Thursday, December 1, 2011

D10: Hey man, today was the toughest yet... but yippee the pole was perfect!

84:14.180S 75:24.070W

It may seem like I'm dramatizing each day being the toughest yet, but today is way ahead, and hopefully won't ever be challenged for the spot!

Firstly, I was worried about the pole repair, and secondly the last two hours of yesterday had deepish snow (ie not ice) and my sled just sunk like a plough in it, making for real slow going, and I wondered if this would be the same today? Those that know me well know I hate 'slowness', and I find dropping daily distance below my plan very personally challenging and bad for my morale!

Well, the great news is the pole repair lasted (at least one day!) but I gained a lot of confidence in the repair, because today was a 'full-on' pole stress day! I also now feel comfortable I can shorten the pole and repeat the repair if need be.

Now that snow! Well it was horrendous... I do remember one of the guys from ALE telling me that that big storm and unseasonal snow dump had made for tough sledding conditions on the Messner and Hercules Inlet routes... Hmmm, I think I'm experiencing it. I could see that there were few sastrugi, but as I looked closer the sastrugi was hidden by the 'fresh' snow covering! Snow only turns to ice with time, cold and wind, and this hasn't had enough of any of them...

Gee, the going was REAL tough, one hour I managed less than 2km an hour, after being up at 3-3.4km over days before. Not only was the speed down, the effort to drag the sled though this went up inversely exponentially to the speed! I no longer had a sled, but rather a plough. What use is a plough on this all white continent?? My sled wasn't designed for soft snow, unlike some which have a boat-like v shape which gives more support area as it sinks in. The result was that I often had to unclip myself from the sled and go back and manually lug it out of deep snow. I can tell you, no matter if you were the best snow sled puller in the world, you would have struggled to fight off demoralisation. At one point two hours into the day I 'sat' myself down for a serious chat! I had to give myself a bollocking for how I was dealing with the dilemma, and tell myself it was just about "taking one hour at a time", and forget the 30km a day goal, forget the South Pole, all I had to do was stick to the task for 1 single hour at a time, and whatever distance I do for the day is a good one, as long as I did the quality hour by hour. Hey it wasn't an easy chat! (this is why these challenges are so personally insightful....)

So that's what I did...but 'Mother Nature, decided the snow challenge wasn't enough: Going from a clear blue sky, coldish, moderate headwind start, I saw the fog slowly drift in, as the wind dropped. Soon I was in complete dull white out, where there was no horizon and no visibility beyond 20 metres in front of me! So there I was, all on my own ploughing a huge ice pasture in Antarctica, and unable too see where I was going, and using a huge amount of energy to do it! Now does that sound like a productive day's work? Well, not wanting to have any more one on one chat with myself, I forced myself to 'plough on', and ended the day with a credible 24km on the scoreboard!

I must say in the changing faces of Antarctica today, there were some very special scenes, combining the sky, clouds, fog bank, and then the ice (snow!) surface. At one point it really looked like I was walking towards an angry green / grey sea, with the shadows and reflections. Also still every day I stop often and just take in this truly amazing 360 degree horizon vista.

I am apprehensive about making the Pole on my 38-day supply and today went through a plan to 'up the ante' if need be and when I'd need to push that button. In this slow world of polar expeditions, one can't create miracles overnight, so proacting is key. It's too early yet, and I'll see how this next 7 days pans out. I've been so liberally rewarding myself for good performance, each day, I'm most worried about the whiskey running out!

Oopsie, I hear the wind picking up outside....! In the last half hour of marching today the snow reduced dramatically, so I'm hoping it's behind me and I can get those daily averages back up to near 30km. I guess I'm in fate's hands.

Right, early to bed tonight.... Oh, re dreams: I'm so tired I just sleep 'vacant'... nothing!!

Lastly, thanks for all the great support. Dominique sends through a summary of comments, emails.... Its really helps me a LOT, I mean that! It's also totally OK if you just read and enjoy... So no pressure, ok, we are hopefully ALL having fun in our own way!

Bye for today....I see its now December!


  1. Hi Howard
    Tough day but seems as though your head is still strong. Good news on the ski pole, "a boer maak n plan" attitude is what is needed.wonder if Dominique could ask you if you could post any photos of the tent ,sled (or plough), your fixed pole etc
    Regards Martin

  2. Hey Howard

    Perhaps one day you will share with us the deeply personal and self-revealing words and images that serve to pull you out of self pity, get you off your ass, and back to pulling the sled, when you give yourself a "bollocking."

    Bob N

  3. Hi Howard, I know it is as tough as hell down there on days like today, but don't ever forget, you are the envy of half this planet. the opportunities you have created for yourself are stunning. so a few good curses are in order,then count your blessings, what an incredible privilege to do what you are doing.. just awesome.. you are blessed!!

  4. Hey, Howard, been following you and wishing you the best. Thanks for sharing about your pep talk. I can relate, even if I'm not currently trekking to the south pole.

  5. Hi:
    Do you think your calculations are correct on finishing your expediton on Christmas?
    Kady H.

  6. Hi Howard,
    How tough is tough?Well done on the pole repair & the plan.Thanks for sharing the struggle.Appreciate the feedback on the dreams!Any news on Ruth & the other team?
    Go safe & be consistent.