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.
In the Hurt Box (Day 86)
Day 86: S84° 4' 9.41", E170° 23' 57.84"
Duration: 9 Hr
Daily distance: 17.9 Mi
Distance to go: 466.6 Mi
Temperature: -4 °C
Wind chill: -14 °C
Altitude: 2303 Ft
It wouldn't surprise me if I have recurring nightmares about today; Tarka called it one of the "Top ten worst days" of his life, and it was certainly character-building from start to finish. We were woken up just before 5am by some of the strongest winds we've had on the entire expedition, with our trusty Hilleberg tent (pitched at a wonky angle on blue ice, with only four ice screws and two spare ski poles pinning it down) flexing and bowing inwards under the strain. We had to shout above the noise of the gale, and we started melting snow for breakfast and for our drinks for the day at 5.30am.
About a minute after taking the tent down, and before I'd put my crampons on (we do that outside the tent to avoid tearing the fabric) I was blown over on the blue ice, landing so hard on my right elbow that I thought I'd broken something. The day got worse from there, really, and the Beardmore assumed a horribly menacing, malevolent air, like it didn't want to relinquish its grip on us as we neared Mount Hope and our exit to the safe ice shelf beyond. It tried to smash or to steal everything we own, it tried to swallow us whole a few times, and our sledges, blowing crazily in the wind and sliding around on slippery ice descents, were possessed by spiteful poltergeists. Mine kept running into the back of my legs so hard that it bruised my calves, doing its best to knock me over or to trip me up with the trace (the rope that connects the sledges to our harnesses). It tried to push me into an open crevasse and when I stood firm, it tried to pull me into another a little later in the day. Another of its favourite tricks was to wait until I was gingerly walking over a snow bridge spanning a closed-up crevasse, then to hurtle forwards and join me on the bridge, like an obese, idiotic dog that didn't understand the snow might not hold our combined weights.
We had to stop several times to repair Tarka's crampon, often stacking the sledges on top of each other to make a windbreak to work behind. Tarka was incredibly stoic all day, but even he roared a few choice swear words into the wind at times, and I came close to full-on rage with the weather, the ice, and my crazy sledge, hurtling and veering around like a schoolboy bully that had just learnt to lock up the back brakes of his bike and pull skids, taunting me before thumping me in the calves again.
The surface was really difficult to read, and there's been a lot of snowfall since we climbed the glacier a few weeks ago, so it all looks rather different. Neither of us actually fell in any holes today, but we both put feet and legs through the crusty snow surface at times, and it was all quite nerve-wracking.
Anyway, we're safe and warm and lying in the tent again now, and of course no one said this would be easy. If it were, there'd be queues of people out here right now traipsing up and down. And speaking of things not being easy, I wanted to reassure those of you concerned about my hungry-sounding post yesterday that it's absolutely par for the course to be feeling like we are. Being hungry on a multi-month, human-powered polar journey is a bit like racing in the Tour de France and feeling out of breath or having hurty legs.
Research I've seen by Dr. Mike Stroud here in Antarctica, and also on Rune Gjeldnes and Torry Larsen's massive Greenland expedition, suggests that it's entirely possible to burn more calories per day (more than 10,000 in Torry's case) in low temperatures, high altitude and dragging heavy loads all day than the human body can digest, even given unlimited food intake. We're eating full rations of 6,000 calories per day at the moment, and if we're quick on the Ross Ice Shelf we may even have double rations towards the end, which is a rather different prospect than Scott and his men faced. Tomorrow should be our last full day on the Beardmore, so we're keeping everything crossed for better conditions. Thanks to Tarka's skill at navigating glaciers we've come further west now than on our ascent, and the view of the ice from our tent looks promising, like the worst might be behind us now. Watch this space...