Horizons

Day 43: S88° 04' 24", W051° 53' 37" Altitude: 2539m Daily distance: 16.4MI Distance to go: 515MI

The terrain has definitely changed for the better, which has had a big effect on both my mood and my daily distances. It’s also puzzling; Henry reported the worst sastrugi two years ago between 87 and 88 degrees, and yet that stretch has been the smoothest section for me since the sastrugi started at 84° 30. It must be seasonal, and I seem to have picked a bumper year for it…

The weather was fine today as well, with blue skies and some high cloud later in the day, but only a moderate wind and certainly none of the fog that was forecast, which was a relief. It’s hard to explain the sense of scale down here, and the way the landscape  subtly changes over time. Today there were times when it felt as if I was going uphill, and the horizon seemed relatively close, and times when it seemed like I’d crested a ridge, and the horizon was suddenly miles away, like I was surveying some peculiar snow-covered savannah.

I crossed 88 degrees south today, and I’m also above 2,500 metres of altitude for the first time on this expedition, which would be cause for a party in the tent if I had canapés and a sound system, but as I lack either I’m going to postpone the celebrations until I’m home. Antarctica’s altitude is something people often don’t fully comprehend. If you were to chisel away the ice around my tent, all the way down to sea level, and transported the remaining column to London, my tent would be pitched on top of a towering – and probably fast-melting – plinth that was eight times as high as the Shard (or almost six times as high as the Empire State Building).

Some quick answers:

1) You really should up your game to 85% dark chocolate!

A Strange But True fact: chocolate loses its flavour when it’s very cold, and while I eat 85% at home, when it’s deep-frozen it’s almost like eating wax, so 70% is my polar threshold! Also, no matter what percentage, you can tell when it’s a really cold day as chocolate shatters when you try to break it…

2) I’m curious about your skis. Wax, skins or waxless with a pattern?

Short skins (Åsnes Mountain Race 48 skis with their Skinlock skins – I’m using mohair right now, which are fantastic but wearing fairly quickly, and I have a spare synthetic pair).

3) Have you come across snowflakes yet that are finer and more like strands of hair? Think Shackleton called them ice-picules. Also how many spoons do you have with you? Shackletons Endurance team all seemed to take great care to keep theirs safe about their person.

I haven’t! The snowflakes here tend to be small and icy; more like sand.

I only have one spoon, and it’s a precious possession! It’s extra-long, for eating rehydrated food out of bags, and hard anodised 7075 T6 alloy (it says so on the handle!) so very lightweight. I think if I lost or broke it, I’d have to make my meals with lots more water, and drink them out of their bags…

4)Keep going Ben, we’re all glued to your progress here, even Brian Shaw sent you his best when he was here at the weekend 🙂 By the way, if you think it’s cold in Antarctica, you should try being in a non heated gym in Richmond right now, bloody freezing!
– Mike and the team at One Performance UK

I was thinking of you guys today! Sad I missed the big man himself. Someone should make a little five-bar electric heater attachment for a Wattbike. Jonno could have the place toasty in no time!

5) What’s the next polar challenge? Are there any left?

Thanks Kev. Crikey I’m sure there are loads of things left to do down here (and up in the high Arctic). The Transantarctic Mountains are probably the least explored range on earth, so expeditions like Leo Houlding‘s this year are an example of the kinds of pioneering journeys that can still be made. There must be hundreds – if not thousands – of unclimbed peaks down here…

 

Last up, thank you Georgia for your message (I agree about the hard days, and I’m sorry to hear you’ve had your share recently – I’m trying to learn a few lines of Shelley as I ski, and the poem I like – hidden in a food bag by Pip – opens ‘To suffer woes which hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or nights…)

Thanks also to Alex and Will – you guys were in today’s food bag!

And a belated hello and thank you to the boys of Year 4FG at Altrincham Preparatory School: Sebastian, Thomas, Jack S, Zack, Robert, Jonnie, Joshua, William, Luis, Oliver L No 1, Oliver L No2, James, Pablo, Massey, Harry S No1, Harry S No2, Gabriel, Dougal, Charlie K, Giyan, Jack B, Hassan, Charlie B, and Cyrus.

Ben Saunders (@polarben)
20/12/17
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Comments

Kate

21/12/2017

Some nice baby names in that list!

Reply

Kevin Wright

20/12/2017

Hi Ben, thanks for answering my question today and I will check out Leo Houlding. So pleased you made 88 degrees and 2500 metres fantastic achievement. I have another question. Once you are on top of the plateau how many miles to the Pole and does it stay level or a bit up and down. Hope it levels out and allow you to boost your miles a bit as Im unsure about your food supplies. Have you enough to keep you going if you hit bad weather or more Sastrugi. If so how long will your reserve last for or can you cut down a bit on calories once the climbing is behind you. Hope you have another great day tomorrow. Take care Kev

Reply

Grif

20/12/2017

Hi Ben,
Greetings from Boston, and congratulations on a successful day yesterday! I’ve enjoyed your daily posts so much that I’ve set your site as the homepage on my browser 🙂

As you get nearer to the South Pole, I find myself wondering about unassisted travel — As I understand it, the trip that you’ve planned for yourself requires you to both pass through the South Pole (a relatively populated place) and also receive no assistance from other people. I imagine you won’t be shacking up at Amundsen-Scott for a few nights, but what about stopping in for a cup of tea? What if folks at the station are tracking your movements and want to come out to give you a high five and cheer you on when you pass?

I’m less concerned about the “technical” rules of unassisted travel, and more interested in your own reflections on the idea of seeing people, and what assistance on solo trips means to you in a connected world when I can be writing you this rambly note from 9,022.3 miles away and reasonably expect a reply in a day or two!

May the sastrugi be forever in your wake,

Grif

Reply

Dom

20/12/2017

Henry Worsley talked in his book about resenting seeing other people as he approached the South Pole. Do you think you’ll feel the same way or are you very much looking forward to the human contact?

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