Whiteout Again

Day 46: S88° 42' 34", W051° 58' 54" Altitude: 2669m Daily distance: 13.9MI Distance to go: 472MI

I’m struggling to know what to write today, without sounding like I’m moaning and complaining, but I’ve had another nine hours of complete, zero-visibility whiteout, and it’s been an intensely frustrating day. In 17 years of expeditions, I can’t recall a journey that’s had weather that’s been this poor, and I think roughly one day in every four I’ve been out here this year has had either no visibility at all, or low cloud and flat light with no contrast (basically a whiteout with a vague horizon). By the end of the day I had a headache and felt strangely nauseous, I think from the lack of a visible horizon. The ground and the sky look exactly the same, and it’s impossible to focus on anything, which seems to cause some sort of vertigo, for want of a more technical description of the syndrome.

As soon as I got going this morning I started tripping over small ridges, and the inside of my goggles might as well have spray-painted white. It was a struggle to fill ten blank hours outside with positive daydreams and memories, while staying calm and trying to avoid getting worked up each time I lost my balance. I’ll stop grumbling now, but the conditions really were not at all conducive to covering the sort of distance I’d expected to be covering this close to the South Pole, and I found today very trying.

On to some questions!

1) When NASA sends robots and satellites to space they often use years old, but proven, parts instead of cutting edge tech since once it leaves there is no chance of repair. While I know you do carry some spare equipment and you have previous experience with much of your kit, how do you choose to take along new items, (i.e. your custom stove, new skis, food, etc.)?

Hi Mark. Great question, and the answer varies depending on the specific item of new equipment or food, but each expedition brings lessons and experience that can be applied to the next, so some things – food especially – are tweaked with each expedition. The recent ‘paleo’ movement in nutrition has meant more snacks on the market that are higher in fat and therefore better suited to cold-weather journeys (they’re calorifically dense and also don’t freeze rock hard!). The skis are from a Norwegian brand, Åsnes, that I have used on many expeditions in the past, and had already been tested in Greenland and Antarctica by a Norwegian guide (and friend – hello Christian!) so word of mouth and personal recommendations are important too.

2) I recall from your Scott Expedition that your speed and distance back from the pole was pretty amazing, often around 26 miles a day. Are you hoping for similar distances once you reach the pole this trip?

Thanks Laurence. Theoretically yes, the same sort of distances ought to be possible. Tarka and I were skiing between the depots we’d laid on our outward journey, so usually had v light sledges, often with just four or five days at a time. We also did long days and were absolutely flat-out – it took me ten months to fully recover from that expedition!

3) I bet you get some beautiful views when the sun is out, do you see any birds or is it too cold for them? Do you listen to music or spoken word while you walk? I love a good bit of radio on a dog walk. I guess charging an iPod for a long trip is a challenge?

Thank you Debbie. No birds, and nothing living at all! The only wildlife in Antarctica is around the coast, and the interior is completely lifeless. It’s technically the world’s largest desert! I can charge my iPod Shuffles with a solar panel at night (24-hour daylight!) and often listen to music during the day. I didn’t bring any spoken word/audio books, but with all this rubbish weather I’m starting to wish I had!

4) While you have the experience of already having been on long cold arduous camping trips before, do those experience lessen the impact of what it’s like for you now, dealing with all that is actually happening?

The previous expeditions (twelve of them!) have given me a lot of very useful wisdom and experience, so it’s been remarkable how quickly I felt ‘at home’ on this trip, and how readily I became used to the daily routine. I must have spent more than 400 nights in this type of Hilleberg tent now, melting snow with an MSR stove, etc. so I think there’s less shock to the system than if this were my first expedition! The flip side is that sometimes this feels so normal to me that I probably sound like a grumpy old man moaning about the weather and the sastrugi, when of course I am extraordinarily lucky to be experiencing this magical, alien place, that so few will ever get to visit…

5) Could you tell us how you go about setting the compass direction that you will follow given that the south magnetic pole is not at the geographic south pole?

Thanks Patrick. It’s so simple that it almost feels like cheating, certainly compared to the efforts Scott and Shackleton had to go to, measuring the angle of the sun and the horizon. I have a very simple, bottom-of-the-range (fewer features equals lighter weight and longer battery life!) Garmin eTrex GPS. I’ve tried to photograph the screen but I’m not sure the image will survive being compressed. If it doesn’t, one of the waypoints (I save each day’s position as 44, 45, etc) is my next waypoint, L DEG (last degree, or S89 W052) and the GPS works out the magnetic bearing for me and tells me how far it is from my current position. In this case it’s 158° and 53.27km.

Lastly, hello to Kerry and Stefan, and to Ed T – thank you for your notes, and I look forward to seeing all of you in 2018…

Ben Saunders (@polarben)
23/12/17
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Comments

Kevin Wright

24/12/2017

Hi Ben, wow your comment about your goggles “might as well be spray painted white” really helps me to understand what it must be like to walk and navigate in such awful conditions. Your daily blog which is excellently written helps me and I’m sure others to feel that we are with you in spirit if nothing else. I pray that tomorrow will be a much better day Ben and I feel the conditions will improve as you get closer to the Pole. After that your daily mileage I’m sure will increase to the 20 plus mark and you will complete this amazing journey with the support and excellent planning from the team back at home. Godspeed Kev

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Alex Buckland

23/12/2017

Loving these Ben, wish I was there!

You are one of the few people alive that have a vast amount of experience journeying around BOTH poles. Which items of equipment or cloting do you have on this trip that would be inappropriate for an Arctic trip, and why?

My other question relates to the physical preparation. You mentioned deadlifting 200kg, which obviously takes a long time to build up to. But how much time, in the beginning, did you spend focussing on form?

Thanks so much for sharing and answering all of our (sometimes repetitive) questions!

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Reinhold

23/12/2017

Something I haven’t heard a lot of detail on is your general health?
How are your feet holding up…..any hot spots or blisters? Joints? What about your appetite and have you experienced any stomach problems? I’m pulling my sledge across Great Slave Lake in the N.W.T in February so I’ve been following your journey with great interest. All the best!!

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Jack Jewell

23/12/2017

Hey, well done so far! Am loving reading your blogs and catching up in a bulk of a couple of days at a time. One question I have been wondering. You headphones which ones do you use and how is the cable not frozen and very brittle? How long per day do you listen to music? Do you think having technology with you is a hindrance or a benefit?

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Brad Borkan

23/12/2017

Your expedition sounds incredible & definitely enjoying your posts and the excellent progress you are making in the face of adverse weather & terrain. Your honesty about the challenges (as well as the times you mention your use of expletives) makes it all the more real for those us following your expedition. Best of luck & hope you get better weather, especially for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day…

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Following in Boston

23/12/2017

Hi Ben, just wanted to say that I’ve been reading your posts from here in Boston since the beginning and I really look forward to them everyday. You do a fantastic job of keeping them interesting. What may seem like mundane details to you like the weather, the terrain, your gear, how you approach each days challenges, etc are, for most of us, insight into a world we’ll never see. I just wanted to thank you for writing them! Hope you get clear days and flat terrain the rest of your journey.

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Mark

23/12/2017

Thank you for the reply! Makes sense that you probably know a lot of your fellow polar athletes, sounds like a friendly community that helps one another prep for their expeditions.
People always say something like “the crap days make you appreciate the great days more”. By that logic you must be the most appreciative person in all of Antarctica 😀
Keep up the great work, you inspire all your readers (particularly this one 🙂 and the servicemen and women helped by The Endeavor Fund appreciate you immensely!

Mark

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James Whaley

23/12/2017

Ben – I know that people around the world are following your journey and I would like to use your blog as an opportunity to apologize for most of us here in the USA for the actions of our President. Due to a convoluted election process, he was elected by a minority of voters. His total disregard for our planet, his greed, and childish behavior is an embarrassment to us all. Perhaps he could learn a lesson or two if he read about Ernest Shackelton and his leadership skills. Ben, best of luck to you on your journey and Merry Christmas!! Jim

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South Dakota fan

23/12/2017

Incredible! Contingency plans, I.e., Plan B? Not trying to be pessimistic but am beginning to wonder what you’re thinking.

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Lynn Campbell

23/12/2017

Thank you for sharing all your highs and lows with us Ben. Rest assured you don’t come across as someone that is moaning. You’re sharing with the world the reality of the mindset that is needed to undertake such an immense challenge and it’s a privilige to be able to read your daily updates.

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Sharyle Doherty

23/12/2017

Well said!

Giles

23/12/2017

Hello Ben,
Am enjoying your blogs but not so much the sometimes hellish conditions you are facing; I was shooting yesterday with John Fisher ( Firepot ) your food supplier who was telling the assembled team all about the food that keeps your engine running !Well done you; keep the positives upfront,easy for me to say but best to pat yourself on the back and when the SP looms it might bring you back to the real world and the fumes of diesel and reminder how humans are wrecking it; after a long drive “up” to say Scotland the return is easier back “down” and I hope you will feel the same as you head for the Ross iceshelf.TOL Giles xx

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Holly Mikulik

23/12/2017

After such a long time with very little noise, what are the effects of returning to the regular world and our ever present noise pollution? Emotional and physical like perhaps hypersensitivity to loud noises for a while? We spent 5 nights at UG and two nights at the pole last December and I loved the silence of Antarctica but I know it will be a very different reaction for you. You are doing fantastic and I read your entry every morning! Ski/walk/travel safe!

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