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.

Whiteout, Granola and a Turning Point (Day 56)

Day 56: S87° 44' 56.87", E159° 21' 30.60"

Duration: 8 Hr 30 Min

Daily distance: 18.2 Mi

Distance to go: 1059.8 Mi

Temperature: -24 °C

Wind chill: -38 °C

Altitude: 10062 Ft

Sorry for the lack of an update yesterday. We overslept by 20 minutes, then the surface was terrible all day and we decided to test both of us pulling one sled vs. each pulling individual sleds (we're leaving our last depot tomorrow morning and were considering leaving one sled). The process entailed unpacking and repacking the sleds several times, which added a couple of hours to our day and we didn't finish until late in the evening.

We'll also be doing nine or ten hours per day starting tomorrow, so the alarm goes off at 5.30am from now on, which wasn't the nicest start to today. It was a bit nippy as well, and a complete whiteout all day (I've sent back the only photo I managed to get before my camera died in the cold), which made progress frustratingly slow over the sastrugi fields we're starting to find.

I've always disliked whiteouts intensely, and find them oppressive, claustrophobic and disorientating, but as I retreated into my mind to try to pass our eight-and-a-half hours of hauling, I realised that the less there is to see, the more your thoughts turn inwards. Antarctica finds you out pretty quickly, and it doesn't seem at all tolerant of bluster, swagger or pretence, and a whiteout is perhaps the ultimate blank canvas upon which your qualities, values, foibles and frailties are inevitably laid out for inspection.

Tarka was cooking this morning, and of the two foil breakfast bags (they have no labels, so it's pot luck) offered me the granola with pecans in rather than the honey and oat one we have most often. The breakfasts are all delicious -thanks Dorset Cereals!- but the berry, chocolate and nutty varieties are rare treats, and I jumped at the offer, only to feel guilty and selfish for hours that I hadn't given Tarka what I knew was his favourite.

What's more, I felt physically weak and drained all morning, I felt ashamed that I'd blogged about wanting an expensive suit and some handmade shoes, though in my defense when you haven't touched soap or deodorant in two months, and when you wipe your bottom every morning on chunks of snow at minus thirty degrees, your mind does occasionally miss a bit of luxury. I also felt bad to have heard that my girlfriend was upset she hadn't been mentioned in my list of things I missed (I'd mistakenly thought she wanted to be kept out of the public eye and I now wished I'd made it clear that I'd swap a dozen Saville Row suits and swanky restaurant meals for a home-cooked meal with her and the chance to hold hands as we walked my dog) and my thoughts spiralled negatively as I cursed myself along.

I had a real wobble in the early afternoon, lagging behind Tarka and feeling powerless to move at much more than a crawl as we headed south into the gloom. Things came to a head at our last break when, slumped on my sled, I said to Tarka that I was worried we'd gone too fast so far, and that I was exhausted from trying to hold his pace (Tarka's an internationally-ranked competitive ski mountaineer, he's an extremely skilled and experienced skier, and he's a good five or six inches taller than me, so has a giant stride that I can't hope to match).

Thankfully Tarka took my complaining and worrying and grumpiness in that same giant stride, and gave me a perfectly-pitched pep talk -mainly about the state Shackleton was in when he turned around not far from here more than a century ago, and that they made it back despite being infinitely less fit, well-equipped and well-fed than we are- that made me choke up.

As we sat on our sleds, ate our energy bars and downed our hot carbohydrate drinks, I pulled my hood down a little and turned away so he didn't see the tears welling in my eyes. Once again, he's proving the perfect team mate and I went from gazing into the abyss of self-pity to feeling stronger - in heart at least if not in legs - than I have this whole expedition. I suspect today may have been a more profound turning point than when we swing round the South Pole and start heading home in a few day's time, and I was reminded of something Jerry Colonna said to me once, about the fact that at every moment in our lives we always have the choice to be kind, both to others and to ourselves. So there's my Thought for the Day from nearly 88 degrees south: we can always be kind.


# Paul Bower (Downe Arms hotel), December 20th 2013

Ben keep your spirits up you are doing fantastic at least you’re having a white Christmas!
All this technology you have, if you had a 3D printer I could have sent you your Christmas present———A snow shovel !!!!!!!!
Keep your chin up you’re both doing what we mortals can’t.

# Carlos, December 20th 2013

After climbing through the Beardmore like two pirates climb to an enemy ship, and living 24/7 at almost 3000m and -20ish, I’m very surprised than in the middle of a whiteout, you are able to keep your mind focused every day.

As always, I’m following your daily updates. Every day I’m more amazed with your progress.

Best wishes from Mallorca

# Richard Pierce, December 20th 2013

Dear Ben,

You had me welling up with this wonderful post. It takes a man of the very strongest kind to admit to moments of weakness and tears, and you should be immensely proud of yourself for letting us, people you don’t even know, people who’ve been nowhere near you, share in your deepest emotions.

This is a turning point in your writing, too, because you’ve opened up more to us than ever before, and I can imagine you pressing the post button on this as quickly as possible so that you wouldn’t have a chance to change your mind.

Tarka does indeed sound like a hero, and you have BOTH chosen wisely who partnered with you in this expedition.

I think I speak for everyone who reads this blog when I say we think about you and Tarka all the time, not just when we read your words, but when we go about our everyday lives, when we’re away from our machines, walking, talking, working, breathing. The Antarctic, and the men and women brave enough to pit themselves against its cruel beauty and its beautiful cruelty, are a life-long obsession.

Keep going, keep working together, and be free. Our collective consciousness is always there, backing you up, invisibly maybe, but tangibly, nevertheless.

God Speed.


# CaninesCashews, December 20th 2013

Eloquently put Richard.

# Ann Pagel, December 20th 2013

Yes ... beautifully put.

# Leigh Phillips , December 20th 2013

Hear hear sir, far more eloquently said than i can ever manage.
Ben you have more heart and courage than most. Stay safe.

# Intrepid, December 20th 2013

R - Will be reading your book. Thanks for the pointer.

# Richard Pierce, December 20th 2013


You’re very kind.


# Paulo Butchary, December 21st 2013

Desearía tener la elocuencia de Richard, y más en inglés, pero desafortunadamente no la tengo…Sin embargo hago mías cada una de sus palabras, ya que describen exactamente lo que siento y pienso.

Gracias por toda la inspiración Ben y Tarka!!!

# Sandra Price, December 20th 2013

My hat is well and truly taken off to the both of you.  A stunning post - you are obviously an incredible team.  I have no doubt that without your whole support team of family and professional colleagues you would be in a very different place.  You are supporting each other out on the ice and we are all supporting everyone in the whole team from our various homes .

# Ruben Rome, December 20th 2013

Ben, that touched a deep spot - I definitely welled up a little myself. Everywhere I look I seem to see this lesson being learnt, that kindness and humility govern all. That yielding brings the greatest strength. It’s both humbling and inspiring to hear these words spoken from a place where many might be fooled into believing it isn’t “manly” to express these things. Thank you.

# George Chapman, December 20th 2013

Love all your post and Photos. The white out’s look very neat I would like to be out in one of those. Like a walk in the fog bank. Glad the two of you work together so well and encourage each other when needed. Changing your routine to 10 Hrs.  a day would probable get you up to maybe 25 miles a day assuming the weather or other things are not affected. Taking just one sled to the pole may even get you more mileage. I still think your doing well and I’m hoping you can take a rest at the Pole all Christmas day. I’m still following you every day on Google Earth, FB, and Twitter. Take care of yourself stay warm and keep your chin up.

# AlisonP, December 20th 2013

Wow, we who read your blog every day have been humbled by you and Tarka, but today Ben you have pulled out all of the stops in more ways than one.  As Richard so elequently put it,it takes an incredibly strong man to share with us these deepest and vulnerable thoughts.  It has me feel even closer to you, and to appreciate and respect you even more.  There is strength in this vulnerability.  Thank you so much for sharing with us.

Perhaps in some or your more difficult moments you can picture some of the thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of people who are reading your blog, and enthusiastically following you and cheering you on.  You are so very close to your goal, and have encountered and surmounted so many difficulties.  Just a wee but longer and you and Tarka will be celebrating your amazing accomplishments, and we all along with you in spirit and heart.

# Sue (and Noodle ), December 20th 2013

Damm you. I had to re-do my make -up after that blogg, and that in itself is a major undertaking, almost as epic as your stroll in the snow !!! Well done Tarks for just being the pain in the ass that you are.. Much love from a bright and to-day , glorious Cornwall.

# Sans Nom, December 20th 2013

Dear Ben and Tarka,

I’ve been thinking about posting a comment for weeks now, but after reading today’s post, I could put it off no longer…

The least I can say, is that I am not usually a fan of “in-the-footsteps” expeditions, and modern-day “first” - perhaps because so many of them are built and marketed on half-truths and convenient omissions… What makes yours stand out, I believe, is your honesty and the quality of the writing that enables us to share in it. Almost every day, I keep being surprised by how much your entries grip and sometimes move me. You portray your daily slog and meanderings of the mind for what they are - as far as I can tell, you do not pretend - and the result is a touching frankness that makes your endeavour seem worthwhile - just because!

Your last entry also brings to light the weird and twisted modern reality of having to blog every day “live” from the field, and of sometimes also ruminating over the perception of the outside world, even as you sit in splendid isolation. This is something that our beloved Edwardians did not have to contend with, and which once again, you evoke with candidness and finesse.

Thank you! And keep going - by which I mean the blog as much as the slog!

# Richard Pierce, December 20th 2013

Well said, Sans Nom, well said indeed. R

# Sans Nom, December 20th 2013

Thank you, Richard - I think our comments share the same enthusiasm for this journey and blog. And I’ve just ordered your book! I’m not sure how it slipped under my radar before. In any case, I very much look forward to reading it!

# Richard Pierce, December 20th 2013

Sans Nom, whoever you are, many heartfelt thanks. I am addicted to and obsessed by the Antarctic, having been lucky enough to be there in 2008 for just over a week.

Hope you like the book.


# Charlie & all at Needspace? Clapham, December 20th 2013

We have been following your blog religously. Fantastic effort guys and keep pushing. We are all rooting for you. Your blog today reminds me of what I tell my kids when they are having a tough time at school. “Strong in the heart, strong in the head”. Keep safe.

# Phil Satoor, December 20th 2013

They have a “Thought for the Day” slot on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme every morning.  I’m afraid I find most of them rather tedious but yours however is better than most of theirs, mainly because you’re not preaching to us but telling us how it is.

Greetings from a gloriously sunny winter’s day in London.

# Benjamino, December 20th 2013

Beautifully written Ben - for somebody so isolated, insulated and a world away from most people reading this, you have exposed and shared a warmth that can be felt here in sunny Kent. Keep it up chaps, we are all with you.

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