Eight women set out Monday from their base camp on Antarctica to ski to the South Pole in a trek to mark the 60th anniversary of the Commonwealth grouping of 53 former British colonies.
Skiing six to 10 hours a day, they expect to travel 500 miles (800 kilometers) across the frozen southern continent to the pole in about 40 days. Each is towing a sledge with food and gear weighing some 175 pounds (80 kilograms).
The Commonwealth Women's Antarctic Expedition will face blinding blizzards, winds in excess of 80 miles (130 kilometers) an hour, hidden crevasses and temperatures that plummet to minus 42 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 degrees Celsius), their Web site said.
"As the team skis past the polar ice cap's mountain passes and fields, they will experience 24-hour daylight, endless vistas, and intense solitude. They will not see any plant or animal life; only snow, ice, rock and sky," it said.
They hope to reach the South Pole by Jan. 1 _ the date the Commonwealth came into existence in 1950, said team leader, Briton Felicity Aston.
The expedition comprises women from eight Commonwealth countries: Brunei, Cyprus, Ghana, India, Jamaica, New Zealand, Singapore and Britain.
It had an inauspicious start when new tents were damaged by a roaring gale at Patriot Hills base camp in an area of Antarctica overseen by Argentina.
The women had to borrow tents while they sewed patches on their own.
"The tents are holding up after their extensive repairs," New Zealand team member Kylie Wakelin wrote on the expedition's Internet site ahead of the polar trek starting.
The Web site said the trek also highlights "the achievements of women across the world."
Team members don't expect to see their next hot shower until early 2010.
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