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.