sledge whilst only adding a minimum of weight.
In order to prepare for his epic crossing, Roger travelled to Patriot Hills, Antarctica in the winter of 1994. Field testing a range of equipment, skis, boots, tent etc. The results were very positive with Roger reporting that his MODULUS had exceeded his expectations to the extent of it being the most successful item he experimented with.
As news of the value of MODULUS spread we demonstrated the system to the British Army and supplied test equipment for a trans - Greenland expedition in the summer of 1995. Which provided valuable experience and feedback. Meanwhile as Roger sought sponsorship he experimented with the use of wheels on his sledge.
The mathematics of the 2736km (1700 mile) Polar crossing meant starting the journey with a sledge weighing over 206kg (450lb) - three times his own body weight - for 100 days averaging 27km (17 miles) a day. Calorific requirements were estimated at 6,500 k,cal a day. However his daily intake would be only 5300 cal. It was therefore likely that he'd lose as much as a third of his body weight. He hoped that with the use of the parafoil and wheels crossing the plateau would be quicker and less physically demanding.
Manhauling - a traditional means of sledge towing had seen a return to favour with the "Footsteps of Scott" expedition of 1984, in which Robert Swan, Roger Mear and Gareth Wood travelled 1421km (883 miles) following Scott's route to the South Pole. They averaged 22km (13 miles) a day. Even manhauling with a sledge of the same weight (for twice the distance), on this basis it would take Roger over 130 days to complete the journey - an impossible task since he would have insufficient food, and the Polar "summer" would very nearly be over. A heavier sledge would mean even slower progress. So it could only be contemplated with wind assistance of some kind.
On November 3rd 1995 Roger Mear set off from the Weddell Sea coast of Berkner Island. Following the arduous 1800ft ascent from the coast, Rogers milage's steadily improved with him travelling 312km (194 miles) in 2 weeks. One day he recorded in his diary -
"I missed yesterday with good reason, for I was travelling for 15 hours. I began the day manhauling, but a nagging wind in my ear eventually convinced me that it might just be sufficient to use the kite. A day followed of superb flying. Though the snow is still deep and the going heavy, I did 46 miles (74km). It was possible to move - sometimes walking, occasionally being towed - by racing the kite from side to side across the sky. Sometimes, a wonderful rhythmical sequence is possible, skis, body and kite in unison."
Sadly Roger's attempt was to run into problems 28 days and 549km (341 miles) into the crossing when the titanium tracers (connecting him to the sledge) broke. In spite of these difficulties he continued until after 42 days and 753km (468 miles), they forced him to abandon the attempt. This was a bitter blow, after such a promising start. He'd hauled the heaviest sledge the furthest across the Antarctic continent, including the ascent of Frost Spur, arriving at the ice plateau, just the point where it was anticipated that his MODULUS would see him ski sail to the Pole and beyond.
However his "magnificent" MODULUS had assisted in over 50% of his mileage. Over a 3 day period it powered him more than 209km (130 miles) - in one day clocking up an amazing 93km (58 miles) ACROSS WIND! His light wind performances were especially impressive. Noting that if there was sufficient wind to raise the strap of a ski pole he would be able to gain useful traction from the parafoil.
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"BIG BOY" MODULUS for sledge towing