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.
The Route (Part 3) - Ross Ice Shelf to the Gateway
Text and images by Henry Worsley. Video (The Route in 30 Seconds) by Ben.
Leaving the area of McMurdo Sound and heading South will be a great relief to Ben and Tarka. They will now be able to focus on the 400 miles that lies between them and the entry point into the Trans Antarctic Mountains. Time on the ice shelf will be a time to settle into a routine, increase their daily mileage and hopefully enjoy the relative stability of the weather for they will be remaining at sea level and ascending only a couple of hundred feet. This will be a great help as their sledges will be at their heaviest but reducing very slowly in weight as they eat their way through their burden. Some days, the load will be significantly lessened as they offload bags of food and cans of fuel. This will have to be cached inside a well marked cairn replicating the method used by Shackleton in 1908/9 and Scott in 1911/12 - a lifeline for their return journey
For the first stage of the route we will see them travel more East than South as they avoid an area of crevasses created by two plates smashing into each other off land to their West. The surface of the Ross Ice Shelf will dictate just how quickly they will progress. They will hope for large areas of wind packed snow but must be prepared for softer and deeper patches through which their sledges will drag. But they will be getting fitter, feeding a healthy appetite and hopefully covering in excess of 15 miles a day. There may be the odd blister, aching back or cracked lip to contend with but we should expect them to motor along during this early stage. What they will pray for is settled weather and no blizzard or storm that may fix them inside their tent for a day or two. There is very little margin for delay on such a formidable journey of this length.
After about 35 days or so, Ben and Tarka will reach the edge of the Trans Antarctic Mountains. The panorama they will be looking for will be that photographed by Shackleton in December 1908. It will mark their entrance onto the Beardmore Glacier through a narrow defile named ‘The Gateway’. The characteristic brown hue of the granite of Mount Hope will be visible from afar but so will the disturbed ice in their path as they negotiate their way through their first taste of undulating snow fields ripped in part by crevasses and ice blocks. Here, the glacial ice from the Beardmore crashes into the Ross Ice Shelf and causes the chaos they will have to move through. But that won’t last long and soon they will edge closer to their first noticeable climb up through ‘The Gateway’. Despite their sledges being much lighter now, they will still find this very different as the gradient increases markedly over a few hundred feet. What I hope they feel is the presence of Shackleton and Scott as they ascend the narrow defile for it is only a few hundred metres wide and the only place on the journey where all who enter the Beardmore Glacier have to pass.
At the summit of The Gateway their minds will now be totally focussed on the mighty Beardmore Glacier. This is where potentially they could face their greatest difficulties and where their training will be put to the test. Skis will soon be replaced by crampons, daily mileage will on some days drop considerably and they will travel roped up. But they will be entering the next stage of their outward journey and be well pleased with the progress to date.
Text and images thanks to Henry Worsley
This is the third in a six part series by Henry Worsley giving an insight into Ben and Tarka's route through his own first hand experience. Further posts will include 'Mount Hope and The Gateway','The Beardmore glacier' and 'The Polar Plateau'