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!


# Intrepid, February 1st 2014

Courage is the word which came into my thoughts while composing a poem (posted on yesterday’s blog) about the two of you. In the same milieu in which David Crane speaks of Scott and his men, so too can we speak of you. Indeed, it can be said that the whole Scott Expedition is rife with courage!!!

From inspiration to determination, pulling the trip together to the daily pulling of sledges through the juggernaut of internal and external conditions (your resilience which perseveres through adversity), what you are giving is, courage. Usually courage is used as an attribute of something which we have (possess). When I think of you guys, courage takes on being an offering; it’s what you give. You are perfect examples of, ‘you have to have courage in order to give it’. May all those who speak (and write) of the two of you (and the expedition) share this same sentiment.

150 miles of skiing to go, 150 miles to go,
You ski some more, make tracks in the snow,
149 miles of skiing to go.
149 miles of skiing to go, 149 miles to go,
You ski some more, make tracks in the snow,
148 miles of skiing to go….

Dear Ben and Tarka,

Wishing it would get better
Hoping you will be okay
From my heart,
Blessing your journey


# Andy, February 1st 2014

It looks like Ben and Tarka’s tracker is not working at the moment. We will try to resolve this as soon as possible. Andy

# Chris, February 1st 2014

Scott was a hero and a man utterly committed to those he was with, and to doing the very best he could in all matters.  So was Shackleton.  Perhaps mistakes were made, and there were awful circumstances for both - Shackleton could well have been lost at sea (on the ice or in the James Caird) and the same heinous character assassination could have happened to him (as his men on Elephant Island would surely have died), but it would never have been deserved because he did the very best he could and more.  Scott did the same.  They are true British heroes, and every time I (living in Christchurch) go over to Lyttelton I stare at the wharves from where they both sailed (Scott certainly, and I think Shackleton on one of his voyages or more) in awe and total respect.

I am not one-eyed about the expeditions (for example I thought four of Scott’s men should have gone to the pole and not five), but I give my deepedt admiration and respect to true heroism and pioneering greats.  Ben and Tarka, you are true heroes and also in my view pioneers - nobody on Scott or Shackleton’s attempts at the pole manhauled all the way there and back from day one (the closest was Lashly) and yet you two have.  Hats off to you.

Will a DVD be made of the expedition?  I would love to hear so if it will be.

# Rich/Ione, February 1st 2014

Andy, thanks for that. Thought they might have been having a (well deserved) lie in and a late double breakfast (again, well deserved).

# Darcy Mueller, February 1st 2014

What an unbelievable experience this has been! I am in awe of you and Tarka and think of you guys daily. Be safe and keep it up! You are almost there!

# Phil Satoor, February 1st 2014

Whilst browsing through some of your old posts I came across (in day 70) this phrase: “The joy of being outdoors and alive in the wild, ...”.  I hope both of you are still able to find, albeit only fleetingly, the joy of being out in that great wilderness.  We certainly empathise with your tribulations in passing through it.

# Dongo, February 1st 2014

Hi Ben & Tarka,
Ben, I don’t know how you manage to write so eloquently after all you go through during the day. I echo others in saying thank you so much for allowing us to follow your progress from the comfort of our own homes. Huge congratulations on exceeding Scott’s mileage - only a few days to go now, and congratulations on your TED invite.
Re: your comments about the snow conditions - would you maybe get on better just walking on foot (Bowers method!) instead of trying to slide & drag? Sorry if this is totally off the wall, but I’m only an armchair traveller - and of course I don’t know if the snow surface is hard enough.
Take care on your final aproach -
Best wishes from S France

# Ariane, February 1st 2014

So moving. Thank you!

# Lee Ha, February 1st 2014

Your post is beautiful and poignant. Keep in mind that you are finishing what Scott and his men couldn’t and they would be proud. Stay strong and keep your mind focused when you are able, remembering what awaits you in the comforts of civilization. We are all cheering and proud.

# Janet Stanley, February 1st 2014

Such a moving account. Take care & be safe :)

# Curly Texan, February 1st 2014

Ben and Tarka,
I feel as though I too am following your old tracks with you, reading since day 1, covering those first amazing miles virtually. And the truth is, your journey’s struggles and revelations are running in a parallel plane to the sticky surface of our lives when we too are towing sledges and falling over as we tread. For me, I’m hoping the journey ends quickly for you and I cannot wait to look for you on BBC and NPR interviews and the like. I’m ready to hear your voice put together with your eloquent words. I can’t wait to see and hear Tarka blast some wicked reality of his experience there.
Thank you for taking us on as passengers, faults and all, we are learning from your struggles and how we keep skiing forward.
Wishing you speed and good weather!

# Sharyle, February 1st 2014

Thank you for writing these eloquent posts even when you’re exhausted, cold and hungry.  You both continue to amaze me everyday.  What you are accomplishing is incredible, a feat of magnificent human endurance. What strength of will you have!

Commenting is not available for this entry.