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.

Pipe Down and Crack On (Day 53)

Day 53: S86° 57' 37.2", E159° 43' 37.62"

Duration: 8 Hr 45 Min

Daily distance: 19.8 Mi

Distance to go: 1114.3 Mi

Temperature: -18 °C

Wind chill: -30 °C

Altitude: 9633 Ft

Tarka and I were woken up at about 1am our time by a sound that would have been unimaginable to Shackleton or Scott's teams, who would both have slept somewhere near here too: an aeroplane, loud and low, buzzing our tent. We were both deep in our sleeping bags and neither of us could summon up the energy to get up, unzip the tent and take a look, but it sounded like a big, heavy aircraft, probably a C130 Hercules heading to the Pole from McMurdo or vice-versa. The noise was startling and I can only assume the crew knew we were here and thought they'd say hello.

I was thinking about it as we skied today; part of me felt it was incredibly reassuring, like a giant olive green bumblebee checking up on us, and part of me was annoyed, like our spell of solitude had been broken. Today was as good as we've had on the plateau so far. Relatively benign, pleasant conditions and far less wind than yesterday. Our little weather meter said -30 degrees C. windchill when we set off, which counts as a nice day in this part of the world. Once the windchill gets into the forties and below the weather takes on a strange menace, and the very air itself seems corrosive like an acid that's capable of maiming an ungloved hand in a matter of minutes. The sun was out too, except for a couple of grey hours this afternoon when a vast island of cloud hovered over us, heading somewhere north east.

I felt strong today (and Tarka was on form too) and I spent a lot of the day wondering why it is that I've had days recently where I've felt dead on my feet, my legs barely capable of shuffling my skis southwards, my mind full of fear and self-doubt*, and yet I've also had days like today when I've felt fit and healthy and relishing the challenge we're up against. We're eating the same thing every day, so nutrition isn't really a factor. I'm sure we're acclimatising to the altitude, so that might be part of it, and the weather seems to have a huge influence on our moods. Beyond that, I'm not sure.

We racked up close to 32km today, or just under twenty miles, which is a record for us on the plateau so far. Alas we were so busy putting one foot in front of the other that we forgot to take any photos, so here's one out of our kitchen door. The scenery is identical for 360 degrees, and you can see one of my skis and the handle of one of our two spare ski poles, both anchoring the tent (the kitchen end always points into the wind). Perhaps surprisingly, for such a long camping trip, we don't have a single tent peg or snow stake with us.

*I've read of explorers from Cherry-Garrard to Fiennes having mantras they'd repeat to themselves when the going got tough. I can't say I've got one myself, but my favourite recourse when my mind starts fretting about how tough this journey is proving is to tell myself to "Pipe down and crack on". It works a treat, especially in what I imagine to be a Yorkshire accent.


# John Brain, December 17th 2013

Many, many congratulations Ben and Tarka for what is already a colossal achievement.

Almost 87 deg. S. Something over another 200 miles to the Pole with 650+ miles behind you.

I note that others in their comments are speculating when you might reach the Pole. Christmas has been a suggestion. We should beware of expecting too much of you.

As you know, in 1911/12, Scott and his 4 companions built their 3 deg. Depot where. You are now. They took another 17 days to reach the Pole, though only 13 days to return to the 3 deg. spot. In 1908/9, Shackleton had taken 9 days to get from here to his furthest point south, which is just under half-way from here to the Pole.

In 1985, Robert Swan and his 2 companions took 14 days from here, and in 2008/9, Worsley and his 2 companions, 15 days. And they didn’t have to trek back!

# dj, December 17th 2013

Right… makes more sense to compare them to themselves - taking between four to five days per degree.  Christmas Eve near the 89th degree! (“Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise”).

# Nnamdi, December 18th 2013

Hello Ben and Tarka,
I am so excited seeing you guys going beyond limits. Sorry about the ‘peeping tom’ in the skies, I would have loved to see you guys myself too. Down here in Africa the sun is still waking strong
I wish you guys a successful trip.

You guys rock.

# Richard Pierce, December 17th 2013

Your “rest day” obviously did you good. You have a great point re acclimatising, because I do think that’s it. You did the Beardmore so relatively quickly that your bodies will have been playing catchup, and yesterday’s stroll was a really important part of your journey.

To put it into perspective, I had to walk 2.5 miles to my nearest post office yesterday because I’m carless, and then 2.5 miles back, in windy, damp and cold conditions. I was thinking about you all the while, thinking how pathetic my little excursion was.

A mark of your writing maturity is THE sentence of today’s post: “Once the windchill gets into the forties and below the weather takes on a strange menace, and the very air itself seems corrosive like an acid that’s capable of maiming an ungloved hand in a matter of minutes.” Outstanding penmanship.

God Speed.


# wonderwoman, December 17th 2013

Thank you, Richard, mentioning perspective. Every morning I have to go out in the dark, give my huskies their drinks, then make breakfast for my sons, before driving to work. Sometimes, when my alarm went on, I used to think:  oh no, why can’t I just go to the kitchen and make coffee? Not anymore. When my alarm goes on, I think: This is not difficult. It would be difficult to get up in a tent in the coldness of Antarctica, with your every muscle acheing, knowing you have to ski all day….
Ben and Tarka, your unbelieveable voyage means so much to so many people. We send you love from Finland and pray for you.

# Richard Pierce, December 17th 2013

Thanks, @wonderwoman. Having lived in Norway, I know exactly what you mean. Mind you, I’d still rather live there than in England. Hope you’re at least warm in Finland. R

# George Chapman, December 17th 2013

Another great day behind us and it still sounds like the weather has been nice to you the last week or two. I remember two or three weeks ago and all those really bad winds. That was great I’m sure hearing that plane fly over. I was watching a YouTube video this weekend on the new facilities they have built at the South Pole in the last several years. I assume you will see it a day or so before you arrive at the pole on the horizon. I pray you will have another nice day and the weather will nice to you. Take care of yourself and stay warm.

# Janet Stanley, December 17th 2013

Stay safe :)

# Jon Gisby, December 17th 2013

Another great post.

Who taught you how to write? It was probably a while ago, and they’re obviously not as vital as the nutritionists, trainers etc. But strikes me they’ve played a part in your story, and success, too.

The fact you can write like this, exhausted and horizontal, every day, is a feat in itself.

# David B., December 17th 2013

As somebody who is copping very badly with cold and windy weather, I’d like to know at what degree you begin to struggle with the cold (inside or outside the tent) and if sometimes you have to stop, put up the tent and reheat, or if your body is always working enough, when you walk, to keep you warm, especially with headwind?
BTW, it’s minus 30c (-35c w/ wind chill) this morning back here and I admire you to live outside 24/7 in this kind of harsh weather!

# Philip, December 17th 2013

Nice to know that even in the middle of antartica the human footprint on earth is so large that you can’t have a real solitude as long as you want ... This is of course sarcasm.

Little encouragement for you, here in Québec it’s right now -23 with a windchill of -30. We do feel the same as you. Ok maybe not ...

Courage you’re almost there, a couple of more steps that’s it.

# Nick, December 17th 2013

Just think, you are where you are today because you’ve got out the sleeping bag everyday and you’re doing something like 18 miles per day, some days better than others.  That’s reality for some days to do only 3 miles. Even so, good considering the real raw reality of cold and snow and ice.

The half way point is so close now.  Really is.  That’s the prize of your endurance.  And the world continues.  Christmas with snow and ice around you.  Should have taken a Christmas tree and some battery lights.  Packet Turkey Soup.

# Reinhold, December 17th 2013

Just wondering if either of you have had problems with altitude sickness in the past. Have you taken any medications with you just in case you start feeling the effects or because it’s such a slow climb to altitude you believe that you would become acclimatized?
I’ll be honest with you…...the t shirt design is very disappointing. It’s like a walking advertisement for your sponsors, which is needed I guess, but at least have drawing of you chaps pulling a sledge on the back!!!
Something for your crew at home to think about.
Stay healthy!

# CaninesCashews, December 18th 2013

Actually yes there are a lot of sponsor logos but we wouldn’t all be following Ben and Tarka and sharing in this great journey if they didn’t have the money or support to set off in the first place – so a small price to pay on a shirt - and as Reinhiold says - it was needed. But that’s only my opinion.
In terms of the design – I love the Ambulatio Memoranda logo that this design is based on.
Great use of the stripes – there are only so many ways you can show polar mountains and probable travails in a graphic representation and I think they have done it admirably.
Also in reality, white striped lines all at 45 degrees, reversed out of a grey tint (as in the logo) or blue lines on white (as in the shirt) are nothing like the solid black varied angled mountains and bright green text in the logo on a car that you mention in your comparison.
I readily admit I may not be an expert in all things polar, but I am an expert in graphic design and branding.
But again all design like art is subjective.

# AmirAzemi, December 17th 2013

How amazing is this blogg in general! Lately i couldn’t go out hiking cuz of the weather, but watching you sharing you thoughts it like being outside sometimes! Keep it up guys, i’ll pray for you. Just take care and enjoy it as much as possible.

# CaninesCashews, December 17th 2013

Hi guys,
Wow guys a good day on the Plateau today - just shy of 20 miles even after being rudly awoken by a posssible C130 flypast.
Is that a sign that you are getting nearer your halfway goal - planes overhead?
I agree with Richard earlier - particularly great writing today Ben.
Oh and good job you didn’t take any tent pegs or snow stakes as you would have only cut them down to an inch long or drilled holes in them for weight saving anyway :-)
Keep smashing down those miles.
Stay safe.

# Kristoffer, December 17th 2013

Good old C-130, I’ve seen them plenty of times.  Of course, I’ve run into a few more exotic aircraft too. ;)

# mcdcrook, December 17th 2013

keep on truckin!

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