Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Day 8: The real game begins! Hmmm, I WILL get to the Pole unsupported, no matter what.....

83:49.436S 73:13.202W

Another tough day at 'the ice office'. Well, it looks like it's going to be nail biting a bit earlier than I imagined.

I awoke quite relaxed as I thought I had a very good pole repair solution. There was quite a strong headwind, so it was pretty cold with wind chill, but by 6h30 I was on my way, fired up for a 30+ km day, and happy that I was now post capitulation and starting to enjoy the unfolding game of this expedition. The days before this I was constantly trancing off into the past, thoughts about going sailing again, and the inevitable male fantasy world! (Haha, just covering myself, not sexist!) These are signs one isn't in the now of the adventure, but today was different. 

I was thinking about nature, how it all works so amazingly, and how extreme the range of weather / temperatures are for what is really quite a small place. I aked myself: "So do you really think there is a Mother Nature? Why do you always refer to her then?" I got quite carried away with the whole earth thing, and how bad we REALLY are treating our planet. Much of it is just linked to greed, fame, and instant pleasures, without real appreciation. I looked at all this ice - I was walking on hundreds of metres of ice - and we say the world is short of water... It's not. Nature has stacked all this ice for us to use when we get really short... The day will come when we need this water, and will be prepared to pay the price to use it, just like we pay for other scarce commodities. It hasn't got to that yet... But 'Nature' has provided and then I wondered what I should be doing to try and increase awarenes of how much waste takes place....? I guess you get the gist of my thoughts at the beginning of today, being out here in Antartica was starting to move to a more spiritual journey.. The exploring was starting in earnest. Then....

Well 4.5 hours into the skiing, after performing amazingly, I hit a huge sastrugi precipice and lost my balance, and in strying to stabilise myself the repaired ski pole took all my weight, bowed like they do, but then just snapped with a devastating rifle shot sound. The design concept was good, except for the two tent poles inside the pole, they surprisingly are very brittle. Fortunately I'd thought through the scenario, had even practised walking / skiing with one pole, which was sort of manageable. I had decided I'd resist setting up tent to fix it, just soldier on and try do 25+ km. 

I started that, still with the strong headwind, but soon my left arm, the one I couldn't use (no confidence that side on the pole!) started getting really cold, from the now lack of use. Amazing how fine in heat balance one gets! My arm started aching, even after adding another layer of mitts to that hand. I tried poling with the left hand, but the sastrugi was real bad again today, and it just felt awkward. I sensed I was risking falling and damaging my one and only pole. I had no option but to take a break and don another top layer. I made this decision just in time, because just as I was finishiing the rather lengthy process I was VERY cold, shivering and my left arm felt 'strange'. This was a good practice, as unlike the North Pole where other team mates were around in emergency, I was here alone and need to be just that much more proactive.

In this whole process of breaking the pole, I went through lots of 'stuff' of wondering if this is the start of the end of my expedition, but my spirit of adventure rebounded me and I made a commitment to myself that: You WILL get to the Pole, and it WILL be UNASSISTED. That was important and sucked me deep into this new game, making it a real challenge. Knowing that, I knew I had a single pole ski to at least 4pm and hope that's about 25km. Then I'd have 2-3 hours for a new repair solution. I finished early yesterday, and cannot afford to lose these part days in this Race against fuel and food.

I struggled for 4 hours, and made it to 4pm, with the GPS showing 25.3km, almost 'normal' pace but very tiring and awkward.

I used the time on the ski to think through new repair solutions, going through each piece of 'stuff' I have in my sled, backpack, and on me, trying to find a stronger replacement for the spare tent poles. It was amazing how effective and valuabe that exercise was. It turned up 4 potential sources, and by the time I got to my tent stop site, I was tired, yes, but more importantly excited at setting up tent as a workshop so I could try all the options. Well the best one turned out to be a combination of the shaft of my razor, wrapped in a few layers of stove reflector tin, to make it a real snug fit inside the two broken pole tube sections. I had the stove going, heating up the pole ends to make them round and then shrink them onto the shaver connector. The job was soon completed with the final attachment of a hose clamp over the join. It seeems really strong, but tomorrow and another 28+ days is still the real test.

I also managed to repair the other one, but because of its bad bow, it will always only be a backup. Tell you tomorrow how it went? Hmm, it's QUITE important!

Lastly, on the pole problem, there is always a story behind eveything, and this one I'm not proud of but I better share it: As Peter from Wadongah. Oz, supplied me two brand new poles and I know will be following the Blog, is probably wondering how I could break two brand new poles! Well Pete, I'm embarrassed to say your ONE hasn't broken, it's been my two old ex-North Pole ones that have broken! The Arctic / North Pole is REALLY demanding on poles. Mine survived, and being sentimental, and preferring their long cork handles (can't get them anymore) they had a few dings, but looked OK, for what I thought was pole friendly terrain! The truths are, firstly, those poles shud have been retired off, and secondly, the pole environment is not as easy as first imagined! Lessons, lessons, lessons, so obvious in hindsight!

I have one brand new 'spare' pole, the partner to the other one I bought from you, Pete, at Union Glacier, waiting my return! Geeeeee!

Ok, hope the detail wasn't boring... Tthis is my life at the moment, and writing this helps me prepare for the VIP day ahead! The wind is still blowing outside, strangely it makes music as it whistes through my tent guy lines, but I'm snug in my tent!



  1. Good job Howard. Not only are you one of the fastest teams on the ice this year, you're writing the longest and most interesting blog posts! Thousands of km over on the other side of the continent Sebastian Copeland had a very similar incident with a favoured old ski from a past trip breaking early on, needing replacement. I never found Antarctica to be particularly sentimental to human frailty. Or gear frailty, for that matter :-) Burn hard, soak it up, you only get one first time. D

  2. Broken poles great, that's what makes it an adventure. Now you are in it, this is what brings out the best in you!


  3. Hi Howard,
    Interesting thoughts on mother nature.Well done on the distance.Good story on the pole.In great mind space with the goal.