Ben Weber in tent in Antarctica

Day 32 Never an easy day, -30c windchill and visualising the journey

Well some days have been less hard than others! But today wasn’t one of them. I just found it tough.

-30c Windchill

It was a little colder today (still not as cold as what it was back in Carrbridge!) at about  -17C, but there was a strong headwind right from the start so the windchill was around -30C. I always get worried about my fingers in conditions like these and I added an extra over-mitten in top of my liner, as well as using the pogies on the ski poles, and that worked okay for the most part. It’s just the breaks when you need to use your hands to eat and you start to cool down, and then taking down and putting up the tent can also be tricky. But no cold injuries, which is always good! The snow wasn’t great either, especially at the start. It did improve for a few hours but there were more soft snow patches and sastrugi towards the end of the day.

A game of numbers

But still, 27km again, so I can’t complain. One of my problems is that I can be very competitive with myself, so in doing 29km yesterday, I want to do it again or better. This can be a bit self-sabotaging, which isn’t great, so I have to force myself to recognise and remember that while not as far as that travelled yesterday, I was still ahead of my daily travel goal. So all’s good! I think I do need a rest day soon though as starting to feel a little drained. Don’t want to waste a good travel day, and a rest day would almost certainly mean that I need to take a resupply… but if so, then so be it!

Looking for Theil Mountains

Half-way through the S84th degree now, so getting near the halfway mark! In the 85th degree we have the Thiel Corner resupply point and the Thiel mountains! Can’t wait to see them; I wander when I will! Will make a change from just this endless expanse of snow and ice in all directions, and I keep looking to the horizon in the hope that I will start making them out! I remember cycling across South America with Natalia and getting towards the Andes at Mendoza in Argentina, with the mountains slowly fading into view – so exciting! I wander what it’ll be like here; whether they will appear above the crest of a climb, or also m gradually fade in.

Visualising the journey

With this, in terms of splitting this journey in my head it’s mainly been by degree. S80 was nice and easy to memorise before starting because of the climb up from Hercules Inlet and passing the various nunataks, the mountains there and the Three Sails mountains. S81-S84 I knew to be pretty desolate, with some more gradual climbing but nothing like mountains by way of eye candy. The extreme sastrugi was unexpected!! S85 and the Thiel mountains… then more desolation but endless climbing together with expected sastrugi fields from the end of S85 until around the start of S88. From then until the Pole, it will be relatively flat though much colder (-30C to -40C) as will be up on the plateau at around 2800m. The snow will be like sawdust up there apparently, because of the cold. Fun!

Ear worms of the day!

Today was a bit strange in terms of the music I was humming and rasping to myself! Had that tune from the climax of For a Few Dollars More, when they have the watches playing that simple tune but then Clint Eastward appears with another watch and it all builds up with the guitar… the trumpet… the full orchestral… brilliant scene!!! Got to love Sergio Leone and Ennio Moriconi! Then, music from the 50s and 60s or around then, with Sam Cooke, Twisting the Night Away and a few other tunes I neither know the names of, nor the names of the artists!

Photo: preparing to go out into the cold!

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK Ben Weber is fundraising for Cancer Research UK (

tent and sled on Antarctica snow and ice blue skies

Day 31 An unexpectedly decent day after hit the snooze button

Hit the Snooze button

I did not want to get out of my sleeping bag today. I really didn’t. The pain in my neck and left shoulder wasn’t great and I just felt a bit tired. The 5am alarm went and was dismissed pretty quickly. The 6am alarm insisted on returning as I pressed the snooze button, so by 6.30am I finally got out of the bag. Still, with a heavy heart, a couple of hours later, I found myself packing up the tent. The pain being annoyingly persistent and making me feel just miserable, wishing I could have a rest day. While I had that half day off a few days ago, it has been a while since I had a proper rest.

Yet, it turned into my second-best day, distance-wise, with 29km.

Better conditions

Fortunately the painkillers began to take effect within the first hour of skiing. At the same time, the weather was pretty nice. Light high cloud, but nothing affecting visibility. And the wind was nice and calm as well, more like a breeze. More importantly, the snow was much better then yesterday, when it was like skiing on sawdust. And… incredible as it may sound… it was almost flat! With just the occasional sastrugi! Reaching lunch completing 16km was already a surprise, so it was great being able to maintain and even increase the pace in the afternoon sessions. In the last hour or two, the clouds descended and it became semi-whiteout, but fortunately not too many obstacles to avoid! I was still happy to put up the tent though and get some food in me!

Jokes, songs and messages – please keep them coming

I have said in my audio posts to the map how much I really appreciate all the support and comments from everyone, but just wanted to say that here! Thank you all so much for your wishes, jokes, thoughts and songs! Some great songs to get in my head – Our House (thanks Simon!); definitely a great one! Love Big Wheel by Massive Attack as well (thanks Mark!) and the others (though much to my shame, I don’t know how See Emily Play goes… i know, terrible!! (Sorry JoJo!)

As I say, it’s tough here; the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, so your support means so much to me and is helping me go on. Sorry I can’t reply to everything and everyone in my map audio messages and blog posts; and sorry there can be delays before being able to respond, but please keep it all coming!!


Song of the day

Ear worm of the day… credit to Simon for the mention..! Our House! (Inspiring the photo for today’s post… my house in the middle of uhmmm nowhere!) oh and yes little China girl and Echoes still made guest appearances but it was nice to have something different as well!

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK

Visit Ben’s blog site to hear Ben’s audio diary from his overnight camp.

Polar Explorer food bag in Antarctic tent

Day 30 A hard 26km and New Food Bag and 84 Degrees South

Not sure why today was hard, but it was, a hard 26km . The weather was great – bit of a stiff headwind for the most part, but clear skies and amazing visibility. There were no massive sastrugi to write home about either.

I guess there was still a lot of soft snow around; the winds had picked up and a lot of spin drift had been blown around. There was also lots of… messy ice. Like very choppy seas (not massively stormy though!) just frozen. The makings of bigger sastrugi that will come over time. Pulling Sledmund through it all was just tiring. I guess the morning sessions were hardest, still going uphill through the end of the 83rd degree. I didn’t take any painkillers in the afternoon, which also didn’t help I think as I really was feeling it in neck and shoulders again by the time the day ended

84 Degrees South

As got to S84 (yup, I am now nicely into S84! More than two fifths through!!!) it got flatter, but I was happy to camp at the end of it all. It’s so cool looking at how have progressed on the GPS map… can’t believe that have made it this far, and getting so close to the end goal!

Food Bag Mishap

There was just one minor mishap as I camped… I have now opened a new main food bag!! (I have five main food bags, four with meals for 10 days, and one with meals for 11 days – it’s quite a big occasion to open a new one!!! Less weight in Sledmund!!) As I opened it, I discovered that the ziplock bag with the protein shake powder had either a leak or not been closed properly….need to see exactly what happened, and while I didn’t lose much, it still meant lots of protein powder everywhere! Argggggg!

A bit tired to write much about routines and everything! Though if there is anything anyone would like to know more about with the journey and all it’s aspects, feel free to say!

Song of the Day

Song of day on endless repeat in increasingly insane mind… While Echoes did make an appearance, it got pushed out by Little China Girl (David Bowie version not the Iggy Pop one (which is still good!)) Also, George Ezra, Budapest played a few times! I understand that some great suggestions have been made for other songs; will check shortly!!

Photo: the top of the food bag!

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Garmin GPS in tent on Antarctica

Day 28 Bit of a strange day but was good

27k day

Today was bit of strange day but was good with some mixed conditions; perfectly still for some time then increasing winds. Very clear at some points then threatening whiteouts at others before clearing again. It’s now quite cloudy. Lots of messy ice and sastrugi followed by whole stretches without any sastrugi at all. I can’t remember that happening before on this journey.. maybe at the start, but nothing as definite as this! Then plenty of still deep fresh snow slowing things down. That immediately followed by nice compact snow patches where I was able to slide along quite nicely! Overall though, I was pleased with progress. Another 27km skied, and getting closer to the halfway mark!

Contacting Mateusz again

In the morning, Mateusz started a little before me and we said hello again as i packed up my tent and sled. He doesn’t seem to be feeling that much better and his sled keeps overturning, which from experience is extremely frustrating. It really is, and it slows you right down as you have to keep going back to turn it the right way up. And it’s heavy. I caught up with him towards the end of my first session and now am not sure if we’ll see each other again before the end of the expedition. Hope he manages to get through his illness and feel better soon. Must be super tough.

On pacing and mileage…

You might have noticed a little obsession with (aside from sastrugi!) distances covered each day. It’s definitely a big concern. Altogether. To get to the Pole, I need to ski around 700 miles / 1130km / 10 degrees (600 nautical miles). And I have only limited supplies to be able to do this. I brought 51 days’ food and fuel so, to be able to manage, I have to average around 24km per day. This excluding up to five rest days. Obviously at the start, when the sled is at its heaviest and there the steepest climbs up from Hercules Inlet. It is expected that people will be slow at the start, then we need to speed up as time goes by and the sled gets lighter.

At the same time, it is important not to overdo it. Nice consistent distances though at the same time, distances reflecting the conditions. Whiteouts and soft snow inevitably mean harder days. While it’s fine to go out in them, you can’t overdo it as those conditions (and soft snow especially!) just sap energy.  These conditions can be treacherous when there’s lots of sastrugi about. When the snow improves, visibility is good, you do need to lay on the mileage! Just not to the point of exhaustion! I am aiming for 25km/15.5miles day at moment, and if I can get 1-2km  more than that each day. That little distance adds up, after 10 days, there’s around half a day’s extra travel.

Food Supplies

So, I have around 360 more nautical miles left to the Pole. And around 24 days’ food supplies left. That means on average I now need to travel around 15nm (around 29km/18miles) per day for the rest of the journey. It will be tough. It’s borderline about whether I will need to request a resupply for 2-3 day’s extra rations… which would be a shame to have to do… not the end of the world, but a shame.

I will try my best. The sled is getting lighter meaning that hopefully I will be able to get up into the 30kms/day or so again more frequently, so there’s a good chance. I will have to see how I get on in the next few days.

Photo: the trip computer on my GPS. Only showing distance to the next waypoint, which is at Thiel Corner, so still plenty more to go after that!

song of the day your suggestions please!

Song of the day in head… For the third day running… Pink Floyd, Echoes!

On the subject of Pink Floyd, what are your ten favourite of their songs..?! Also, I need another song to go around in my head on endless repeat..! Any suggestions..?!

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK

Polar Explorer skiing on Antarctica Ben Weber

Day 27 Back to making good progress, 25km

So after a few days struggling against the elements, I have been able to get back to making decent progress again. At the start of the day it was still tough: a lot of fresh loose snow was around still, making it hard to drag the sled. But with the wind, the sun and time, the snow gradually became more settled and compact by the afternoon. I was able to push myself to get back to just over 25km. Really did feel like a solid day’s work! Didn’t feel exhausted like yesterday, but felt nicely tired as I put up the tent and the cottage pie for my evening meal was perfect!

Meeting Mateusz

Remember when I started, and Mateusz, a Polish explorer, started at the same time? He had gone off ahead when I started to get my neck problems. I caught up with him today. It was nice seeing him and we chatted a little. He’s feeling unwell and having to take antibiotics for a cough, so is feeling a bit weaker than normal. Things like that just make a tough expedition even harder. Hopefully he’ll feel better soon and be able to get back to full speed. Super nice guy!

Skiing routines and not overheating

One of the mantras from my polar survival instructors a good 10 years or so ago was “If you sweat you die!” It’s one of the main things I try to pay attention to when skiing here. The body is working so hard, pulling the sled, it generates a massive amount of heat and it’s easy to sweat despite the cold. I always try to open up my layers if I sense I am overheating; also pre-emptively open them up-better to be on the cool side of warm! It’s nice knowing roughly what temperature it is outside before leaving the tent as well. This, so you know if you need any extra (or fewer) layers on. It is a hassle adding or removing a layer once you get started especially because of the harness that I wear. This also involves messing with my compass mount, so taking it off and putting back on… can be annoying!

Daily rations on the move

As i mentioned in an earlier post, I have eight ski sessions, four lasting 75 minutes, four of 60 mins (though today I added an extra 15mins to a couple of the afternoon sessions meaning I skied for 9.5hrs in total). Between each session, I have a break lasting 5-10 minutes during which I eat the snacks that I prepared back in Punta Arenas: 200g of chocolate; 2 battle bites protein bars; one chia charge energy bar; 100g of nuts; 80g of dried fruit; plus 30g of peanut M&Ms (essential!!). Plus around 250ml of water from the nalgenes. I have to make sure that I don’t eat everything all at once, to make sure I have enough for the day ahead!

7,000kcal energy use

During the fourth break, rather than a snack, I have the lunch (a rehydrated meal) that I put into a food thermos flask in the morning. It makes for a nice change as I always add a bit more water than I need to, so it’s a good warm soup that’s easy to eat.

It is really so important to keep eating and drinking water, even if you feel like you don’t need to stop. The body literally is craving food and calories and is spending up to 7,000kcal a day. This needs replenishing, constantly!

Other observations!

The sastrugi seems to have diminished quite a bit… Shame they couldn’t have done that during the whiteouts!! There are still plenty littered around, but… for the moment at least… not so bad. Though it’s amazing how quickly the terrain can change.

Colder in Carrbridge!

Still can’t believe how here is so much warmer than Carrbridge! -20C there last night..?! Between -12C and -17C here over the next few days! Why can’t there be decent winters in Scotland while I am there..?! Last year was pretty poor, and now it’s making Antarctica look positively tropical!

Photo: Mateusz! Fancy seeing someone else in a place like this..!

Music of day in head jukebox… Still Pink Floyd, Exhoes am afraid. Such a good song! I dunno but this place seems to make me think of it; that haunting desolate feeling!

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK

Day 26 A real slog 20km of hard graft

I said the other day that I would be happy if I skied more than 25km… hmmm…

I didn’t get anywhere near that today; just over 20km… but I am pleased. It was probably one of the hardest days, physically speaking, since the start of the journey.

Rampant Sastrugi

I was extremely grateful when I woke up that the whiteout from the last couple of days cleared, with bright sunshine once again. The sastrugi continued as rampant as ever, just sitting there being annoying! Even with the clear skies, they still proved to be a bit tricky to navigate around. Fortunately no real problem there and no falls today. Looking at the messy ice all around me made me imagine how it would have been had I continued yesterday. I am sure that it would not have been pretty at all. The sastrugi will have their revenge (again… and again!) sooner or later, and undoubtedly the last laugh!!

15cm of fresh snow

But back to the point, rather than my endless ranting about man-eating sastrugi. Yes; a tough day! It was the fresh snow. With around 15cm of snow over the last 24 hours… it was just a constant slog to pull Sledmund through it all.  It all felt like constantly going uphill, and then with the drifts going to my knees again, and getting the sled through them… and then again and again and again… it was draining. Even with the sunshine and being able to avoid the falls. I can’t remember looking at my watch so many times hoping that it was time for my break or the end of the day!

Food glorious food

So, just had dinner now; some sort of chicken with something and something. Whatever it was, it was nice! 1,000 calories to cheer me up. Plus my 60g of cheese and 50g of cooked meats. And crackers. And cookies. Oh and protein shakes and hot chocolate. Quite a feast! Still hungry though…!

Photo: for dinner just pour the bag of dehydrated food into the flask, add boiling water and… ta dah!!

Song in the head for the day: Pink Floyd, Echoes

Advent calendar chocolate: Famous Grouse… hummm chocolate! Did I say an hungry..?!

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK

Day 26 Taking the bad with the good and a short day

Okay so today wasn’t a great day. It was a day that lasted all of two and a half hours.

I knew it would be hard, with constant snow over “night”, the continued whiteout, the invisible sastrugi! But it wasn’t fun either.


The snowdrifts – also invisible until you ski into them – often went up to my knees, and the sastrugi (though not so many as many were buried under those same drifts!) we’re still lurking. It seemed like I was spending a massive amount of energy, going nowhere fast. And oh yes, Sledmund was not being very cooperative in the midst of all of this!

So, after a bit of a nasty fall which left me sprawling on the floor for about a minute or so before I could bring myself to get my skis off and back into my feet, I called it a day. I felt the fall through my neck and shoulders, and it wasn’t pleasant for sure! I managed 6km in that time, which felt like snail’s pace and I was exhausted. (Listen to Be’s audio blog for further description of the conditions)

A short day

I hate “wasting” days like this; frustrating for sure. But I think my body is grateful. I have been making decent distances over the last nine consecutive days, so the extra rest is nice. And the extra time will help me recover further to continue onwards. There is plenty of more work to do, and still time. I heard that at least one other team nearby didn’t make a move today because of the conditions, which helps me feel a little better about the decision as well. It has been nice, just chilling out in the tent, sleeping and listening to audio books.

I can hear the snow outside again, which makes me dread tomorrow’s conditions! Though apparently, according to the Garmin InReach weather forecast, it’s meant to clear up and have some sun tomorrow, which will be nice as at least I’ll be able to see the obstacles!!

Morning routines and water for the day.

Generally I get up around 6am. Once I psyche myself up to get out of the sleeping bag. It’s quite hard taking the eye mask off and immediately that bright Antarctic light comes streaming in! I quickly put on my light down trousers and jacket, and get the stove lit. I just boil water from one of the thermoses straight away so I can make my breakfast. Breakfast is normally one of several different types of porridge or granola. There is also the choice to have scrambled egg and caramelised onion! Once the water is added to that, I pour the water from my two nalgenes and remaining intyo my  thermos. I then add some extra snow into the kettle. Altogether I need to have 4 litres of water for them and in addition an extra half litre to add into my food flask for lunch. I also have an additional half litre just for some drinks before heading off. And brushing teeth of course.

Once eaten breakfast and the kettle is heating up, I sort out the tent and all the stuff sacks that I had brought in overnight. And pack up the sleeping bag and bedding system. I just need to get everything ready so once the kettle is boiling, I can turn off the stove, fill the bottles, and be ready to leave. I also need to change into my outdoor layers; swapping my down trousers for lighter windproof layers, and get my big outdoor boots on.

Toilet arrangements

It’s worth mentioning (am sorry!!!) that of course, toilet needs to be done as well! Fortunately, my bowels have got into a rhythm that I can… relieve myself before heading out. I didn’t mention when talking about the tent routine that when I dig the kitchen pit at night, I always make one end of it much deeper than the other. That’s so I can do my business there and then cover it all over with snow. So much better in the vestibule than outside!! Seriously, one of the main causes of frostbite is people going to the loo, with all the exposure to the cold entailed. Not fun!!!

Taking the tent down

That’s about it. Taking down the tent is relatively straightforward. You just need to push all the snow off the snowflaps with your feet, definitely not shovel as you’ll cut the tent!. Then take the pegs out, leaving the ones on the wind facing side in until last and it’s almost all done and then roll up the tent. Get everything into the sled; harness on; compass mount on waist… and you’re good to go!

Photo: a fine view of the void outside!

Advent calendar liqueur of the day: Cointreau

Song of the day: sorry, no tunes went into head today as just trying to concentrate on getting out of snow drifts! Then listened to more chapters of Children of Dune once tent was back up! Loved the joke JoJo Ha ha.

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK

Ben Weber polar explorer in tent

Day 25 Back to the grindstone change of winds sastrugi hell and 26.5km

Well, back to the grindstone. I always knew the good conditions over the last few days wouldn’t last and today the weather did indeed change. Return of the whiteout! All day, and it’s snowing now.

Change of wind direction

The winds have changed with some northeasterlies – until now they have always come from the south, mainly south south west but occasionally from south south east as well. At least it meant for a “tail wind”, not that that helped at all! The change brought the heavy blanketed cloud that made it impossible to make anything out in the snow, making it a pretty challenging day.

Sastrugi – detailed description of hellstrugi

As you might have guessed, with my generally obsession with them, it was the sastrugi that created the most problems. I keep trying to think how to describe them better and the photo I posted didn’t do then justice. Imagine you are on a road, and you have your stepped curbs on the sidewalk… only the steps go out into the road, but often there are multiple steps. Some steps are 10cm, some are 50cm, some reach up a metre, or taller. Some steps have drops going deeper than surface level. Then there are more steps upon steps, going up and going down, forming grooves between them that you can get caught in.  But there are no regular features to each of these formations as they go out into and across the road at random. The only constant feature is how they go at an angle, reflecting the prevailing wind. But that’s it.

Now try it blindfolded!

Now imagine that you are effectively blindfolded and you have to work your way through them all.  Oh and you’re dragging a sled that occasionally gets caught in those grooves and tips over or just doesn’t want to follow you because it’ll mean it’ll have to plough through a larger step that you hadn’t seen.

Tough day but 26.5km

I managed 26.5km, so still good (though it’s just a little come down after the epic day yesterday!!). As I said yesterday, I was a bit worried about the conditions today and knew it would be hard to reach the travel distance. However, it is above my minimum target so to do this on a day like today isn’t bad at all. It was just hard work, and involved at least six falls down those steps! Tough on the shoulders though nothing worse and no equipment damaged.

Advent calendar chocolate of the day… Danzka vodka

Song in the head of the day: Chicken Run theme tune!

Thanks for all your positive comments and jokes – please keep them coming!

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK

Photo: a bit colder in the tent today!

Polar explorer face visor sitting on ice and snow

Day 24 Breaking barriers! Another record distance 30.2km

Great day!

So so very happy!!! Really incredibly delighted! With the context of the neck pain issues, and how I was starting to lose confidence in being able to do this; starting to consider the options… the last few consecutive days of really good distances have massively improved confidence. The pain is much more manageable now; how much of that is to the meds or to my body’s recovery is moot, but I still feel I need to take the painkillers and they definitely help.

Great Weather conditions

At the same time, the weather the last few days has been pretty spectacular. Great visibility which really helped when going through that massive sastrugi field today, and in navigating around the regular sastrugi on the other days! Today was perfect though. Its been really very still, warm (-7C, no wind chill. I  actually missed a little bit of a breeze as that helps stop you overheating and sweating.  Rust me I am definitely not complaining!! All accompanied by clear blue skies. Just beautiful. There were large sastrugi patches, but easily navigable.

30km on the cards

By lunch time, I had managed 17km – a good feeling. I would have been happy with that distance in a full day at the start!! I thought it might be possible to get to 30km but thought 29km was more realistic as my afternoon sessions are shorter. So, as I felt myself able to maintain the pace over the next four sessions. I cheered out loud as I hit the 30km mark 15 minutes before my hard stop time. I treated myself to camping 10 minutes early!!!

(Photo – it might be warm but you can see from the ice on the mask attached to the goggles that it still is a little chilly!)

Sleeping arrangements

With all the chores out of the way at the end of the day; messages sent and calls made. I forgot to say yesterday that I need to make sure the sat phone and other devices are warm before I use them. Otherwise the batteries quickly die in the cold. Ice is melted, water bottles filled and solar panels setup. Then it’s time to sleep.

It’s generally pretty warm in the tent, especially with the 24 hours of sunlight. But when there are whiteouts, it can get cold. With that it’s best not getting too hot in the sleeping bag as you don’t want to sweat in the bag. The moisture gets into the fabric and when it is colder, doesn’t evaporate.

I always make sure that I have my pee bottle nearby! Saves having to get up completely when you need to go in the night. When you do need to go, you should go rather than try holding it in! If you hold it in, your body burns more calories, and every calorie here is precious!!)

Slow puncture!

I keep my sleeping bag, foam mattress and air mattress in an Arctic bedding bag, which keeps everything nicely together. In the morning I can just zip it all up and put on top of the sled, securing using the sled straps. Then it’s easy to bring it all into the tent in the evening. My only problem now is that the air mattress has an annoying slow puncture that I have tried again and again to find. All to no avail. So have just about given up hope with that. Fortunately with the insulated tent floor under the foam mattress, I don’t get cold. Am just not as comfortable as I should be.

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK

Visit Ben’s blog site to hear Ben’s audio diary from his overnight camp.

Ben Weber on Antarctic ice in full polar gear

Day 23 A full day, 27.5km and home cooking

I was glad I camped where I did last night! As I left off this morning it took another hour of skiing for the sastrugi to start calming down and reducing to more normal proportions. Still plenty of it mind you, just the nightmares of the sastrugi fields from yesterday have traumatised me! In the first hour of skiing, I didn’t see any decent spot for a tent either, and that was with good visibility.

Distance on the clock

Though the sastrugi did eventually calm down, and it was so nice to have some space to ski through without having to work out a way through a labyrinth! Was able to get some distance on the clock again which was nice (though again, yesterday definitely was not bad!!), and managed another 27.5km. It’s so good now, getting distances above my planned average of 24km per day. It’s also good to be consistent with these distances – let’s me know that my body is being able to take it and am not completely fatiguing myself!

Playing Catch-up

Obviously the first days climbing up from Hercules Inlet with a full sled were slow, and I was slowed by the pain in the neck and shoulders. So I have a lot to catch up on. The pain is definitely much more manageable now. I slept tonight without waking up with spasms, and the painkillers kept it all in check while skiing over the last days since the resupply. Fingers crossed it will all keep improving and I will be able to manage even better distances as the sled gets lighter.

Evening routine

With the tent setup, one of the first things I do is light the stove in the vestibule. As I say, I cook inside the tent – no way can do this outside – but make sure it is well ventilated. From the day’s skiing I will have in general two litres of hot water in thermos flasks remaining: I always use one of these to out straight in the kettle for melting snow. It is much more fuel efficient for the stove to heat water with snow added rather than just snow and ice. The other litre I use for making a well deserved hot chocolate! And a protein recovery shake, and just a cup of water with the remaining.

While waiting for the snow to melt, I change into some tent gear; a light down vest and insulted trousers and booties. I get the food i need from the food bag (dinner, breakfast and the snacks/lunch for the next day’s travel), and put the food bag back outside the tent. And I start checking my position and checking comms for messages. I need to see what needs charging and also setup the solar panels inside the tent to recharge my main power bank (I have two x 26,500amp batteries, one 40w panel and one 30w). I never thought but yes they do work well in the tent. I previously always put them on the sled, but it’s good this way as the batteries are warmer as they are recharged rather than ice cold (very slow).

Melting snow

With water boiling, I fill a flask with my evening meal with hot water, to hydrate it. I also fill the two thermoses again. More snow into the kettle which I use to refill my Nalgene bottles, but I don’t wait until it’s hot: once the snow is melted I fill up the Nalgenes and drink the excess. Basically the water in the nalgenes will need to be reheated to boiling in the morning, so they stay hot enough for me to drink during the day (and not freeze by the end!). No point in boiling them in the evening and again in the morning. Melting the snow like this just makes morning that little bit quicker and easier.

That’s pretty much it. Of course I then write messages, check in with ALE, call the map, and write the blog… but that’s about it! But still, even with sleeping there are are more considerations..!

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK

Visit Ben’s blog site to hear Ben’s audio diary from his overnight camp.

sastrugi ice and blue sky Antarctica

Day 22 Sastrugi Oh wow! 23.5km day and setting up camp

I might have complained once or twice about … you guessed it… the sastrugi.  I might have mentioned it on occasion and of course, it is not at all an obsession. Really, I swear to you, I am not obsessed!

Sastrugi Hell on Earth

But today… oh jeez! Oh wow! I really have never seen anything like it! I have had days of just whiteouts before; days taken by storms… but to have just pure sastrugi, from start to finish, and the biggest sastrugi I have ever seen… was impressing, if not exhausting! It reminded me of rough sea ice in the Canadian Arctic!

I could rant, really I could! When I had my scheduled comms call with ALE earlier, my immediate reply to their questions about conditions was “hell on earth!” Okay, it could have been worse; there could have been a whiteout, so again I was lucky with the visibility… but this was insane; a complete labyrinth of grooves and channels between the ice formations. Snow so compact it was becoming as slippy as ice. Sir Sledmund wanting to go down channels one way when I wanted to go another, becoming a battle of strength and obstinacy to see which direction we’d end up going. And again. And again.

Finding a place to camp

I camped half an hour earlier than intended: I was getting pretty tired (not helped by a night during which I kept waking up with neck and shoulder spasms), I had fallen over a couple of times as the sastrugi had gotten worse, and it was getting cloudy. It was very hard to find a place to camp in this mess and the cloud would have made it so much harder (well it would have made it so that it was luck of the draw!) so when I stumbled on a spot, I gratefully accepted.

But despite my complaining… I still managed 23.5km… not my best day, but up there with the best of them. I have no idea how!! At the beginning of the day iI would have taken 20, so getting that far was again pleasing.

Setting up camp

Not quite so simple as just putting the tent up! I always anchor the tent immediately to the sled before doing anything else – a habit as if it’s windy, that’s security. Then it’s a matter of getting the poles in. The poles have been modified so they are now just two sections (taped the poles in each section together), with one always remaining in the fabric of the tent. So this is the easy part- always working from the wind-facing side first and downwards otherwise you risk losing control of the tent to the wind. Though on that note, the wind can be a helpful assistant sometimes even when it comes to getting it all upright once the poles are in!

14 guys and snow anchors

Once up, then the guy lines and snow pegs need seeing to… I have doubled up on these so there are 14 guys, for added strength in storms. Then it’s shovelling the snow on the snow flaps; all around the tent – extra stability and helps reduce draft! But still more to do: I have an extended vestibule which I use for cooking. Between the inner tent and the end of the vestibule, I always dig a deep pit: it lets me sit in the inner tent, dangling my legs down with the stove on the other side… much more comfy! Also carbon monoxide sinks into the hole so further reduces chances of poisoning (of course you need to make sure all the vent channels are open though).

Setting up ‘home’

Not done yet! Then you need to get the bags you need from the sled. The kitchen box with the stove, kettle and other items; a tent gear bag so can change out of those skiing clothes. The electronics bag – you need to warm up the satellite phone batteries before making any calls. The right food bags. The sleeping bag and bedding system. Med kit. And any other bags of items that you might need. Oh and today, I needed to bring in the fuel can as I need to fill up the fuel bottles. Once everything is out of the sled, then you can put things you don’t need (skis and poles for example) into that – you don’t leave them exposed as if it is windy or snows a lot, they soon get covered! Get everything into the tent and it’s open for business and you can relax a little…just a little though as there’s plenty more to do!

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Ben Weber in Antarctic tent with santa hat on

Day 21 Just what was needed! 27.5km

Extremely happy with how today went, with two consecutive days of best distances covered. Today eas just what I needed. This time, all in the right direction!

Got up a little bit later than I wanted. Spasms in my shoulders and neck kept waking me up, but the new supply of painkillers soon helped! I left the tent at around 8.30am. While it was a little cloudy, it soon brightened and became perfectly clear with that normal stiff southwesterly wind coming towards and across me.

Daily routine

I am splitting my day into two. The first four ski sessions before lunch (a rehydrated meal in a thermos, instead of my snacks that i normally have after each session). Each lasting 75 minutes. The four sessions after lunch are just 60 minutes each. Each break between session lasts between 5-10 minutes max. Any longer and you start to cool down more than you should. You just need to eat and drink water: get the calories in, and get moving again. But back to the point… I have increased the length of the morning sessions to see how I get on: I did that yesterday and today. And both times I felt good and comfortable with it. Managed 14km by lunch yesterday and 15km today.  I felt like I could have done the same for the afternoon sessions but didn’t want to overdo it. Just a shame that yesterday was spoilt by the “issue” with the resupply. (Ed…. Understatement by Ben!!)

monstrugi sastrugi

In the afternoon, I was definitely helped by the good visibility. I am in the middle of the biggest sastrugi maze I have ever seen! And they’re BIG sastrugi! (To adapt words from The Fifth Element… Big badda sastrugi!). I think I should rename them “Monstrugi”! Huge!!! It’s difficult to take pictures as there is nothing to contextualize them with. There are plenty that are at least a metre and a half tall. Also, I was helped by the snow being nice and hard. All the loose swampy snow from a few days ago as all been blown around and compacted. Hopefully it stays like this for a while!

So all of this helped me to get my best day yet. A real nice confidence builder especially after the chat with Antarctic Steve and understanding what expeditions would be expected to do at this stage. I just now need to sustain this over the next… hummm… 28 days! Not toooooo long to go!

santa in Antarctca

In the tent now – I will chat a little bit about tent routine tomorrow as have gone on a bit now! To celebrate, considering popular demand, I got the Santa’s hat out, and nice to celebrate to have a vodka chocolate liquor, together with Christmas songs playing on the phone! I imagine everyone back home is getting into the Christmas spirit…?!)

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK

Visit Ben’s blog site to hear Ben’s audio diary from his overnight camp.

ski poles and skis on Antarctic snow

Day 20 A day of two halves

At moments like this, it really is important to focus on the positives. Am half sitting, half lying in the tent, still breathing a bit heavily… it was ultimately a good day, but it has taken me some time to be able to describe it like that.

The day started off brilliantly. Not much pain, really great progress. 14km to the coordinates they gave me for the medical resupply location, in just over 4 hours. Really very happy!

But!  Oh yes, there is always the but!

med pick up point location error

When I got to the location, there was nothing there. I circled around a couple of times but nothing. Had to call in – and really I hate doing that as fingers get cold so quickly – to see what had happened. They had realised that they had given me the wrong coordinates. The actual location of the drop was 7km directly east of where I was. Not even a little further south. So that effectively meant 7km of wasted distance as not getting any closer to the Pole over it.

So frustrating! I managed to refrain from uttering words that immediately cropped into my head. For the next couple of hours, it was a good job that there was nobody around me for miles. After going so well, then to find that they sent me to the wrong place going directly east also meant talking the sastrugi from side-on – ie on their vertical sides. They did often reach up to a meter tall meaning I had to go around a lot of them. I did fall over once though, but nothing serious.

And then the pain started to get worse. Maybe it was the increased tension and frustration causing me to tighten up. But my pace started to reduce.

Eventually I managed to get to the actual location. All a bit slow, double checking the GPS again and again as I got closer. Especially as I couldn’t see the flag until I got to within 500metres. But I managed okay. It was nice to have the new meds. I did another few kilometres after the collection. This brought my total distance up to 24.35km… which brings me why I am describing it as a good day…

good distance despite frustrating detour

Last night I spoke with Steve Jones (Antarctic Steve!). Steve is the expeditions manager at ALE. He is super friendly and helpful, and he had been my main contact with ALE. I asked him what might be expected distance-wise of an expedition in my location. His reply was a little disheartening: “if fully fit, would expect 13 nautical miles” – 25km… and I have only been going 20-21km. So, to get to 24.35km total… with all the stress and the decreasing pace after the mistake in location Ultimately it’s a confidence booster in that I can see I am capable of those distances, despite not being fully fit. I am sure that had it but been for this issue I would have managed at least 26km today. So, despite my initial despair and the frustration of lost time and all that exertion, yes, it was a good day. I now have more meds, but I was able to get some good mileage in for a while even without any of them. So, time to put all that behind me, and move onwards. And southwards!

yesterdays thunderous roar explained

Oh, Antarctic Steve said that the strange roar yesterday sounded like must have been a collapse of a layer in the snow pack. Contacted the other teams near to me and they all felt it as well. Terrifying for half a second but apparently does occasionally happen and you get used to them..!

Advent calendar goody for the day: Borghetti! Yum yum yum!

Photo – the resupply point. Second time lucky!

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK

Visit Ben’s blog site to hear Ben’s audio diary from his overnight camp.

polar explorer ben weber in Antarctic tent

Day 19 Deafening wind, 20km day and music debate

Strange beginnings, deafening roar 20km and the Killers as music debate of the day and live opening of Advent Calendar on audio diary!

Another day and another 20km done! It was a good but, as always, tiring day though the conditions were good. Clear sky with a stiff head wind. I had to adjust my course to head more SSW as ALE have left my medical resupply at S82 00.11 W080 35.09, so anyone looking at progress on the map will see how I changed direction today.

But that’s not the strange part… as I was getting ready in the morning, it was pretty windy and there’s that normal sound. The tent flapping, the howling of the wind over the snow and ice. All normal. Suddenly though there was this quickly increasing roar, getting louder and coming towards the tent. It passed like a jet fighter, so quickly and it was gone. Rolled away. The ice literally shifted as the wave hit. Very bizarre and a bit disconcerting! Maybe there was some shear of ice somewhere – I know how vibrations can travel hundreds of miles through the ice. Maybe it was a katabatic wind or something. I have no idea! Nothing like that has happened since.

But aside from that the day was pretty much uneventful! The winds have died down now. The sun is out so the tent is like a greenhouse again – can’t complain! Going to open the advent calendar after I have eaten – will open it live on my audio post to the map! Haha! As Eden said in a comment on Facebook, chocolate and alcohol… always good! Difficult to control myself and not eat them all at the same time!

West hills by the killers – debate

Music of the day that was in my head: West Hills by the Killers. Brilliant song on a brilliant album. Very different from their other albums. Especially the more recent ones which had me and several others going off them as they were… I dunno… too pop. Would go to see The Killers in concert just for songs from the album but West Hills is brilliant. Nothing formulaic about it or indeed the entire album. Each has song a connected story with various motifs spanning through these stories. Definitely worth it.

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK

Visit Ben’s blog site to hear Ben’s audio diary from his overnight camp.