The Whitest Christmas

Day 48: S89° 10' 14", W051° 29' 19" Altitude: 2708m Daily distance: 15.7MI Distance to go: 440MI

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.

Ben Saunders (@polarben)
25/12/17
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Comments

Konrad Bartelski

26/12/2017

Glad that you had a good Christmas – and hopefully the conditions from here on will get better for you. Your blog is fascinating and inspiring.
One question:
What foot wear are you using? And what weight are they approx? Do you take them off every night?
Thanks 🙏 and best wishes for the New Year.
KB

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Deirdre Maher

25/12/2017

Wishing you a very Happy Christmas Ben! I am utterly inspired & awed by this challenge you are undertaking. Sending you best wishes & thinking of you down there in the great, vast whiteness! I hope that the weather & conditions get ‘BETTER!’ for you as you get through the rest of the journey!

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Henry Catchpole

25/12/2017

Happy Christmas, Ben. Been thoroughly enjoying all the updates – thank you. I think you deserve an honorary Rapha Festive 500 badge!

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Mike Jones

25/12/2017

As Christmas Day draws to an end wishing you a peaceful night and a successful day tomorrow.

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Will

25/12/2017

Congrats Ben – you are making tremendous progress – well done. The General would be smiling contently at your mileage. On this day I am raising a glass to both of you – we had a good laugh on our Christmas Day 9 year’s ago.
See it through and don’t forget to collect an old fossil or stone….
All the best
Will

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Carole Parmiter

25/12/2017

Ben, my turn to raise my mug of tea to YOU. ( I did see your post many moons ago, and was very touched) I’m following you, take care, I have faith in you.
Many, many happy greetings this Christmas Day!

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Olly Patient

25/12/2017

Hi Ben,
My name is Olly and I am 7 years old living in Windsor UK. It is Christmas Day and I have had some lovely presents, did you open any today? Also can you tell me what the lowest temperature you have been through? Happy Christmas Ben, travel safely and take care.
Cheers
Olly

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Lynn Campbell

25/12/2017

Wishing you and Pip all the very best wishes for today. You’re a great team.

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Colin Barton

25/12/2017

Merry Christmas Ben. Hope you had a surprise or two to open! The family and I will raise a glass in your direction at lunch. Regards Colin and family, Tenterden Kent

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Will

25/12/2017

Merry Christmas Ben

Your an inspiration, thank you and be safe.

Will

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David Churcher

25/12/2017

Full of admiration for you Ben, to take such a challenge is so brave, credit to the country and a true BRIT !!!!!!!!

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Andy Lawrence

25/12/2017

Happy Christmas mate, let’s hope that Santa Brings you hard surfaces and no sastrugi. How’s your food v distance equation holding up?

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Nick Bennett

25/12/2017

Dear Ben,
Found out about your Christmas trip today on BBC Breakfast! You are doing soooo well and an inspiration to many. Well done. Not toooo far to go!!
Keep going and stay safe.
Nick, Fiona, Sam and Zoë

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Alan Gardner

25/12/2017

A brave man indeed. Happy Xmas Ben

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Kevin Wright

25/12/2017

Hi Ben & Barnaby HAPPY CHRISTMAS 🎄 and we love the hat! Did you weight it when packing your kit! I guess you are not totally alone then with your tiny companion 🐧 I’m spending Christmas Day with my family and I guess the grandchildren will be asking about you and Barnaby over Christmas dinner. Wish I could send you a more useful present but here is a poem that was auction off during my visit to Antarctica and written in support of H4H. It helped to raise over £2500. I hope you and fellow followers like it.

Antarctica is very cold
Put your thermals on
Have no need to wear a mac
It never rains upon
The largest Ice plain in the world
It’s also very dry
Not a place to spend your hols
There’s nowhere hot to lie.

No one owns this barren land
A treaty is in place
Protecting it from mindless rape
As man unveils his case
To mine the minerals and ore
That lie beneath the ice
May this land remain unspoilt
A worthy sacrifice.

Thank You Lord for your creation
Still the same as when you made
This old earth as we know it
Even then you were afraid
Man would devastate it’s fabric
Greed and envy wins the day
There’s one place they cannot harvest
Antarctica is here to stay!

God bless you Ben on this very special day and may you “glide” to the Pole! Kev, Judy Wilf, Frank and Ned. x

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The CHILDS family

25/12/2017

Wishing you a very merry Christmas from all of us and will keep watching your progress every day

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BH

25/12/2017

Happy Christmas dear Ben! Well there is a stocking with your name on waiting by the chimney! Don’t think Father Christmas got your change of address! Thinking of you today. You are doing so very well and we are incredibly proud of you! Biggest hugs xx

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Gerald

25/12/2017

Happy Christmas from South Africa. (3800 miles away.)

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dawn nicholls

25/12/2017

wishing you a very happy christmas and best wishes for the rest of your journey

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