Distance to go:
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.
At Day’s End
The final couple of hours are the memorable ones. The long day passes in a fog of slow skiing, idle daydreaming and counting down long minutes to the next short break then more skiing and daydreaming.
But, near the end, as the sun sets, the mountains we’ve left behind us glow pink and the interminable hill ahead of us (we\’ve been climbing it for 4 or 5 days) is burnished gold. Spindrift snakes towards us, making navigation easier for we just walk straight towards its writhing tendrils.
It looks like nightclub dry ice as it blows towards you. Further away the whole ground shimmers and wobbles in the golden light, like a sunset over the calm Mediterranean Sea, though sadly without the sizzling prawns and warm waft of evening jasmine. You see, it’s damned cold by now and we’re eager to be in the tent.
As well as my thermals and salopettes, I’ve also pulled on two fleeces and a Goretex jacket, thick gloves, two hats, a face mask and ski goggles. I’m hauling a heavy sledge uphill, on snow too cold to offer much helpful glide. And I am only just keeping warm.
Like all of the best moments in the expedition life, I can’t wait for it to be over.
I watch the hunched and shrouded figure in front of me, willing him to check his watch one last time, then ease in his traces, stand tall, and wearily raise his ski poles in a X-shape above his head: the end.
Then, after the plod, a rush once more.
We unclip our harnesses and put on a down vest, then a massive red down jacket. We do not speak, but quickly work together to put our tent up (a Hilleberg Saitaris). It’s flappingly loudly in the wind as we pull it from its bag. First, and most important, we anchor the upwind end with a ski shoved deep into the snow. If our tent blew away the expedition would be over and our lives at serious risk. We fumble tent poles with cold, unwieldly hands and soon the red tent is up. We secure it with skis, ski poles and snow stakes. Finally, we shovel snow all round the valence to weigh down the tent. All this is done with urgency.
Already one man is inside the tent, setting up the stove. The other two hurl in ground mats, sleeping bags and anything else needed for the night. By the time the last man has piled into the tent – boots off, tear off icy face mask, big grin, steam billowing with every breath – the tent is filled with the reassuring smell of struck matches and the best sound in the expedition world: the happy roar of the MSR stove.
Another day is done.