It started when my alarm woke me up at 4am, though on thinking that I only had three more kilometres to ski than the previous day, and I wouldn’t have to worry about cooking or anything like that, I put off getting up for another hour. Still, I merged two days’ worth of snacks (all I had left) into one bag to make sure that I would have enough food to get me through the day, and gave myself a 600kcal lunch which would have been one of my evening meals (mushroom pasta) instead of a 360kcal (noodles) lunch… the pasta was so much nicer as well!
Everything was packed up and ready to go by 7.40am. I even said goodbye to all the items I had used during the expedition that had served me so well – no real equipment failures – congratulating them on their performance and thanking them for their efforts! Sanity had gone out the window a long time ago!
The first three 1hr 20m sessions of the push to the Pole went pretty well. Conditions started off cloudy and overcast though within a few hours had become perfect, with glorious blue skies and only a gentle headwind. My legs were a little tired but I felt okay. Decent pace; managing around 3kph or so, and making good distance. I didn’t feel bad. By midday I saw Matheusz’s tent in the distance.
We had talked through InReach earlier in the expedition, after I had passed him at Thiel Corner, and said that as we had started at the same time, it would be funny if we were to end up finishing at the same time, despite our separate rhythms and routines. And so it came to pass… we chatted and as Matheusz was almost ready, we decided to ski the rest of the day and finish the journey together.
A really nice way to end.
Tortuously slow progress
However, the rest of the day’s journey was far from easy. My earlier pace started to drain from my legs as more climbing started. Subtle but steady and noticeable hills. We could see some buildings of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station from 20km away but it was obvious they were higher than we were. And as we skied and got to the bottom of the climb, they disappeared and then it was just a long, slow slog, on snow that was dry, like sawdust and hard to glide through.
Sledmund becoming twice his weight yet again. Pace dropping to below 2kph. Neck starting to hurt even more and, as I had been finding for a while now, it was hard to keep looking up towards the horizon for a sustained period; the only way I could look was downwards and to the tips of my skis. Hard to look to either the left or the right. Hard to keep a good posture.
And it just went on and on. Eventually with around 12km to go, the research station buildings reappeared and we could make out how by the place looked. An extensive outpost in the middle of the white expanse. But still so far away. On and on. Even some little sastrugi. The time ticking by as 12 hours passed since leaving camp. 8pm becoming 9pm as the buildings became larger. It was made harder the way that we could not go directly to the Pole due to scientific protection zones.
We had to go to the left of the station, away from the buildings; the direction to the waypoint seemingly taking us so far away from our ultimate destination. 9pm became 10pm and it still seemed like we were no closer. The pain in my neck making everything even more draining than it should have been. The food in my snack bag nearing an end and the water in my Nalgene bottles starting to freeze; needing hot water from the thermoses to stop becoming blocks of ice.
to the bottom of the world
We could tell more than ever how we were at the bottom of the world: It was bizarre seeing how the rotation of the sun had taken it to move in front of us for the first time the entire journey, glaring into our eyes. It had always been to the north during the expedition but north was always behind us. This time, every direction was becoming north!! 11pm… 12 midnight. The sun still bright. The GPS showing just half a nautical mile… 1km to the waypoint. So close.
30 more minutes, and the entrance to the South Pole station. There was still more climbing to do, but I was effectively there.
Shortly afterwards, I entered and climbed up to the camp buildings, and saw other people. The South Pole Camp manager Ceder together with Caroline— the lady who had sped passed me the other day! — and a couple of others. Mateusz, who was unassisted in his expedition, went straight to the Pole for his photos. But I was shattered.
I needed to sit down. I needed to eat. I needed to rest my legs and my neck. The actual Pole could wait a little while longer.
Ceder took me into the camp dining tent so I could rest and there must have been 20 or more people there eating and chatting, all of whom had completed final degree expeditions. As I entered, people looked and the word spread and the entire room burst into cheers and applause. It hit me: I had done it. A total of around 1,260km or so with all the meandering … more than 700 miles. 10 degrees of latitude. 58 days. Camping and skiing alone. Through some of the harshest distances on this planet. I had made it. I felt overwhelmed with so many people; all the noise, the friendly faces. My legs failed and I collapsed onto a chair that had been taken out for me.
A short rest and chat with some of the people there. Talking with doctors who looked at my neck and even gave me a massage. Then… both the ceremonial and the geographical poles awaited.
I had finally done it.