I thought I would add another excerpt from my blog in 2008 when I was in similar position to Lewis and closing in on the Pole. Up until this point I had never really thought about the Pole or finishing the expedition, it was too far away and too hard to connect to, so I lived each day in the moment. As I hit the last degree or the last 60 miles, I allowed myself to believe I could do it and start to think about what the end would be like, the warm bed, new food, fresh clothes and new people to talk to. As soon as I did this my time warp changed and no longer did the hours zip by but moved to an agonisingly slow pace. One weeks worth of marching now felt like a month and I couldn’t wait for the trip to be over. I hope Lewis doesn’t wish the final days away and enjoys every last minute of what Antarctica has to offer.
We have reached the Polar Plateau, the landscape has changed, no more hills or rough sastrugi, no more frozen statues of dinosaurs to weave our way around – just flat snow, perfectly level and even for as far as the eye can see. I’m leading this leg, out in front of our 4 man wagon train. I can only see two things, the top half of my view is a perfectly blue sky without clouds and it suddenly changes half way down to a pure white sea of snow, no other colours or objects, as if an artist had only two colours on his palette and painted one half of the canvass horizontally blue and the other pure brilliant white….it is an incredible sight.
I stop a while to let the others catch up, there isn’t a breath of wind, and for a few moments there is the most incredible silence, as if I’m the only person on the planet, in fact it doesn’t feel like I’m on this earth at all, at this altitude with the air so thin, and the temperature at minus 25 degrees Celsius, I could be in outerspace, rather than this icy desert.
I look round to see the others and can’t believe what I’m looking at, 3 nomads, zombies or skeletons all shuffling towards me, heads bowed, lost in their thoughts, on autopilot, one foot sliding infront of the other, straining against the weight of their sledges as they sink into the soft snow.
We are moving so slowly, in order to make the pole by the 8th January, we have set a daily distance target of 23.4 km, we keep walking no matter how long it takes. This is different to what we’ve done the last 7 weeks, which is to stop and camp after 7 or 8 hours marching, currently it is taking us 9 hours to do the distance. If we don’t make the Pole on the 8th then we might miss the Russian cargo flight off the continent from where we started 1000km ago. We would then be stuck on the ice for at least another week, and we don’t have enough food for that, nor the stamina!
Looking at the strangers behind me, I know why we can’t do more than 23.4km per day. Pat, previously a robust gentleman looks like a malnourished teenager, Shaun a lanky beanpole with gaunt deep set eyes, he could easily play lead role in a horror movie. Clare, well I can only see her when she is facing me, if she turns to the side then she disappears. These comrades have not just lost fat, but muscle and we just don’t have the strength anymore, we have the energy, but our engine sizes have been reduced from 3.0 litres to 1.6 litres.
My 1.15 hours of penance is over and Clare takes over the lead and navigation responsibility. I slip to the back of the line and quickly slide into my trance like state, staring at the back of Pat’s sledge and the words ‘James Caird’ inscribed on the transom (the name of the Scottish businessman that donated so generously to Shackleton’s Endurance, and whom he named the famous lifeboat after, that saved their lives.)
I glance up at the 3 figures infront of me, I can’t believe they are the same people I started with 50 days ago. I am blown away by their strength and tireless resolve, each step for Shaun is torture, the sole of his left foot has come away from the ‘upper’ and now just sloughs freely, bunching up around his heel. Pat’s back is still in lots of pain, he stops every 10 steps or so to waggle his leg to relieve the pressure. Clare just looks exhausted, her sledge is twice the size of her and she has been hauling it it now for 7 weeks. I realise that physically there is not much left of us and so the last 6 days will be done on mental strength alone – these are the toughest people I have ever met and i’m proud to be here with them.
I look back down at my ski tips and slip into my trance, dreaming of someplace nice and warm and in a few days this will all be over and we will have achieved our goal.