Skiing on Instruments

Day 20: S83° 46' 16", W052° 04' 46" Altitude: 1297m Daily distance: 12.8MI Distance to go: 814MI

Low cloud and a complete whiteout all day today, which meant relying on my compass and my Bremont watch to get me through my ten hours on the move (nine skiing and six ten-minute breaks).

Whiteouts are another thing that are harder to manage solo. With a team you can take it in turns to navigate, meaning you’ll be following someone – and therefore have something to focus on – at least part of the time. Alone, things start to get a little surreal; every direction – up, down, underneath my skis, behind me, in front of me, above my head – looks exactly the same, a sort of fuzzy out-of-focus white. There are no visual cues that you’re making forward progress at all, and as soon as I thought about this today, I became paranoid that I was in fact skiing on the spot, stomping up and down on the same patch of snow. With no horizon it’s hard to tell what’s flat or level, and you’re relying purely on inner-ear balance.

And ten hours of the same – on the treadmill staring at a blank white wall – becomes an extraordinary mental challenge. Reading the tiny digits and letters on my compass or my watch, or the logos on my skis gave an extraordinary feeling of relief. Something for my eyes to do. When I looked up from the compass (held in front of me in a purpose-built bracket that leaves my hands free for my ski poles) it made no difference if I had my eyes open or closed.

Hard yards today!

Some answers:

We’ve been wondering what you do with any rubbish you have, such as, food packs and any other waste you might have each day? It’s a long way to the nearest bin!

Rubbish all comes back with me in the sledge (apart from, er, human waste, which is buried!)

I did a cycle ride this year 1500km in 6 days from London to the South of France.
There were times when I red lined and hit a wall. We had the luxury of missing a stage if we wanted to. You don’t have that luxury.
How many times have you felt in the red zone? Or is that daily, constantly? Does your body actually ever recover each evening / day? Do you get fitter each day and actually get stronger or weaker?

Great question, and I’m a keen cyclist so this is right up my street. If anything, the exertion is more measured than in cycling – I’m moving at a similar pace all day long rather than changing my power output with climbs/descents/headwinds/tailwinds/sprints/etc as you would on a bike, so there’s less risk of red-lining (or indeed bonking!) However I finish each day feeling pretty weary and drained, and perhaps the biggest risk, especially when the weather is bad, is making sure I’m still mentally ‘with it’ to get the tent up safely at the end of the day. The fitness question is difficult to answer. In many ways it’s impossible to recover fully from day to day, so eventually it becomes a downward spiral of fatigue, but I never cease to be amazed at the human body’s capacity to work at such a demanding level day after day.

Which Antarctic polar explorer of by-gone days do you most admire and why?

I’m torn between saying Fridtjof Nansen, for the breadth and scale of his achievements (polar, scientific, humanitarian, political, diplomatic…) and Shackleton, for the leadership he demonstrated rescuing the crew of the Endurance.

How fast are you with setting up and breaking camp. Your tent has no storm flaps. Does it mean you have to dig it in a bit every evening? Or you just pile up some snow against the sides? Do you ever get any snow drifted in?

Right now it takes about 30 minutes between stopping and being inside the tent and taking my boots off. The tent (a Hilleberg Nammatj 2) actually does have sewn-in valances or storm flaps all the way round, but I bury them every time I pitch the tent, so they might not be visible in the photos. Definitely no snow getting in! It’s v quick to pitch, with only two poles, and the inner and outer go up simultaneously.

Quick question about condensation buildup while you’re sleeping. Do you use an overbag or vapor barrier to protect your down bag for such a long expedition?

No vapour barriers necessary in Antarctica as it’s so dry down here, unlike the Arctic Ocean/North Pole where I only use a synthetic bag, often with a vapour barrier and a waterproof outer, and it still gets iced up. Tarka and I slept in Mountain Equipment Everest down sleeping bags for 108 consecutive nights on my last expedition here, and they were fine at the end (structurally and functionally, if not hygienically…)

Ben Saunders (@polarben)
27/11/17
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Comments

Kevin Wright

28/11/2017

Hi Ben, sounds like a tuff one today. I crossed the Irish Sea, last night iriving at 04:30. I look out to sea and it was a black out and I thought of you moving forward with nothing to focus on. It’s a good job the ferry has radar etc because unlike you we could bump into something! Take care Kev

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Sue Jackson-Stops

28/11/2017

the sunday times this weekend had a very good article on what you are trying to achieve since which time I have been absolutely glued to your daily posts. To read first hand almost instantaneous news about your day is utterly mind blowing. Your beautiful photographs together with the map make it all very vivid. I experienced walking across the Viedma glacier in Patagonia for only a few days so know the solitude, beauty and cold and admire your willpower, courage, strength and determination to succeed in memory of your friend. We as a family wish you all the very very best and will be avidly waiting for the next instalment.

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Year 4 Children, Jericho Primary School

28/11/2017

Ben- your expedition has inspired the year 4 children to write some amazing literacy today. They are astounded by your efforts and would like to wish you good luck on your journey. We are all with you every step of the way.

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gwd61

27/11/2017

Ben, on this expedition or the last, do you ever remove the ski skins to take advantage of better glide? Or must it be a slog for crevasse safety?

Stay well and good luck

G

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PS

27/11/2017

Here’s another silly pirate joke for you, Ben:

What happened when Bluebeard went overboard in the Red Sea?

He got marooned.

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Alexios

27/11/2017

Hi there .Iwish you all the best.But I do have a question.What is the meaning of your incredible effort to the world?

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Iron Lords

27/11/2017

To prove the earth is not flat! Ha ha ha!

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