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..!

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Visit Ben’s blog site to hear Ben’s audio diary from his overnight camp.

Ben Weber sleeping in tent in Antarctica

Day 12 Whiteouts, new sleeping attire and record 17.5km

Oh, wow today was hard!! Really hard! It started off with very strong winds to greet me as I had to pack up the tent, just to bid me good morning! It was bright at least at the start. This however soon changed as clouds sped overhead. Within an hour or so visibility deteriorated to a complete whiteout. I never tire of saying how strange it is in a whiteout! You know you are moving but it feels like you are staying in the same position! There is absolutely nothing to see to judge your movement…

Until you land right on top of a sastrugi that comes as a complete surprise as you can’t see them… they are all just white! There were plenty of sastrugi today, and the winds never did let up. There was also a lot of fresh snow, creating what I described to myself as “puddles of snow.” The wind blows the snow into hollows between sastrugi and other snow formation forming ‘puddles’. That makes life even harder. When you are skiing and pulling the sled over the hard compact snow, it glides okay and just bounces along. However when you get to these snow puddles and you sink into them. And there is no more glide! So, it’s harder to pull the sled! Exhausting stuff! Oh, and then my neck and shoulders. They just never seem to want to get better properly; painful throughout the day but as I say… just about tolerable! I think I am going to have to work out how to live with the pain for the expedition as there are only so many painkillers left in the medkit!

sleeping in 24 hr sunlight

So now have camped and about to eat and sleep. It’s quite hard to sleep here because of the 24 hours if sunlight. I cover my head with my hat. I also have an eye mask and a buff in which I have cut a hole for breathing. Otherwise it would just get wet from my breath. Looks quite funny really but it just about works. My air mattress as a puncture which for the life of me, I have been unable to find. Very annoying! So, I have to spend a few minutes filling that up as well each night. Oh well.

It’s snowing again meaning tomorrow is going to be hard as well. Never an easy or simple day here.

Please support Ben’s chosen charity Cancer Research UK

Visit Ben’s blog site to hear Ben’s audio diary from his overnight camp.

Day 2 First full day on the ice

Distance travelled 12km/7.5miles

17th November. Today has been all uphill and slow, but steady! Could see the wall of the glacier I had to ski up ahead of me as I packed up tent to leave. Set off at 10.15. But for the most part while it was tiring, I didn’t feel too bad. At one point the wind had blown away all snow cover so it was just over ice which made it very tricky, but fortunately that only lasted a couple of hundred metres or so.

Visibility deteriorated in the afternoon as cloud cover came in and a bit of snow started. Am finding my compass very unresponsive due to the high latitude, and the GPS can be a bit slow as it is harder for it to get the satellites to pinpoint the location, but just about managing! Have now eaten and about to go to bed; will be good to get some sleep but happy to have reached 80 degrees south!

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view from aeroplane over Antarctic mountains

Day 1 Arrival by plane and first night under canvas

Distance travelled 5km/3miles

It was strange yesterday being dropped off – a spectacular 30min flight in over the mountains. Could see all the main initial nunataks that will be using to help navigate over the first half a degree. Then the plane landed and left me and Mateusz, a Polish explorer who is also going solo to the Pole, alone on the ice. I went ahead before the plane left as some people had come with Mateusz to help film and they spent some time there… but looking back to see the plane take off… flying up and around, giving a waggle of its wings to say one last goodbye… and that was it! Finally started!

Distance travelled 5km/3miles

I started my adventure at 18.00, giving just a couple of hours to ski. Pretty windy! But great visibility. Wasn’t too steep either so managed to get in a nice 5km.

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