‘…Travels alone.’ I’m pretty sure these are Rudyard Kipling’s words, and I’ve been mulling them over today, wondering if they hold true in Antarctica. With no companion here, I’m constantly forging a trail through soft snow, which is proving pretty tiring. With Tarka on my last Antarctic expedition, I was following his tracks for precisely half the time, and for the other half he was following mine. Slotting your skis into a freshly compressed set of tramlines and not even having to steer was a huge relief every 45 minutes, and a luxury that I’m missing now. It also felt safer pushing hard with a teammate – and we pushed ourselves to hypothermia and near-collapse at one point – whereas I’m being far more conservative with shepherding my energy now I’m solo.
Anyway, not a bad day today. The sastrugi returned with a vengeance at mid-morning but seem to have fizzled out again this evening. I was determined to negotiate the rough bits on my short-skinned skis, which led to a bit of wheelspin at times, although I somehow avoided falling over completely. I tried to photograph one section with my ski poles for scale, and it struck me that the chances of any human being ever seeing that wonderfully sculpted piece of snow and ice again are almost certainly zero, which slightly altered my grumpy perspective on this challenging terrain.
The weather went from too warm (I skied in just my thermal top for about 45 minutes this morning) to really quite chilly as the wind and cloud appeared. It was cold enough to get some quite impressive ice build-up in my beard and moustache from breathing (almost my entire face is covered by a mask, with a small nose/mouth hole for air!) which I quite enjoyed pulling off each time I stopped to eat, pursing my lips and directing jets of warm air to help the defrosting process.
I’ve passed 1,700 vertical metres now, so the air’s getting thinner as I trundle up towards the Antarctic Plateau (2,500m or so) although I’m travelling so slowly that I’m acclimatising well and – so far – haven’t really felt any different.
I’ve also sent a photo back of a vital part of my day: melting snow for my food and drink. By my calculations I’ve consumed roughly 150kg of Antarctic snow so far on this trip…
A quick hello to Geordie and Genevieve, whose lovely note was in my food bag today!