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.

Fantasy vs. Reality

I've always quite enjoyed the myth (in my mind anyway) of rescuing people and kit from crevasses: swaggering into battle with a harness jangling with ice screws, carabiners, pulleys, prussiks and slings, a rope coiled Action Man-style around a shoulder, and perhaps even the stump of a cigar clamped between your teeth.

The reality, as I found out today, isn't quite as much fun, especially when heavy sledges, an overhanging crevasse with a crumbling snowy lip and a decent measure of wind-chill are thrown into the mix.

The day started - once we'd got breakfast out of the way and I'd procrastinated as much as I could in the tent - with Tarka booting a sledge filled up with snow (and attached to a rope) over the lip of the giant crevasse/hole we found yesterday. The other end of the rope was attached to me, and I in turn was attached to my sledge, also filled with snow. There was probably 300kg on the rope in total and my job, once I'd hit the deck and acted like a human anchor, was to make the whole lot safe, "escape the system" in climber-speak, which means flipping my sledge upside down to act as another anchor, attaching the whole shebang to that, untying myself, then digging the sledge in a bit with my snow shovel to make sure it wasn't going anywhere.

Once I'd done that, I set up yet another anchor by digging in a pair of skis, tying a knot around that, then abseiling down to unload the sledge, ascending the rope again using prussik loops, then pulling everything back out using a pulley system. The "ascending the rope again" bit was where the wheels came off and I had something of a sense of humour failure today. If you've never been in a crevasse (and I hadn't spent much time in them until this week) they're pretty chilly places, and ascending the rope meant transitioning from dangling in space to getting over a giant overhanging snow lip. Handling the iced-up prussik loops became impossible with mitts on, so I used my liner gloves, which soon became alternately sopping wet from battling with ropes that had dug deep into the snow, then frozen again from the breeze.

I won't bore you with more details, but today involved a lot of going up and down that rope, some very cold fingers, a lot of heavy stuff dragged out of holes, and more swear words than I've used in the last three months put together. This is exactly what we came here for, of course, and Tarka's skill both as an instructor and as a mountaineer (and hole-dangler) par excellance is something I'm hugely grateful for. The prospect of either of us falling into a big slot with 160kg in tow is something I relish even less after today, but if it does, there's nobody else I'd rather have on the other end of the rope.


# Chiara L'Herpiniere, May 10th 2013

Proud of you two. Keep practising x

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