A Tug on the Shoelaces

Day 22: S84° 07' 58", W051° 57' 28" Altitude: 1247m Daily distance: 12.4MI Distance to go: 789MI

Today was much the same as yesterday – absurdly warm for Antarctica, rubbish surface, rolling terrain – with the key difference that I couldn’t see a thing. It was yet another full-blown whiteout from the moment I opened the tent door at about 8am this morning to the moment I climbed back inside it at 7.15pm this evening. It’s also been snowing all day, the sort of fluffy snow that would be great on a different sort of skiing holiday, but that on this one just compounds my frustration.

The only redeeming factor of all this fresh snow is what I’ll refer to as ‘whumphing’. I’ve no idea if there’s an actual term for the phenomenon, but I had the best whumph of my life when I first stepped out of the tent today. I assume it’s something to do with the weight of the snow settling, but the sensation is of the area of snow you’re standing on suddenly dropping by an inch or two, accompanied by a sound like a muffled thunderclap. If you’re lucky – as I was this morning – this sets off a chain reaction whumph, with a shockwave rolling out towards the horizon in every direction. It’s petrifying the first time you experience a whumph  (in Greenland for me) but once you realise they’re harmless, it’s extraordinarily satisfying, like being a snowfield chiropractor, clicking tons of snow back into the right place.

About three hours into the day, as I swung my arms and legs in the white nothingness, like a hyperactive character in a computer game where the backdrop and scenery hadn’t been programmed in yet, I noticed my left boot felt loose. This was a new phenomenon, and involved stopping and sheltering from the blowing snow behind my sledge to sort it out. As I unzipped my salopettes, I thought of the John Ridgway quotation my brother had sent me: ‘Don’t stare into the abyss of self-pity. Short hard tug on the shoelaces and get on with it…’

As soon as I pulled on the laces, they snapped in two, with half coming away in each hand. It felt like an appropriate metaphor for the kind of day I was having, starting with good intentions and ending up swearing and cursing at the wind and the cloud and the wall-to-wall white, battling to avoid letting my mood slip into despondency. I’m afraid I really wasn’t feeling much love for Antarctica today.

Last up, a huge thank you to everyone whose little notes have appeared in my daily ration bags (and of course to the ever-thoughtful Pip for taking the time and effort to print them all and sneak them in!) – fishing them out and reading them is one of the highlights of my routine, especially when I haven’t seen a thing all day. Steven, Jerry, mum, Soph and Will, Tiff and Chris, Honor, Bear, Tobias, Ed P, Ed J, Tony, Rob and Barney…

Ben Saunders (@polarben)
29/11/17
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Comments

Sharyle Doherty

30/11/2017

Love your term “snowfield chiropractor”!

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St Nicholas-at-Wade Primary, Kent

30/11/2017

We are studying Shackleton and the Antarctic this term and we are following your journey on the tracker. I really hope your expedition is successful and you reach the Ross Ice Shelf safely. It must be amazing there. I’m going to go to amazing places and do amazing things too when I’m older. From Jasmine.

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Lynn Campbell

30/11/2017

Go for it Jasmine😀

Kevin Wright

30/11/2017

Hi Ben, who would ever think of wanting it to be a bit cooler in Antarctica! Your daily challenges seem to be very demanding but I know that your experience will see you through. Another land mark today at 84 degrees and the Pole feels so much closer especially to us watching the red line on the tracker but I guess theres still a lot of miles to ski, I reckon 300? Hope it’s a bit cooler tomorrow for you. Kev

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Jason Kottke

29/11/2017

Hi Ben, I’ve been following your daily adventures as usual…loving the updates. I did a bit of poking around to see if anyone else had written about whumphing and found that Roald Amundsen noted the same effect in his book about his 1910-1912 expedition. I posted about it here: https://kottke.org/17/11/whumph-the-sound-of-settling-antarctic-snow

Here’s the relevant excerpt from Amundsen:

“That night we heard a strange noise round us. I looked under my bag to see whether we had far to drop, but there was no sign of a disturbance anywhere. In the other hut they had heard nothing. We afterwards discovered that the sound was only due to snow “settling.” By this expression I mean the movement that takes place when a large extent of the snow surface breaks and sinks (settles down). This movement gives one the idea that the ground is sinking under one, and it is not a pleasant feeling. It is followed by a dull roar, which often makes the dogs jump into the air — and their drivers too for that matter. Once we heard this booming on the plateau so loud that it seemed like the thunder of cannon. We soon grew accustomed to it.”

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Gavin

29/11/2017

Hi Ben, it looks like you have the old railway problem of the wrong kind of snow on the tracks.
Back here in blighty, a friend is teaching her Year 1 class at Greenacres Primary School (Emerald Class, Miss Schultz-Wiremu) all about Antarctica and what you are doing.
They have just learnt about how animals keep warm by covering their hands in margarine and plunging them into cold water.
They were wondering how you keep warm and what layers you have on during the day and at night?

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Sébastien Breau

29/11/2017

Hello Ben really enjoying keeping up with your adventure! How do you decide what needs a backup? You have many stoves, but only one tent?

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Jason Hay

29/11/2017

I hope the kicker skins helped ease your travel a bit today. Did you bring a spare lens of a different color for your goggles? Might help to look at the whiteout in a different hue for a few hours.

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Mal Owen

29/11/2017

From your description Whumph seems an appropriately onomatopoeic word to me.
Really enjoying the blog. How many spare shoelaces do you have with you?

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