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 White Hell (and Some Good News!) (Day 99)

Day 99: S79° 30' 46.98", E168° 35' 36.96"

Duration: 10 Hr

Daily distance: 23.6 Mi

Distance to go: 150.4 Mi

Temperature: -14 °C

Wind chill: -21 °C

Altitude: 200 Ft

Today was off-the-scale challenging, and Tarka and I concurred it was one of the hardest of the entire expedition. The weather was fine and our sledges are nearly empty, compared to the 200-odd kilos we were each dragging in slow motion in the opposite direction three months ago, but the surface was hellishly sticky and high-friction, and we had to force our weak, frail bodies onward for every minute of each of the ten hours we skied.

As we get closer to winter and later into the season, the sun is dipping lower each day at around our midday (local midnight) and we now get a very cold couple of hours part-way through the day. We both seem to be so depleted, with such low body fat and so little muscle left to generate warmth that - perhaps paradoxically, after spending 99 days on the coldest continent on earth - we're now very susceptible to getting cold, and we both struggle to warm up again if we do 'go down', meaning we have to be very quick to put on extra layers as soon as the temperature starts to drop.

We've had some wonderful, well-meaning messages imploring us to 'enjoy' and 'treasure' and 'cherish' these last few days on the ice, but the truth is that the days are - for 95% of the time at least - hellish now, and it's all we can do to keep moving for our 90-minute sessions, battling the ever-stronger desire to stop and rest (or give in and quit entirely). We have extra food from tomorrow (Saturday 1st Feb) so things may improve on that front but the enjoyment of these  next few days will, I fear, only come in hindsight.

We passed the position of Scott's final camp today, by far the most poignant milestone of the expedition, the point at which Captain Scott, Edward Wilson and Birdie Bowers died in their tent, eleven miles short of their largest depot of food and fuel. Scott writes: "The surface... causes impossible friction on the runners. God help us, we can't keep up this pulling, that is certain. Amongst ourselves we are unendingly cheerful, but what each man feels in his heart I can only guess... We mean to see the game through with a proper spirit, but it's tough work to be pulling harder than we ever pulled in our lives for long hours, and to feel the progress is so slow. One can only say 'God help us!' and plod on our weary way, cold and very miserable, though outwardly cheerful."

After hauling our own sledges over every mile that Scott and his men covered, I think of what insight we can offer from our unique vantage point. Of course, we have had advantages that Scott could not have even dreamt of, yet after pulling our loads from the very start of the Ross Ice Shelf, we found ourselves in dire straits in the intense cold, wind and altitude of the high plateau, weakened by half-rations and closer to the brink of survival than I had ever anticipated this journey taking us. In that light, both Tarka and I feel a combination of awe and profound respect for the endurance, tenacity and fortitude of these explorers, a century ago.

I also find myself feeling intense compassion for Scott himself. Unlike Shackleton, who played the PR game well and won widespread public admiration and acclaim, Scott's diary and his last private letters were prized from his frozen body and picked over, becoming a poignant and tragic tale that has been retold by dozens of biographers and torn apart by countless critics ever since. Shackleton - quite rightly - was and is held up as an exemplar of leadership and a paragon of good decision-making under the most severe pressure, but my lasting impression of Scott is of a man whose true tale has been laid bare for all to see. As a result he emerges as a human being like all of us, with fallibility, self-doubt and insecurity, yet also as a man who galvanised and inspired his men by his own example to give their all against the most fearsome odds and nightmarish conditions.

In David Crane's brilliant book on Scott (I have it here in the tent on my Kindle) he writes "And if in small things he was found wanting, in big things very seldom. The worse the crisis... the better was Scott." Captain Scott lived and died with a rare degree of courage, and passing so close to the spot at which he wrote his final words, I feel a sense of privilege at our modest connection with his incredible story, and gratitude for having the chance to share the tale of our own journey over this vast continent with a new generation.

On that note, I'm finally allowed to tell you that I've had the honour of being invited to speak at this year's TED Conference, from 17-21st March. It's TED's 30th anniversary and the event is being held in Vancouver for the first time, so it promises to be a very special (and rather nervewracking!) few days. I can't wait.

Last up, I'm totally behind on your questions, but someone asked recently about what sort of dreams we're having at night, and the answer is that neither of us can recall them at all now; we fall asleep and wake up again (usually with a feeling of deep dread about facing another nine or ten hours) seemingly moments afterwards.

Finally, I need to send a big hello to Sam, who goes to St Andrews School and gave a talk to his class on Captain Scott. I hope it went well, and I'm sad I wasn't there to hear it!


# Offroading Home, February 1st 2014

I’m definitely NOT a mathmatician; however, Ben’s statement about landmarks in yesterday’s blog got me to thinking.  Wolfram Alpha informs me that the height of the average male Brit (currenty living) is 5’ 4”. Then, using the curvature of the earth calculations - AND assuming a clear line of sight and completely unobstructed view (two BIG assumption) - it is possible for that height of person to see the horizon 4.5 KM (2.8 miles) away.

Using the same calculations the tip-top of 2,200 ft high Mina Bluff can be seen by the average Brit male when it is 57 + 2.8 (59.8) miles away. The same Brit can see the top of 6,000 ft Mt. Discovery from 96.8 miles; 9,000 ft Mt Terror from 118.8 miles; and the whopping 10,000 ft Mt Erebus from 124.8 miles away.  They camped only 70 miles from Mt. Discovery so, all things being equal, should be able to see it now. They’re 67 from Mina so theoretically could see it in today’s travels. Erebus then Terror come into view a couple days after that.

# dj, February 1st 2014

I see that I’m the first to comment - probably because even though this blog was posted on the internet. The Google Earth file has NOT been updated yet (it’s 2:10 am MST) - normally the 1:22 am trackpoint shows the first forward motion - I hope they are actually moving and it’s just a problem with the Pilot GPS unit they’re using.

# Phil Satoor, February 1st 2014

I’m not a mathematician either (although I do teach the subject) but I agree with your figures.  I think the formula you are using is: d=√(1.5h), where h is the height in feet of the object you want to see, and d is the distance in miles it can be seen from a point at your feet.

# Intrepid, February 1st 2014

@ Phil
That brought forth a big chuckle!!

# Allison & Mark, February 1st 2014

Last night we talked about your 100 th day and the lady I was with was extremely proud. You would have to smile if you could have seen us. We sat in the village hall awaiting a concert by Snake Davis and His band. We kept our coats on and cupped our hands around a warm cup of tea as we complained of the cold. Snake Davis played his saxophone with fingerless gloved hands and the band were reluctant to remove outer clothing. If we had taken a photograph I am sure it would have made you smile. The sun is shining today and you are closer to home. Excitement building.

# Perran, February 1st 2014

I’m totally in awe of your tenacity as well as your blogging Ben. This journey has, in my opinion, taken you closer to what Scott and his companions experienced than anyone else since. I’ve been with you every step of the way and am willing you to the finish.
God speed.

# cifa, February 1st 2014

great distance in not so great conditions….looks like hell really has frozen over down there :)

keep ‘er lit Ben & Tarka!

# Richard Pierce, February 1st 2014

Dear, dear Ben,

I am so pleased that you have Crane’s book with you. It is by far the best of all books on Scott, and on Antarctic exploration, because he understands, somehow, exactly the weaknesses and fallibilities, and the strengths and achievements, not just of Scott, but of all those who travelled those lonely miles. I have been lucky enough to meet him, and he is far too modest a man about that book.

You have hit the nail on the head about how posterity’s dissection of Scott has made him entirely human, and how he should not be placed on a pedestal above “mere” mortals, and that all of us can stand shoulder to shoulder with him because we are all capable of showing the courage that he, and all those who explore hostile environments (and space), exhibited. You and Tarka prove that point exactly.

There is still some bite in Antarctica, as you say, and as we surmised, and I truly hope that the additional food that you should reach today will at least give you more resistance to the cold, even if it does not give you the ability or desire to enjoy your last week on the Ice. I’m guessing it’s Hobson’s choice as to whether or not you switch to daytime travel now, because getting cold in the tent may well be a worse environment than walking through the cold midnight hours.

Keep going. There are so many strangers rooting for you, alongside your family and friends and loved ones. TED sounds brilliant, like a much-needed motivator for you (and I hope Tarka goes with you). I hope, one day, to be able to meet youb both, even if it’s just for a second, to squeeze your hand, and say well done.

Go well, and God Speed.


# torsten richter, February 1st 2014

I think it is good as they have written about Scott and his brave men. What these people have done 102 years ago, their perseverance and tenacity that is very touching. And I’m saying: He was a very large polar explorer, which has been torn apart unjustly by some people completely. And then also of people who were never in Antarctica or know their nature. Of course, Scott and his men had human weaknesses, but was in need large and a very fair manager and he let his people do not abandon-unlike Amundsen! His journey is unlike any since they came into the Antarctic winter, temperatures at the very worst, but also give you a great performance. Exactly this trip I want to do for years and I will take this even sometime in attack and exactly how they, in Respect of the men of Terra Nova expedition.




# Jarda, February 1st 2014

Captain Scott was a remarkable person and quite good leader and manager (of course he did some mistakes during his last journey but some of them can be considered as mistakes only from retrospect and historically).

I think that Crane’s book is excellent (but in some aspects I wouldn´t reject nor the “cursed” book of R. Huntford, though it is somewhat exaggerated and he extremely stresses only Scott’s mistakes).

However for me the much more interesting figure of the “heroic age” of Antarctic exploration was Sir Shackleton who was more responsible leader than Scott (and don´t forget it was Shackleton who practically showed his followers the journey through Beardmore glacier and almost to the Pole…).

I don´t like Scott´s frequent complaints about the other “competitors”: see his unjust attacks against Shackleton before the “Nimrod” expedition, including alleged Scott´s “prior rights” to the territory of MacMurdo, and his unsupported attacks against Amundsen (as it would be only Scott who had a moral right to be at the Pole first!).

# Helena, February 1st 2014

Thank you for your wonderful blog today and quoting Scott and Shackleton, reading about these two and watching your journey puts me to your place where you are right now, like some teleportation.
And especially thanks for answering my question (about your dreams), I feel so honoured now, you made my day :-D

# Enrico, February 1st 2014

I agree with such thanks for your thoughts related to Bowers, Wilson and Scott ...and Evans and Oates too!

# Mikkel Frese, February 1st 2014

I´m in awe of what you guys have done. What a battle! I can’t even begin to comprehend the struggle you must have went trough. I´ve followed your expedition since i saw your(Ben) second Ted Talk. It was an inspiration and can’t wait to hear the next one! This is first of all your dream but it has many followers and i think you are living the dream of a lot of these people in this expedition. Hopefully you will inspire some people to follow there dreams and if so, i think the juice is worth the squeeze! Sorry about the platitudes:-)  Crack on and have a safe journey these last days! Mikkel

# Ruth Jewell, February 1st 2014

I told my Dad (in his 80’s) about your expedition and for the first time in my life I saw his eyes fill with tears at what you have achieved.
My brother, many years ago, built the display cabinets at Cheltenham Museum to display Wilson’s artifacts from his trip, this ignited even more of an interest in their inspiring expedition.
Following your progress continues to be an inspiration. Keep your heads down, find some inner strength and battle on, we are with you every step of the way xxx

# Mark W, February 1st 2014

Hi Ruth
You may already know, but I am sure your brother (&father;) would be proud to know that the Cheltenham Museum is now called “The Wilson”.

# Helena, February 1st 2014

aaand something to cheer you up :-D

In the maternity hospital they ask mother:
“Do you want to have father at birth?”
“I’d rather not. Do not know how I would explain to my husband!”

# Rob Small, February 1st 2014

Hi Ben & Tarka,

I have been following this adventure from day 1 even before you were in Antarctica!
Every day i log on to read the wonders you have both experienced that day, and every day i find myself holding my breath for the few seconds as it loads. Then as always, that slim smile comes across my face as i allow my mind to drift and be there experiencing it with you guys. Thank you so much for your constant updates…im sure I’m not the only person who thinks this and also sure you guys don’t take it the wrong way but….i almost don’t want it to end!

I can’t wait to head there myself.. roll on next year!

Keep your heads healed high for the last few days, remember what you have achieved and to look around and take it all in.

good luck and safe journey.


# Paul Bower (Downe Arms hotel), February 1st 2014

Hi Ben/Tarka
what a fabulous piece of writing after all day pitting yourselves against the elements. You keep us riveted to your daily report, I can only say keep your heads the end is in sight, what an achievement!

# Kat, February 1st 2014

Well said, Paul.  That was a beautiful, thoughtful, evocative piece of writing.  I don’t know how you do it, Ben.

Best thoughts to you and Tarka on these terrifically difficult days.

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