Antarctica: Preparations and delays

The journey to Punta Arenas

It has been a long couple of weeks or so. On the 28th October, I started the journey south from Inverness, making sure to have a couple of days in Oxford and London to see friends and family before heading to Punta Arenas in Patagonia, which is my base before flying to Antarctica. The journey to Punta started on the 1st November and was reasonably smooth though not without worrying moments.

The staff of LATAM Airlines in London told me my bags would go straight through to Punta. This struck me as unusual as was flying through Santiago: normally you must collect bags at Santiago to clear customs. In Sao Paulo (where I had a 12 hour layover), a LATAM rep told me that I indeed needed to collect the bags. Talk about making life confusing! At Santiago, the bags didn’t appear.

After waiting an hour to speak with the LATAM baggage claim people, they told me they didn’t know where the bags were. But yes, they said: I needed to collect them to clear customs there. Fortunately, given another huge layover (8 hours this time), there was time for them to find them, and all was good. Alarming, but it worked out! It was nice to pick them up as well as I had left my laptop in the checked baggage (long story!) but that was there and undamaged.

Getting it all sorted

Finally, on arriving in Punta Arenas at around midday on the 3rd, I got to the hotel. I am staying at the Apartment Hotel Quillango. It is a nice place, close to the centre and with space to organise everything. Definitely needed as there was so much to organise! Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE) – the company that organises the logistics for Antarctic journeys – delivered my cargo to the hotel. The Pulk, food, skis, tent, electronics, clothing and more: everything together under one roof for the first time.

Then it was a matter of decanting 155 dehydrated dinners, lunches and breakfasts (Expedition Foods) from their pouches into lighter bags. This is a time-consuming process but it reduced the total weight by 3kg. It also means that I need not worry about accumulating residual waste in pouches after eating, which adds weight. Every kilo counts on an Antarctic expedition!

Also, I had to sort out my daily snacks of chocolate, dried fruit, nuts, protein and energy bars, cookies and crackers, and meats and cheeses, into separate bags. Buying and cooking the meats (sausages, bacon, ham, chorizo and salami) and weighing everything out into the ration packs. It all took about three days or so.

With everything now packed and organised, it’s just a matter of waiting. I was meant to fly to Antarctica on 10th November. However, a harsh winter has affected ALE’s base on the continent and delayed all expeditions. A massive amount of snow has accumulated on the runway making it impossible for large planes to land, and poor conditions are hampering the opening of the base. My flight is now set to the 13th, thought this might be delayed further. Fingers crossed I can get going soon!

Polar diet and nutrition

There are so many details to think about with any polar expedition, and a lot of planning is required. One of the most important aspects is the diet. For the expedition to the South Pole, I will be burning around 7,000-8,000 calories a day and the body will need a massive amount of food and energy to make sure that it is able to cope. To manage, you have to have a substantial breakfast, then regular breaks during the day: in Greenland we would ski for 50 minutes and then take a 10 minute break to eat snacks and drink water. This would be over (on average) nine sessions a day, occasionally increasing to 10 or 11 sessions when needed to make extra distance. In the middle of all of that we would take a half hour break to have lunch. On previous expeditions, I have not had the lunches: I just had snacks every hour or 90 minutes… It was fine and both Natalia and I never felt fatigued doing that, but I felt in Greenland, having an actual lunch helped break up the day and gave an extra boost. Ultimately, you get into a routine, and need to find one that suits you and plan accordingly. You have to eat, as while you might feel good, your body demands it.

You can’t just eat energy bars and chocolate and you need variation, especially considering the endless routines being repeated over, in the case of the South Pole, around 45-50 days. It would be a good high energy breakfast such as porridge or granola. During the day, the snacks would consist of nuts, dried fruits, chocolate, granola and protein bars, cookies, a bit of meat and cheese (though smaller proportion as the body will need much more carbs than protein). This all has to be carefully weighed out for every single day, so you have your snack bags for each day ready to pack up. Then a nice dehydrated meal in the evening when camping. You can also add butter to the meals and breakfast for the extra calories and fats, and energy drinks and protein recovery drinks will also help.

I have tried various brands and types of camping foods on my different expeditions, and it really is important to have food that you like and a good range of flavours to have the variation. You don’t want to be dreading your evening meal or your breakfasts, and variation to the daily snacks also helps to enjoy everything, so you can add little treats into your bag. You want to plan out each week to know what you will eat, and have everything in the weekly stuff sacks. For South Pole, I will have stuff sacks for every 10 days… which week days won’t really mean anything down there!

My favourite dehydrated food over the different journeys I have been on has been the meals made by Expedition Foods. They really do make a great range of different meals (Fish and potato with parsley sauce, and their spaghetti bolognese are among my favourites, but there are many others!) and I was really delighted when they agreed to support the coming South Pole journey. 50x 1,000kcal evening meals, 50x 450kcal lunches, 11x 1,000kcal breakfasts (I have a standard maple syrup flavour porridge that I came to love in Canada!)–the Expedition Foods breakfasts will make a really nice treat between the standard ones!–and 10x 450kcal dessert… again, to make for occasional treats to help the motivation and enjoyment.

Greenland – Final countdown and preparations

March-April 2022

With all the fitness training over the past few months, time really did seem to fly by to the end of April when we eventually started the journey across the icecap. So long in the waiting, but still always training as much as possible to be in the best possible shape for the journey; trying to squeeze in as much as possible but not to overdo it. More mountains climbed in Scotland, plenty more tire-pulling and lots of strange looks from people. Braeriach, the third highest in the country, is always an amazing mountain to climb and is quite accessible for me from Carrbridge, and it becomes even more stunning with the snow. Also, an opportunity to climb Ben Nevis in winter could definitely not be missed and it was nice climbing the UK’s highest mountain in cool and lovely conditions.

Before we knew it, the time had come. 25 April: Inverness to London, to Copenhagen. 26 April: Copenhagen to Kangerlussuaq. Always that anxiety about whether the bags would come through–imagine that! One flight to Kangerlussuaq every couple of days… no, it was too terrible to think about…! Fortunately they all came through and no problems. It was great in Copenhagen with the hotel being next to the airport – could take the trolley from the airport all the way into the hotel room; not seen that before! Quite a change from Oslo when there are barely any trolleys at the main railway station!

We had one night in Kangerlussuaq to organise all of our supplies for the next four weeks, splitting everything into weekly bags and sorting out the pulks. Had a bit of a scare when realised that I didn’t have my mountaineering harness, which we need for going through crevassed areas. Almost a disaster, though fortunately we we were able to find one from a local guide – such a relief! Then that was it… just a bus ride to the bottom of the glacier on a gloomy and overcast early afternoon of 27 April, and we were off…

South Pole 2022??

So next year… finally… the Greenland expedition will go ahead, barring any deterioration in the COVID-19 situation and fingers crossed, vaccinations rates will keep going up. It’s all scheduled in the calendar – starting 24 April 2022 until around 25 May. A long journey across the ice cap, but seriously exciting to think it’s going to happen. Just need to get back into proper training!

Even more exciting is the prospect that I might be able to undertake a South Pole expedition at the end of 2022. I was hoping that there was a possibility of sponsorship and to go in a group of four with some friends in India and Brazil, though am not counting on this happening, the way things are going at the moment with the economies in South Asia and LatAm.


I have been lucky enough to be able to start putting some savings together and getting some decent freelance work since I left my full-time job in January. And I would say that the chances of being able to self-finance a solo expedition for November 2022 are extremely good!! It is so exciting, just thinking about it!

Question is… do I choose fiscal responsibility (for once in my life) and looking to put a deposit on the house? Which might setback any South Pole plans by a year or two… or…. Go all in? Considering am not getting any younger… House…? Pole…..? Hummmm! Not really a question is it?

The idea of the South Pole… the whole expedition… 50-60 days across those 1,700km in such an endurance test to get from the coast to the Pole… Antarctica! (You remember that Friends episode when Joey is in London? “Antarctica, baby!!” Just need the hat!) it’s just too much of a dream; what have been preparing for for the last goodness knows how many years, and I think it’s fair to say my friends and family think I am obsessed. They’re right. I can’t let this slip out of my hands… so, fingers crossed, the work keeps coming in–that’s the problem with freelancing it, one never really knows… it could all just drop off tomorrow–and will be able to manage it.