It appeared that my Christmas allowance of sunshine had come to an end this morning, as I woke up to low cloud and drifting curtains of grey fog. I’ve had plenty of practice at navigating through the mist now, so I took the tent down for the 51st time and headed off on a bearing of 158 degrees, almost on autopilot, glancing at my watch (the Bremont prototype is still going strong!) so I knew when to stop for my first break.
To my surprise, the cloud started to break up after two or three hours, and went from a thick blanket overhead to rolling, billowing banks of the sort of white clouds you might see over England on a bright winter’s morning, and for a while it felt for all the world like I was walking over a snow-covered Dartmoor or Exmoor. At one point I looked back at the thin parallel track I’d left in the snow, stretching back to the northern horizon, and felt a sense of wonder and pride at the distance my legs had carried me. I crossed the 1,000km mark this morning (roughly 620 miles) which felt like quite something, until I remembered that Tarka and I clocked up nearly 2,900km on foot here between October 2013 and February 2014. (We still hold the record for the longest ever polar journey on foot.)
Speaking of thresholds, later in the afternoon I checked my GPS at a break and it told me I was sitting on my sledge at an altitude of just over 3,000m above sea level, the highest point I’ve reached on this expedition. Twenty minutes later, to my amazement, I spotted a cluster of tiny dots on the horizon. Still 20km (12.5 miles) away, it was unmistakably the Amundsen-Scott station at the South Pole. Seeing the base – even though I’d been there before – was a shock, and there’s something quite surreal about seeing man-made objects for the first time in seven weeks. From this distance they’re just a collection of tiny squares and rectangles – mostly black, with one white one on the far right, an observatory, perhaps – and they could be straight out of a Star Wars movie; a Rebel base on some far-flung outpost planet.
I must have gone downhill again after that, as the buildings have disappeared from view this evening, although I’m quite glad as I suddenly felt quite vulnerable, out in the wide open, as if people at the Pole could be watching me through some giant telescope. At least I’ve made it to the right place on this giant continent, which is a relief after both of my GPS units continue to disagree over the correct magnetic bearing to the ‘West Waypoint’ that I have to reach in order to access the Pole without straying into experiments that are being conducted (the Clean Air Zone is not far from here, and after a 200-gram portion of Outdoor Food’s Firepot Pork and Beans this evening, there’s a danger I could trigger some erroneous readings in their monitoring equipment if I stray too far east…)
Last up, I’ve had a lump in my throat this evening after reading so many of your kind and positive comments and messages. It’s a joy to hear from so many friends – Tony, Martin, Simon Howell, Robbie Britton, Rosie Stancer, Pete Lowe, the Harts (Nick I’ve been daydreaming about the car with the red seats, if you know what I mean!), Will M-T (mucker!), Al Humphreys, Jake, Olly H and so many more that I’ve missed out. Thank you all for buoying my spirits on a tough old camping trip.
And Dirk, I got your fantastic note today – thank you – but can’t for the life of me figure out the riddle! I’ll keep working on it, and I too look forward to mountain bike rides and roast meals with you guys when I’m home…
PS here’s a photo of my boot for Konrad Bartelski (a man who has spent more time in ski boots than most!) As you can see, I dig a little trench in the porch of my tent so I can sit down to take them off in the evening and put them on again in the morning. Luxury!