Thoughts, doubts and staying positive

The countdown has been on hold. I was meant to fly to Union Glacier on the 10th, then on the 12th… then possibly today but now hopefully tomorrow. As I mentioned in my last post, the conditions in Antarctica have made it hard for planes to fly into the ALE base there.

So if it works out, I will start five days later than planned, which certainly isn’t the end of the world. It just means a bit of hanging around here, and I can think of worse places to be!

That being said, while it is lovely being here, I arrived on 3rd November which seems like a long time ago now! It would be great to get going, especially after preparing for so long. Especially as while it might fly on the 15th, it could easily be pushed back even more. Furthermore, the extra time gives more chance for thoughts and doubts to creep into mind. Obviously, it is good to run through everything to make sure that all aspects are covered.

However, thinking too much about things can also be unhelpful, and can lead to nasty bouts of anxiety…

Unproductive thoughts?

With all this time on my hands (something that has rarely happened over the last two years) it is hard to stop thinking about the expedition and all the details. Some of the thoughts are good. Even after eight days here, thinking about navigation techniques, I remembered I needed to attach some ribbons to my ski poles to help show the wind direction. Keeping the (prevailing) wind at a consistent angle will help me to keep going in the direction I want.

Though then there are other questions and doubts, which sometimes just lead to increased insecurities and worry. Am I being too optimistic with my planned distances and timeframe? Is 46-50 days really enough? Should I pack for 51 days? 52? More? Have I got the right balance with my food? Are the stoves okay? And the pumps? Will they all work okay in the extreme cold?

Am I fit enough? It seems like ages since I took the tyres out and done proper training! Has my training been good enough? Am I capable enough? Is the tent okay? Am I going to manage alright in strong winds? Should I have more spare poles?! Am I sure that my gloves are okay? Do I remember how to navigate properly..?!

And many more…

Managing the Doubts

I try to put aside the thoughts that I can’t do much about. I have done what I have done with my training, and I can’t change that, so there is not much point thinking about it.

With all the spares and food, and whether I have budgeted enough time: There’s only so much I can carry. Every extra day means carrying another 1.5kg of food and gas. And every extra kilo will make progress that little bit harder and slower. So, it’s a balance. I have to stop somewhere and decide how much to take, and I have had to base the decision on my own experience as well as the experience of others on South Pole expeditions. Have I got it right? Do I really know my capabilities? We will find out soon enough!

With other thoughts I can do something about… Testing and double checking the equipment to make sure that everything came through the flights alright. Playing with the GPS units… reminding myself of their functionality, their quirks… checking the bearings to waypoints. Imagining navigating using the sun and wind as I walk along the streets here in Punta. Keeping up my fitness but not overdoing it: going for long walks, runs, and doing squats and lounges. It all helps, with the body and the mind. Running by the ocean. Letting the mind drift away in the sound of the waves and my footsteps, and relax.

Then of course, speaking with friends and family; speaking with the people at ALE who are so incredibly experienced with these expeditions, and other expedition teams. Always really helpful, and a good reminder that I will be solo, but not alone, so those negative thoughts can be cast to the back of the mind.

Meeting the Antarctic2023 team was fantastic – a great bunch with an amazing journey across Antarctica ahead of them

remember it’s a challenge

I am human, and I think that it is natural to get these thoughts, these anxieties and concerns. After all, this is the biggest challenge I have ever faced. Of course, I need to think about every aspect to make sure that I am ready to face these challenges.

Of course, it won’t be easy. The featureless landscape will be monotonous and present little obvious visual navigational aids, even on clear days. The inevitable whiteouts will make life hard and disorientating. Perhaps for days on end. I will be by myself out there and the isolation and the solitude will be hard: 50 days alone in that great white expanse in those extreme conditions is naturally daunting.

But then, it’s not meant to be easy, is it? That’s the whole point!

Greenland Part 4: Leaving DYE2 behind

After DYE2 we had a few more days of skiing slowly uphill before it was pretty much flat for a while, and we eventually started the slow and almost imperceptible descent towards the eastern coast.

We had mixed weather conditions, with some whiteouts, some windier days, and some hotter and colder conditions. I have talked about it in another post but… I have to mention it again… whiteouts are really quite tough and surreal! The last time I had dealt with them was in Norway. At least there every now and then you could see rocks in mountain-sides, which helped a little, helping you feel like you are actually getting somewhere. But this time, nothing. Everything white: above, below, and beside you. Absolutely nothing to see for reference and a true limbo, in which you feel like you are floating; moving but going nowhere at the same time. With the temperatures, the worst it got down to was around -39C with the windchill, making it harder to control the temperatures in our extremities with the fingers and toes. But we all came through alright. On one of the hotter days, with temperatures around -1C or higher, clumping became a problem with the skis, as did over-heating, making life really hard. We had to stop for an early an extended break to wait for the temperatures to cool down–and it was remarkable: just one or two degrees difference and the clumping just stopped.

We went 13 days without a break from the start so took a rest day on which it was great to sit with the group and have lunch outside. Our guides, Elisabeth and Calle, prepared a treat for us all with pancakes and soup; a brilliant surprise! A few days later after more travelling, we also took a weather day because of the strong winds, but we had made good progress so it was fine and we were still going according to plans and schedule with the timings to get to the other side. When we got going, we had a day when we saw another expedition–almost right in the middle of the icecap. It was quite an exciting moment for all of us considering how we hadn’t seen anyone for a while. We first saw their silhouettes on their ice in the distance and took a while trying to work out what they were as we approached. They were coming from the other direction, from east to west, and both of our groups veered slightly away from our courses so we could meet and chat for a few minutes before continuing on our journeys. They were from Iceland and had taken 20 days to get as far as they did. When we finished the expedition, we flew to Iceland and apparently they were local celebrities and people we met asked us about them. They might have taken a few more days, but made it eventually which was great to hear.

As the plateau is so high we were unable to see any of the eastern coastal mountains until the last couple of days of the descent. Our eyes were constantly looking to the horizon, scanning for signs that we were getting close to the end, though the icecap would give very few clues to what awaited us…