I’ve just heard a rumour that the Ilyushin aircraft that will take me from Antarctica back to Punta Arenas in Chile might be arriving in the early hours of the morning (2am) so I’m on tenterhooks waiting to see if the weather window holds, as it’s forecast to get a lot worse until the next window on Friday.
Most of today had been spent resting, drinking tea and chatting with my fellow inhabitants of this little campsite on the edge of Antarctica. As someone said at lunchtime (I think it was the mountaineering guide Scott Woolums, who has climbed the Seven Summits – the highest peak on each continent – seven times) ‘Unique places attract unique people’. I had the privilege this afternoon of sitting down for a long, frank conversation with Robert Swan. Robert has had a huge influence on the course of my life: reading his book In the Footsteps of Scott as a teenager was one of the things that set me off on this path, he was a patron of my last expedition, and he has become a friend whose wisdom I value enormously.
Some of the wonderful staff and pupils I’ve met from Stowe school might recognise the bobble hat I’m wearing in this photo of Robert and me at Union Glacier, and I hope the picture of me with my hero (Robert was the first in history to walk to both the North and South Poles) and my friend might have special meaning at the start of a new year. It’s no exaggeration to say that I wouldn’t be here in Antarctica if it wasn’t for the example that Robert set, and through the story he told. We must never forget that we are each writing our own stories – hour by hour, day by day, year by year – and as tempting as it is to feel at times that we are too small or too young or too inexperienced, or that what we are doing is insignificant or imperfect or incomplete or irrelevant – we must never forget that our story will one day be an example to others when they in turn are seeking guidance and wisdom and inspiration.
My final answers from Antarctica are to some great questions from another Ben (this one is aged 11):
I have a few questions for you! But first I am really inspired by what you have shown me on your blog, that if you try you can achieve great things.
Now to the questions.
1. What did it feel like when you finally reached the South Pole?
I felt a lot of things that day: sadness that I wasn’t going all the way across to the Ross Ice Shelf, relief that I was going to stop and rest (and that I wouldn’t have to put my sledge harness on again the day after!), happiness that I was going to see an old friend (Hannah McKeand, who was at the South Pole camp) and that I would soon be heading home. It’s also a real shock seeing the American base at the South Pole – there are several huge buildings, futuristic-looking domes with satellite dishes and antennae and lots of vehicles ranging from skidoos to giant tractors. After seven weeks of seeing nothing but snow and sky, it all seemed quite alien.
2.What did it feel like to be the only person to try and cross the Antarctic region, solo?
Again, I experienced lots of different feelings, and I tried not to spend too long dwelling on how physically isolated I was. The good thing about being solo is that you’re usually pretty busy – either navigating during the day, or snow-melting, cooking, eating, updating the website and sleeping at night – so there’s not too much time to dwell on the enormity of the challenge or the severity of the conditions. Ultimately I also felt lucky to be here; just being in Antarctica is the culmination of a lot of ambition and work
3. What was your favourite day of the expedition? Why?
It was probably climbing the Wujek Ridge (I think this was Day 12) – at the time it seemed hellishly tough, but now looking back it was one of the most satisfying days of the expedition. Climbing up the ridge with a heavy sledge was the hardest day of work I did on the entire journey, but the scenery was stunning and it was a special feeling knowing that the last person to have travelled that route was Henry Worsley, two years ago.
4.What is your next adventure going to be?
Good question! I don’t have any definite plans yet, although I had a fun conversation over breakfast yesterday with a Norwegian called Ronny Finsaas that had got me thinking about an interesting plan…
Thank you Ben for being an inspiration to me and making me believe that anything can happen if you put your mind to it.
P.S My name is also Ben: age 11 🙂