Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Day 22: Today I found hell in Antarctica, and distance shows

File pic from Howard's North Pole expedition
86:55.002S 82:23.745W

Elevation 2076 metres. New biggest single day climb. It's bloody cold up here!

Well, as I was putting on my socks this morning, first job once I'm out of my cosy sleeping bag, I looked at my right foot, and didn't like what I saw: On the outside, just behind the small toe, was a sizeable swelling, like bruising, and very sore to touch. My boot can never naturally accommodate that, it just exacerbates the problem... Hmm, other than taking anti-inflammatories, I'd largely been in denial there was a serious problem. Breakfast was a bit of a sombre affair. I was thinking through all the options, even taking a day's rest, but "No, the show must go on" and I have hope that it will sort itself. I'll just try lace it loosely for the day. In all honesty I was concerned! Well....

Funny how things work out, hey? I had the best 'foot day' for weeks, finishing with no pain, but I had the worst day from shocking terrain point of view... It was hell out there today!

I managed 28.1 km, using the full 9 hours, so fairly pleased with that, as tomorrow I'll go through 87 degrees!

The day started well, great weather again, no wind and good, fast skiing surface. That means flat, no sastrugi, and a thin soft ice, almost snow, layer on top of solid ice. This is great for fast gliding.... First hour check I'd done 3.7 km. Perfect! Then things started changing, lots of sastrugi, and then a huge hill ahead. But to go the direction I wanted to go I had to angle across and up the hill. Right from the bottom of the hill I thought this surface felt different: It was as though many 'ice' plasterers had come with different techniques, leaving an effect where the surface was continuously changing, making it awkward and impossible to get any momentum. The predominant 'plastering' was glass-like, rock hard ice, and with my angle of travel up the hill, I end up slipping downhill on the treacherous surface... Hmmm, not fun. Sastrugi was everywhere, and either impossible to avoid or required large detours... When I came to sastrugi, I had to make an even bigger climb to get over its ridge, and the sled resistance increased more.... Anyway, I stumbled, and swore, but drove on ahead, and half way up a head wind picked up!

I sensed things were a bit 'cooler', but managing ok, I thought I'd wait for the rest stop to add mitts and windsuit top. Well I shouldn't have, because by the time I'd got to the rest stop, my core temperature had dropped, and I then had a 'difficult' fight to get my temperature (mainly my hands) back to normal. Usually it takes 10-20 minutes after I'm moving again, but this struggle went on for an hour. Probably due to the stop-go, slip-slide of the bad terrain. Ok, the cold was self inflicted, but the two together made for a very restless journey. I thought about how balanced and in sync with the environment I'd been earlier, and how peaceful and productive that was, but now it was horrendous. Balance (holistic), hey, it's so important...!

Eventually after a couple more hours, things settled down, and I made it to the top, to find a big plateau, and this was the next phase of 'Hell'!

The sastrrugi was larger, and running perpendicular across my direction of travel, and in between the sastrugi were big ridged, micro valleys and hills, making for short up and downhill skiing, but where I'd be going uphill and the sled a few metres behind going downhill..! Clearly my friend had had enough of the day too, but rather than deal with it 'herself', she took it out on me, violently tugging me backwards, with me landing on my bum on the ice, no less than 7 times! Crossing the large and complex sastrugi required each step to be considered, and often saw me strung precariously between two mounds with just the ski tips either end forming the bridge points. All slow going, quite stressful, and occasionally painful!
It required full concentration and come the end of the day, I was totally exhausted, mentally and physically.

The good news is (I think!) it's finished now and the surf
ace for tomorrow looks pretty good again. It all suddenly changed 100 minutes before the end of the march today. Thankfully!

I'm wondering whether the struggle today is because I'm getting really fatigued. The build-up of day after day? I don't think so, as each day I feel I start as good as day 1. (Other than my foot, but that seems on a good track now). My recovery each day is astounding.... On stopping marching I'm totally and utterly knackered, but after warm tent, great food, a 'chat' with you guys, and good sleep I wake to a good breaky, and then ready to hit the road again. I'll just monitor the situation for now.

That's it for tonight, I need my bed badly!

All positive for a new day tomorrow

See ya


  1. my thoughts are with you Howard, hang in there, you are making astonishingly good progress. be mindful that your head does not overrule your gut feel. I hear the weather has been miserable over in Queen Maud Land so here's hoping your 'good' weather continues. big hug, Lynn

  2. Howie
    Look forward to your news every day
    We had a party at my house last night and before we had to many beers We Greg and I phoned Baily and seemed to speek for an hour By the way greg got engaged last month
    Remember one day at a time see you soon
    Les Willis

  3. Tough one today Fairbanks, noticed the consternation in your writing for a moment. Look after that foot pal and keep writing. Enjoying the trip even if it is from laid back Durbs in SA.
    Keep it up

  4. Hi Howard,
    Really enjoying following your fantastic journey each day, and cheering you on all the way.
    Rob [Engen/Mobil days] and Colleen Balfour

  5. Does sound like a scene from Dante's inferno! I greatly admire your inner strength, and am envious of your physical strength and endurance. The positive attitude with which you manage to face each trial is astounding and testimony I think to the fact that what is of most importance to you is the journey, not the end point. Hang in there, you are an inspiration to the rest of us slugs.

    Bob N

  6. Hi H, Plenty of information on pay TV here today about the centenary of arrival of the Norwegians at the South Pole ! Keep focussed on the goal and take an antibiotic or three for the right foot. That will get rid of infection and make things a bit easier inside your boot. Just 10 more days and you will have achieved your goal. Cheers Tank

  7. Your days are so variable, full of ups and downs. I guess that is part of what makes it valuable for you. I have every confidence that you will not allow your foot to beat you!

  8. Hi Howard
    Amazing stuff. I share your blogs with a few of the people at work. There's a number of us here that you have inspired to go outside the comfort zone...not quite to your level, however. We are all rooting for you. Paul

  9. Hi Howard,
    Hang in there man, I thought it had been too easy thus far!! It is Antartica after all. Otherwise we would all be down there cruising around having fun. Glad it is hellish tough, to keep people like myself and others away! It also creates a great space for heroes like you to be challenged to the core(pun intended!) and to come hopefully come through! It has to have that dark edge of potential lethality to make the journey truely heroic. This makes your efforts all the more inspirational. Without the background knowledge, that you could die on this journey, it would not generate the same levels of interest. To be intimately travelling with you as you struggle and master these challenges, is an extraordinary, intimate relationship, that rarely occurs. It is a privilege and for that, once more, I thank you. To lighten the tone a bit, did you hear the joke about Van Der Merwe the farmer who won the Nobel prize, much to everyone's surprise, he was simply outstanding in his own field!! Enjoy... patrick

  10. Hi HJ, certainly maintaining your sanity out there each day for 10-12hours must be a be huge battle of the mind. Based on your comments made on your blog you have coped very well- keep the mind busy on how well you have done so far and that you have many of us routing for you from the side lines. I have been praying for you boet!and I can assure you that there are guardian angels and a multitude of heavenly host looking after you. Hebrews 11:1,3 says "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible." This chapter is full of encounters of men of faith, verse 32/33 "And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell of Gideon,David.. who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice and gained what was promised." Faith begins where our ability ends - By faith you will conquer even when the odds appear to be against you. From your old friend and Duzi partner. Terry H

  11. Hi Howard,
    Watch that toe!Tough day!Mentally & physically.Well done.

  12. Amazing trips which you had enjoyed. Sounds really good as per your pictures. This is called valuable trip which you have enjoyed. I like above picture. Hope to see more photos which reveled your memorable days.

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