Into the Mist

Day 42: S87° 50' 11", W051° 59' 39" Altitude: 2456m Daily distance: 15.7MI Distance to go: 532MI

I was emailed a weather forecast last night:

Mon 18 Dec 17
– weather: patchy fog/low cloud
– wind: SE 5-8kt
– temps: -22C/-24C

Tue 19 Dec 17
– weather: fog/low cloud, light snow after 14utc
– wind: ESE 10-15kt slowly easing after 14utc
– temps: -22C/-24C

Wed 20 Dec 17
– weather: fog/cloud, light snow
– wind: NE 5-10kt
– temps: -16C/-19C

And as I started skiing at 0830 this morning, the meteorologists at Union Glacier seemed to have got it about right, although there was no wind whatsoever, which reminded me of another email from last night, which contained Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Frost at Midnight.

(‘Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness.’)

I was surrounded by thick fog, although if I looked straight up above my head I could see blue sky, and I had perhaps forty or fifty metres of visibility so navigation wasn’t too difficult. I feared at any moment that the cloud might close in on me and leave me stumbling through a whiteout, but after a couple of hours the reverse happened, and the fog started to dissipate, leaving me walking through a beautiful clear day.

And I hope I’m not jinxing anything by typing this, but the terrain definitely improved this afternoon, in fact quite dramatically so. It’s still not what you’d call flat, but the sastrugi turned into modest moguls as the miles ticked by, and the spaces between them grew and grew. It was a relief to clock up a decent distance today, and it was a joy to be able to let my mind wander for a bit rather than constantly trying to find a route through the rubble and ridges. Hopefully it’ll stay like this from now on, and I’m crossing my fingers that the fog and snow and wind tomorrow don’t spoil the fun.

A few quick answers to some of your questions:

1) Ben, was there one pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be an adventurer/explorer ?

It’s hard to look back and pinpoint a moment. Making contact with Pen Hadow when I was 22 set a lot of things in motion, but I think people often mistakenly believe that adventure is my ‘calling’, and I’d somehow always known this is what I’d do. If anything it’s more like a craft: my first polar expedition was in 2001 and it seemed like a worthwhile challenge to attempt at the time, but I had absolutely no idea it would/could turn into a career!

2) As it’s Christmas next Monday, what will you be eating?

I have a couple of tiny Christmas presents wrapped up in my sledge that I think (and hope!) are edible, and I might award myself an extra chocolate brownie, but sadly no roast dinner, Christmas pudding or mince pies for me this year! I’m sure I’ll be daydreaming about them, though…

3) Can you actually feel the sled is considerably lighter than when you started or has the challenging sastrugi been consuming your focus?

During the day it doesn’t feel much different to the day I was dropped off, but it’s a lot easier to move around my little campsite now! (I usually use it as a windbreak while I put the tent up, then drag it around to the door side of the tent.)

4) With all of that rich food you’re consuming, do you ever get bad heartburn, and do you have a way to get rid of it out there?

No heartburn, I’m glad to say! I have Lansoprazole in my first aid kit, mainly to prevent stomach issues if I took ibuprofen on an extended basis, but haven’t touched it. In fact, I’ve taken four ibuprofen on the entire expedition so far.

5) How long will you be staying at the Admundsen Scott research station?

Sadly I won’t be staying at the base at all! I’d imagine my first shower will be at Union Glacier, or back in Chile…

6) Love your cerebral musings Ben and trust you will make the right decisions to make your goal. On a practical note I’d like to know what you do about oral hygiene given the diet you are on. Tooth problems could be hell in that environment.

Thank you. I clean my teeth every evening (with a shorter than normal toothbrush as I cut most of the handle off to save weight!) I was really proud that I’d never had a filling until my first expedition, aged 23, and now I’ve had several! I think the sweet carbohydrate drink every 80 minutes or so is the real problem for my poor gnashers…

7) What is the most cool and interesting thing you’ve seen so far on the ice?

Good question! The short answer is not an awful lot, although I occasionally see odd marks in the snow made by the wind that look like letters and numbers. I nearly stopped to take a photo of a ’17’ that I saw today, and I’ll let you know if Antarctica manages to form any words!

8) Wishing you lots of luck for the rest of your journey. The children in my class are wondering how many layers of clothes do you need to wear to keep you warm? Have you seen any animals? And what is the coldest that it has been so far?
Love from Martha and the rest of her class at Crazies Hill Primary School

Hello Martha! On warmer days I’ll normally ski in three layers of clothing, but I have a big jacket that I put on when I stop moving, and the most layers I’ve worn on the coldest day was six!

I haven’t seen any animals or birds at all. In fact nothing can survive in the middle of Antarctica, so the only wildlife down here – penguins and seals mainly – live at the coast.

The coldest has been nearly -30 degrees centigrade, and the coldest windchill (which is when the wind makes it feel even colder than it actually is) was in the -40s.

Lastly a quick hello to Mark L if you’re tuned in. I got your note today about the Mallorca 312 and it made me smile. I’m looking forward to a ride (and a cake stop!) when I’m back, and we ought to pick a two-wheeled challenge for 2018…

Ben Saunders (@polarben)
19/12/17
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Comments

Kevin Wright

19/12/2017

Hi Ben, so pleased to hear about weather improvements. Just done some quick calculations and at this rate you should arrive at the Pole in time to celebrate the new year. I will keep a bottle of champagne on hold for that one. Cheers 🥂 Kev

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South Dakota fan

19/12/2017

Good job! Really enjoy reading your blog. Am curious about your skis. Wax, skins or waxless with a pattern?

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Lynn Campbell

19/12/2017

Hi Ben. 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.

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Kevin Wright

19/12/2017

Hi Lynn, I guess Ben has only one spoon 🥄 but with half a handle to save wait! Interesting about the snowflakes. I will have to check that one out.

Mike Burt

19/12/2017

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 freeing!
– Mike and the team at One Performance UK

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