Saturday, December 17, 2011

Day 25: I stayed put and became a Sastrugi

Sastrugi "fish"
("The world is round," says Howard.)
87:27.776S 82:39.249W

Yep, no change. I have basically stayed right in my sleeping bag, in my cosy little tent since I last wrote to you from this PDA! What a REAL luxury...

It had to happen: A rest day, unplanned (although not totally), but advised by 'Mother Nature'.....

I woke at 4am a bit restless, as it was colder than normal, and the wind had picked up and was rattling the tent quite a bit. Went back to sleep and woke with the alarm at 6am; started all the routines, adding a bit more face and hand protection for the tent de-icing mission outside. The 25+ knot wind was quite biting outside, and a check of the thermometer showed a not-too different -24C. I was all fired up to go, but halfway through breakfast, it just became so clear today is supposed to be a rest day. I thought through it all, whether I'll feel bad tonight, etc, and it all just felt so right... So I decided to see what its like to become a sastrugi! 

Yeah, with the wind blowing the way it is and my tent running its direction, we were an instant sastrugi root... The wind files up snowdust as it tears along, and then when it hits obstacles it tries to erode the windward side, and then dump its snow load on the downwind side. I did get out of my sleeping bag (and the tent) twice today, the first thing to check the tent, as there was a strange snow build-up on the one side. This is when I saw how quickly 'we' had been transformed into a sastrugi! There were eroded snow mounds formed in wonderful shapes at the upwind side, and then at the back where the entrance and cooking area is the snow was being dumped on the tent in huge quantities. Basically we weren't the perfect sastrugi shape so were being made into it! It's amazing how quickly it all happens. From inside 'the sastrugi' there is a loud rasping sound as the snow-laden wind tries to do its carving work on the tent.

But what a luxury day... I've never had one like this, all on my own, in the 'middle' of Antarctica, and sitting in one spot for 12 hours, and never bored nor discontent! Lots of little jobs to do, I even had to make a list so I stayed focused! Can't help myself, hey! I sewed, I cooked, I totally undressed, I washed, I changed my underwear, vaselined my abused hands, cut my fingernails, I modified my hands-free compass, charged all my batteries (the electronics ones!), I turfed out (burned) 3 litres of fuel and my garbage, I counted my food, rationed it off, repacked my sled, and then went through my photos and sent some off to Dominique for the blog... I hope they aren't too small...

With all this extra (I certainly hope so!) food and fuel around, I had a wonderful culinary day, ending with half a pot of delicious smoked bacon in a sharp cheddar source.

I then went through my strategy for the next 9 or so days to the Pole.The mindset is critical, I'm far from there yet! This is like a macro size version the 32km mark in a marathon: one can't think about the finish, the end of the suffering, the hot shower, etc, I must just PRODUCE day after day consistent 30+ km days and it will all just happen. Ahead, there will still be some challenges, some amazing times, and I have to just be ready to deal with whatever comes...

On the stark realities side, hearing the wind whistling past outside, I find it very special being warm and cosy inside, however I did think what it would be like if the tent 'gave way'... I'd be in a bad place, particularly if it was at the point I had virtually no gear on... The wind chill is so vicious bare skin doesn't stand a chance... I think it's 30 seconds at the conditions I'm experiencing, and then the skin freezes. When that happens one can't get the very digits to function that one needs to get oneself out of the cold! Quite scary, thinking about that rapid spiral, but only using it to be proactive and more Amundsen-like in my approach! 100 years ago today he was just starting the long 'road' back to base camp... Hmm, that brings up thoughts of my kiteing trip back... Oh, well one step at a time, I cut off thoughts about the return, just getting there for me is a huge challenge.

I thought about 'you guys' a lot, and how special this journey has been together. Although I haven't been able to reply, I honestly feel I'm communicating with each one of you at a very special level. I think it's because 'you guys' are in my thoughts through the day, and I know for many I probably come up now and again too. It's quite remarkable. This was highlighted today when I had a communication problem between the PDA and the satphone, which essentially means I wouldn't be able to send blog emails. I suddenly had this feeling of despair that I'd be losing 'my other half'; it was quite serious and bizarre. Anyway, fortunately I had a spare modem cable that solved the problem, so we can still 'talk'..

Last night I had a good chat with Ruth. It's very special being able to share our individual experiences. I sensed we both got support and a feeling of deep mutual care from the call. She confirmed it's tough, but she is managing well. They were 60km behind, but going faster than me now, and on a slightly shorter more adventurous crevasse-crossing route. Being solo I was dissuaded (it didn't take much persuasion!) to not take that higher risk route. No doubt there will be many stories to share when we meet! [Here's a link to Ruth's expedition - Dominique]

So, I have got 283 kilometres to go to the Pole, about 450 metres of climb, and somewhere between 9 and 12 days. I look forward to this time, and sharing it with you... I know on all the big expeditions I have done, afterwards I always feel I miss the simplicity of life, and the clarity of purpose, and usually regret not appreciating the special time more... So, I'll be trying to live in every moment out here to savour its unique specialness.

Tonight I'll be in bed by 9pm for a luxurius 9 hrs sleep (vs 6 hrs I've been averaging).

Back to the road tomorrow.


  1. 283, whoohoo! We are inspired (but warm) here in Nelson. Hope you can make some fast tracks with your lighter load.

    Hamish and Helke

  2. hi Howard, wow, scary stuff about skin freezing in 30 seconds... I think your tent deserves a name and recognition too ;-) Its a lovely and (finally) warm day in Cape town today, a world away from where you are. I hope your rest day has left you feeling recharged and rejuvenated. Thinking of you, good luck for an energetic day ahead! X

  3. Dear Howard, Thanks again for your inspiring story. I think you must be highly focused, but it is good to make a list. A rest is good, specially as the weather and wind was so bad. It is good also for rejuvenation and giving that toe a rest. Now that you've recounted and repacked you'll have a mind map to instantly refer to what you have have. Making a list is a bit like philosophizing in a way (like having to make decisions)in an ordered manner. Would have been great to talk to Ruth. Look after yourself, love and best wishes and hugs, Anthea xxx

  4. Hi Howard, You obviously made the right decision to avoid that howling wind and 'sort' yourself out. I felt as if I needed that rest too - the suspense everyday, wondering what you are getting up to, is incredible and any spare moment of the day, in between this crazy Christmas build-up, has been walking with you. (Can't ski!) I must catch up with Ruth's adventures too - her team has been rather overshadowed (so thank you Dominique for providing a link for us.) I know you said you are aware that you ought to appreciate every day - and to enjoy the moment - but that, surely, is difficult when you don't know exactly what each day will bring and only until you reach the pole will that be known. However, I am sending positive vibes your way. Thanks again for this amazing trip, Maggie

  5. That's what I'm talking about! I was very happy to hear that you took a day to rest and regroup! I feel better now! :) "Snow dust",I believe we have that in Wisconsin and just say "the snow is blowing." I love my new word. It's very nice that you and Ruth can visit and hear each others voice. Yes Howard, you are not alone-we are HERE!

  6. Hi Howard,
    Well done on the rest day.Interesting the list & all the things that need to be done.Busy day rather than restful.Great hearing about Ruth.