The weather was better today (I’m writing this at 8.30pm on Christmas Eve) and despite plenty of blowing snow and low cloud loitering around there was enough contrast to navigate by, and a beautiful parhelion that brightened up a rest stop when I turned my sledge so my back was to the wind before I sat down to eat and drink.
Of course it would be unlike Antarctica to give me anything on a plate, and the good visibility came at the same time as the surface turned to what felt like wet sand, or some kind of swamp. It’s been snowing here for several days now, and deep, fresh snow tends to dramatically reduce what both Scott and Shackleton called ‘glide’. The effect is the same a century on, and rather than travelling over a nice hard icy surface, my skis and sledge instead have to be pushed (or pulled) through the surface. It felt at times like I’d been beamed back to day three, with 130-odd kilos in tow, and I felt pretty wiped out by the time I pulled my boots off in the porch of my tent at 7pm.
The only drama today was my GPS throwing a wobbly, despite my singing its praises just a day or two ago. I think the concept of the South Pole – and all the lines of longitude converging – is confusing its little electronic brain, as I’ve set up a few waypoints at S89° 59.999 and varying degrees of longitude, and it thinks they’re miles apart, on bearings tens of degrees away from each other. I have to hit a waypoint 1km from the Pole at 16 degrees west, so I’m going to power up my spare GPS this evening and see if it’s having the same problems.
On the festive front, as you can see, it’s party time here and I’ve hung a stocking up (in fact I hang my big woolly socks up to dry out every night in the tent) but I fear that despite my most recent weather forecast suggesting ‘patchy fog/low cloud, occasional reindeer’ I might be too far off Father Christmas’s flight plan this year. It’s only just occurred to me that this will be my very first (and hopefully my only) Christmas on my own.
A few quick answers:
1) Love the astronaut look. I’ve always wondered why polar explorers don’t just use full space suits. Full temperature control, heads-up navigation display…
I’d love that! Sadly Canada Goose didn’t have time to put one together for me this year…
2) Are you still using the VonZipper Fishbowl goggles, or did you take something different this time for your 180 degree “big goggles” ?
Haha! I’m using Oakley goggles (and their brilliant new ‘Snow Prizm lenses) but I’m not sure about the model. Airbrake?
3) I was wondering whether you bring anything into your sleeping bag to try and dry it, and how effective it is. You mentioned that your face mask ices up with breath, so I’d imagine that would be pretty wet by the end of the day and pretty unpleasant the next morning.
I would also love to know how you prevent flare-ups of your stove when priming it? I have a similar white gas setup and I’m not game enough to light it in my tent!
Thanks Nathan. One of the joys of Antarctica (especially compared to North Pole/Arctic Ocean expeditions where it’s often v humid) is the unusually dry air, so most things will dry overnight in the roof of the tent (24-hour daylight means it’s usually warm there). The iced-up mask I dry every evening right next to my stove, where it steams away for half an hour or so while I melt my snow, then is usually dry.
Re the stove flaring up, I cook in the porch of the tent so it’s marginally safer (the stove is mounted on a carbon fibre board with closed-cell foam underneath, so it sits happily on the snow) and I think the trick is using the minimum amount of fuel to light it. I use a magnesium ‘firesteel’ lighter which works brilliantly in any conditions.
4)Does snow melts under your mattress/sleeping bag after you slept all “night”? Do you have any problem in camping over snow/ice?
The main problem camping is finding a level spot for the tent without too many bumps when the visibility is poor! The snow hardly melts at all under my two Ridgerest mats, although on the two rest days I’ve had on this expedition (when I’ve spent 36 hours in the same place, almost all lying down!) then both times it was obvious when I took the tent down where I’d been lying and it had definitely melted a bit. I’ve also developed a good technique for flattening any lumps under by bed using my knees…
5) Given all the advantages that modern materials give you in surviving and marching in your environment, can you summarise how you feel about the early pioneers and their achievements ?
In short, my experiences on contemporary expeditions have left me utterly in awe of what the early – and particularly the Edwardian – explorers endured. When Shackleton turned around short of the South Pole on his Nimrod expedition, he was more than a year’s travel away from home, with no communication and no hope of rescue. He and his men might as well have been on a different planet.
I’m going to end with a wonderful Dr. Seuss line from the note that I fished out of my Christmas Eve food bag this evening (thank you Krista!)
‘It’s opener there in the wide open air.’
It certainly is. Have a fantastic Christmas, wherever you are, and thank you for following my journey. I’m doing this in aid of the Endeavour Fund, a charity that does fantastic work supporting wounded and vulnerable servicemen and women, and if you felt inspired to make a donation then I’d be hugely grateful.