Today was one of the most challenging days I’ve ever experienced; on a par with the worst days that Tarka and I battled through on my last expedition in Antarctica, and of course this time I was alone. I can’t recall ever physically working quite as hard as I did today, or having to overcome so much self-doubt.
Even though it’s a molehill compared to the mighty Beardmore Glacier, I was expecting the Wujek Ridge to prove the crux of this expedition, and I wasn’t disappointed. After lulling me into a false sense of security with blue skies, beaming sun and no wind when I took my tent down, ninety minutes later it was blowing so hard that it felt like I was shouldering into it, like a rugby player. When I stopped to rest and planted my ski poles in the snow, they blew over and were nearly taken away by the wind. Spindrift was flung into my face and often covered my skis, so that below my shins I just saw a swirling white mass.
It took three hours to get to the steep section of the slope, and three hours crossing terrain – mostly blue ice – that I couldn’t camp on, so I was becoming more committed with each step. The American guide and polar veteran Ryan Waters was supremely generous to me with photos and information about the route, and described the gradient as “mellow”. Looking back, I now wonder if he typed “mental” but his autocorrect thought better of it. It soon became so steep that it was impossible to move my full sledge, so I had to ferry loads; taking out two large stuffsacks full of food bags (perhaps 40kg) and hauling the sledge up in slow motion, before descending again to pull the bags up the hill. Progress was so slow that I feared I’d be travelling well into the night.
The wind persisted all day, meaning mittens and frozen face mask/goggles for ten hours straight, which is an interesting exercise in sensory deprivation, like trying to do a day’s work in a welding mask and a pair of oven gloves. The icing on the cake was having to cross a sizeable (about a metre wide), but thankfully well-bridged, crevasse at the top.
In a nutshell, a full-on bar brawl of a day, tussling with Antarctica in a foul mood. I got up the hill, which is the main thing, and I take my hat off to the handful of people that have climbed it before me. It certainly took some effort (and more than a little channeling of Jocko Willink).
Last up, a HUGE congratulations to Georgina and Will on their marriage today. I’m sorry I couldn’t be at the wedding, and I was bowled over by the poem that Pip snuck into today’s food bag. Thank you, and I hope you’ve had rather more fun than I have today!