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.

The Cloudmaker, Kyffin and the Crampons (Day 85)

Day 85: S84° 19' 9.84", E169° 43' 40.08"

Duration: 7 Hr 45 Min

Daily distance: 18.8 Mi

Distance to go: 484.5 Mi

Temperature: -4 °C

Wind chill: -12 °C

Altitude: 3061 Ft

We're back among old friends today (well, familiar landmarks at least) and we're camped this evening under the giant flanks of the mountain Sir Ernest Shackleton named The Cloudmaker* with a clear view north down the Beardmore glacier towards the unmistakable - and I think quite beautiful - Mount Kyffin, a jagged, ridged peak that lies almost opposite our exit on to the Ross Ice Shelf. Conditions, as ever, have been tough today, and we started moving this morning in low cloud, wet snow and near-zero visibility, which made things quite stressful.

The weather improved as the day went on, which was handy as we had to navigate a tricky blue ice descent before we started to draw level with The Cloudmaker. Tarka's crampon repair held up admirably until the last session of the day, when the Dyneema tape he'd used to bind it together finally wore through, so we stopped ninety minutes early this evening to repeat the same repair but using steel wire this time. Worryingly his other crampon has cracked, though mine are still intact and looking good, which is remarkable given my tendency to wreck equipment.

Physically we're both feeling very battered; the repeated jarring and impact on our joints as we descend this 110-mile glacier, much of it on a steel-hard blue ice surface, means we both have sore feet, sore knees, sore hips and sore elbows. And as our joints have now covered 2,125km or 1,320 miles out here, they were probably pretty creaky before we started going downhill. Sodium diclofenac (Voltarol) has become our drug of choice during the day, and we've started raiding our supply of Tramadol at night, partly as Tarka's thumbs are so painful now it's warmer that I think he struggles to get to sleep.

We're both hungry most of the time we're awake, we've once again taken to licking empty energy bar wrappers and sucking the white fat out of the plastic our slices of salami are vacuum-packed in. Keeping a clear train of thought for more than a few moments during the day is becoming harder, and the vivid food fantasies we had before we were resupplied are kicking in once more with a vengeance. We often discuss our imaginary feasts at break times. One of Tarka's today was sushi ("Cheap sushi, on a conveyor belt") and mine was roast pork with crackling, apple sauce and really good roast potatoes.

Now the finish line is theoretically well under three weeks away, we're both also getting wildly excited about sitting down in a chair at a table, eating with a knife and fork, drinking out of a glass or a china mug, having a shower and, of course, enjoying the luxury of a sit-down loo. We haven't done any of these things for nearly three months.

*At least I think it was Shackleton that named it. I could well be utterly confused, especially as my mind seems unable to do much except hold a Homer Simpson-style focus on thick, crispy pork crackling...


# Deborah, January 18th 2014

Such an amazing achievement - been watching, sponsoring and waiting for this to happen since 2007. One thought I have as you near the end of this incredible adventure is if you have any specific approach to ‘reintegration’ with the world. To go from such total isolation even back to the relatively low key life of Punta Arenas is going to be an enormous culture shock to you both. Is it something you just plan to suck up and push on through or have you got a deliberate approach so that you don’t completely freak out?

# Ariane, January 18th 2014

Yes, I’ve wondered about “re-entry” as well. In the brief pauses between your roasted pig sushi feasts you will surely be inundated. Seems like taking a few weeks somewhere relatively inaccessible to reflect and write would serve you (ok, your epic book) well.
But first, please stay alive.

# Mia Bentley, January 18th 2014

Thinking of you both. Everystep you take is one closer to finishing. Your both an inspiration! xxx

# Marina Kleinwort, January 18th 2014

I agree wholeheartedly with Richard on this one. Hoping u can safely get down off the glacier and get some extra calories in - however u do that is not important.  I am sure u r both aware of the side effects of tramadol as well. All my positive thoughts are for crampons that hold up and heads that remain clear. If only i could peel off my extra kilos I would happily give them to you!  I am sure you will do whatever is necessary to stay well. Be strong guys. I promise to do Sunday roast of pork when back with visitors from Wimbledon!

# Helena, January 18th 2014

Hello Ben and Tarka, I love to read your blog, I devour each your word and imagine you being there and living what you describe. I kinda dont like the fact you are hungry the whole day - this is not good. I hope you know what you are doing and that you considered the probable impact on you both in the future. But still I do not think that some food supply from the airplane would not decrease the enormous value and uniqueness of this amazing journey. Just I am worried about your health.
Hugs and prayers from friends in Brno, Czech Republic

# dj, January 18th 2014

Still, as always, glad you’re ok and having “fun.”  The physician in me is still concerned about what plans are to avoid a repeat of… well, you know.  Months of barely enough rations and forced 7 day a week labor - where have I heard this before? “Hunger most of the time you’re awake,” licking wrappers, seeking fat, food fantasies and reveries, difficulty holding a train of though - the first of these are malnutrition, the last medically crosses over the line into starvation.

Guys, I don’t think I’m alone in concern about what’s going on.  How about some specifics about your plans to stay safe. (If you’re not up to writing it, how about letting Andy or your science person write a guest post) There’s no calories in Tramadol - and remember what I’m sure your doc has told you, side effects change in this (normally easily tolerated) central analgesic when the person is in a malnourished or debilitated state. [Unless, of course, the symptoms you describe are mostly ‘literary license’ - In which case you could tell us that as well.]

If a set of crampons (or a Snickers bar) just accidentally fell out of one of the multitude of helicopters flying overhead down there and landed at your feet, would that count?

# Helena, January 18th 2014

dj, thank you for your words :-*

# Anna, January 18th 2014

Good morning to all, referring to dj’s comment, Ben mentioned they were resupplied. HOw is this actually happening in practice? Or did I misunderstand?

Keep safe!

# Richard Pierce, January 18th 2014

Agree with you entirely, DJ. After this blog post I’m really very concerned about Ben and Tarka, and what worries me almost more than the malnutrition angle is the comment about Tarka’s thumbs.


# Andrea, January 18th 2014

You’re not alone, Dj, in concern about what’s going on. Yours and Richard’s are the insightful voices of this blog. And you look and see between the words. Please keep on.

# dj, January 19th 2014

Thanks for the kind words all…  ever since the last, well, you know… I’ve been following quite a bit more closely and doing some “figuring” of distances etc. each day.  Those are added each day to the Antarctica Google Earth Resource File in each days waypoint marker (click on it). It is available free at: [ ] .

Having prepared maps and resource files for several other “adventures,” I’ve become familiar with many adventurer’s natural tendency to gloss over some of the more, lets say, “more adventuresome” parts of their activities.  Others have usually answered questions if one gently and politely asks them - these guys, however, are tough nuts to crack, keeping things pretty close to the vest. I’m not sure why, it’s hard to believe that they’ve got anything to hide.

# Nansen, January 18th 2014

Sorry to hear of the continuing crampon trouble.  It’s one piece of the kit that is very hard to repair.  As you have spare skis, perhaps try using those instead with long skins reversed, so as to slow your descent.  If the ski snaps its not a fatal problem and may actually assist.

# Mal Owen, January 18th 2014

Despite the hunger you still seem able to appreciate your beautiful surroundings ....good.  Drugs on an empty stomach…. Not good. Tarka’s thumbs, worrying. I am concerned about the crampons….not to be pessimistic because it hasn’t been my style for the last 85 days, but what happens if they become unusable ? Stay focused…wise decision making and teamwork are of the utmost importance at this stage…..the pork crackling, warmth, loved ones and that finish line are not too far away now.

# jan, January 18th 2014

Hi again.  Reading your latest blog certainly gives such a mixed bag of emotions. Having followed you for so long now, we have become so involved with your journey both physically and mentally, therefore we worry about you, but also feel proud of you very substantial achievements to date.  Thinking about you last night I was actually thinking about what I would be really looking forward to on returning home, apart from the obvious hot or cold food.  I though that turning of the light on getting into a nice soft bed with clean sheets would do it for me. So the things that we take for granted on a daily basis becomes one more thing for you to look forward to. Take very good care of yourselves and stay safe, remember there are a lot of loveones and people old friends and new routing for you on a daily basis.  Jan

# Leigh Phillips , January 18th 2014

Yeah there are a few worrying parallels with the time just before the resupply, hopefully when they are off the Beardmore the energy output will dip some and their calorie input will be sufficient again. Prayers for a safe return

# green, January 18th 2014

Are you guys running out of food?

# Tara Carlisle, January 18th 2014

Do whatever, WHATEVER, is needed to stay safe. That is all us followers want from you. We worry about you like you are our brothers and are in awe of your bravery, endurance and achievements. Wish I could send you a crampon and a hamper but re-supply if you need it. Your heroic status will not be diminished in my eyes - just as it wasnt last time.  Please be safe. You’re doing grand! X

# Janer Stanley, January 18th 2014

Good going again guys, just think Ben, how good your first pork crackling will taste. Good to see the Cloudmaker & stay safe :)

# Richard Pierce, January 18th 2014

Just a comment in its own right now I’ve had time to think over your blogpost properly.

You have less than 500 miles to go, and your altitude has dropped quickly. The wetness will not help you, because it will feel colder than dry cold. If you are hovering on the edge of hallucinations (and that’s what it seems like to me), and you’re not taking in enough calories, you need to consider another resupply, regardless of what you think people will think of the status of the expedition. In the eyes of the majority of people (and not just people reading this blog, but all people), the journey is about its completion, not about exactly how supplies are made (be it depots laid the winter before or supplies dropped from the skies).

Your safety is paramount. Your survval is paramount, to be unashamedly blunt (swear words removed from that phrase). Scott and Amundsen used what technology was available to them in their era, and would not have held back from using the technology or support you can use if they had had access to them.

Take care, and God Speed.


# Andy Lawrence, January 18th 2014

I wholeheartedly agree, if you don’t have slack on the food you need another resupply. The kit problems you have had today and yesterday have effectively cost you a day which is a day further from the depot than you expected.

# Intrepid, January 18th 2014

Echoing .....  intentionally. The most important aspect of this expedition is to complete it ... and with the least amount of harm as possible.

Begging from the sidelines…. please stay within the boundary of what is safe.

Feeling for you both and the circumstances you are dealing with.


# Kat, January 18th 2014

I’m with DJ and Richard on this too…I hope you will consider a re-supply if your next depot is not close by.  The rest of the world doesn’t care two hoots at this point about whether you were supported or not.  Be safe!  Thanks for continuing to share your journey with us.

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