Minnesotan Ann Bancroft and her Norwegian traveling partner became the first women to cross the Antarctica land mass by skis Sunday when they reached the frozen ocean.
The 2,300-mile journey began on Nov. 13, and the women will use parasails to ski the final 495 miles to meet a ship sailing to bring them home. Throughout, the women have battled injury, broken sleds and ripped sails, altitude fatigue and subzero temperatures.
"It's a big day for us," Liv Arnesen, of Oslo, said by satellite phone. "It's a big day for Ann. Maybe we should call this Ann's day."
Bancroft, 45, of Scandia, is the first woman to cross the ice to both poles. Arnesen, 47, became the first woman to ski solo to the South Pole in 1994.
On Sunday, the 90th day of the journey, the women pulled their 240-pound sleds for more than nine hours down the final 12 miles of the Shackleton Glacier, named after the explorer whose 1915 disastrous expedition inspired Bancroft and Arnesen to become polar adventurers.
They ended a difficult descent that required them at times to trade their skis for crampons -- metal spikes attached to their boots -- to navigate hard, sharp "blue" ice that ripped holes in Arnesen's sled.
The final day on the glacier allowed them to ski, although it was through deep snow on "snow bridges" that cross crevasses. The snow settled as they moved, creating loud bangs that Arnesen called "scary."
They traveled onto the Ross Ice Shelf, a thick slab of floating ice bigger than France. The terrain will be fairly flat for the rest of their journey, but they will need the wind to blow their parasails consistently to reach McMurdo Station by Feb. 22.
That's when the ice ship must leave the Ross Sea for Australia so it doesn't get trapped in the freezing ocean.
If Bancroft and Arnesen ski within 100 miles of the ship, a helicopter on board will try to get them. Otherwise, a company on the other side of the continent will fly an airplane over the ice to rescue them.
Both explorers are former schoolteachers. Workers at the expedition's Minneapolis office said schoolchildren from five continents are following the trip on the Internet and using it to study science, math, language, health, geography, history, social studies and physical education.
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