Lewis’s Mum and Dad suggested I write a guest blog on Lewis’s site about my experiences walking the same route as Lewis in 2008, as part of the 1st ever all Irish Expedition to the South Pole. Some have pointed the finger in my direction for putting the idea into Lewis’s head, that he would be capable of achieving the journey as the youngest person in history, but these are only rumors. Lewis has shown on several occasions in the past that he is more than capable of inventing mad schemes that will shred his parent’s nerves, I don’t need to get involved, and certainly not blamed.
Lewis has been at this endeavor now for some 37 days and whilst he is making incredible daily mileages, he should be feeling pretty exhausted when he crawls into his bag every evening, it not surprising really, as he has covered nearly 4 marathons since the start of 2014. He will have lost considerable weight too (I am guessing over a stone by now and possibly 2 stone by the time he finishes) and the daily deficit of calories (about 3000) will be taking their toll on his body and his ability to recover over night. This will hinder him in starting again the next day. He will be hungry most of the time, the only respite will be when he is asleep, and even then he will be dreaming of food.
He is nearly on the Polar Plateau and the sastrugi fields are also making their presence felt. These sound much more prevalent than when I skied his path 6 years ago. The highest I encountered was 3ft or so, I have heard reports this year or 4 ft to 5 ft in height. Skiing into a 150sq mile field of these rock hard ‘snow dunes’ seems unfair, after all the work you have done to travel the 465 miles thus far.
Mostly things will start to ease now as he passes 88 degrees of latitude, but in a few days he will be climbing up towards 2750m above sea level, and so the air is much thinner. Whilst he is lighter in body and in sledge weight, he has accumulated fatigue in his legs and combined with the effects of altitude and colder air, he will be finding it harder to breath and some of the marches during the day will be a real slog and keeping a focused and positive mind will be crucial in keeping his emotions in check.
The average temperature will also start to drop considerably lower than what he has been used to. This will affect the drag of the sledges and skis, as they work best when the pressure of the ski or sledge runner can melt the snow to ease the friction. This will not be possible in the minus 30’s and the snow and ice will feel like skiing over wet sand and it will be hard to tell where the problem lies, tired legs or sticky ice.
Overall though, Lewis has shown incredible endurance for a 16 year old. The reports I have heard are that he is positive in mind and strong in body, no better attributes for a polar explorer. Without mishap and or a rest day, within 2 weeks Lewis could be at 90 degrees South, joining just a few hundred people that have gone before him, but none so young.
Below is an extract from my blog, whilst I walked to the Pole, I describe here what skiing in a ‘white-out’ is like, where there is no visibility and no contrast, the experience is akin to walking in a cloud as you have no sense of the ground or sky.
Day 38 – January 2008
“I have been looking at my ski tips for 8 hours and 10 minutes non stop today, its the only way to ease the feeling of vertigo. I feel queasy, disorientated and unbalanced. Its hard to stay upright, not that I really know which way upright is, I’m always throwing a pole out to the side to stop myself from falling. This is what skiing in a total ‘white out’ is like, you can’t tell the difference between the air or the ground, like walking in really thick fog, this is the worst we have had in 38 days and we have had no contrast visibility now for more or less 12 days straight – very unusual for this time of year.
So all I can see are the red tips of my skis, and the wind is blowing snow across them at a specific angle based on the direction I’m heading in. I’m trying to walk on a bearing of 121 degrees towards our food cache, but in a whiteout it is practically impossible to walk in a straight line, so I’m using the direction of the wind to help me. When I’m on course the wind blown snow crosses my skis from left to right, if it comes in at 8 o’clock and leaves at 2 o’clock them I’m more or less on the right heading. If it comes in at 9, then I have turned into wind and I’m heading too far North, if the snowflakes cross my skis at 7 o’clock then I’ve turned too far South. As a double check I have a hole in the zip on the left hand side of my salopettes, if my knee is cold from the draught then I’m on course, if suddenly my shin and calf get chilly, I’m off course and the same with my thigh and buttock.
Its amazing when relieved of one of your senses how you can retune others to work for you, its too cold to use a GPS all the time and to read a compass accurately means stopping every 10 ski strides, which means we would be moving too slowly. For the whole day I have looked at the tips of my skis (actually for most of the last 12 days) my mind is exhausted, concentrating on things to distract me from this featureless monotony.
Then in the last 10 minutes of the final march of the day, I ask Clare who is behind me to call out left or right should I stray too far off course (not very effective way to navigate long term) I’m going to ski the last part of the day with my eyes closed! I also asked her to shout if she sees a crevasse. So for 10 minutes, I led a group of skeletons across the most remote place on earth, with my eyes closed, it was bliss, the vertigo vanished and for the first time today I felt calm and relaxed, skiing in total darkness towards the Pole.”
Photo taken of my team at more or less the same position as Lewis.
Lewis’s current position is here