the Journey

  • Distance to go: 0 Mi

    Ben and Tarka will cover 1800 miles starting from Scott's Terra Nova Hut at the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole and back to the coast again. That's equivalent to 69 back-to-back marathons hauling up to 200kg each (the weight of roughly two adult men) of kit and supplies necessary to survive.

    Distances here are shown in statute miles.

A Big Day Out (Day 64)

Day 64: S89° 34' 31.62", E158° 28' 37.08"

Duration: 9 Hr

Daily distance: 21.3 Mi

Distance to go: 869.2 Mi

Temperature: -12 °C

Wind chill: -20 °C

Altitude: 9491 Ft

Apologies for the delayed update, but I suspect you already know that we swang round the South Pole yesterday (the day before yesterday by the time you read this) and are now on the homeward leg of our journey. Our plan was always to pitch the tent and leave our sleds about 10km from the Pole and then to leg it with not much more than a bit of food and drink, our satellite phone, our tracking beacon, a camera and a flag. The round trip turned out to be a bit of an epic by the time we'd followed the regulation route into the South Pole station itself, skirting the runway, and we clocked 56.7km (nearly 36 miles) in what turned out to be a eighteen-hour day.

In short, I'm afraid to say -though it's probably quite apt- that I concur with Captain Scott himself when he said of the South Pole "Great God this is an awful place". For him, of course, there was nothing there at all. A patch of snow at the heart of a barren, deeply inhospitable continent. For us, it felt like walking into a cross between an airport, a junkyard and a military base. Or perhaps a scene that was omitted from a Star Wars film: skiing along with sacks swinging from our backs, futuristic mirrored goggles and hoods framed by coyote fur, we looked like two bounty hunters approaching some sort of outpost on a frozen planet.

As we skied alongside the runway, two skidoos -presumably electric ones as they sounded like hairdryers- skimmed past us, and one visored pilot raised a mittened hand in a half-wave, half-salute. It all felt very strange. The next thing we spotted was several acres of oil drums, cargo containers, pallets and cardboard boxes, with giant tracked vehicles moving between them, belching smoke and reversing with beepers blaring. We skied past several vast sets of fuel bladders that had been towed to the Pole from McMurdo, leaving tracks thirty feet wide. The smell of aviation fuel hung in the air, and huge exhaust plumes rose from what I assume are generators near the main station buildings itself. Anyone who thinks the South Pole station is all about bearded scientists releasing weather balloons and peering into telescopes is sadly mistaken; the place is a giant logistics hub geared, it seems, mainly around the vast quantities of fuel needed to keep this outpost heated and powered all year round, and to quench the thirst of the Hercules aircraft we saw sat on the snow runway.

We raced to the Pole (there are two actually, a few metres apart, the ceremonial one with all the flags, and the actual Pole that they move around as the ice slowly edges towards the coast), and took a few photos, shot some film and made some calls, before racing away again as fast as we could. By the time we made it back to the tent it was nearly 1am and we still had snow to melt and dinner to eat before sleeping for all of two-and-a-half hours and skiing another 35km today.

I felt strangely devoid of emotion at the Pole, but now we're skiing back to the coast my excitement (and indeed apprehension about the colossal distance that still remains) is mounting. We're both, as you might imagine, pretty shattered, and were struggling deeply today after almost no rest. Sat on my sledge at some point this afternoon, struggling to keep my eyes open, I said to Tarka as we ate and drank, "This is a stupid way to make a living". "True," he replied, as he emptied a packet of cashew nuts into his mouth, "But it's not a bad way to make a life".


# Jayden, December 28th 2013

Bravo.. Have a safe journey back..

# Enrico, December 28th 2013

Well done! ... and now back depot by depot

# Ione & Rich, December 28th 2013

Congratulations! I realised you added wizardry to your skills when I saw a very small Tarka trapped in a shiny ball at the South Pole - glad he got out somehow to eat his cashews! Bon Voyage for the return journey - this might be a good wish for letting the genie out of the bottle! xxx

# John Brain, December 28th 2013

Epic. I now understand why you had little wish to stay a minute longer than necessary at the Pole.

But can anyone out there offer answers to 2 questions?

1. What route is taken ‘towing’ fuel bladders from McMurdo to the Pole?

2. Why did I not here mention Ben and Tarka’s magnificent and historic achievement on any BBC news broadcast?

# Mike Wing, December 28th 2013

The traverse to the South Pole hauling fuel crosses the Ross Ice Shelf and up the Leverett Glacier onto the plateau and on the the South Pole.
The book ‘Blazing Ice: The Twenty-First Century’s road to the South Pole’ by John H. Wright is a fasinating read.

# John Brain, December 28th 2013

Thanks for this, Mike.

# offroadinghome, December 28th 2013

Amazon lists the full title as: “Blazing Ice: Pioneering the Twenty-first Century’s Road to the South Pole” by John Wright.

# Uncle Pete, December 28th 2013

That was an epic day in many ways which I am sure will remain with you for life but your achievement will stand to inspire future generations I am sure, that salute was well earned acknowledgement. Your description truly conveys the surreal atmosphere of what is required to sustain human life at such extremes, much like an outpost in space.  But this merely emphasizes your own achievement in doing so without logistic support, leaving nothing man-made behind but footprints - or rather ski tracks. Keep them straight and steady for a safe return.

# Intrepid, December 28th 2013

Enjoying your comments Uncle Pete. Straight on fellas!

# Uncle Pete, December 28th 2013

By the way, did you any spot cycle tracks at the Pole? It was reported that Maria Leijerstam arrived the same day as you by bike!

# Matt Healy, December 28th 2013

Well done fellas! The pole doesn’t really sound all that nice. Epic job, extraordinary achievement. Good luck for your return journey!

# Nick Waite, December 28th 2013

Fantastic stuff, I fully concur with all the other positive and encouraging comments!
Can you give us some indication of how your bodies are coping with the massive demands you are putting on them. Any niggly injuries, blisters, sores etc from the repetition? And also your equipment, how are the boots holding up and that sort of thing? Good luck for the homeward leg, I’m off for a day of country sport with your stepfather Giles! Regards, Nick.

# Scott Expedition Team, January 4th 2014

Prior to their rest and resupply in the last couple of days they were exceptionally exhausted but no blisters. There have been a couple of issues with the online tracker (as you may have noticed as Ben and Tarka skied away from the South Pole) but otherwise the kit has been performing well.

# Jen, December 28th 2013

Well done guys. How fabulous.
I remember watching Michael Palin arrive at The South Pole and saw his disappointment. It wasn’t a very welcoming place.
I wish you well for your return journey, and look forward as always to hearing more from you both.

# Matt, December 28th 2013

Congratulations Gentleman! Truly epic achievement.

# Mal Owen, December 28th 2013

Love the snowdome shot and wasn’t surprised with your reference to Scott’s description of the Pole, “Great God this is an awful place”
Of course ‘The Pole’ was a great achievement but now lies ahead the even greater one and purpose of the expedition. Ski fast, and stay strong and safe, with your optimistic blog followers behind you all the way. I for one will be there to celebrate as you trek into the record books.

# Richard Pierce, December 28th 2013

Brilliantly done, both of you. Good to hear that your excitement level is up again. ANd remember, even though the distance left is vast, is less than half of the distance you had ahead of you when you started.

Thanks, Tarka, for your brilliant summation of exploration.

Thanks to you, Ben, for being honest and showing your readers what humankind has done to the wilderness. The South Pole is McMurdo on a greater scale, really. And this excerpt below sums up how I felt when I walked round McMurdo in January 2008.

“McMurdo Base sprawls like an ugly growth across the level ground at the end of the land towards the sea. This is where Scott and his men were moored in the Discovery in 1904, when they came up here for the first time, when they built the Discovery hut on the edge of the land, only to find it was too cold to live in. Just the thought freezes me.

We drive into McMurdo slowly. It’s like a frontier town in a Western, ramshackle and deserted, paths of dirt and scattered debris. We park up next to what looks like a bomb shelter, a semi-circle of corrugated iron.

Birdie grabs my hand. ‘This is no place for Cherry’s ghosts,’ she says. ‘It’s a barren place.’

Nev grunts. ‘It’s the bar,’ he says, ‘but we’re not going there yet.’

The frozen bay is straight ahead of us, and behind it the mountains scrape the clouds from the sky. Some are covered in snow, some not. And closer to us, growing from the dirt of the cliff-top, higher than the mountains from this perspective, there’s a steeple on top of a small wooden building.

‘They call it the Chapel of the Snows,’ Nev says.

‘It doesn’t look old enough to have such a lovely name,’ Birdie says.

‘The first one burned down over 20 years ago.’

‘That’s a shame.’

We crunch our way towards the chapel, on snowless ground, past more corrugated iron, along a line of telegraph poles, abandoned-looking provision piles, under a canopy of cables.

‘Can we go in?’ Birdie says.

‘Yeah. There’s so much soul searching goes on round here, specially in the winter, they think it’s best to have it open all the time.’

The door leads into a small, dimly-lit space. There is a kind of peace here, but there’s nothing alive about it. I was expecting to find an echo here of the past, but there is none. It’s too new, too surrounded by modern sheds and machines. Ironic that it should have such an evocative name, yet be marooned in what is essentially a desert of dry mud.

Birdie and I walk up to the altar, and the stained glass window behind it. A large cross makes up the central panel. And beyond that there is only the Ice. And the South. But McMurdo’s just like an army barracks, over a thousand people in green steel boxes. I don’t want to be amongst scientists who aren’t interested in the beauty of this continent, who want only to exploit the richness of minerals that lies beneath the ice, minerals nations will fight over when the greed for energy has eaten up the rest of the world’s resources. I sigh and turn back towards the door. I want to be out there, on the Ice.”

God Speed on the rest of your journey.


# Lydia , December 28th 2013

Well that is half of this truly amazing journey into the History Books down and slightly less than half to go. Truly extraordinary achievement so far . The South Pole certainly does not sound that inviting, I can only imagine your relief at getting in and getting your pictures and getting out….... Great pic, nice flag!
Lydia x

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