Fine progress down here today in the coldest place on the planet, but I gather the infrastructure of most of the south of England is now barely functioning after a light sprinkling of snow. Perhaps that should be my next challenge when I get home: Minister for Slightly Chilly Days.
My day started with a hiccup. As I clambered out of the tent and started to pack my sledge I noticed a big L-shaped rip in its fabric cover, perhaps caused by the end of the broken ski. I tried a quick, lazy bodge with some tape but didn’t warm the tape up first, so it peeled straight off, deep-frozen. I could either ignore the tear – and risk the sledge slowly filling up with spindrift on a windy day like today – or I could sew it up. As exercises in patience go, threading a needle with dental floss, wearing gloves and a massive down jacket, hunched over to escape the -30 or so windchill (as the floss whips around in the wind and your fingers grow colder and more numb by the second) was a corker. Fifteen minutes later I was on my way, after windmilling my arms around once I had my mittens back on, to force warm blood back into my fingers.
Today was another hood-up, goggles-and-mask-on kind of day, and one where I was unusually grateful for some music to listen to as I slid and shuffled along. Perhaps because the visual stimulus here is so limited, I seem to notice and appreciate certain things more in the music I’m listening to. At the start of Champagne Supernova by Oasis, for example, there’s a short sample of the sound of waves on a beach. That few seconds conjures up so many memories of happy, warm times by the sea that I wish I’d brought hours of it to listen to. Other songs have short samples of birdsong, which is something I realise I miss more than I ever thought I would. And I have a wonderful ‘unplugged’ acoustic version of Eric Clapton’s Layla (or is it Leila? I apologise: I have neither Google nor a tracklist) where the appreciative noises of the crowd are now almost as enjoyable as the music. Each time it comes on I daydream about being in the audience, perhaps on one of Jools Holland’s shows.
It also occurred to me today that (unless some loony solo yachtsman or woman is mid-ocean somewhere as I type) I may well currently be the most physically isolated human being on the planet. My nearest fellow person is probably at the South Pole, which is more than 250 miles away. Lying here in my sleeping bag, cosy and warm and comfortable with the evening sun heating the tent, I certainly don’t feel lonely, but I do feel a long way from home. I partake in the miracle that is intercontinental jet travel far too frequently, and walking for weeks and weeks at a time to cross one small corner of the bottom of the globe is proving a fascinating reacquaintance with the actual size of our planet.
Lastly, I need to explain the photos: one is of my goggles and face mask, defrosting by the stove (an evening ritual) and the second is of one of my Skeats, the little strap-on ski crampons that enabled me to climb the Wujek Ridge last month.