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 4) - The Beardmore Glacier
Discovered in December 1908 by Ernest Shackleton, the Beardmore glacier opened up a route through the Trans Antarctic Mountains to the polar plateau and the South Pole. It is one of the Antarctic’s great glaciers – 120 miles of crevassed titanium hard blue ice, 20 miles at its widest point, it ascends to 7500 feet and without doubt will prove to be Ben and Tarka’s most formidable obstacle.
They will descend on to it from The Gateway marked on each side by the unmistakable outline of Mount Kyffin and the Granite Pillars. At first there will be enough of a snow covering to remain on skis but it is likely that they will rope up as they recognize the tell tale shadows and cracks on the surface of the hundreds of crevasses that lie in their path. These are not huge gaping chasms but narrow slits, well camouflaged that will easily take in and break a leg or twist a knee – especially when they travel on boots and crampons.
Their sledges will run much easier, friction free, on the blue ice, but they will have a mind of their own as they bump and crash along behind them. Their progress will simply be dictated by the amount of twisted and rubblised ice that they have to negotiate on the route they choose. Captain Scott stayed more on the Western side but there is no simple and easy way up it.
Camping on the glacier brings it’s own challenges. Due to the surface of blue ice Ben and Tarka will find that snow for them to melt for their cooking is in short supply and when it does occur in small patches it is full of fine sediment and moraine. They will have to use ice screws to secure their tent in high winds – otherwise it is food bags and the sledge to use as anchor points. They must be prepared for a hard night’s sleep unless they have well cushioned sleeping mats.
But the reward is the scenery – towering peaks on each side, glaciers feeding in from the valley sides and the silence, broken only by the crunch of their crampons and the irregular bashing of the sledges. Finding suitable locations to depot their food and fuel for the return journey will be challenging due to the maze of chaotic ice but an accurate GPS way point will ensure they find it.
The point of departure from the glacier is marked by a three peaked feature called Buckley Island. Whilst the daily gradient of the glacier will have been reasonably gentle, the exit is marked by climbing up a steep gradient of blue ice where the sledges hang off your hips as a solid dead weight. Sure footing is essential. They will probably rope up for the final time as crevasses are commonplace here as the ice tumbles off the polar plateau and down to the valley floor. Released from the grip of the Beardmore, their route will probably take them due South West for a day so as to avoid the impenetrable Shackleton Ice Falls where they do not want to be drawn into.
With their harnesses, ropes and crampons stowed at the back of their sledges Ben and Tarka can now focus on the remaining 2500ft climb to the polar plateau. It will be demanding work for the wind will be picking up and constantly in their face. But once again they will be heading South.
Text and images thanks to Henry Worsley. Video (The Route in 30 Seconds) by Ben.
This is the fourth in a now five-part series by Henry Worsley giving an insight into Ben and Tarka's route through his own first hand experience. The final post will give an insight into 'The Polar Plateau'. 'Mount Hope and The Gateway' and 'The Beardmore glacier' posts have now been combined into one.