The weather was absurdly good today, and I can’t recall a single one of the 108 days Tarka l’Herpiniere and I spent in Antarctica between October 2013 and February 2014 being as benign as this one. It felt like I fell asleep last night and woke up about five weeks later, in mid-summer. There were the wispiest traces of cloud in the blue sky today, and the only wind for the last 24 hours has been a by-product of my 6,200 calorie-per-day diet. When I stopped moving today (and assuming I didn’t have nineties hip-hop or drum n bass blaring out of my headphones) the silence was extraordinary. When I’m skiing it’s actually quiet noisey, with five lots of squeaking all competing with each other: two skis, two ski poles and the sledge.
As a result I skied for most of the day in just a thermal top and my thinnest fleece, with sunglasses, a white running baseball cap and a fleece earwarmer over the top. The contrast with just 48 hours ago – when I skied in jacket, down gilet, huge mittens, face mask, goggles – is remarkable. From the waist up today I looked like I was doing a Boxing Day fun run in Battersea Park rather than a solo traverse of the coldest place on the planet.
I crossed the 82nd degree of latitude today, so less than eight more degrees to go until the Pole (each degree is 60 nautical miles, or 111km).
Quickfire answers to some of your questions:
1) What sleeping bag do you use and what temperature rating is it? Are the two sleeping mats for comfort or for insulation?
Mountain Equipment Redline (their newest one) – rated from -18 C to -45 C. It’s overkill for some nights here, but reassuring when it gets properly chilly. Thermarest Ridgerests, mainly for insulation.
2) Question and answer from Great Crosby Primary School
We’ve heard that you have to have your wisdom teeth taken out before you go to Antarctica – is this true? why?! We found out that Bradley Cooper (actor) ate 8000 calories per day to bulk up for his role as a Navy SEAL in, ‘American Sniper’.
Not entirely true: I have three of my four wisdom teeth still in my mouth right now (although my dentist was keen for me to let him take them out, mainly as it makes your teeth easier to keep clean, so reduces the risk of needing a dentist). I expect my nearest dentist is in Chile! I still have my appendix too…
That’s a lot of food. I wonder if Bradley Cooper ever managed to burn 8000 calories in a day!
3) Are you having fun ?
That depends on when you ask me! The first few days were incredibly hard, but I’m getting into a good routine now, and in perfect weather like today, with a view of the mountains all to myself from my tent door, it’s pretty magical.
4) Were any modifications needed to pair your MSR reactor 1L to the XGK burner ?
It was completely rebuilt, by someone called Ross Gilmore. I’ve never met Ross, but saw his modifications on his website and emailed him for help, and he was extraordinarily generous in his response. It’s the best snow-melting set-up I’ve ever used, by a big margin.
5) Do whiteout days cause more difficult nights of sleep? Would you say that days are just as mindfully difficult as a difficult night of sleep (if you have any)? While good music and engrossing audio books are helpful in the day (as is silence), what helps you create the change you need – to get a deep needed rest when you are restless?
Thankfully the degree of physical exhaustion (plus a good eye mask) means I don’t seem to have any problems sleeping. I do have noticeably more weird/vivid dreams on expeditions, which I think might be linked to the lack of stimulus during the day.
6) Like the Tiger Class, we also wanted to know if you have seen any forms of life so far? (from Mr Blake and 8C class)
Absolutely nothing living at all! And I don’t expect to see anything for a few weeks, until I see humans again at the South Pole. It’s an odd feeling being the only living thing around.
7) Do you have a teddy or another good luck character with you?
I have two! A small penguin that came to the South Pole with me in 2013, and a small bear called Barnaby who’s been to both Poles now.
8) How is the new Bremont holding out?!
Hasn’t missed a beat!
9) Has this route you are taking been attempted before by anyone besides your friend who was just 30 miles shy?
The Norwegian Børge Ousland made a solo kite-skiing crossing from Berkner Island to Ross Island, and a two-person team (Ryan Waters and Cecilie Skog) came this way unsupported and unassisted a few years ago, but went down the Axel Heiberg Glacier. No one has gone across to the Ross Ice Shelf via any route alone without either kites or resupplies of food en route, so that’s my plan.
10) How did you feed yourself to be strong, equipped for a journey of endurance, and fat…
I ate lots of everything! I had a few visits to America earlier this year, so plenty of big breakfasts and burgers there was a key part of my weight gain plan…