A $69,500 price tag isn't stopping people from signing up for a historic skiing trip to the South Pole, the most desolate spot on earth where temperatures average minus-10 degrees and winds reach 155 m.p.h.
"We only have two openings left," said Nadia Le Bon, who is organizing the expedition for Mountain Travel, an Albany, Calif., adventure company that specializes in "treks, outings and expeditions."
"We need 10 people to make the trip financially feasible and so far eight have put down the $5,000 deposit," she said on Monday. "That's a commitment."
The participants must ski 600 miles across the lifeless interior of Antarctica, marking the first commercial expedition across the area, said Le Bon, who pointed out the trip has been done before, but by "professional explorers."
Three Women Signed Up
The trek could also result in the first woman reaching the pole on foot. Three of the eight who have signed up so far are women: Ronna Nelson-Modzelewski of St. Helena, Candy Wilson of Toronto and Victoria Murden, of Cambridge, Mass.
"The women in the area in the past have been flown in on scientific expeditions," Le Bon said. "There is the big U.S. base at McMurdo Sound, which has about 2,000 people in the summer months, but it is on the other side, looking toward New Zealand. We will start from the coast that faces South America."
"Only 13 people have gone to the South Pole (on foot) in the history of man," said Le Bon's husband, Leo, the company owner. "More than 150 have climbed Mt. Everest."
The price may seem steep, said his wife, but not when compared to the cost of a trip to Everest.
"I don't know the exact price of a trip to Everest right now but I'm sure it's much, much more," she said.
Vicki Varghese, a company spokesman, said some of the people on the trip hope to obtain corporate sponsors while others are students who plan to conduct research and will probably get some foundation money.
The expedition is the most expensive Mountain Travel has organized, but the company is not completely unfamiliar with the area, she said.
"We have been making trips to the pole aboard a research ship from Argentina for the past two years," she said. "The trip costs about $5,000 and we visit research bases along the Antarctic peninsula."
Nelson-Modzelewski, 34, and her husband, Michael Modzelewski, are confident that they will be able to complete the trek.
"We're getting into razor-sharp shape, physically and mentally, putting ourselves to the test," said Modzelewski, 27.
'We Can Pull It Off'
"With total preparation we know we can pull it off," he added.
Modzelewski works as a designer and photographer and his wife is a writer. The two already have received some financial help from Schramsberg Vineyards in Calistoga. In appreciation, the winery's sparkling wine will be taken along and--if it is not frozen--will be used for the victory toast.
The trip, which will take place during Antarctica's so-called summer in November of 1988, will require 45 to 50 days of skiing. To get in shape, the San Francisco Bay-area couple is running 60 to 75 miles a week and practicing their skiing at Kirkwood ski resort.
"I've been teaching him skiing, he teaches me running," she said.
The adventurers will visit a continent twice the size of Australia and spend nearly 60 days in temperatures that regularly plunge below the average of minus-10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Most of the land lies buried beneath giant masses of ice and snow, at times one mile thick. Stormy, ice-choked seas circle the shores of the continent. The group will battle winds that rage off the frozen seas.
"You just hide, if you can find a place to hide," warned Leo Le Bon of the fierce winds.