Buildings on the Horizon

Day 51: S89° 52' 20", W048° 18' 1" Altitude: 2810m Daily distance: 16.7MI Distance to go: 392MI

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!

Ben Saunders (@polarben)
28/12/17
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Comments

Lisa

30/12/2017

What’s the elusive riddle? You can’t leave us hanging like that!
My favorite memories of my life have been the adventure filled ones. Skiing down steep and deep, climbing half dome, scuba diving in Belize, having my 3 babies…you get the picture. I have a nagging feeling my next life will be amped up to match yours and I can’t wait!
Congratulations on your journey. It’s not the destination but the view along the way and you’ve got some amazing stories to tell.

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Lucy King

29/12/2017

Ben, it’s been a genuine pleasure to read your fascinating diary every day. Best of luck with the rest of your journey home!
Lucy

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Kirsty

28/12/2017

Congratulations Ben on winning at life by pursuing the path less travelled (literally!) 🙂 you have been an inspiration to this student nurse who has a ‘mad’ dream to one day work in Antarctica. I enjoyed reading your blog in the mornings on my way into placement and thank you for being honest with your experiences. All the best for your future with your fiancée. God bless.

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Atlanta Georgia Fan

28/12/2017

I have been in awe reading of your journey, truly a remarkable feat. Thank you for sharing your journey and all the tidbits of information along the way. I have learned so much of nature, gadgets and human perservance. You my sir should be beyond proud and elated of what you have accomplished. Well done, well done indeed. Now enjoy a warm shower and comfort foods!

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Daniel Burton

28/12/2017

I think those little dots on the horizon are the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Nothing can describe how awesome it was to see that after being alone in Antarctica for 51 days. Congratulations!!!!!

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ELISABETH CONSTANTINE

28/12/2017

Dear Ben,
THANK YOU so much for taking us along with you on this incredible journey and CONGRATULATIONS for making THE RIGHT DECISION!
One life, one lovely fiancé to be spending
your future with, being in the moment..

Many blessings for you and your wife to be ✨🙏✨
Elisabeth

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Will

28/12/2017

Ben – fantastic effort and brilliantly executed. A true Shackleton decision you made and leaves the General’s journey for a few more years – very gracious and in the spirit of Henry.
Good luck with your pending nuptials, all the besst,
Will

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Hilary

28/12/2017

Well done Ben! It’s been interesting reading all your adventures and I’m pleased you arrived safely as I know someone else here in Marshchapel will also be relieved today. Hoping to see you soon. X

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Crystal Sewall

28/12/2017

Greetings from Savannah, Georgia! I enjoy reading your site everyday. I love the contrast… everyone here has been grumbling about the cold, it’s about 40/50 degrees fahrenheit, and to think that today you’ll reach the South Pole! It really is amazing to hear about the day-to-day of your expedition and while I wish you reach your destination safely, I’ll miss reading about the journey. Thank you for including all of us on your adventure!

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South Dakota Fan

28/12/2017

Another exquisite blog post updata…keep ’em coming! And, listen to that little voice in the back of your head. He’s telling you the real truth.

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Lauren Jones

28/12/2017

Every step you take is an achievement and inspiration to all of us who’ve never met you but will you on every step of the way. Keep going Ben!

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K Robinson

28/12/2017

Ben – we’ve never had the opportunity to meet, however I’m thoroughly enjoying ‘travelling’ with you on your fantastic journey. I could relate to your comment about feeling vulnerable, wondering if those at the Pole could be watching you. I worked at McMurdo station and remember that vulnerable feeling – at times being so far from the station, in wildness, but knowing I’m still in clear view and wondering if someone was watching me, if only out of sheer boredom. Your mind is not playing tricks on you – that is a very real feeling in the flat, white wilderness. I met Sir Edmund Hilary when he came to Antartica to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his trek to the pole. When i spoke to him it was pleasant and he was gracious, but I saw his eyes light up when he met an adventurer of similar depth – I suspect you and he would have been fast friends if you had met. Carry on, Ben, knowing that if you are being watched, either by the Polies or by people such as myself who drop in through your blog, you are being watched with awe and respect, not as curiosity. Also know that those who are watching and cheering, such as myself, want you to balance pushing your limits with knowing that *only you* know when you are approaching that ultimate line you should not cross. (Reference yesterday’s blog entry) Carry on, Ben, knowing we cheer as you push ahead but our cheers should not push you beyond the safe limits that only you know.

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Lynn Campbell

28/12/2017

Great advice

Pete Casey

28/12/2017

Hey Ben, it’s good to catch up with your progress via your excellent blog posts after getting out of the jungle for a bit.
Could do with some of that ice here after dragging heavy things through hot places 🙂
Best of luck for the rest of your incredible journey.
Bom dia e parabéns- From Amazonas

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Amanda Stewart

28/12/2017

Just WELL DONE!!!!!! Although I don’t know you personally I am so relieved at what you have achieved.

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John Brennan

28/12/2017

Inspirational Ben and a really well written and captivating series of up dates!

Every step gets you closer to your goal and a lot of people are willing you on – good luck!

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Lynn Campbell

28/12/2017

Morning Ben. Hope you’ve been able to enjoy this special time as you approached the Pole today.

Do you have any plans to auction off some of your kit for The Endeavour Fund on your return?

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Maria

28/12/2017

Warmest hello from the other side, Australia 🇦🇺. It’s been a real pleasure to follow along on your journey, you’re a truely remarkable adventurer. I would like be to know how it really feels to be one of the most isolated humans on the planet? Really peaceful I bet. All the best on your last day/s

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Andrew Paterson

28/12/2017

Ben,

Paul & I are looking forward to reading your blog every morning more than his bedtime story – keep the never-ending dream going and savor every one of these historic moments 👨‍👦🤞🌈🏋️‍♀️📡🎆🏆

Onwards & upwards!

Andrew

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Rasmus

28/12/2017

Warmest wishes Ben and congratulations for your journey through the long maze of sastrugi, it seems from your description very arduous this year. With only 630km remaining, you must put out of your mind any possibility of a resupply at the Pole. You owe it to yourself and your country after 2014 to keep going unsupported, as any resupply food will have a bitter taste of regret. Remember too that Shackleton conceded defeat near the Pole, and as a leading polar traveler you must do different – think of being the first to cross Antarctica solo and unsupported, the opportunity is yours to take, please don’t let it pass at this critical moment.

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Kevin Wright

28/12/2017

Good morning Ben, it sounds as if you are on top of the world but I guess it’s the bottom really! Your report this morning is so encouraging as I try to imagine your view of the buildings at the Pole! We are all so proud of this achievement and celebrate with you. Have a great trip today as you close in and I hope you get a well rewarded welcome. We will be thinking of you today as you make the next big decision and what ever that maybe it will be the right one. Take care and enjoy 😊 the approach! Kev

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