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 Hard Day’s White (Day 18)

Day 18: S79° 08' 44.76", E168° 25' 42.3"

Duration: 7 Hr

Daily distance: 9.3 Mi

Distance to go: 1678.5 Mi

Temperature: -19 °C

Wind chill: -30 °C

Altitude: 213 Ft

Another deeply testing day today: we woke up to strong winds and a complete whiteout and the mood in the tent was pretty sombre as we melted snow to make our breakfast. I then managed to spill my breakfast, mostly over Tarka's sleeping mat, and we set off into the thick white gloom in pretty low spirits (and in my case, with an empty-ish belly).

It was a real pea-souper  - a difficult thing to explain unless you've experienced it. We may as well have been in pitch black darkness, or skiing with pillowcases over our heads. You can't see anything other than white. There's no sky, no ground, no landmarks, and if you're in the lead it can be weirdly disorientating. I was convinced that the compass was wrong and I was skiing to the left the whole time (and half-expected to bump into our last campsite again having completed a perfect circle). At times I lurched and veered off-balance, like a drunk staggering across the deck of a ship in a heavy sea.

Tarka's hat blew off when he was in the lead, and surprising myself with a burst of speed (a relative term as I still had my sledge in tow - it was probably all of 2mph), I chased after it and manage to pin it down with a ski pole, which I felt somewhat redeemed my clumsiness with my breakfast.

We saw nothing at all until the sixth hour of the day, when the sun finally put in an appearance. At first merely behind a slightly lighter strip of cloud, and then finally blazing through and chasing the cloud and fog away, with the contrast and definition returning to the snow surface like a painting being coloured in. It's remarkable how the weather and surface affect our morale; when they were at their worst this morning, Tarka and I were both genuinely struggling to find motivation (and indeed any joy in our task) and I had to dig very deep indeed today to ski our full seven hours. Now, with the sun shining on our tent and hardly a breath of wind, anything feels possible.

One question for today:

Q) What is it like when the horizon is featureless in the same direction day after day? What happens to your sense of direction? What is it like to be fixated on the task at hand when there are no markers on the landscape?

A) Actually having a horizon, and some contrast so you can pick out detail and patterns in the snow surface isn't all that bad compared to being stuck in a whiteout like today's, but it's still a landscape that lacks a huge amount of visual stimulus. Our sense of direction seems very quickly to become linked to the position of the sun in the sky, the time of day and the direction of the wind, and without markers on the landscape, our days are divided (and our progress marked) by time.

We ski for one hour stints, taking it in turns to lead, and then stop for ten minutes to eat and drink, sitting on our sledges by reversing back over them with a ski either side. One interesting side-effect of the lack of scenery (and this could just be me - I've no idea if others have experienced the same) is that I really enjoy seeing colours at the end of the day; our green tent, blue sleeping bags and the red fleece jackets that we sleep in. My dreams on expeditions are - when I can remember them - particularly vivid, and always in full-on technicolour yet if you asked me back in London if my dreams were in colour or black and white, I'd struggle to tell you.


# George Chapman, November 12th 2013

Glad to see you are struggling along even with all your adversity. Just keep thinking tomorrow will be better and remember you have a lot of folks around the World with you. Just as with flying IFR just keep trusting in those instruments for direction. Those GPS devises are a lot easier to use I’m sure then those sextants from years ago. Take care of yourself.
Following you on FB and Google Earth from sunny Central Florida U.S.A. Todays temperature 66ºF at 4:30AM EST.

# John Brain, November 12th 2013

What a brilliant blog today. Weather and conditions are clearly against you at the moment and one is reminded of Scott’s conviction when faced with similar conditions, that his luck was out. Yet he at least had a large party of men as companions and you have just the two of you.  9+ miles hard won and 9 miles nearer the goal. And I presume before not too long the Transantarctic range of mountains to the west will come in sight and the landscape will no longer be featureless. Press on.

# Alastair Humphreys, November 12th 2013

Great photo today, guys!
Don’t forget to keep filming, keep filming as well as boshing out the miles…

Spilling your breakfast once is unfortunate, twice is careless.

# CaninesCashews, November 12th 2013

Hi guys,
Great blog and great photo today guys!
Sounds like a hard won 9 miles.
Stay safe.

# Mal Owen, November 12th 2013

Your blog is so descriptive I feel as if I am there. Super pics and good mileage in those conditions and mood. I wish I could look out at midnight and see that parhelion. By the way what was your breakfast ... I hope you managed to scrape some of it up ? Now, in almost your words ......with the sun shining on your tent and hardly a breath of wind, anything is possible…..

# Sheila England, November 12th 2013

Your question (& answer) sound so philosophical.
I love your comment about color. I was listening to someone talking about spelunking (in a similar fashion to what you are doing, but in the opposite direction..) and he said almost the same thing about color when they finally saw it. They also had some sound deprivation, so when he came up, even the sound of a flying insect was really intense.
Be safe,

# Deacon Patrick, November 12th 2013

I suspect a key element of an expedition like this (in rough comparison to my own life with brain injury) is the conscious choice that every day, every moment, is a gift and that there are no horrendous days, only hard ones.

In case it is helpful for future white outs, I live with constant neurological vertigo but am able to run trails and ride a bike by accessing my body’s proprioception. Doing so involves turning off my brain’s attempts to figure out where I am in space and simply trusting my body to move right and well. Of course, that’s going barefoot or at most with thin socks and moccasins on, which maximize input via the feet, and so heavy boots may not help much with that—but perhaps worth a try. Simply make the choice to trust your body’s capacity to know where it is in space and turn off your brain trying to keep up. And as pilots say “Trust your instruments!”

Beautiful pictures. Thank you. May God startle you with joy!

With abandon,

# George Chapman, November 12th 2013

I assume the support team will notice the marker on Goggle Earth for Day 18 is not in the correct location. It is off the track.

# Scott Expedition Team, November 12th 2013

Thank you. We’re just looking into it. It should be corrected shortly.

# Lucas Watkins (age 9), November 12th 2013

What have you and Tarka enjoyed the most so far on you expedition?

# Christy, November 12th 2013

Greetings from the land of corn and soy beans (Indiana, U.S.)!  Last night on my way home from work I began listening to the TED Radio Hour on NPR halfway through one guy’s talk.  The show was titled “Edge” and I was thinking… that the voice I know that voice… it’s the videos I’ve so recently been watching on your site.  Then finally at the end of the show…  “We’ve been listening to…”  ‘hey, I do know that guy’!  Great interview/talk BTW.

Your blog entry a few days ago about performing some of the daily chores of living during the blizzard,  the sideways shovel and trying to hang onto blowing blocks of ice that you had cut for melting, reminded me so much of a description in Forbush and the Penguins, a 1966 fictional work but well researched and written by Graham Billing.  Today’s description of travel in the whiteout seems so existential, like No Exit.  Thank you for these intense descriptions!  Honestly I am feeling so privileged and inspired!

# Zoe, November 12th 2013

Your comments are dreams are so fascinating! I dream every night and remember them most mornings, but I cannot tell if they are in color. How interesting.

# Mr Q., November 13th 2013

Gentlemen, that´s just the beginning. Courage et bonne chance.

# Kevin Wright, November 13th 2013

Hey Guys keep your chins up it can only get better! At least today finished on a better note and I pray that tomorrow you will be blessed with a better day. Please remember your friends and country are with you all the way to the South pole and ack again.
Gods speed

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