Today was relatively free of drama, which is how I prefer my Antarctic expeditions. The weather improved all day (and is now sunny and completely still as I lie in my tent), the visibility was great, and the surface was reasonably kind. The only real downer was the rolling nature of the terrain: I slogged up three long slopes today only to trundle back down the far side, losing almost all of my hard-won elevation. I’m now camped at 1,227m above sea level so I’ve come up slightly, and I also crossed 83 degrees today, which is a big tick in a box.
The navigation for this section is relatively interesting as I have to squeeze between two mountain ranges (the gap is actually a good 40 miles or so) before the terrain opens out to blank nothingness and I make my way up to the Antarctic Plateau.
The main challenge today was settling in mentally to the pace and scale of the journey. Each day is broken down into seven ‘sessions’ with a quick break in between each one, where I’ll stop, turn the sledge so the back is to the wind, take my goggles/sunglasses and big mitts off, answer the call of nature, then reverse over the sledge with my skis and feet either side of it before sitting down (I roll up my sleeping mats at this section of the sledge so nothing is squashed), putting on my big down jacket and digging out my flask and my daily food bag.
These sessions average 70 or 80 minutes at the moment, and halfway through session one, the thought of working this hard until past six in the evening is almost too much to bear. If you then allow your mind to grasp the fact that you have 50 days of food left in the sledge – another 350 sessions to go – then things can become overwhelming rather quickly. The trick is finding some diversionary tactic to keep the rational mind from truly appreciating the purgatory that lies ahead. Thankfully I appear to have a short memory, a stubborn streak and an inability to process all but the most basic mental arithmetic, which I suspect makes me well cut out for polar travel on foot.
22.42km (12.1 nautical miles) in the bag today, which is a record for this trip so far, and the sledge gets lighter every day so I hope the mileages will keep improving.
Speaking of weight in the sledge, here’s a photo of my slovenly team mate, Barnaby, basking in the heat above my stove. He spent 108 days in Antarctica with Tarka and me on my last expedition, he came with me to the North Pole from Russia in 2004, he’s been to Greenland at least three times, and Jake Meyer even abducted him and took him most of the way up K2, so he’s seen a bit of action.
Last up, happy birthday to Steve Jones! Thanks for your help and friendship over the years Steve – I hope you’re having a fantastic day.