Polar sled being packed on Antarctic ice and snow

Day 33 If only all days could be like this!

Not the furthest distance covered, with just 27.5km travelled today, but it was a good day.

Spindrift Snow

I was late out if my sleeping bag again. The winds over “night” has brought in a lot of spindrift that had submerged Sledmund. They also covered all the tent pegs and snow flaps with snow, which took a lot longer than normal to clear off. It meant I was packed up and ready to go at 9:15am as opposed to my normal 8.30am start.

Seeing Australian Team

But at least the sun was out and there wasn’t that much of a wind anymore. No strong headwind and spindrift like yesterday. The snow was generally pretty good as well; quite compact, some sastrugi but easily navigable. After a couple of hours, I looked east (to my left) and could see the team of six Australians who started the day after me from Hercules inlet. They are attempting a full crossing, but as with me they have been delayed by the conditions and ailments. I tried to angle southwestwards so we could meet, but they were too far east and that would have been too much of a detour and off route. Ah well!

Theil Mountains

I still cannot see the Thiel mountains, though hopefully I will tomorrow. I did see a nunatak to my west; I think it was the Sonntag Nunatak, which was a nice surprise, but it was too far to really take any pictures. Definitely more signs of progression though! So now, just about to head into the sleeping bag. Provisional forecast for next 2-3 days is similar to today though wind might be a bit stronger. We shall see!

Sir Sledmund Hilary

A word about Sir Sledmund Hillary the Sled! A sturdy steed! He’s 210cm long and around 50cm wide in the middle and 40cm deep. As a result he has a lot of carrying capacity. Without anything in, he’s 9kg or so. At the start of this journey, including the weight of my daily water supplies (I melt snow every day for water) and gas, it was around 135kg. The sled is designed to effectively float over the snow patches… which I guess it does, but it’s still tough!! Sledmund has been around the world already! Made by Icetrek in Australia, I picked him up in Svalbard. Of course he came back with me to Scotland before flying over to Chile and now Antarctica. A well-travelled Sled! Hopefully we’ll make it to the Pole together… it’s a love hate relationship really. Sometimes I am cursing him and the way I have to really push myself to pull him over obstacles. However at the end of the day he’s a loyal Sled! Arise, Sir Sledmund!

Daily Packing Routine

At the end of every day I have to take everything I need from Sledmund into the tent and then repack everything again in the morning as I leave. It’s getting a little easier now that Sledmund is lighter and there is more space inside. Must be around 45kg lighter by now, at least (he’s been on quite a diet!!!), and three of the main food ration bags have gone.

The general principle is to keep the sled as light as possible at the front. This, so it does not nose dive into snow or a sastrugi rut. Heavier stuff is generally packed in the middle to rear of my friend Sledmond.

Kitchen Box

I have a kitchen box in which I keep my kettle, stove, and bags of hot chocolate and protein powder; plus other bits and pieces. It’s falling to pieces and held together by duct tape at the moment – not sure if it will last the full journey, but it’s done well to reach over 30 days!

Anyway, that goes towards the back of the sled, with fuel cans behind it. The solar panels and advent calendar go on top. In the middle comes the heavier stuff; the large food ration bags. Now there are really just over one and a half of them. My electronics bag and general tent gear bag is next. And to the front… the lighter items; bags for different types of clothing like underwear, base and mid layers; balaclavas, gloves and hats; and other such things. The drone is there as well but I haven’t used it; it’s just so tricky in the cold with my fingers; batteries (of phone, drone and control unit) and weather. Will see if will use it or not!! Once the tent is down, I put it on top of everything, with my backup skis either side.

Closing everything up

On closing everything up, I have a large long bag that contains my sleeping system (thermarest and sleeping bag), and that as special compartments on top where I can put my two Nalgene bottles and food flask for easy access, and my large down jacket together with the two thermos bottles. I strap this down on top of the main sled cover and that’s it… ready to go!

Ear worm of day… I wish I could say it was something different from yesterday but much as I tried… I still had Twisting the Night Away and Lets Twist Again, together with the music from For a Few Dollars More! Sorry! I guess they are good to hum and to ski to! Still, keep your suggestions coming!

Photo – Packing sledmund

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Visit Ben’s blog site to hear Ben’s audio diary from his overnight camp. https://polarweber.com/

Ben Weber relaxing in tent antarctica

Day 9 A slow and painful 10k


But at least it is another Antarctic 10km done!! Today was always intended to be a shorter day considering the pains over the last few days. I wanted to see how I’d be able to get on with the neck and how the neck would react to more exertion. At the same time, I didn’t want to overdo it and hurt my muscles even more than they have been.

So, after speaking one more time with the doctor in the morning, I set out at around midday. Complete whiteout for the most part – low cloud meant that only very diffuse light was getting through making it hard to see the obstacles (sastrugi!!) in my path. Fortunately, the sastrugi seem to have eased somewhat; they are smaller than earlier and less prevalent, which is a relief. It still meant also navigating by the compass and using the wind. I am currently wanting to go south southeast and the wind is coming from the southwest, so just keeping the wind coming across from my right helps keep me with the right heading. The cloud also eased a bit towards the end of the day which helped a bit.

Progress was certainly slow. I had to stop every couple of hundred metres or so to try rotating my head around, up and left and down and right; repeat a few times and reverse. It did kind of help. It meant that by the time I did stop to camp at around 6pm I wasn’t in agony this time… which was a welcome relief. Still painful, just not quite as bad!

Storm on its way

So, I have had my evening call with the people at base. I need to come in further east as am quite near a crevasse field to my southwest, but am just about okay where I am. There is also meant to be a storm coming in over next couple of days, with winds getting up to around 100kph. Good test for the tent! And maybe a bit more time for the muscles to recover as it would be dangerous to ski in such conditions!

After note: And now, at 11pm, the sun is bright and high in the sky, making the tent feel so warm; like a greenhouse! Just the wind blowing though it’s easy to forget how it’s -20c outside at the moment!!

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK

Click on the tracker below to hear Ben’s audio diary from his overnight camp.

ben weber in tent antarctica expedition

Day 6 Rest Day

Not something I wanted to take quite so quickly but it was needed as the pain in my neck was in all honesty, pretty bad. It hurt as I was skiing yesterday, and I needed to constantly stop to try and turn my head and stretch my shoulders a little to help alleviate the pain. Then after I lay down in the tent, just simple things like sitting back upright brought almost excruciating pain… it wasn’t nice. The painkillers, muscle relaxants and rest have all helped though: it’s been a few hours since I took anything and while there is discomfort, the pain isn’t anywhere near like it was.

I think it was a combination of the extreme weight of the sled, over exertion and, worse than either of these, my harness not being adjusted correctly (entirely my fault, I should have adjusted earlier). The shoulder straps were too tight and the waist strap too loose so much of the sled’s 135kg in weight was being transferred into my shoulders and neck. Hopefully the adjustments I have made today will help when I ski again tomorrow.

So today, just eating away with my rest day rations – only around 3000kcal for days like this. A slightly smaller breakfast, and fewer snacks of chocolates, nuts, dried fruit, cheese, meat, and protein and energy bars during the day, enough to keep me going, but tomorrow back to my full 6300kcal intake – more of the same just in larger quantities! I also noticed that my one of my cheeks got a little burned as had been exposed to the elements through all the gear, so put some taping on my face—more pre-emptive than anything—to help prevent any reoccurrence. So not an entirely unproductive day.

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK

Click on the tracker below to hear Ben’s audio diary from his overnight camp.

sled and ski poles on Antarctic ice

Day 4 First steep climb to 900m

Today was a day of -25 degrees, blue skies, some light headwinds and 16k/10miles travelled.

Slowly does it! It has been great to get up the first steep climb up from Hercules Inlet – I am around 900m altitude now and it will stay like this for a while which will be nice. 15km travelled yesterday and another 16km today… slowly increasing!

It’s not easy though – the terrain is anything but flat. The sastrugi are everywhere and every time I go over them I can feel the weight of the sled biting into me. I have reached a nice landmark though – a series of nunataks called the Three Sails are right in front of me and from here I start to make my way slightly southeastwards to 80 degrees west. The curved route until now has been to avoid major crevasse fields which would not be pleasant to go through!

Hopefully will be able to increase speed further, though I have to be careful. As I travelled today started to develop a bit of a neck ache which got very bad by the time I camped. It was nice to have a couple of iboprofin for some pain relief though hopefully this doesn’t get worse as I ski. I imagine the weight of the sled is not helping!!! Anyway, hope everyone is well!

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK

Click on the tracker below to hear Ben’s audio diary from his overnight camp.

Getting the pulk…

The pulk (the sled) is pretty important for the entire journey. I will be pulling all my food, tent and equipment, fuel and clothes it and at the start of the South Pole journey, it will weigh around 110kg or so. So it’s got to be pretty sturdy!

In Greenland, where we were pulling around 80kg or so, we used two Paris Pulks each. These are decent in that they are not very expensive, though as they are quite short, it was impossible to put everything onto just one of them. One of the big disadvantages of the Paris Pulks is that they are quite shallow and it is easy for them to become top-heavy and topple over to the side. You also have to have separate bags with all your gear and food that you secure on top of them with bungees or some other means. If you don’t pack your bag properly each morning, then you’ll be in for an annoying day having to go back and forth to the sled to turn it the right way up over and over again. Also, when the wind gets very strong, it can simply push the pulks over, and in Greenland we had to put the two pulks parallel with each other for a few days to stop that from happening.

Everyone on the Greenland expedition used Paris Pulks. You can see how say with the person at the back, the green bag that has the bedding is leaning over to the side. This happens a lot when you’re securing all the bags to the sled by the bungees, and it all affects the balance of the sled and how you move along.

So for the South Pole journey, I have got myself a nice gigantic IceTrek Polyna sled. 210cm long, 68cm wide and 25cm deep (without the cover). Made by fantastically experienced polar explorer Eric Philips, they have a tremendous cargo volume and are designed to effectively float on soft snow and glide along nicely on the ice. Shouldn’t have any problems of overbalancing! I had arranged with Eric to pick the sled up in Svalbard (long story!)… quite an epic journey to get there and back… Inverness-London Luton–>London Heathrow-Oslo-Longyearbyen-Oslo-London Heathrow–>London Gatwick-Inverness… 6 planes, 6 different airports, 3 trains, 3 buses, 3 taxis, 2 days! Was kind of worried after collecting it that it might be too big for the airlines, and trying to cart it through the airport on the trolleys was pretty tricky given it’s length, but fortunately no real problems in the end! Tiring though.

Just a note: am (trying to!) raise funds for Cancer Research UK with these expeditions – please donate if you can, or share if you can’t!!! It would be amazing to have your support!