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.
Buckley Island (Day 43)
Day 43: S84° 34' 47.028", E167° 56' 7.440"
Duration: 8 Hr
Daily distance: 16.1 Mi
Distance to go: 1297 Mi
Temperature: -8 °C
Wind chill: -17 °C
Altitude: 4409 Ft
We had a small send-off party in London a couple of days before I left the UK in October. I was sleep-deprived and exhausted from a manic few weeks of packing, preparation, training and interviews, and I ended up drinking too much champagne and giving the worst impromptu speech of my entire life, where I pointed out to the gathered crowd of friends, family, supporters and sponsors that the lady that used to babysit me as a young boy was with us there that evening, but didn't properly thank Land Rover or Intel*.
Robert Swan (the first in history to reach both Poles on foot, the man whose book inspired me to make this journey, and one of the expedition's two patrons) surprised me by turning up to wish Tarka and I well. Thankfully he left before my speech, but as he got ready to go, he clamped his arms around Tarka and me like we were in a rugby scrum, smiled and gave us his parting words loudly, over the din of conversation in the bar, "Go with the flow boys, and let Buckley Island be your guide".
I think Shackleton named Buckley Island, with its three distinctive mountainous peaks, but I could be wrong. Either way, it was the signpost that he and Scott (and indeed Swan's team) used to mark the exit from the Beardmore and the final ascent to the Antarctic plateau, and it's a landmark we spotted for the first time today.
We had a grim start to the morning, waking up in our wonky ice gulley camp site to even crazier weather - it was three degrees above zero, but it felt oddly cold in the humid, damp air, like a Scottish or Welsh winter - and a thick, claustrophobic grey ceiling of cloud hung over us as we packed and set off. We were on crampons all day, and the first hour was spent lurching through a maze of cracks and crevasses, all covered in fresh snow, before a steep climb up a blue ice slope and, about three hours in, our first brief glimpse of the island through the cloud.
Our morale lifted instantly, and the surface ended up being superb for the rest of the day, thanks in large part to Tarka's gamble of steering very close to the Cloudmaker. His ability to read glaciers and predict upcoming areas of disturbance in the ice is uncanny, and I owe a lot to my stoic, hard-as-nails team mate.
The cloud finally lifted in our penultimate hour of travel, rising from the far mountains to our west like thick bonfire smoke. The surface contrast returned first, then our own shadows, and finally the ice itself changed colour from a dull, opaque grey to blue, mirroring the growing expanse of clear sky above.
We're pleased with the progress we're making, though we're working our socks off for it, and we stopped thirty minutes early today to pitch the tent on a rare patch of perfect-looking snow in order to reward ourselves with flat beds and a decent night's sleep. There's now a pretty chilly wind blowing down from the plateau and it's rather a lot colder than it was this morning.
In the photo, you should be able see the three tips of Buckley Island directly above the tent. I'm sure the Beardmore will have a few more challenges in store for us yet, but as I lie here typing I feel content with what we've managed to do so far, and positive about meeting what's yet to come.
*I'm not sure I'll ever be able to find the words to properly express my gratitude to Land Rover and Intel for their support, and for their faith in me, in this expedition, and in Tarka's and my ability to do something that's never been done before. Hopefully our skiing is doing at least some of the talking for me.