Ben Weber relaxing in tent in Antarctica

Day 43 Frustration!

Promising start

It looked such a lovely day as got out of the sleeping bag and got ready to go. Sun, just a little cloud, a bit of a breeze but not too much. A bit colder as well, around -22C or so, but fine.

The problems became immediately apparent as start to ski: Soft snow. The messy ice that I had been skiing through yesterday was definitely not good and quickly turned into a large sastrugi field. And then… the dunes.

Bumpy road ahead

If you look at the map showing my progress and zoom in, you will see it looks pretty bumpy where I am at the moment. These are effectively large dunes that have been formed by the strong katabatic winds that flow down from the plateau. There are dips between them that are not welcome: what goes down… has to climb back up the other side. And while the climbs are not as steep as earlier ones, they are still tough. Together with the grooves, ruts, ups and downs of the sastrugi, the mixed soft and compact snow, just making it all so much harder.

My obstinate sled

Sledmund was particularly obstinate today and did not want to move through it all, and was subject to a few choice curses from me. It was all made worse when on the compact snow and couldn’t get any grip to pull the sled out of the soft stuff… jeez! So so tiring.

Called it a day at 7hours

I decided to stop after just 7 hours: I felt that I was spending a lot of energy going nowhere (just 16km). Yesterday in the whiteout was better – I never imagined saying that when this day started! The snow should (fingers crossed!!) be much better tomorrow as it starts to compact. From the route profile it looks like the climbing should be more gentle- indeed, even looking ahead now and it seems much flatter. I just wasn’t getting anywhere.

Tomorrows the day – 500 miles

Frustrating. My body feels fine in general and I don’t feel fatigued. It was just… exhausting. Not great for the confidence but should still be able to make the Pole for the 9th. Hopefully. At least I am now in the 87th degree… completed 494 miles (422.78 nautical miles). So yes, tomorrow I should legitimately be able to sing, “I would (ski!) 500 miles”!!

Only three more degrees… 177 more nautical miles to go. End in sight?? Long way to go still!!

Position: S87 02.7818 / W082 34.3523

Ear worm if day… nothing really; I was too busy cursing Sledmund

Photo: I need a haircut!

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ben-weber1

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

kitchen in polar explorer tent snow and ice Antarctica

Day 42 Nothing like a good ol’ whiteout to slow things down…

I hate whiteouts!

After what must have been almost two and a half weeks of gorgeous conditions, I think I was starting to forget how much I hate whiteouts. I guess after so long, one was overdue and I think I have been very lucky with the weather really… but still. I don’t like whiteouts. At all.

Okay, they’re challenging… trying to navigate through them… and that surreal feeling of going through limbo. But no, they’re not fun!

Top three toughest day

I would say that while the first hour of today was good—it was cloudy but good visibility—after the clouds all closed in, the day transformed to become one of the top three toughest days until now. The climbing became more pronounced as the gradient increased. With the increased gradient the sastrugi became more frequent… well it felt like they did as it seemed like I was hitting every sastrugi possible in the whiteness! It was snowing. Lightly at least, but still snowing. There was no wind, so I couldn’t navigate using that; no shadows so that wasn’t a navigation option either. It’s hard to keep looking at the watch to see the heading so… I had to get the compass mount out once more and use that again; much to my neck’s disappointment! Oh and yea, my goggles kept on fogging and for the first time in over 40 days of skiing, I started to get chaffing problems, just to add to the general pain!

Difficult day

I was tempted to call it a day half way through, like I did the last whiteout. But then, the sastrugi wasn’t quite so bad for me to do this. The snow was not too deep. My body still felt okay. And I have my minimum 14 nautical mile goal. Sure I could take a rest day but that would mean another a day until I get to the Pole. And despite opting to take a resupply once I get to S88, I still have only so many rations! Also, travelling through whiteouts is yes, a challenge, who knows how many whiteouts there will be – I can’t just take rest days because I don’t like it! It wasn’t dangerous for me; just… tiring. And soul destroying!

I managed 14nm!

I could have gone a little further but I took too long to give into the inevitable and put my compass mount back on. Before I did that, my ski track must have looked like that of a drunkard, straying off in random directions! Only thankful that I didn’t head north!

So on the whole, despite the utter joylessness of today, am pleased with the progress. I managed my minimum distance in horrible conditions, which bodes well for when the weather improves again. And it has already started to improve with the sun now out as I write this! Typical!

Photo: getting food ready for tonight and for the day’s travel tomorrow

Ear worm if day: nothing much an afraid, too busy trying not to fall over on the invisible sastrugi! If anything it was The Kids Aren’t Alright on repeat again!

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ben-weber1

Ben Weber resting in tent on Antarctica expedition

Day 41 Continued good progress

32.35km day – a record distance

Not much to really say about today except that it was great! Good solid progress – I know I have done one other day with around 32km (things really do blur altogether here!!), and I think I just beat that with 32.35km, so a new personal best so far!!

Great conditions

The conditions… really couldn’t get much better. Not too cold, extremely calm, great visibility… while there is the odd sastrugi patch and area of messy ice, on the whole the terrain is pretty flat and the climb is imperceptible. I am just about at 1,900m so less than 900m below the plateau (Though it starts to level out at around 2,700m). I am sure there will be much harder days ahead – the continent is lulling me into a false sense of security! Heheh! But… I have to enjoy it while it lasts and get in the miles while I can, to compensate for the days ahead when it won’t be so straightforward and the going will be much slower.

Food and body weight

I am eating around 6,300kcal a day though I think am a fair bit thinner than when I started; my base layers all seem a bit loose!! Difficult to say how much weight I might have lost – maybe around 10kg over the last 41 days? Maybe a little less; not sure! Sledmund has lost at least 55kg!

Earworm and Housekeeping

Ear worms of day: Thanks to my family… a good Abba medley of various songs; Waterloo especially!

Photo: pretty tired after today and last few days of churning out 29-32km… just chilling in the mess of the tent!

Detailed daily data

For anyone interested, here are the coordinates of where I have camped since starting, and estimated positions (latitude only as longitude not too important after the crevasses of the 87th degree) based on an average daily distance of 14 nautical miles and no days off… This is a conservative estimate as over the last week since leaving Thiel Corner – and even in the days before then – I have been doing between 15-17 nautical miles a day. So hopefully I will be able to arrive at the Pole before the 9th… I am being cautious though as not sure about the sastrugi and climbing ahead and as I might have mentioned in an earlier post, the snow on the plateau is meant to be harder to ski through because of the colder conditions.

Accelerating pace

Obviously progress is much better shown on the map on the website! But, you can see from the list how I took ages in the 80th degree, when the sled was at its heaviest, with the climbing at its steepest and I developed my injury. Though then you can see how have managed to gradually accelerate. Hopefully this will continue!

My ETA at the Pole is now 10th January, this assumes 12 NM progress each day.

Camp locations

1: 16 November (start): S79 57.3605 / W079 45.2434

1: 16 November (camp): S79 58.7272 / W079 55.3000

2: 17 Nov: S80 03.8512 / W080 17.7000

3: 18 Nov: S80 10.8192 / W080 33.5942

4: 19 Nov: S80 19.1669 / W080 37.5180

5: 20 Nov: S80 23.7401 / W080 25.7401

6: 21 Nov: no movement

7: 22 Nov: S80 31.0280 / W080 26.2832

8: 23 November: no movement

9: 24 Nov: S80 36.2744 / W080 12.9014

10 25 Nov: no movement

11 26 Nov: S80 42.8344 / W080 00.9190

12: 27 Nov: S80 51.8977 / W079 59.8794

13: 28 Nov: S81 02.2539 / W079 57.3339

14: 29 Nov: S81 11.3942 / W079 54.9472

15: 30 Nov: S81 21.5968 / W079 57.1149

16: 1 Dec: no movement

17: 2 Dec: S81 32.4792 / W080 02.8163

18: 3 Dec: S81 43.2655 / W080 00.8545

19: 4 Dec: S81 53.2450 / W080 22.8012

20: 5 Dec: S82 01.3987 / W080 12.2678

21: 6 Dec: S82 15.7532 / W080 19.1214

22: 7 Dec: S82 27.7007 / W080 28.2671

23: 8 Dec: S82 41.994 / W080 30.2901

24: 9 Dec: S82 57.780 / W080 25.5373

25: 10 Dec: S83 11.5089 / W080 15.5354

26: 11 Dec: S83 14.5615 / W080 17.4755

27: 12 Dec: S83 24.9548 / W080 27.8904

28: 13 Dec: S83 38.1913 / W080 31.5436

29: 14 Dec: S83 52.4660 / W080 37.0228

30: 15 Dec: S84 06.1782 / W080 27.0035

31: 16 Dec: S84 21.6411 / W080 33.2581

32: 17 Dec: S84 35.8453 / W080 47.2211

33: 18 Dec: S84 50.1908 / W080 35.0597

34: 19 Dec: S85 04.4033 / W080 45.7878

35: 20 Dec: no movement

36: 21 Dec: S85 21.0401 / W080 55.649

37: 22 Dec: S85 36.0484 / W080 46.4073

38: 23 Dec: S85 51.3874 / W081 01.3888

39: 24 Dec: S86 07.6672 / W081 13.1764

40: 25 Dec: S86 23.8690 / W081 38.7422

41: 26 Dec: S86 40.8952 / W081 43.9371

Estimated positions (south) based on 14nm/day:

42: 27 Dec: S86 54

43: 28 Dec: S87 09

44: 29 Dec: S87 23

45: 30 Dec: S87 37

46: 31 Dec: S87 51

47: 1 Jan: S88 05

48: 2 Jan: S88 19

49: 3 Jan: S88 33

50: 4 Jan: S88 47

51: 5 Jan: S89 01

52: 6 Jan: S89 15

53: 7 Jan: S89 29

54: 8 Jan: S89 43

55: 9 Jan: S89 57

56: 10 Jan: S90

Santa Claus heads south

Day 40 A Christmas cracker!

Thanks for your messages

It was lovely receiving all your Christmas messages – thank you again for your support. As I say, I am alone here but I definitely don’t feel alone with all of your help and thoughts.

Climbing continues

The day – my first white Christmas for a long time! – was pretty similar to the last few days in terms of travelling. Another 31km done and am almost half way through the 86th degree! Great conditions until the end of the day when it started to cloud over — I suppose the blue skies and sun had to end some time! The climbing has continued; I am now at 1,800m above sea level, less than 1,000m lower than the plateau. The sastrugi has generally been in patches: many parts have been incredibly smooth and flat but then suddenly you get to a mini sastrugi field near the top of a climb. Again, I have been very thankful for the good visibility, as there have been some more monstrugi in those fields!!

Navigation

Navigating has become a little trickier with the sastrugi considering how they have disappeared for much of the time. Though with the sun out, I have been able to use my shadow; remembering that the sun moves 15 degrees east-to-west and back again (depending on time of day) each hour.

Wonderful Christmas

But anyway! Am going to get some sleep now. As I say, I good you all had a wonderful Christmas, and enjoyed the food, friends, family and festivities!

Ear worms of day: another suggestion my sister Sigrid- Hall of the mountain king (lived listening to that when younger (and still do!!!)) and more Meatloaf mixes!

Photos: my Christmas cracker and Santa’s South Pole helper!!!

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ben-weber1

merry Christmas ben Weber in tent in Antarctica

Day 39 Merry Christmas!!

Happy Memories

I always think about my mother a lot around Christmas. I am the last of seven kids and she would make these most amazing Christmas dinners for us all together with friends and extended family up in our house in the Orkneys. No idea how she managed everything!! No idea how she coped with us all either! Haha!

Christmas Days

For the last few years since leaving India, I have celebrated Christmas with one of my sisters, Sigrid, and her family. It’s always a massive amount of fun putting up the Christmas trees, playing Mario Kart on the Wii, feeding the Christmas cake with brandy, and of course plenty of movies! Like my mum, Sigrid is an amazing cook. There have often been around 10 of us at her house over this period, and again I have no idea how she manages! This year almost all of the family will be going over to her place – I think on Boxing Day there will be around 15 siblings, partners, nieces and nephews! Definitely strange not being there and I miss them. Have persuaded Sigrid to have a second Christmas once I am back!!! Good incentive for me to speed up and get the distance in!!

2022… same old….same old….

Instead, here… same old, same old! More skiing, more cold, and I have just finished the advent calendar! Ah well! I managed 31km today (Christmas Eve here) and hopefully will get some more good mileage in tomorrow. The conditions are still perfect, just the odd big sastrugi patch and some climbs are steeper than others, but it’s all good. The route profile shows a steady climb getting steeper in around 20km or so. A little bit of cramp in the leg as I lie here writing this. The neck and shoulder still have a lot of improvement to do, but I have been feeling less uncomfortable as I travel, which is nice!

Merry Christmas to you all!

So anyway! I want to wish you all a very merry Christmas! I hope that you have a wonderful day wherever you are in the world, and enjoy being with your friends, family and loved ones!

All my best wishes,

Ben

Ear Worms of the day

Ear worms of day!

It’s impossible to think of Meatloaf and not start singing Bat out of Hell!! Sigrid suggested that and yup, it got into my head!! Also, because it’s Christmas… The Killers – Don’t shoot me Santa!!! Brilliant song but you need to watch the video for it as well!

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ben-weber1

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

Polar explorer tent on Antarctic ice Ben Weber

Day 38 Good and steady progress 29km day

Better off down here

Another beautiful day here; incredible how good the conditions have been over the last few days. Sun, blue skies and just a bit of a headwind but nothing much. Not too cold either at around -14C — seems positively tropical in comparison with the United States! (I really would not have liked to have been out in the weather there – crazy!!!) The sastrugi seem to be taking some time off as well; it’s just very low, minor sastrugi formations now that don’t really impact much. It gets a little worse as the ground gets a bit steeper but no, nothing even remotely close to what I encountered earlier. Long may it stay this way!!

Approaching 86th degree

I am at around 1,600m now, so climbed just 150m today; much more gradual today and that definitely makes a difference. I felt good. So yes, I managed another 29km today and am almost entering the 86th degree!! Almost 3/5 complete! I think the terrain is meant to be similar to this for the next 50-60 nautical miles as well, when it will get much steeper again. Hopefully the weather will hold out as well!

Angling eastwards

For anyone following progress on the map, you’ll see that I am edging westwards. This is because in the 87th degree there is an extensive crevasse field and I need to get to around W083-W084 to avoid that. Still have around 100 nautical miles before reach that point though I need to start angling my way over there now to make life easier. No cutting corners there for sure!!

Song of the day

Song in the head of the day! …. Meatloaf – I’d do anything for love! Gotta love meatloaf! It’s like you get two or three songs out into one!

Thanks for support and please share for Cancer Research UK

I want to thank everyone again for your support. Your comments, your jokes, song suggestions… everything! If I could ask one favour – as you know I am also trying to raise funds for Cancer Research, and thank you also for your support with this. If it could be possible for you to share what am doing with this journey with your friends, colleagues and family, that would be really amazing as well. Thank you again!!!!

Photo; Long Shadows

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ben-weber1

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

Ben Weber polar expedition in tent Antarctica

Day 35 A rest day! Time to recharge the batteries

A day to recharge

Yeah, I have been thinking about it for a while now and I think my body has needed it, but I decided to take a day to rest today. Woke up pretty tired this morning and the wind was pretty strong, so figured that now was as good a time as any. Still… I felt a bit guilty this afternoon as the weather improved. Over the last few hours there have been absolutely gorgeous conditions, and I can’t help but think about the miles I could have put in… But yeah, my body is grateful for the rest having been on the go almost nonstop for the last 17 days. The only break I have had was that day when I stopped after 6km in those draining snowy whiteout conditions.

So, some sleep, listening to an audio book, and just relaxing really. Time to reflect over the last 35 days as well!

Half Way reflections

On the whole, am happy the way things have gone. Food-wise it has been good. although I wish I brought more cookies and hot chocolate! So nice to have at end of day but of course, I have to ration myself! As I say, all of my dehydrated foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner were made by Expedition Foods, and have been great. I might have gotten too many fish and potato meals from them though. Their other meals like mushroom risotto, vegetable stir fry and Spag Bol have been amazing! Too late to make changes here though!

Good kit – Kitchen box falling apart

My neck and shoulders definitely slowed me down a lot in the first 15 days or so. I am thankful that the painkillers have been able to make things manageable. The equipment has generally been good. A few bits and pieces… the kitchen box on its last legs just isn’t sturdy enough. Hopefully it’ll last the rest of the journey though I wouldn’t bet on it! My harness… is fine though the compass mount – which I use to keep the compass held out in front of me so I don’t have to hold it with my hands – is way too fiddly. It can be a real hassle to put it on each morning, and it’s difficult to know if and when the compass is flat and accurate! It is also too low and I have to strain my neck to look down at it… which doesn’t help my injury.

Navigating by the elements

At the same time I have been able to use the wind and the sastrugi to help with navigation. Really have been pleased the way this has gone. Over the last few days I have hardly had to look at the compass or even the GPS to know that I was going the right direction, just my angle on the sastrugi which has constantly been aligned from the south south west to north north east. Obviously I do occasionally check in my breaks and made minor adjustments but it has all been good.

Daily distance targets

I have so been pleased that despite the pain I have been able to make good progress, and even speed up. I have been setting myself minimum distance targets, trying to get 16km by the lunch break so I set myself up for an afternoon to reach at least 26km. Without going for longer than ten hours (including breaks). And over the second half, while I know it’s going to be tough climbing up another 1,400m to the plateau… through coming large sastrugi fields… I will keep this same approach. Hopefully being able to increase those distances.

So if all goes well, back on the go tomorrow, and onward to the Pole!

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ben-weber1

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

Explorer sled on Antarctica ice and snow

Day 34 Half way!!!!

Can’t believe it! After another 27km, I have reached Thiel Corner – an unmanned ski way and supply depot for airplanes going to the Pole from Union Glacier to refuel, and where other expeditions also have caches left for resupply. I have just got into S85 degrees, meaning I have just past the half way mark of this journey!

Comfortable Sleeping Bag

The day was one of those days when it was hard to get out of the sleeping bag. They seem to be becoming more frequent! Great sunny weather with a bit of a stiff headwind but nothing that haven’t seen before on this journey. The snow was mixed; sometimes was able to speed over it, sometimes would sink into it. Plenty of messy ice and minor sastrugi to deal with as well, and in the last 15km out of S84 there was a gradual climb up, just making everything heavier. I need to get used to it as half way through S85 the climb up to the plateau begins, and that will just be constant for the next two and a half degrees or so!

Theil corner

Oh and was wrong about the nunatak yesterday: i was actually seeing the thiel mountains! Splendid view of them in the distance, to the south west, all day today. Definitely a nice change!

Onwards

Extremely pleased, especially after how everything started with my neck at the start/Of course, there’s a long way to go and a lot of work today, but it’s so good to get this far. Onwards!!

Cottage pie for dinner tonight. Hungry!!!

Ear worm(s) today: another mix of music from The Kids Aren’t Alright to Under Pressure (always a good one!)

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ben-weber1

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

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

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ben-weber1

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

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 (justgiving.com)

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!!

Cheers!!

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 https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ben-weber1

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

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 https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ben-weber1

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

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 https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ben-weber1

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

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 https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ben-weber1

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