Blinded by the White

Day 44: S88° 17' 1", W052° 00' 1" Altitude: 2551m Daily distance: 14.5MI Distance to go: 501MI

A frustrating day, although I’m glad to report that no actual blindness was suffered. I woke up to an absolute corker of a whiteout, with not even the faintest trace of a horizon to be seen, just the same grey-white in every single direction, including straight up and straight down. And it was snowing, with the wind competing with me as I packed up my belongings to hit the trail; first it tried to fill up my sledge with snow as soon as I’d unzipped its fabric cover to stuff my sleeping bag in, and then we had a little wrestle over the tent as I took it down.

I find this sort of zero-visibility the hardest condition to deal with mentally. It’s impossible to focus on anything at all (other than my compass, mounted on its bracket in front of my chest) and I might as well have been on a treadmill in a brightly lit freezer, with a white pillowcase over my head. Thankfully, after six hours of this, just before I started to go completely mad, the sun started to overpower the thick fog, just enough for me to start to make out features in the snow ahead of me, which made navigation – and skiing in a straight line – a lot easier.

The terrain has been good today, although it felt like there was a bit of sastrugi this morning as I stumbled and staggered around, and the comedy highlight of the day was skiing straight onto an invisible rock-hard lump of wind-blasted snow about the same shape and size as a small sheep. I only realised what was happening once my skis were on top of the sheep’s back, yet my ski poles were planted in the snow a lot lower down, either side of its belly, forcing me into a strange hunched-over position. Thankfully I descended without incident, and I believe the sheep was largely unscathed, except for a pair of tramlines over its haunches…

Some answers:

1) I am doing a project for my school and I would like to know some more information about you. I go to Orleans park school in Twickenham, London and have been learning about you in my geography lessons, I am finding it very interesting . It must be cold there, Is it true that the moisture of your eyes could freeze if your not wearing any protective gear over your eyes like googles? I would also like to know how far you have walked and how long will it take to finish your expedition?

I live in Richmond and often go running along your side of the river when I’m at home, so we’re almost neighbours! I was about to write that the eyes freezing thing is an exaggeration, but actually I’m not sure – if you were crazy enough to stare into the wind without any protection on a cold and breezy day then I think you’d definitely suffer serious injury. I was actually starting to get ice forming on my eyelashes as I travelled yesterday, but this was from moisture from my breath being forced up under my face mask and condensing on them, and it quickly melted if I squeezed my eyes shut for a second or two.

My GPS tells me that I have skied 850km exactly since I was dropped off, although that’s a straight-line distance, so the actual total would be a bit further as I had to detour around mountains in the first couple of weeks. I have 21 days of food left.

2) Henry Worsley talked in his book about resenting seeing other people as he approached the South Pole. Do you think you’ll feel the same way or are you very much looking forward to the human contact?

I know how Henry must have felt, as Tarka and I were very antisocial when we reached the Pole in December 2013. We were quite used to being in our own bubble by that stage, and didn’t want the delicate equilibrium to be upset somehow. I think there was also the slightly snobbish annoyance that very few people there had walked there – a bit like getting to the top of Snowdon on a difficult day and finding lots of fat tourists at the top who cau ght the train (for any non-Brits reading, Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales – there are some challenging routes to the top, but there’s also a train you can catch, and a cafe just below the summit).

3) As you get nearer to the South Pole, I find myself wondering about unassisted travel — as I understand it, the trip that you’ve planned for yourself requires you to both pass through the South Pole (a relatively populated place) and also receive no assistance from other people. I imagine you won’t be shacking up at Amundsen-Scott for a few nights, but what about stopping in for a cup of tea? What if folks at the station are tracking your movements and want to come out to give you a high five and cheer you on when you pass?

Thank you Grif. I’ve written above about seeing people, but the base itself is run by the US National Science Foundation, and they in turn are operating under the rules of the Antarctic Treaty, so even if I fancied a hot meal in their canteen, a shower, or a night in a real bed, under a duvet, they’d actually be prohibited from supporting me. We saw a couple of staff based there when we turned around at the Pole in 2013, but we were operating in completely different timezones (we were on UTC or UK time, as I am now, and the Amundsen-Scott station runs on New Zealand time, 13 hours ahead, so most people were asleep).

Lastly, a quick hello to Mark C (and indeed to everyone at Jaguar Land Rover) – I’m glad to say your note made it all the way down here to my tent via satellite. It’s great to hear from you, and as ever I’m hugely grateful for your support.

Ben Saunders (@polarben)
21/12/17
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Comments

Kevin Wright

21/12/2017

Hi Ben, must have been tricky taking your tent down single handed in those conditions. Reminds me of Cherry Garrard, Bowers and Watson, the worst Journey in the world. Please don’t let your tent blow away. Dare I ask but if it did do you have a spare? I guess you have a method like tying a guy rope to your leg before you collapse the tent? Here’s to better conditions tomorrow, take care, Kev

Reply

Debbie

21/12/2017

Hi Ben
Following your progress – so impressive! I bet you get some beautiful views when the sun is out, do you see any birds or is it too cold for them? Do you listen to music or spoken word while you walk? I love a good bit of radio on a dog walk. I guess charging an iPod for a long trip is a challenge? I hope you have some great weather and good walking conditions to smash through more of your kilometres towards your goal. You are amazing 🙂

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Kerry & Stefan Rogers

21/12/2017

Hi hi Ben! As always Stefan and I are following every step of your journey! Sending you all our love!
Did the math on the 21 days of food left…. do be careful!! Hopefully the terrain will ease up for you so you can get the daily miles in.
We love & miss you! Wonderful reading your post! Godspeed!

Reply

Intrepid

21/12/2017

Hello Ben,
While you have the experience of already having been on long cold arduous camping trips before, do those experience lessen the impact of what it’s like for you now, dealing with all that is actually happening?
Wishing you the best through everything that may come, and all that passes.
PS. Do you have any xmas songs or other special songs for whatever markers to you are very special?

Reply

Joonas

21/12/2017

Greetings from Finland, 65 degrees north, on this winter solstice, 3 hours, 35 minutes of light, it’s been weeks since I’ve seen the sun. Thank you for your very interesting reports, wishing you all the best.

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Patrick Bermingham

21/12/2017

Hello Ben, I am following your blog with great interest and your mention of navigating in the mist using a compass – could you tell us how you go about setting the compass direction that you will follow given that the south magnetic pole is not at the geographic south pole? – Patrick

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