This morning I loved Antarctica, this afternoon I hated it with a passion, and now, lying here in my sleeping bag with a belly full of chilli con carne, I’m not entirely sure what to think.
As it’s the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, I’m guessing that makes it midsummer’s day here, which might explain waking up to blazing sunlight on my tent and a completely still morning. It was so warm that I’d overheated in the night (it’s 24-hour daylight here so – assuming it’s shining – the sun warms my dark green tent while I’m asleep) and woke up half-in and half-out of my sleeping bag. For the day’s first hour-and-twenty-minute session I ended up skiing in just a light fleece, and clocked up 4.25km in perfect conditions. ‘I’m on for a 30-kilometre day’, I thought to myself, ‘finally!’
It turns out that Antarctica doesn’t like thoughts like that, and it quickly went about showing me who’s boss. By midday the fog and cloud had descended, the contrast was fast disappearing, and it had started to snow quite heavily. By 2pm I was stumbling and thrashing and cursing through the sort of sastrugi field that I thought I’d left behind by now, covered in fresh snow that meant I had less traction when I tried to scramble over ridges, and that meant that when I thought I was planting a ski on solid snow, it often disappeared several inches into soft powder that had collected in a ditch.
The cunning little double ridge that I’ve photographed – while modest in size, was perfectly spaced to stop my sledge in its tracks. I heaved it over the first ridge, then gathered momentum myself just as the sledge hit the second ridge, bringing us both to an abrupt standstill. The sledge harness sits on my hip bones and my shoulders, so the effect was like being rugby tackled, and it took me a few seconds bent over my ski poles to regain my breath and my composure (not before I’d yelled a few colourful words at the horizon).
I didn’t get close to 30km in the end, but I trundled on into the evening until I’d clocked up 25 (and was well over the 88° 30 mark). Less than a degree and a half to the Pole!
Thanks to Jack for the note that popped up in today’s food bag. I hope life in Bath has been treating you well, and I’m sad I can’t help you with the mince pies in the next few days…