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.

On Our Way Home

I'm typing this from a folding camp chair where I'm sat with my feet up by the stove, in a heated Weatherhaven tent, a few hundred metres from the snow runway at Union Glacier, a small base that's established each year by ALE on the Chilean side of Antarctica to support tourists and private expeditions.

We arrived here in the early hours of yesterday after a six-and-a-half hour flight on the same Basler ski plane that dropped us off on McMurdo Sound's sea ice last October, a journey that left Tarka and I excited about being a huge leap closer to home, but utterly confused about what time (or even day) it is, as Union Glacier operates on Chilean time, 14 hours behind New Zealand, the time zone we'd switched to when we reached Ross Island last week. We're the last expedition left in Antarctica this season, and there's a skeleton staff left at Union Glacier who'll fly out with us as soon as the weather's good enough for the big Ilyushin transport aircraft to get in from Punta Arenas.

The good news as far as Tarka and I are concerned is that one of this small gang of nine is a fabulous Norwegian chef who, in the 16 hours since we landed, has rustled up a selection of goodies that has included bacon and eggs, huge salads, rice pudding, giant burritos, home-made chocolate brownies, risotto, chicken wrapped in bacon, roast pumpkin and sweet potato, smoked salmon and cream cheese, raspberry smoothies and slices of fresh orange. I'm also happy to report that devouring this amount of non-freeze-dried food has had no ill effects beyond the discomfort of stuffing ourselves until we're entirely full at each meal.

The Basler's crew are here with us too, grounded until the weather releases its hold and they can leave Antarctica for their long flight north to their next job in Arctic Canada(!) an odyssey that entails six days of continuous flying over the Americas with stop-offs as improbable and exotic as the Cayman Islands. Jim Haffey, the pilot, is deeply respected in this small community, and his modest nature means it's taken a while to persuade him to regale us with tales from a career that spans tens of thousands of flying hours. His clear blue eyes sparkle with joy and the creases around his eyes deepen in smile as he talks about the practice of "tickling" a snow runway with the aircraft's skis. His three-man Canadian crew are dressed in heavy, insulated Carhartt jeans, fuel-stained hoodies and battered baseball caps; their faces bearded and weathered after their long season's work here. They nod appreciatively over cans of Chilean Polar Imperial beer as we coax stories from their Captain.

As for our story, the memories of more than a hundred days on the ice have become strangely blurred for both Tarka and me now we're back in relative civilisation; so many hard, hard days condensed to a single super-memory of whiteouts, sticky surfaces, sledges that never seemed to become lighter, rumbling stomachs, homesickness, sleep deprivation, deep fatigue and a land with a scale that defies comprehension and description. A scale that threatened at times to crush our spirits and to utterly exhaust our bodies, yet a scale that also left an impression on us that will stay for the rest of our lives. Emotionally I'm still feeling numbed by the whole thing. I'd expected to be skiing the last few hundred metres on to Ross Island in tears, but they never came, and I think it'll take a while for our all-consuming tiredness to lift, and for the immensity of what we managed to do to start sinking in.

The latest forecast predicts a brief window in the cloud tomorrow (or even today, by the time you read this) and therefore a sliver of hope that we'll soon be back in Punta Arenas.


# Christy, Indiana, U.S., February 12th 2014

Interesting thing, how your perception and memory of those 111 days coalesces, more fuel for Tarkas Temporal Perception theory, eh?

# Austin Duryea, February 12th 2014

Must be awesome to finally be able to sit in a chair after those 105 days of sitting on the cold hard snow. Great work guys and safe travels.( Still up for another challenge anytime soon;)

# Caroline Mc, February 12th 2014

I wanted to wait a few days to congratulate you, as I remember that transitional stage between expedition and home feeling truly surreal. The instant congratulations are a few days old and reality, media stuff and the relative normality of friends and family are still to come. Not that I’ve done anything quite on the scale of what you two have achieved… and I’m truly in awe of your success. So, many congratulations to you both!
And safe travels home. Try not to step back in to reality too quickly, but relish that post exped lethargy and relaxation - real life will come soon enough and you need to recover mentally as well as physically!
And please keep blogging and tweeting on your return - it’s been an epic story to follow!

# Nora Wolfe, February 12th 2014

I am reminded of this quote, “A chair, a chair, my Kingdom for a chair. ” LOL

# Damian Harris , February 12th 2014

Good to hear that you are both relaxing and getting some much deserved rest.
I hope that every last mouthful of food is as blissful as you hoped it would be as you made your way across Antarctica.
May you gorge yourself to utter contentment, you’ve earned it!
Hope the journey home is not delayed too much.

# rodney pattinson, February 12th 2014

enjoyed following you wonderful achievement no fish and chips rain floods in uk don’t rush back well done thank you for your blogs

# Leigh Phillips, February 12th 2014

Lol this is the first of your posts that made me feel hungry!  The rest just made me wish I was a polar explorer too ;-)
Now you’ve got time to put your feet up, any chance of a spotify playlist of the music that kept you going through your mad, crazy, awe inspiring adventure?

# Kevin, February 12th 2014

What an amazing accomplishment and tribute to those that attempted it the first time.  No doubt a staggering sense of respect for those that made these treks in much earlier years.  Following your journey has been a treat and my respect for what you were able to do is over the top.  Safe travels and enjoy the many more delicious (and no doubt celebratory) meals to come.

# Dave, February 12th 2014

If they can’t fly you out, maybe you can catch a lift north from Pelagic Australis.  She’s still at Port Lockroy (  That would be more the old-fashioned way of heading home.

# Intrepid, February 12th 2014

Dear Ben and Tarka,

So good to hear from you again!!

I can imagine the video as your gullets were fed with ‘live’ food, the camera following the expression on your faces, your eyes as you took in and marveled with what had so graciously landed on your plates, the happiness as you began to taste all the scrumptious delights, the moments when smiles turned to laughter, and watching as you felt your bellies becoming fuller and satisfied. Three cheers to the chef!

It warms my heart to see your interest in Captain Haffey and his crew as well as being affable to all the other travelers in your midst. It is a sign of remarkable character which I esteem upon you, for although you and Tarka have just made history, you wish to hear other people’s stories.

May all the ducks be in order all the way home…

With abandon,

# bee, February 12th 2014

So delighted to read your words again, Ben.
Wishing for a break in the clouds for your flight out.
Congratulations once again on your amazing journey
and thank you for sharing so much of it with us.
Safe travels back to your homes :)

# Chris, February 13th 2014

It’s super cool that you’re getting such tasty, nutritious and varied food being well-cooked for you by your chef!  It’s also great that you can celebrate completing Scott’s journey with Norwegians, and celebrate the legacy of the great explorers together as others have been doing at the South Pole for a long time.

I remember Cherry-Garrard saying that he never wanted to return to Antarctica and it was such a harsh place, which admittedly can be taken in light of the tragedy of the expedition and his suffering at Cape Crozier, but it underlines that it is a very harsh place.  You guyus have also been through physical struggle that I cannot conceive in my mind, so it is very understandable that it will take time to recover from that.  Overriding all that however - I hope and also expect in a way and after time to recover as I mentioned - you will always now have the achievement of what you have both done with you for the rest of your lives, which I think is just awesome.

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