Sunday, November 27, 2011

Day 5: An epic struggle but the whiskey cocktail is well deserved tonight!

83:26.048S 71:06.44W

So what you been up to today? Seen lots of people, chatted to many...?? Well I haven't seen a soul, I swore at myself, shouted and punched the air with joy, but all alone. In fact the only colours I've seen are ice white and sky blue! I was so desperate of needing to see another human I took a photo off myself....! I looked a bit scary too... Totally unkempt and a bit wind chilled!

When I wake up, first thing I do is go outside and appreciate the remote vacantness Often on the ski, I just stop and wonder at this sterile beauty. This is the REAL experience I was referring to yesterday: I couldn't experience this heightened feeling if I was flown in, and dropped at one of my campsites. It's because I'm experiencingg it each day walking and seeing its endlessness. My ears ring from the silence, I'm sure they can't believe there is no sound so they create one! It's tough here, but STRANGELY special.

A big day today, it's been coming!

So I finally managed my 10 hours skiing - going back to skins and the tortoise approach worked. It definitely was trying to go too fast yesterday. Fortunately it was very icy at the start, forcing me to switch back to skins... Thanks for forcing me, Mother Nature, as I wasn't going to change.

A lo..oong day, but I broke through my goal of +30km in a day: 30.5 to be exact! I'm ecstatic, and see how changing my marches helped. 2.5 hrs is too long to try and stay focused in a trance. It's now 1.5 hours, with speed breaaks inbetween: I don't remove my backack, and just sit on the ice with it on. It's a schlep putting it on each time with mittens and my hands-free compass. Anway we shall see how this new approach works tomorrow. I sense I maybe JUST fine tuning, and there is not breakthrough panacea!

The weather has been ABSOLUTELY amazing, another warm, virtually windless day. This can't last forever, and I'm sure "epic day" will take on a new meaning from today's level, sometime before the 'end'. I guess that does sit as a constant worry in my mind....Things could get quite a bit tougher!

Today was also pretty eventful relative to the other days I've had, and one event is of concern and has reduced my safety margin:

My sled turned over 4 times today, I think the sastrugi was taller and more 'evil' shaped today, but it's quite a pain turniing it back and finding all the fuel cans had dislodged. (The fuel is kept outside the sled bag which keeps all the other contents from falling out!) Maybe I was just driving badly today... bored with tortoise pace!

I also ended up falling on my arse 4 times, the once real bad, that resulted in me breaking a ski pole! I think it's my heavy backpack causing the problem when I suddenly hit sheer glass like ice, and the sled at the same time, a few metres back hits a sastrugi obstacle and rudely yanks me back. Backpack pulls me over backwards, feet and skis shoot up in the air, and whoopsie I land on the ice, quite angry... a few swear words usualy machine gun out! It's funny, but it's not funny!

The broken pole is not good news, as although I am now using my only spare, there is now less scope for more awkward falls. I spent some time tonight working through a repair solution and will implement tomorrow night.

I talk a lot about sastrugi, and I'm sure many of you know what it is, but as it's very much part of the Anarctica ice cap, here is my description:

It's ice that has been eroded into wonderful aerodynamic carvings by the wind, just like sand dunes of the desert, except much smaller. The biggest sastrugi I have seen here so far is probably 0.75m, but most are less than 0.3m high. The ice is really hardened from the wind, and so they are pretty serious obstacles, that force skis and sled over / around them usually. The shapes are amazing, sometimes there is a whole patch that looks like a mini Grand Canyon, then another patch as sharp and mountainous as the Alps, then others just like minatures of the Namib desert sand dunes...All fascinating, but because the wind generally blows from SE the sastrugi furrows run at aboout 70 degrees to my ski course making for very rough, bumpy, and constant obstacle crossing skiing. I'll try send through a photo over the next few days....Sorry, photo's are just very time consuming on the satphone and my sleep hours are vital... I hope you understand?

Tomorrow I plan to wake at 04h30 Punta Arenas time, a half hour earlier than I have been, as my new 1.5 hr strategy means more breaks, and more time out there, to get the s 10 hours march (ski) time. The next day I'll do another 1/2 hour earlier, so I can wake at 4am, with the goal of leaving for skiing by 6am. Yeah it takes 2hrs to wake, make breakfast, water, packup, pull down tent etc... Quite a mission, and I'm perfecting it each day!

That's it for today, my body just aches everywhere, and each night I wonder how my feet are going to recover so they can 'produce' again tomorrow... Hmmm, I'm asking a lot of them... Lovely foot massage after all tthis!

Thanks for all the new emails and comments. Dominique shared some with me.... Just wonderful, you have no idea how much I think of many of you each day out here... Lots of thinking time!

Bye till tomorrow


  1. Hi Howard, Glad you're telling it how it is and you love your tent and "Food" and are having a good sleep. I hope the weather continues to be kind, or reasonably so. You sound like a tortoise land back on your pack and skis in the
    air. I hope you have some serious pole mending gear, love and cuddles, Anthea xxx

  2. Hi Howard,
    Interesting how you appreciate where you are?Well done on the 30km & the new plan with the marching.Enjoy the weather while it lasts.What are these fuel can-for heating?Look after the feet!
    Thanks David Tomkins for the link.