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.
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.