Day 37, 17/12/07
Position: S86.0481, W086.4475
Camp Gerry Walsh.
Oh no….we’ll go Crazy..
We have really had a miserable 10 days of white out, no contrast, soft snow and pushing our resolve to the limits of our endurance. We know it just can’t continue or it will burn us. An end of this bad weather must be in sight.
After getting up this morning and going outside, I could see that we were in for another day of no contrast or visibility. Quickly, I made a change of plans – realising, there would be no use in wasting energy in blind man leads or pulling in soft snow if we could avoid it.
Our forecast from Hans Christian at base camp was that visibility and snow conditions should improve over the next few days. So taking a chance of the weather improving, I changed our program.
Our scheduled rest day was to be 2 days further down the line and it looked as if that would be in good weather. So, after discussion with Clare, Shaun and Jon we decided to move our rest day to today. This would also give us a chance to get our lost strength back and give ongoing minor injuries a chance to heal – Shauns shoulder, Jon’s Achilles tendon and Clare’s exhaustion from pulling in soft snow time to recover.
The day passed slowly, but it was a good decision. For the entire day, there has been no contrast or visibility though the snow conditions seem to be improving, forming a crispy crust on top of the soft snow. We will know better tomorrow and hope Hans Christian’s forecast is right.
We have calculated that on total no contrast days and soft snow we are losing anything up to 6km per day as well as the extra energy we use. If Hans is right, our decision will have been correct.
So for now, we are resting, doing some necessary repairs, filing expedition reports, altering logistics. If our decision is wrong, I’ll be disgusted,- knowing that we could be a day closer to the pole.
Lets hope tomorrow is good, that our waiting has given the snow time to consolidate and that we were right in moving our rest day forward.
While eating today a piece of my filling sheered off! We have used a glue to protect the nerve from pain.
Day 33 14/12/07
When bad days get worst.
Camp:South Pole Inn;
Position: S85.6801, W086.6208
Weather: worst to date, whiteout/snowing with deep snow, 6th day with no contrast. it’s really getting to us.
Distance today: 19.6km of back breaking effort. 8 hours skiing.
Distance to Pole: 475km
Today was really frustrating, it was snowing all day and the visibility was the worst yet. Today was such hard going, with the sleds sinking into the soft snow and no visibility that we changed our strategy due to the pressure on our bodies. Instead of each of us navigating for an hour and ten minutes we switched it to 35 minutes. Our pace is down to a funeral march and pulling the sleds is like pulling a 100kg person dead weight, for 8 hours a day. Your legs buckling under the strain of moving your home forward towards the pole.
Back at base camp Patriot Hills, Victoria reports, they are in full blown blizzard conditions, she also gave us a forecast for the next few days.
We are under cover of a vast cloud sheet that extends as far as South 87 40. 000 all the way back to our starting point. So we won’t expect much change for the next few days.
Most of the other teams have not moved today. So all in all we are doing very well considering the miserable conditions we are putting up with.
News from Vinson climbers, is that high winds and storm have destroyed some tents. But all are same and holding.
So for now, good night, we are really very tired. Need rest for pulling tomorrow. Lets hope conditions improve.
Tonight’s camps site; South Pole Inn.
To many a good night of chat, music, lectures and stories of Antarctica around the fire and pints of Guinness in Tom Creans pub. I’m here in my tent in the most remote place on earth, dreaming of a pint and seeing my friends there. To Eileen and family and a big hi to Marie Kennedy. Well done in making an UN-sung hero, recognised. Tom Crean.
Day 34 15/12/07
Camp site; Ger McDonnell.
Position: S85.8486, W086.5923
Weather: It’s the 7th day of white out, no contrast. But things are looking up, hopefully this will change tomorrow.
Ground conditions; soft snow, really hard going.
Distance today: 18.9km in white out condition. 7 and a half hours skiing.
Distance to Pole: 456km
I feel like a donkey..
Every morning we put on our harness and attach our sleds to them and pull all our belonging’s behind us for 10 hours a day, for 55 to 60 days, in the most hostile arene’s in the world. We have to date had some of the worst weather I have had to deal with in my last 62 expeditions around the world.
Blizzards, sub-zero temperatures, katabatic winds, but the most frustrating has been over the last 7 days. The Antarctic white out with snow. The last 7 days have been totally frustrating, demoralizing and bloody hard work as we drag our sled behind us. We have become little donkeys as we push for the pole.
We are all under pressure with the bad snow conditions. It is hardest of all for Clare due to her light body weight.
camp site; Ger McDonnell.
Ger was to be with us on this expedition but due to lack of sponsoship he couldn’t make it. To one of the most talented Irish climbers and adventurers I know, we miss your company and strength, lots!
Freddy's eyes shone with excitement; he couldn't believe how brave Polly had been. They were going to have some great fun over the next few weeks - he knew it.
Suddenly Jon's sled stopped; "this spot looks good - ok?" They had arrived at the campsite. Soon Jon would be opening his sled! Freddy decided the best thing was to tell Pat right away - he hoped he wouldn't mind an extra person on the trip - an extra mouth to feed!
While Freddy was thinking, Jon opened his sled and pulled out the tent; then Clare came to grab the tent stakes and zipped the sled bag shut. Freddy sighed with relief. He was excited and anxious all at once; it would take them about 10 minutes to get the tent up and ready.
He could hear the tent flapping in the wind as the poles were being splinted; the stakes being driven into the snow to keep it in place; the shoveling of snow on the valances (skirt) of the tent to protect it from the wind, the saw cutting the snow for the kitchen? then suddenly, the zipper was pulled open again. Freddy gasped and swallowed hard. He forced a nervous smile. - Clare stood above him looking first at Polly, then staring at Freddy straight in the eyes.
It was a long, long time to spend 8 months in a snowcave. I slept alot to try and forget about the cold; when I'd wake, I'd shiver and shake. I tried to think of sunny days, but in the dark it was hard.
The best part about the cave was the fish - they were really tasty, and I ate better than if I'd been in the sea! I counted the days until Patriot Hills would reopen; on a calender I ticked off each day and carefully planned how I would jump aboard the team's sleds - without being caught for dinner by some hungry adventurer!
Again, Ronny came to my aid; he let me hide down here until November 11th. Late that night, he came to the cave and woke me from a deep sleep. "Time to move, Polly, the team is due to fly on one of the twin otters tomorrow, to Hercules Inlet, at the edge of the land mass of Antarctica, to begin their 1140km ski to the South Pole."
My heart leapt with excitement and I followed him up to Jon's sled, where I've been hiding ever since!
photo: Freddy and Polly
When I finally opened my tired eyes, I thought I was seeing things; there in front of me was a - PENGUIN!! I blinked again and looked once more, I couldn't believe it; it was my friend, Polly the penguin, whom I had met the last time I was in Antarctica.
She lay comfortably tucked inside Jon's down jacket. In disbelief, I squealed, "Polly.. Is it you?" I turned to give her a big hug, as she grinned "I wanted to give you a surprise."
"But where did you come from, how did you get here, what have you been eating, - tell me everything.."
We snuggled into the down, trying to stay warm as we swayed up, down, right and left, dragged along in Jon's sled... Feeling a little bit guilty that he was pulling the two of us, all his food for 55 days, enough fuel to melt 5 litres of snow every night, clothing, sleeping bag, thermarest, a tent, safety equipment, communications equipment - radios, satellite phone, solar panels, battery packs, GPS, and the list goes on.
Pat, Clare, Shaun and Jon each pull about 85kg each day and I know from pulling my own sled for the last 19 days that it isn't easy. I can see the strain and pressure on their faces as they haul the sleds over sastrugi after sastrugi... But I want to hear Polly's story!
photo: Freddy gets help doing handstand.
Finally a rest day; it had felt like it would never come. It was nice not to have to get up at 6.00am for a change. Freddy rolled over, closed his tired eyes and didn't wake again until 10.00am!
As he lay in bed, the wind beating against the tent, he thought how nice it would be to go for a hot bath. He looked at the big water pot and figured he could easily hop into it - it would be great after 4 weeks to be able to wash properly! He could see his arms and legs were getting thinner as he was losing weight with the cold and the long hard day's skiing.
As Clare finished boiling water for breakfast, Freddy went over and asked about a bath. "No, Freddy, sorry - its just not possible; we only have a limited supply of fuel - I simply can't waste it melting snow and boiling water for you to have a bath."
Instead she handed him a babywipe - "use this instead, Freddy". He looked at it in disgust! A baby wipe! As he tried to clean himself, he thought about what he would do for the day...
He knew the team wanted to take photos and had heard them talking about handstands - he was sure he could manage one with Polly! At least he would try. He had also promised to show Polly how to ski - that would be fun. He couldn't wait to see her try!
photo:Freddy, Polly and Pat
Before Freddy could think what to say, Polly squealed "Surprise!.. Hi Clare!" She broke into a smile and whisked Polly up and away into the tent. Freddy sighed with relief, wriggled out of the sled and then scurried into the tent after them.
While Pat got the water on the boil, Freddy and Polly helped sort out the tent - inflating the thermarests (mattresses), unpacking the sleeping bags and sorting out the evening's dinner.
Everyone was excited because tomorrow we would pass the halfway point. Imagine - almost 600km skied already in 28 days! The following day would be a rest day!
Polly told Pat, Clare, Shaun and Jon her amazing story again; they looked at this amazing little penguin hardly believing what she had done. They chatted some more until by 9.00pm, everyone was getting sleepy and it was time to get ready for bed; Polly sqeezed in between Freddy and Pat so she was nice and warm.
Once Freddy and Polly were asleep, Pat turned to Clare and said "What will we do? - we don't have enough food and fuel to feed an extra person; everything was worked out assuming there were 4 of us plus Freddy, traveling for 55 days." "Don't worry, Polly is small and doesn't eat much; we all have a little food left over each day - we'll manage." Clare replied.
Pat was still concerned - "We still have a long way to go. We need our energy, especially in the second half of the trip. If we don't all eat well, we simply won't be able to keep going." Clare knew he was right, but they had to look after Polly; things would work out - they always do.
Soon the tent was quiet except for the sound of Pat's snoring. It was nice to think they had just a half day skiing before reaching the Thiel mountains; then it would be a rest day.
The alarm went off at 5.50am as usual. Outside we could hear the wind gusting; a quick look out the tent door confirmed the worst – no visibility and lots of fresh snow. It would have been easy to justify not moving, but the reality is, another day in the tent would bring us no closer to the pole and yet would use a day’s supply of food and fuel.
We didn’t have to think very hard about it – we would move. As we left Thiels, progress was slow; we were operating blind man leads again and the drag on the sleds, together with the extra weight (from our food cache) made pulling tough. Conditions remained difficult all day, but on the upside the day was a balmy -10C!
Shaun’s shoulder played up in the afternoon so we only did 7 hours hauling, covering a disappointing 16.4km.
We have just heard from Patriot hills that the forecast for the next few days is more of the same – wind and snow – but getting worse on Friday.
Not good news, but our plan is to keep pushing on, though slower than we would have anticipated.
11 Dec, 07 - 05:32
Day 30, Dec 11th 07
The blizzard continues, as we weather it out today.
We had a restless night here at camp Brook Evans. The blizzard continued throughout the night while the wind gave our tent a fair good rattling which kept us awake most of the night. We were surprised in the morning when we left the tent to find it had snowed heavily. An unusual occurrence here in the Antarctic desert. This will make it very difficult for us pulling our sleds and increase the drag weight for pulling. An energy sapping work load.
Today, however we won’t worry about that as we are on a rest day and our main job today is re-packing our sleds with our recent cache of food, to cook and to eat as much as possible. We are all losing weight rapidly and need to down lots of carbs and fatty foods.
Its not a nice day and we are happy to be trapped in our tent as we listen to the howling wind outside.
Clare cooked a great lunch today.. We had fried salami with cheese and pinenuts steeped in butter as well as pancakes , Very tasty, but heavy on the stomach.
We had a surprise in our food catch, the staff at ALE put in some biscuits and chocolate. We felt like children at Christmas and devoured the lot today. So a big thank you to all the staff at base Patriot Hills.
The day is passing slowly, but our bodies are getting a well deserved break from the constant pressure of pulling sleds heavier then our body weight. The forecast for the next few days doesn't look good and will reassess our situation later in the evening. Talk to you all tomorrow, keep following our progress as we now tackle the final half of our journey to the South Pole. From camp Evans, over and out.