I’ll get the ‘s’ word out of the way first. There was plenty of sastrugi for the first couple of hours today, and there’s a fair bit around the campsite I’ve chosen this evening, a few metres south of the 87th degree of latitude. But for three or four blissful hours this afternoon the terrain was flat enough for me to travel in the manner that I was expecting to travel in Antarctica: with my skis parallel, and striding forward with alternate arm swings, without having to look down to check what’s under my feet. I could focus on the landmark (usually a particularly bright or dark lump of snow that stands out) that I’d chosen on my bearing and zone out. I was so overcome with gratitude that I may even have blown kisses at the horizon.
It’s been quite windy today – my forecast said up to 24 knots – and pretty fresh as a result. I decided to wear two thermal baselayer tops today under a thin fleece and my Canada Goose shell jacket, and I’m glad I did as I suspect the windchill was getting close to the minus forties. It was windy last night, and I fell asleep and woke up to the gentle hiss of spindrift against the fabric of my tent. There was a brand new ridge of freshly deposited snow in the lee of my tent this morning (that I’ve tried to photograph) that led me to believe that it doesn’t take long for the big ridges that have been plaguing my progress to be formed.
This morning’s sastrugi inflicted two casualties, a ski pole basket, and the buckle of the waist belt of my sledge harness. I had spares of both so carried on straight away, and I’ve repaired the basket with some zip ties in my tent this evening so will keep it as a spare.
I had another fantastic note in my food bag this evening, from an old friend Andrew Todd. Andrew and I met as teenage schoolboys, both working Saturday jobs at an outdoor store called Field and Trek in Canterbury. Andrew’s now an officer in the Gurkhas with a number of tours of Afghanistan under his belt, and he recently led the first Gurkha expedition to climb Mount Everest. One of the ironies of the expedition I’m on is that I’m wishing I’d spent more time with friends in recent years, and less time single-mindedly pursuing polar expeditions, and the demanding levels of finance and fitness and focus they require, often to the detriment of other aspects of my life.
A quick answer about mileage:
Hi Ben, I love reading your daily posts. It looks like you are doing slightly more mileage the last few days (14 vs. 12 earlier in the journey). I was wondering why. I don’t think the terrain is getting easier. Is your sledge noticeably lighter now that you’ve consumed more than 1/2 your food rations? Is that helping you travel farther or are you getting more proficient at skiing in the sastrugi?
I think it’s mostly the incremental weight loss of the sledge that’s boosting my daily mileage. Today was a record distance, due partly to the flatter section during the day, and partly to my desire to cross 87 degrees, which meant skiing for an extra 30 minutes into my evening.
Lastly, happy birthday to my good friend Jerry, and please consider yourself very much in the ‘people I wish I’d spent more time with in recent years’ category!